Los Angeles isn’t your typical tourist town: it’s too vast and sprawling, with no centre to walk around and few of the draws of more traditional destinations. No history, for one thing – as a comparatively recent settlement, there are few buildings over 100 years old. And it’s not the obvious choice for anyone wanting to kick back and relax: even the beaches are busy and metropolitan. This is a city that’s restlessly alive, full of people striving for success. Who would want to holiday in such a place?
The funny thing is, while there’s truth in all of this, it’s far from the whole story. And more and more of us are starting to realise it.
Recent years have seen a predominantly younger crowd rediscovering LA. Brits especially seem to be realising that this isn’t just a place to come for work; in fact, the relaxed pace and colossal spread of the city make for a singular, laidback lifestyle that’s hard to replicate elsewhere.
Recent years have seen a predominantly younger crowd rediscovering LA. Brits especially seem to be realising that this isn’t just a place to come for work
It also turns out to be a particularly good destination for families with young children – the kind of people who can’t or don’t want to bake in searing sun all day, or who would go crazy confining themselves to a single predetermined tourist ‘zone’. Yes, staying in LA means driving a lot, but that can be a blessing when you have to transport a baby or two. And who wants to sit around sunbathing when accompanied by a frustrated toddler who’s raring to see and do new things?
Fortunately, LA’s size and entrepreneurial spirit mean there’s a vast amount to keep little ones and their parents engaged and excited. Here, we round up 10 of our favourite things in the City of Angels. Not one of them is Disneyland (too crowded and hella expensive) – but believe us, they’re all worth the flight.
1. The Getty Center
Imagine a world-class art museum sited in a billionaire James Bond villain’s cliffside compound and you’ll probably picture something like the Getty Center. Incredible, modernist architecture ranges across a hillside on the outskirts of central LA, offering views of Bel Air and the city beyond. Alongside the spectacular art collections you’ll find verdant gardens perfect for picnic and playtime. Tip: get there early to bag a parking spot.
2. El Matador Beach
Venice Beach is fascinating and Santa Monica, a short walk up the shoreline, has a luxe metropolitan vibe, but for real beach beauty with a taste of natural ruggedness, Malibu’s El Matador is the place. Forty minutes’ drive from Santa Monica Pier up the fabled Pacific Coast Highway, it can only be reached by a short but steep walk down cliffside paths – so strollers can be tricky. But the rock formations and molten sunsets make the effort worthwhile.
While LA is full of cool independent boutiques, this has to be one of the best: a local womenswear brand operating from a shop at Sunset Junction, right where hipster Silverlake meets the rather more bouji Los Feliz. The clothes are minimalist, mostly monochrome and made in drapey, floaty fabrics perfectly suited to the Californian sunshine. Even better, everything is produced ethically in LA.
4. Los Angeles County Museum of Art
The grandaddy of LA art spaces, LACMA is a day out all by itself. Located in the heart of Miracle Mile and alongside the La Brea tar pits – where little ones can discover the prehistory of the area and watch as scientists excavate mammoth bones and suchlike – there are cafes, interactive installations, rolling lawns and (of course) incredible permanent and temporary exhibitions to enjoy.
5. Abbot Kinney Boulevard
Venice Beach still has the air of Camden-on-sea, with its graffiti and bong shops and tattooed eccentrics roaming the boardwalk. But head a few minutes inland and you’ll see signs of gentrification writ large across the neighbourhood. Of course, this is a mixed blessing – but the revival of Abbot Kinney Boulevard, now one of the city’s best shopping destinations, is one positive outcome. Expect amazing, healthy food (our fave local haunt is vegan restaurant Plant Food & Wine); chic boutiques and, of course, Salt & Straw – a legendary ice cream parlour with insane flavours and queues stretching around the block.
6. The Grove
Okay, so The Grove is a little more mainstream than the rest of our list: an upscale outdoor mall in La Brea, central LA, and home to big brands such as Apple and J Crew. But it does have some real benefits for families – one being the attached Farmer’s Market, where a bunch of independent operators offer global cuisines in fun and relaxed surroundings. Another is the small green and pond at the heart of the mall, where families can lounge on picnic blankets (provided) and kids can enjoy the free entertainment. It’s a good, safe spot to let your toddler out of the stroller and onto the grass – and sometimes that’s all you need.
7. Palm Springs
Palm Springs is essentially an outlying suburb of the city, just 90 minutes out of town on the freeway. And once you’ve visited, you’ll know why it’s crucial to do so: there’s nowhere quite like it. A small desert resort with a big personality, it boasts distinctive ‘desert modern’ architecture, great restaurants and hip hotels like the Ace and its King’s Highway diner, year-round sunshine and some truly spectacular mountain scenery. Make a weekend of it – you won’t regret it.
8. Cabazon Dinosaurs
America at its most brilliantly weird, this is a great place to visit on your way to or from Palm Springs: a one-of-a-kind tourist attraction situated in a windblown dust-trap of a town right beside the freeway. It basically consists of a lot of very large, biologically inaccurate dinosaur models scattered across the sands. Older kids will love it, little ones may be a little perturbed – but not for long. Think of the photos.
9. Griffith Observatory
High on a hill overlooking most of central LA stands Griffith Observatory, a venerable white Art Deco edifice boasting an impressive collection of astronomical instruments, ever-changing exhibitions and a planetarium with an enthralling programme of science-y shows. You can’t book for the latter in advance, so get there early and have a wander around the grounds. The views are incredible – and you may even spot a coyote in the canyon below.
Grand Central Market
Street food comes to LA’s business district in the form of the renovated and relaunched Grand Central Market – a perfect brunch or lunch destination for anyone in the mood for eggs, Mexican food, Jewish delicacies or Thai noodles. In fact, pretty much everything is covered here, and the vibe is resolutely friendly and informal. Our little one wandered around for an hour greeting everyone she met, and literally everyone seemed pleased to make her acquaintance.
And 3 more (child-friendly) foodie hotspots…
I scream, you scream, we all scream for… Well, Jeni’s isn’t just any old ice cream. This Los Feliz institution offers seasonally changing ‘collections’ of themed flavours that kid will love, such as bourbon salted pecan, churro, roasted strawberry buttermilk and wildberry lavender. Go once and rest assured, you’ll go a hundred times.
Unpretentiously hip and very tastefully designed (in minimalist Mad Men style), this small Echo Park cafe-restaurant offers some of the best brunch options in town, including an irresistible breakfast sandwich and blueberry and lemon zest pancakes that defy description. Side note: the staff are almost incomprehensibly beautiful.
Like Ostrich Farm, another comparatively recent addition to the Echo Park breakfast scene, this cute hole-in-the-wall diner serves up coffee, light lunches and brunch-y classics (smashed avocado and chilli on sourdough) to customers who sit at tables in front of shuttered neighbouring shops. Located on Sunset Boulevard, it can be noisy, but the food is great and it’s perfect for a spontaneous stop-off.
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