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Hey! Let's do L.A.!

The sidewalks in Beverly Hills are smooth, but skate ramps come without curbs. Using the ones at the Santa Monica Boys & Girls Club (1238 Lincoln Blvd.; 310/393-9629) is as simple as filling out an application, signing a waiver, and forking over $5 for a one-year membership (ages 7 to 18). Serious boarders and bladers may want to make the trek north to Ventura for a killer afternoon at Alpine Ventura [Formerly known as Skate Street.] (1990B Knoll Dr., Ventura; 805/650-1213), a 29,000 square-foot indoor skate park. To buy skateboards and cool gear by Shortys, Este, and Girl & Chocolate, cruise on over to ZJ Boarding House (2619 Main St., Santa Monica; 310/392-5646).

Popping a mean wheelie can't compare to the thrill of pedaling a high-wire bicycle 42 feet above the lobby floor of the brand-new California Science Center (700 State Dr.; 323/724-3623, $2 per ride) downtown. Other great sensations range from sweet (chicks hatching) to scary (simulated earthquakes) to squeamishly seductive (an operating-room video). You'll want to return again and again; since admission is free, you will. Don't miss the Insect Zoo, with its giant ant farm, next door at the Natural History Museum (900 Exposition Blvd.; 213/763-3466).

At Santa Monica Airport's Museum of Flying [This museum is under renovation until 2006.] (2772 Donald Douglas Loop N.; 310/392-8822), kids clamber around more than 30 aircraft, design their own fighter planes, and go for simulator rides in Air Venture, the museum's interactive area. Extend the good time by reserving weekend brunch at Typhoon (3221 Donald Douglas Loop S.; 310/390-6565; brunch for four $60), a Pan-Asian restaurant just 200 feet from the runway. You might catch Tom Cruise, one of the celebs who garages his plane at the airport, in a Top Gun takeoff. Failing that, you've still got a panoramic view from the Pacific all the way to Century City. Restaurant DC3 [This restaurant is no longer in business.] has the view too, but the time to come is from six to nine, Tuesday through Friday. Your kids will be fed and entertained in the museum downstairs (best for ages 4 to 12) while you dine À deux. Reserve by 2 p.m. the same day.

For a clickety-clack experience, head downtown to Union Station (800 N. Alameda St.) and take a tour-the-missions day trip north to Santa Barbara or south to San Juan Capistrano. Or just check out the station itself, a 1939 Mission-style building that allows you to slip back to the glory days of overland travel. Tucked into the former telephone room is Traxx (213/625-1999; lunch for four $60), a new restaurant that departs from typical station food. Try the ahi tuna napoleon with crispy wontons.

The majority of the trains at Travel Town (5200 W. Zoo Dr., Griffith Park; 213/662-5874) don't go anywhere. That doesn't bother most kids, who are happy just to scramble over the biggest collection of steam locomotives in the West.

culture . . . yeah we got that

Banners all over town put a friendly face on the high-minded collections of the Getty Center (1200 Getty Center Dr.; 310/440-7300). Art information rooms in each of the five pavilions make masterpieces such as Mantegna's (that's Andrea, not Joe) Adoration of the Magi accessible; the costumes in the Family Room allow kids to dress up like the subjects in their favorite paintings. Beyond all that, it's fun just to ride the tram and run around all those travertine plazas. Bring home the new Going to the Getty guide by the noted children's book illustrator/author team, J. Otto Siebold and Vivian Walsh.

Kids might ooh for a few seconds before Gainsborough's Blue Boy at the Huntington Library (1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino; 626/405-2141), but they'll aah for hours in the Botanical Gardens. Particularly popular are the Desert Garden's otherworldly cacti, and the Rose Garden, especially in spring when the pergolas disappear under blossoms (and year-round for a treat in the tearoom). The Japanese garden's bonsai collection, Zen garden, 19th-century house, and moon and zigzag bridges are worth an afternoon in themselves.

The Carole and Barry Kaye Museum of Miniatures [This museum is no longer in operation.] might seem the unlikeliest place to experience a European Grand Tour, but it's all here, albeit scaled way down. Visit Fontainebleau, Hampton Court, the Doge's Palace, even the Vatican, complete with an accurate rendering (thanks to advanced color copiers) of the Sistine Chapel. Boys and girls alike fall under the spell of a Titanic made of 75,000 toothpicks and Alexander the Great's siege tent at Halicarnassos. One of the newer exhibits -- the courtroom scene of the O. J. Simpson trial -- brings the players down to size.

Take little children, or big kids with an imaginative mind-set, to Every Picture Tells a Story (1131-C Montana Ave.; 310/451-2700), where they can sprawl on a rug to read illustrated books and see how the tales took shape in the adjacent gallery of original art from children's books. Storyopolis (12348 Ventura Blvd.; 818/509-5600) is perfect for a town where most children's-book authors have screenplays moldering in desk drawers: it's a bookstore, an art gallery, and a production company all in one.

The Hollywood Bowl (2301 N. Highland Ave.), a legendary amphitheater for concerts and performances, is less well-known as a public park, a perfect place for kids to rock and roll across the lawns of what was originally known as Daisy Dell. Throughout the summer, the Los Angeles Philharmonic presents a series of open rehearsals, arts and crafts workshops, and performances (213/850-2000).

For all ages, nothing beats Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade. Little ones bounce from streetside topiary dinosaurs to toys (at Puzzle Zoo) to treats (from the Candy Baron) to Johnny Rockets for a burger or La Salsa for a burrito. Older kids love cruising though NA*NA for dispensable (to you) essentials (to them); trying a new band on for size at Hear's listening bar, and rounding the corner to Vans, at 400 Broadway, for California classics: sneakers and big pants.

Two other spots to shop: Melrose Avenue, starting at Martel (Fred Segal for sure; Retail Slut, Wacko, and Atomic Garage maybe), and La Brea Avenue, between Beverly and Second (check out American Rag, Stüssy, and Swell). And don't miss the chili dogs at Pink's, where La Brea meets Melrose.

I spy the giant doughnut crowning Randy's Donuts at 805 West Manchester Boulevard in Inglewood. Also keep your eyes peeled for the outsize binoculars in front of Chiat-Day advertising on Main Street in Venice, and the giant hot dog of Tail O' The Pup, a takeout spot at 329 San Vicente Boulevard that serves you-guessed-it.

Heather Smith MacIsaac is the creative director at Travel & Leisure.


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