From its beaches to its theme parks, Los Angeles can be a veritable utopia for kids. Disneyland and Universal Studios offer the wonder of themed characters and movie magic, while the coastline promises seemingly endless fun in the sun. But what if you want a break from the typical tourist itinerary? Happily, opportunities for amusement and education—which don't involve epic lines for rides or hefty entrance fees—abound here, too. Little ones can learn a great deal, and also have tons of fun, at attractions that explore the natural world—ranging from an aquarium to an expanse of urban wilderness to an ancient tar pit. They can also enjoy museum visits that let them play scientist or astronaut. But no educational component is necessary, of course! Some of the city’s best family-friendly sites just let kids be kids—by riding a carousel, roller coaster, or pony, or watching a movie made just for them.
El Capitan Theatre
This grand 1920s movie palace gives the whole family a taste of Old Hollywood, along with a dose of Disney. (The Walt Disney Company spearheaded the restoration of its Spanish Colonial exterior and lavish East Indian interior.) Kids will love the current and retro Disney flicks, the Wurlitzer organ, and preshow entertainment.
The 4,000+ acres of landscaped parkland and wilderness at the country's largest municipal park offer kids plenty of green space to go bananas in. And if biking, horseback riding, and sports fields aren't enough to keep yours occupied, you'll also find a historic merry-go-round, miniature train, and pony rides, too.
Santa Monica Pier
What could be more fun for kids than the surf and sand of Santa Monica? How about a seaside pier with kid-friendly activities galore? Dating back to 1909, the pier hosts a vintage carousel, an aquarium, and an amusement park complete with a Ferris wheel, roller coaster, and arcade games.
California Science Center
This hands-on science and technology museum is a blast for curious young minds. Kids can explore the flora and fauna of various ecosystems, ride a high-wire bicycle to learn about physics, and peer into a microscope to glimpse the tiniest organisms. The pièce de résistance is the space shuttle Endeavor!
La Brea Tar Pits
Kids will get a kick out of this natural wonderland, where tar has bubbled up from the earth for tens of thousands of years. The adjoining Page Museum displays the excavated bones of mastodons and other Ice Age creatures that died in the tar. You can even watch scientists at work in the trenches.