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Exploring family-friendly L.A. — palm trees and holiday spirit galore

If, like us, you’re thinking ahead to Thanksgiving and winter vacation activities, you may want to consider the kid-friendly options and learning experiences right up the road in Los Angeles. We’re just back from a three-day recon and can’t wait to return with our family. Here are some perfect stops to take when exploring family-friendly L.A.


Happy Holidays with Palm Trees: Exploring Family-Friendly L.A.

Posted on November 6, 2019

How is it possible that it’s already November? Weren’t we just at the beach last week?  Where I grew up in the Midwest, falling temps were a brisk reminder that winter was on its way. But here in SoCal, where palm trees don’t lose their leaves, winter and its holidays can sneak up on us. In fact, if it weren’t for the school schedules that impact our NorCal kiddos, my husband and I might be the last folks in town to realize it’s time for turkey.

If, like us, you’re thinking ahead to Thanksgiving and winter vacation activities, you may want to consider the kid-friendly options and learning experiences right up the road in Los Angeles. We’re just back from a three-day recon and can’t wait to return with our family.

Best L.A. Home Base

The Garland, located in North Hollywood, doesn’t promote itself as being family-friendly, but it is. The hotel’s colorful ’70s décor (tangerine!) was preserved in a recent renovation, and “Kid Rooms” and “Family Suites” offer bunk beds in an alcove in addition to king and queen beds. Also, a young, diverse staff offers dive-in movies at the pool, a taco stand on the patio most nights, a kid’s menu at the pool bar, an onsite laundry, and a free shuttle to nearby Universal Studios theme park. thegarland.com

The Garland Bar
The Garland’s Lobby Bar serves adult beverages and kid-friendly food


The Greta Effect

It seems ironic given that Los Angeles is famous for its car culture, but the city now boasts a wonderful Metro system that makes car-less exploration easy. Some lines glide above traffic, others are below ground, and together they provide a fast, safe, and inexpensive way to get around.

In fact, Ranch & Coast readers could catch the Amtrak at Solana Beach, disembark at L.A.’s Union Station, jump on the Red Line Metro to the Universal/Studio City station, and then take The Garland’s shuttle to the hotel. We didn’t do this on our recent mission, but we will when we go back because we wasted way too much time looking for scarce parking.


La La Land

Of course, your kiddos will want to connect with their favorite movie and television characters while they’re in L.A. Universal Studios is one popular place to do this, especially if they’re Harry Potter fans. However, we opted for the Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood, where we explored back lots and sound stages, learned about the process of filmmaking, and got up close and personal with The Big Bang Theory, Aquaman, Batman, Harry Potter, Ellen, and Friends. The highlight for me? Sitting in Sheldon’s spot on the couch!

Fans of Friends love the Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood


Griffith Park

L.A.’s 4,000+ acre urban open space is home to, among other things, hiking trails, the Los Angeles Zoo, a railroad museum, the Autry Museum of the American West, Griffith Observatory, and the famous Hollywood sign.

We weren’t sure what to expect at the Autry Museum, but were particularly interested in the exhibits about the Native American view of environmental issues, such as fire ecology, land preservation, and damming rivers.

Griffith Observatory rests on the south slope of Mount Hollywood and provides a spectacular panoramic view of Los Angeles, as well as a relatively close-up view of the Hollywood sign. It’s not surprising that the iconic Art Deco landmark has played a role in more than a few Hollywood movies — most recently, La La Land.

Griffith Observatory at dusk
A view of the L.A. basin at dusk from the western side of the Samuel Oschin Planetarium dome of Griffith Observatory

If you only have time to do one thing in the park, choose the Observatory and go up to the Roof Terrace to view the sky through its 12-inch Zeiss telescope. Also, be sure to take in one of the wonderful planetarium shows. Light of the Valkyries was the highlight of our three-day visit.

Griffith Observatory from the lawn


Downtown L.A. is a destination unto itself. We love the beautiful Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Los Angeles Music Center, but this time The Broad got all of our attention. This world-class contemporary art museum, open since 2015, offers a buffet of modern art created from the late 1950s to 2018. About 200 pieces are on display, which is a tiny fraction of the total collection of about 2,200 pieces belonging to Eli and Edye Broad. Here’s the backstory of their Andy Warhol tomato soup can painting: Edye could have bought it for $150 in 1961, but hesitated and eventually purchased it for $10 million in the ’90s. The Broads are still acquiring art at the rate of about one piece a week.

Under the Table, Robert Therrien, The Broad
Under the Table, Robert Therrien, The Broad

Also downtown, the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo tells the story of early immigration and the WWII internment of U.S. residents of Japanese descent.

Japanese American Museum
Japanese American Museum

Wilshire Boulevard

The Miracle Mile is home to three well-known, kid-friendly museums: La Brea Tar Pits, the Petersen Automotive Museum, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). However, I’m pretty sure our dimpled darling will also enjoy hanging out at the American Girl store nearby at The Grove. It is easily the largest I have ever seen and well stocked with a jaw-dropping selection of dolls and accessories.

La Brea Tar Pits
La Brea Tar Pits are the only active urban fossil dig site in the world

Santa Monica

If your kids love the rides at the Del Mar Fair, take the Metro to Santa Monica and walk out on the colorful pier. I’m not a fan of Ferris wheels, but the one on this landmark wharf, which opened in 1909, offers a magnificent ocean view. discoverla.com   Elizabeth Hansen

Santa Monica Pier at twilight
Santa Monica Pier




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