While no one can deny the pleasures of venerable Disneyland, there's more to do when visiting Los Angeles with kids than just speeding through Space Mountain and picking up hitchhiking ghosts at Haunted Mansion.
Savvy travelers like you know how to stay out of line at Disneyland, "doing" Disneyland and California Adventure in two days. With a Ridemax touring plan, they dodge crowds as a custom schedule leads to each ride when lines are shortest. With time left over, you can explore the iconic Southern California sights.
Hollywood with Kids
Along the boulevard, star-struck tourists scan the bronze-and-pink star plaques on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for favorite stars' names or pose for pics with Batman, Wonder Woman and other film character look-alikes hanging out in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater.
In Grauman's courtyard, even indifferent kids end up sticking their feet in Tom Cruise's shoe prints or grabbing friends to point out a favorite film idol's signature. Take in a first-run feature film here, ogle the scarlet-lacquer-and-gold-leaf Asian decor, watch the crimson, velvet curtains swish open as the show begins, and you'll never look at the local multiplex quite the same way again.
Farmers Market and The Grove
Trendy restaurants and shops face the central park area, where a water fountain dances to musical medleys.
Farmers Market maintains a strong connection to its past, its red vinyl stools, green counters and green-painted folding chairs filled with tourists and Hollywood locals who still buy meats and produce here. The air fills with mouth-watering smells from Cajun-flavored Gumbo Pot and the market's international food stalls, and everyone stops for a bite to eat. Looking for celebrities? The Los Angeles Times dubs this unlikely locale the best place to spot them, although frankly, I've never recognized anyone famous when I've been there.
Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive
Rodeo Drive draws more up-market clientele and is better for fashion-conscious pre-teens and teenagers than for little ones. It's pronounced roh-DAY-oh (there are no cowboys here), and the streets aren't paved with gold, but the shoppers who frequent this three-block haven of haute couture must have plenty of it, judging from the Lamborghinis, Rolls Royces and Bentleys parked curbside. Despite its high-falutin' reputation, tourists outnumber shoppers, so don't be embarrassed to join the window-shopping and jaw-dropping.
Skip the boring, expensive and often-inaccurate movie stars' home tours on Hollywood Boulevard and hop on the Beverly Hills Trolley instead. Discreet tour guides won't say who lives here now, but they do dish up tidbits about former residents.
La Brea Tar PitsHang around Los Angeles long enough and you may wonder if the place is cracking up. At La Brea Tar Pits, it is. Rock fissures have channeled sticky tar to the surface here for more than 30,000 years, trapping uncounted giant sloths, woolly mammoths and saber-toothed cats in its gummy grasp.
The George Page Museum displays the most interesting finds. Kids like the What It's Like to be Trapped in Tar exhibit, and when a docent is on duty, they can hunt for fossils, too.
Aquarium of the Pacific
The Aquarium of the Pacific is one of the country's largest, offering tons of ways to enjoy the sea creatures, lots of touching pools and for older children, some great animal encounters.
Santa Monica's Waterfront
If a driver's brakes failed approaching the end of legendary Route 66 on Los Angeles' western edge, they might have sailed right past the carousel and onto Santa Monica Pier. Today, locals and tourists crowd it on hot summer nights, so thick that their voices all but drown out the sound of the surf as they head for Pacific Park's rides.
Runnin' with the Grunion
South of Santa Monica, lovers take moonlight strolls along Redondo Beach, but they aren't the only ones who think a full moon at the beach romantic. In spring and summer, at high tide and just after a full moon, banana-sized, silver-colored grunion fish rush ashore for a "quickie," spawning just 30 seconds before they return oceanward. Children under 16 and California fishing license-holders can scramble to grab the critters before they head back to sea. With the only allowed fishing gear being your hands, it's almost as much fun as Disneyland.
More Great Places to Go in Los Angeles with Kids
A public garden may not be the first thing that comes to mind for children, but Huntington Library and Gardens in Pasadena is a great place to take the stroller set - and they have such a fun-looking Kids Garden that it makes me wish I was five again, just so I could play there.
Doing It All For Less
Depending on how many of these activities you and your family want to enjoy, you could save some money when you go to LA with the kids by getting the multi-attraction discount Go Los Angeles Card. Use this handy guide to find out all you need to know about it.