For those living in the Los Angeles area, the sunny, sprawling metropolis is a year-round playground famous for its beaches, museums, studios and celebrities. Plus much more. And while the City of Angels attracts tourists throughout the year, summer is especially popular with families seeking summer fun.
Endless Summer Fun in Los Angeles
When you live in L.A. – especially if you grew up here – it’s almost easy to take for granted the numerous natural and cultural attractions and recreational activities.
Hosting out-of-town family and friends on day trips reminds me of how much L.A. has to offer and how proud I am to call it home.
From the time my kids were babies, we have spent countless hours enjoying L.A.’s beaches, museums, nature centers, studios, and parks. While the following list isn’t complete (there isn’t enough room for it all), it contains many of my family’s favorite outings.
Zuma Beach, Malibu. A quintessential California beach, Zuma is a clean, wide sandy beach with good waves for body surfing, numerous lifeguards, food huts (that serve freshly grilled burgers), swings, restrooms, showers and ample parking.
Santa Monica State Beach. Smack dab in the middle of beach culture, this wide stretch of sand anchors the Santa Monica Pier, home to an amusement park, carousel, aquarium and restaurants (plus the original Hot Dog on a Stick). There’s also a paved bike path.
Leo Carrillo State Beach, Malibu. Away from crowds, the one-plus mile beach is dotted with sea caves, tide pools and picnic areas. Check out the visitor center’s interpretive displays, guided nature walks and campfire programs.
Whale Watching and Harbor Cruises
Spirit Cruises. See cargo ships, tankers and freighters from all ports of the world, sea lions and maybe dolphins on a one-hour cruise through the Los Angeles Harbor. On two-hour whale watching cruises (Dec. – March) you’ll most likely see gray whales and maybe orcas, blue whales and humpback whales. Watch for dolphins!
The iconic, 4,200-acre Griffith Park has numerous trails and historic attractions including train rides, pony rides, the L.A. Zoo and Griffith Observatory. Picnic tables, grills and restrooms make this park a popular gathering spot.
The Griffith Observatory has exhibits, telescopes, shows, and special events. During free monthly public star parties, local astronomers are on hand with their telescopes to share stunning views of the sun, moon and stars.
Ferndell, a cozy woodsy enclave, has footbridges, a seasonal brook, a children’s play area and picnic tables. There’s also a small cafe and trailhead for the two-mile hike to the observatory.
Hooray for Horses
A range of equestrian centers make it easy to learn the ropes and ride like a pro through canyons and forests. Be sure to wear long pants and closed-toe shoes. Most equestrian centers only accept cash or checks.
Sunset Ranch Hollywood: One- and two-hour guided tours go through Griffith Park. Minimum age: 8. Rates start at $40/one hour.
Westside Riding School, Pacific Palisades: Guided trail rides meander through Will Rogers State Historic Park. Learn about the early 20th-century cowboy and actor’s life on scenic trails with views of the park, the Los Angeles basin, the ocean and Catalina Island. You can also explore this park on foot. Minimum age: 8. Rates: $75 for about 50 minutes. Parking: $12.
SheBuysTravel Tip: One of our favorite things to do when taking a beach vacation is to hire a photographer for family photos. This is a special gift and souvenir that we cherish. We use Flytographer to book a local photographer located in the area that we're traveling to. Use this link and you will get $25 off your photo session.
Griffith Park Horse Rentals, at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Burbank: These gentle riding tours take big groups through Griffith Park. Minimum age:6, and four feet tall. Rates vary but start at $25/hour under 200 pounds.
Wagon Wheel Ranch, Palos Verdes: One and two-hour horseback rides offer ocean and canyon views. In addition, hoof care and the proper way to bridle and unbridle a horse are demonstrated before and after your trail ride. Rates: From $50/hour.
Botanical Gardens/Nature Centers
Descanso Gardens. Whether you’re pushing a strolling on nature paths or feeding ducks in a lake, the themed gardens are pretty year-round. The Enchanted Railroad, a 1/8th replica of a diesel train, chugs around the promenade.
L.A. County Arboretum & Botanic Garden. Home to thousands of plants from around the world, the arboretum offers art classes, storytelling, and other special family events.
Huntington Library Art Collection and Botanical Gardens. In addition to its art collections, the Huntington has gorgeous themed botanical gardens with more than 15,000 kinds of plants from around the world. Nature activities take place on weekends, and family events are held monthly.
Whittier Narrows Nature Center . Peruse center exhibits and walk along self-guided trails at the 400-acre riparian woodland. Borrow binoculars and bird books free of charge.
Eaton Canyon Nature Center. Short nature walks and longer hikes mender through coastal sage scrubs, sycamores and oaks. The three-mile roundtrip Eaton Canyon Falls hike leads to a 30-foot waterfall.
L.A.’s Wild Side
Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens. The beautifully landscaped zoo houses more than 1,100 mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles. Check times for interactive animal shows.
Aquarium of the Pacific is home to more than 11,000 animals in three main galleries representing the diverse regions of the Pacific Ocean. More than 50 indoor and outdoor exhibits showcase fish, sharks, turtles, penguins, coral, kelp forests and more. Festivals and whale watching tours are also offered.
Cabrillo Marine Aquarium. Programs include grunion hatching and beach clean-up days.
California Science Center. Interactive exhibits feature ecosystems, world of life, the universe, the massive Space Shuttle Endeavor and more. And it’s free! Tickets are sold for IMAX and special exhibits.
Museum Row is a great place to visit several top L.A. museums in one day. They include the Page Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Petersen Automotive Museum. See the famous La Brea Tar Pits for free.
The Getty. Young kids may be overwhelmed with the massive collection of European drawings, paintings and sculptures. Keep it simple. Pick up a family guide at the information desk and visit the Family Room, featuring activity coves and treasure-hunt walls.
Kid-Friendly Studio Tours
Universal Studios Hollywood. Aboard a spacious tram with narrated audio, see the magic of special effects as you drive through movie sets on the famous Studio Tour. Rides and shows make this a fun day outing.
Warner Brothers Studios, Burbank. Ages 8 and older get a behind the-scenes look at movie sets, wardrobe department and museum housing props and scripts.
Paramount Pictures, Hollywood. Chances of spotting a celebrity are good during this classic two-hour golf-cart tour for ages 12 and older. See TV and film soundstages, although doors are closed during taping.
How does your family like to spend a day in L.A.? Tell us in the comment section below.
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