Los Angeles offers children more than a freeway to Disneyland. It has a cornucopia of places where they can have fun, perhaps learn something and where parents won’t have to endure tedium. Here are some ideas.
Star Eco Station
10101 Jefferson Boulevard
Culver City, CA 90232
This is a rescue center for exotic animals. What are “exotic animals”? A sleep inducing definition is found in the U. S. Code of Federal Regulations:
…any animal not identified in the definition of "animal" provided in this part that is native to a foreign country or of foreign origin or character, is not native to the United States, or was introduced from abroad. This term specifically includes animals such as, but not limited to, lions, tigers, leopards, elephants, camels, antelope, anteaters, kangaroos, and water buffalo, and species of foreign domestic cattle, such as Ankole, Gayal, and Yak.
Federal regulators apparently believe that if it’s foreign, it’s exotic.
The Star Eco Station is a private, nonprofit organization. It does not have elephants, camels or other large animals. It does have many types of exotic marine life and a fascinating collection of exotic reptiles. All of the “guests” have either been brought to the United States illegally – then confiscated or are here legally but have been abandoned.
Top-of-the-hour tours are offered on Saturdays and Sundays. Tours last about an hour and offer kids (and brave adults) the chance to touch some of the wildlife. When I was there the children’s ages ranged between four and ten.
The Santa Monica Pier Aquarium is a nice complement to the Star Eco Station and could serve as the second stop of a half-day outing.
Santa Monica Pier Aquarium
1600 Ocean Front Walk
Santa Monica, CA
Secreted below the Santa Monica Pier, this aquarium is devoted to Santa Monica Bay marine life. Operated by the nonprofit Heal the Bay, the displays appeal to children and adults. The aquarium offers specially tailored programs for children.
Once you have finished touring the displays it’s a very short walk “upstairs” to the Santa Monica Pier’s historic, still operational 1916 Loof Carousel with its fifty-six, hand carved, wooden horses. From there you can zigzag your way through the crowds towards the end of the pier and arrive at Pacific Park, a mini-amusement park that has rides for all ages.
The Strand – Bicycle Beach Path
If you can ride a bicycle, regardless of age, and want to enjoy southern California’s beach environment, try The Strand, also sometimes more formally called the Marvin Braude Bike Trail.
Its 22 miles follows the coastline from Will Rogers State Beach in Pacific Palisades to Torrance County Beach near the foot of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. I have only ridden the stretch between Santa Monica and Venice. I understand that further south there are sections where the bike path shares the road with automobiles.
There are a number of stores along the path that rent bikes, roller blades and roller skates.
Los Angeles Zoo
5333 Zoo Drive
Los Angeles, CA
I have minimal enthusiasm for viewing caged animals. Nevertheless, zoos provide adults and children an opportunity to view animals they would otherwise only see in pictures. I am told this is good. I am also told that knowledge acquired by studying zoo animals leads to scientific advances that would otherwise be extremely difficult if not impossible to achieve.
The Los Angeles Zoo lacks the beauty and scope of the San Diego Zoo and it is not as child friendly as Santa Barbara’s much smaller zoo. If a visit to the zoo is on your itinerary and San Diego and Santa Barbara are too distant, Los Angeles’s zoo can be an adequate substitute.
The zoo is not the only Griffith Park location that children might enjoy visiting. The 1926 Spillman Merry-Go-Round, Travel Town Museum and the Griffith Observatory all offer enjoyment opportunities for children.
Bob Baker Marionettes
1345 W. First Street
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Even with a tinny sound system, dilapidated facilities and a program that could be updated, the marionettes are a delightful sight. For children used to virtual reality, marionettes may not generate the enchantment of times past. But, watching expert masterminders manipulate their control bars and bring marionettes to life delivers fascination for young and old.
At one time the Bob Baker Marionettes enjoyed an international reputation. Over the years the popularity of marionettes waned but never disappeared. Bob Baker died last month at age 90. The theater’s lease is up in May 2015. They have been performing for more than 50 years and this may be your last chance to see these marionettes perform. Somewhat to my surprise, when I recently attended a show the audience’s largest group of children appeared to be in their early teens.
Following the performance you may want to walk around the corner to Vista Hermosa Park at 100 N. Toluca Street. This park is a hidden, downtown, hillside gem. Landscaped with native plants and maintained in pristine condition there is a children’s play area near the top and nice, atypical views of the LA skyline.
California Science Center
700 Exposition Park Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90037
It doesn’t compare to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry but with the addition of spaceship Endeavor the comparison is no longer embarrassing. Other exhibits have been added and old exhibits have been improved. The Science Center is on a definite upward swing. With many interactive exhibits, it’s a place where neither kids or adults will get bored.
Leonis Adobe Museum
23537 Calabasas Road
Calabasas, CA 91302
This open-air museum was a 1880s San Fernando Valley ranch. It is located in the western portion of the Valley, in the center of the Calabasas business district, just off the 101 Freeway.
The first portion of the Leonis Adobe was built in 1844. Later, it was expanded and became home to Miguel Leonis and his wife Espiritu, a Chumash Indian. Together they owned a large portion of the West San Fernando Valley. When Miguel Leonis died Espiritu’s right to the property was contested because she was Indian and a woman. She sued successfully to have title confirmed in her.
The Leonis Adobe is the destination for numerous school field trips. Its volunteers and docents are proficient in guiding children through the various exhibits that include live animals with which children have opportunities to interact.
Kidspace Children’s’ Museum
480 N. Arroyo Boulevard
Pasadena, CA 91103
Located at the west end of Pasadena’s Brookside Park near the Rose Bowl, the Kidspace Children’s Museum occupies 2.2 acres of outdoor learning environments as well as indoor exhibits. Children one year old and up have a chance to unleash an earthquake, feed giant bugs, craft art through nature and climb raindrops. It is the outstanding children’s museum in Los Angeles.
P.S. There are numerous other places within the greater Los Angeles area that are kid friendly. Among those is the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits, the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach or even the Huntington Gardens in San Marino, which has constructed a special, child friendly area.
Jaak Treiman is author of A Diplomatic Guide to Los Angeles: Discovering its Sites and Character. He is also the Honorary Consul for Estonia and a member of the Los Angeles Consular Corps. This blog is written in his personal capacity for members of the Los Angeles Consular Corps and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Estonian government or foreign ministry or the views of the Los Angeles Consular Corps. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.