The 72-Hour Guide to Family Friendly Los Angeles

Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem | Image courtesy of Universal Studios Hollywood

No matter your family’s interests - sports, theme parks, art, science, outdoor play, shopping - Los Angeles delivers in a big way. And with nearly 300 days of sun a year, nothing is going to stop your family from fully partaking of the city’s seemingly infinite attractions. Read on for our 72-hour guide to Family Friendly Los Angeles.


The Garland in North Hollywood gets so much right for families. First there are the Family Suites, which feature smart, modern bunk beds; a sizable sitting area; and a king size bed for the parents. Kids even get their own LCD TV, so parents aren’t forced to sit through back to back episodes of Phineas and Ferb. The hotel also has Kids Rooms - they are a bit more cozy, but kids still get their bunk bed and TV in a partitioned nook. There is a nice sized pool where they often screen movies on Friday and Saturday nights, and in the lobby you’ll find a selection of classic board games. The Garland offers convenient free shuttle service to nearby Universal Studios Hollywood.


It’s worth arriving to the Los Angeles Zoo early, when many of the animals are most active. Among the newest residents is a pair of brothers from Australia, three-year-old Tasmanian Devils. (The L.A. Zoo is one of only four zoos in the country to house this species.) The zoo also recently debuted “Hippo Encounter,” a chance for visitors age four years old and up to get up close and personal with hippo Rosie and her mom Mara. Note a separate ticket is required for this experience. Advanced reservations highly recommended.

The Grove


There’s something for everyone at The Grove and the neighboring Original Farmers Market. Highlights for the 12 years and under set include the dancing water show, a visit to Dylan’s Candy Bar, shopping at Sticker Planet, the American Girl store, and watching the peanut butter churn at Magee’s. Another crowd pleaser is the shiny trolley that offers rides from one end of the center to the other during the afternoon and evenings. If you're looking for more than a snack, Pampas Grill, a Brazilian churrascaria, serves delicious beef, chicken and fried plantains.

Sunset Ranch 1

DAY ONE: 2:30 p.m. - Sunset Ranch

A one-hour guided trail ride with Sunset Ranch Hollywood in the Hollywood Hills (minimum age to ride is 8 years) is the perfect family escape. You don’t need special riding gear, just pants and closed toe shoes. The ranch provides helmets. Nor do you need to be an experienced equestrian, the horses are gentle and sure-footed and the views are unforgettable. Advance reservations are recommended.

Travel Town Museum

Day One: 4 p.m. - Griffith Park Train Rides

Train fans young and old can ride the rails in Griffith Park at two locations: the Griffith Park & Southern Railroad, and the namesake railroad at the Travel Town Museum. Located on the southern end of Griffith Park, the Griffith Park & Southern Railroad carries passengers over one mile of track, across a bridge, through a forest and the Old Western Town. The family can also experience the Kid Coaster, a classic simulator ride that’s fun for all ages. The Travel Town Railroad circles around the Travel Town Museum two times. After riding the miniature train, you can explore dozens of vintage railroad locomotives and cars.

Primary image for Bob's Big Boy

DAY ONE: Dinner - Bob’s Big Boy

If there is a young gearhead in your group, and your stay happens to include a Friday night, then head to the circa 1949 Bob’s Big Boy restaurant in Burbank, which hosts a classic car show on Fridays from 3-10 p.m. Expect upwards of 50 well maintained beauties at each event, and after you ogle the wheels, you can settle into a booth for classic burgers and shakes.

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Angelenos are lucky that L.A. is home to several professional sports teams, including the Dodgers, the Clippers and Lakers, the Kings, the Galaxy, and the Rams, who are returning to L.A. after an absence of 20-plus years. But especially if there are girls in your group, check out the professional women’s basketball team, the Los Angeles Sparks, who play at STAPLES Center in Downtown L.A. in the late spring through summer. Every game offers much more than amazing athletes competing at a world-class level - DJ Mal-Ski keeps the energy level high, there are lots of fun swag giveaways, and Mascot Sparky, a pup with a purple mohawk, engages the crowd. You might catch the Sparkids dance team in action and best of all you can score great seats for a song. Bonus: team owner Magic Johnson is often in the house.

Day Two: 10 a.m. - Getty Center

The fun at the Getty Center starts before you even arrive. A streamlined tram takes visitors from the parking garage up the hill to the galleries and gardens. The ride is just a few minutes, but the views are excellent and the kids love it. Once there, be sure to visit the family room, which features several hands-on activities. The central garden, designed by artist Richard Irwin, is also popular with the school age set with its winding paths. Don’t forget to hunt for fossils in the museum’s travertine walls. Admission to the Getty Center is free, but there is a $15 parking fee ($10 after 4 p.m.).

Day Two: noon - Skirball Center

Another winning option, especially for families with younger children, is the Skirball Cultural Center and their permanent exhibition, Noah’s Ark. It’s a very hands-on experience - kids can help build the ark, rescue the animals (all stuffed, wood, or artist designed), climb inside the ark, produce their own storm and more. Note that entry to the exhibition requires a special timed ticket. Advanced reservations recommended.


Day Two: Lunch - Apple Pan

Since 1947, Angelenos have flocked to this lively counter for the iconic hickory burgers and homemade pie. You can also get an excellent tuna or egg salad sandwich. There is often a wait, but the non-stop action behind the counter and retro cone paper cups in metal holders hold an odd thrill for children. Banana cream pie lovers need look no further. Note the eatery is closed Mondays and it’s cash only.

Duff's Cakemix

Day Two: 2 p.m. - Duff’s Cakemix

If you have kids who love to be in the kitchen or fancy themselves as artistes, consider squeezing in a visit to Duff’s Cakemix. It’s a bit spendy, but kids thrill over the opportunity to decorate their very own cake or cupcakes just like the professionals. And look at it this way: you’ll have a yummy snack to take back to the hotel room. Just don’t forget to photograph your child’s masterpiece before you dig in. Reservations are recommended, especially on weekends.

Disney/Pixar Cars Mechanical Institute at the Petersen Automotive Museum
Disney/Pixar Cars Mechanical Institute | Photo: Petersen Automotive Museum

Day Two: 3:30 p.m. Petersen Automotive Museum

Following an extensive $125-million renovation, the Petersen Automotive Museum reopened to the public in December 2015. Designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, the new exterior wraps the museum with ribbons of stainless steel that evoke motion, speed and the lines of a bespoke automobile. At night, the color and steel forms will be lit with LEDs from within to accentuate the sculptural facade of the building.

The Petersen utilizes state-of-the-art technology with displays of historically significant vehicles to tell the story of the automobile in Southern California and around the world. New exhibits feature characters from Disney/Pixar’s Cars, Xbox Forza racing simulators, BMW art cars, the new $400,000 Ford GT, a motorsports gallery, and virtual tours for the iPhone or iPad.

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Day Two: Dinner - Kula

Even kids who aren’t typically keen on sushi will suddenly get enthusiastic about it at Kula Revolving Sushi in West L.A.’s Sawtelle Japantown. At Kula, the sushi travels on small plates around the restaurant on a conveyor belt. You just grab whatever looks good and at the end of the meal, the server counts the number of empty plates on your table. It’s casual, relatively affordable, and fun. For dessert, visit Beard Papa’s next door for chocolate covered cream puffs filled with vanilla custard. But be warned, they can be messy.

Several nearby shops appeal to youthful sensibilities. These include Daiso (located in the same center as Kula), Tokyo Japanese Outlet across the street for Japanese erasers and Hello Kitty items, and Giant Robot for cool t-shirts, figurines and books.

El Capitan Theatre

Day Two: 8 p.m. - El Capitan Theatre

For kids accustomed to watching movies at home or in multiplexes, seeing a movie at the single-screen El Capitan Theatre, a beautifully restored 1926 movie palace, is a huge treat. Disney owns the theater, so your family can enjoy the newest Disney, Pixar or Marvel extravaganza, as well as screenings of Disney classics. Keep an eye out for fun sing-along events for movies such as Frozen and Mary Poppins. Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop is next door and guests are welcome to bring their sundaes and shakes into the theater.

Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem | Photo: Universal Studios Hollywood

Day Three: 9 a.m. - Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal Studios Hollywood has long been one of the most popular family destinations in Southern California. The highly anticipated opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter on April 7, 2016 has only added to its allure. What can Potterites expect? Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey motion simulator ride takes passengers inside Hogwarts castle, while Flight of the Hippogriff is a kid friendly coaster ride. There are shops aplenty inside Hogsmeade Village, and you can cool down with a frosty mug of non-alcoholic butterbeer. Should your budget allow it, Front of Line tickets are a great way to go. Barring that, weekdays generally see lighter crowds than weekends.

Other family friendly attractions include the legendary Studio Tour, Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem, Super Silly Funland, The Simpsons Ride and numerous live action shows.

Universal Citywalk

Day Three: 4 p.m. - Universal CityWalk

Adjacent to Universal Studios Hollywood is Universal Citywalk, a colorful collection of shops, restaurants and attractions, including an IMAX theater and an in-ground dancing fountain fun for cooling off in on hot days. (Just remember to pack a change of clothing.) At iFly Hollywood, children as young as three years old can experience the thrill of “indoor skydiving.” Advanced reservations are suggested.

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Day Three: Dinner - Cafe Sierra

Vacation is a time to splurge, so treat your family to the Seafood & Prime Rib Buffet that’s served Friday through Sunday by Café Sierra at the Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City. The lavish display includes carving stations, King crab legs, lobster, oysters and shrimp. In the summer, the chefs will often barbecue steak outside. The chefs like to mix it up - sometimes there’s a pasta bar, other times you make your own tacos. Of course, the kids will love the dessert buffet, especially the chocolate fountain, where they can dip fresh fruit, marshmallows and Oreos.