Hooray for Hollywood
Where you’re terrific, if you’re even good
Where anyone at all from TV’s Lassie
To Monroe’s chassis, is equally understood.
–Hooray for Hollywood
It’s no secret to our friends that my daughter and I love visiting Los Angeles.
As many times as we’ve been, we’ve never done everything we wanted to do. Friends often call me before they go and ask what they should do with their families when they visit. It’s difficult to say, because there is so much to do. I send them a list (a long list) of things to do, but I usually mark which ones are the ones people will ask them about later. That’s what I’m giving you here…the quintessential Los Angeles family-friendly places to visit. Like the Empire State Building in New York, these are the things people will ask you about later.
When you plan to be a tourist, wear comfortable shoes, and wear layers. In the LA area, the weather can change quickly from warm to chilly and back, so be prepared.
***All of my suggestions are based on family trips and are listed in alphabetical order.***
BEVERLY HILLS There is a lot to see and do in Beverly Hills, and lots of photo opportunities. Rodeo Drive is known for its high end boutiques. Most first-time visitors love to get photos under one of the Rodeo Drive street signs. People watching is great, and if you pay attention, you might recognize a celebrity or two. I’ve seen several celebrities on Rodeo Drive during the day, so keep your eyes open! (For info on Rodeo Drive, click here.) There are shops, shops, and more shops throughout Beverly Hills. Stroll down Beverly or Canon for some different boutiques and restaurants. The Blvd Restaurant at the Beverly Wilshire is easily accessible from Rodeo Drive and a nice place to have lunch. Ask for a table on the patio for good people watching (for info click here). Beverly Garden Park on Santa Monica Blvd is a beautiful green space with a giant Beverly Hills sign providing a great photo backdrop. Real Housewives fan? You’ll want to make a reservation in advance to dine at Villa Blanca, owned by Lisa Vanderpump (info here). The Paley Center for Media is a fun museum at the corner of N. Beverly Drive and S. Santa Monica…a nice air conditioned place to get some “Hollywood” info and buy souvenirs (info here). *The photo below is John O’Hurley of Seinfeld fame. He was at a traffic light next to us in Beverly Hills. I had met him years 20 before on a flight from Atlanta to LA, so I talked to him while we sat at the light. *
DISNEYLAND The original Disney theme park opened in 1955 and is located in Anaheim, a short drive from Los Angeles. The drive is an easy one on the freeway. If you’ve never been to the original Disney theme park, it’s worth a visit. Smaller than Florida’s Disney World, it has a much more intimate feel. Tickets can be purchased in advance or at the gate. For more information, click here.
GRIFFITH PARK AND OBSERVATORY Another iconic spot, you will recognize it from movies like LaLa Land and The Terminator, and from television shows like 90210 and Keeping Up With The Kardashians. A municipal park covering more than 4,300 acres, Griffith Park is a great place for hiking and taking photos of the city below, and it offers a great vantage point for the world-famous Hollywood sign. Trails within the park offer closer access to the sign, but the decks around the observatory offer great photo ops without the hike. Admission to the park and observatory is free, but there is a nominal charge for the planetarium shows. Tickets can only be purchased at the Planetarium. Griffith Park is accessible on foot from Hollywood Blvd (1.5 mile walk) or by car. Parking can be scarce, and there is sometimes a $4 charge for parking. I prefer to take a car service. For information on Griffith Park and its attractions, click here.
THE GROVE The Grove is a large shopping area home to Dylan’s Candy Bar and The American Girl Store. There is also a Sprinkles Cupcakes located here. To see a full listing of stores and attractions at The Grove, click here. There is a large Barnes and Noble, and I always check the events there before I go, because they often have book signings…sometimes celebrities you would recognize. You can check online in advance here. My daughter and I have encountered some celebrities shopping at The Grove. We saw a girl from Dance Moms, and last time, I was shopping in Nordstrom Shoes next to a well-known Hall of Fame former football player (Pittsburgh Steelers).
HOLLYWOOD WALK OF FAME Something everyone needs to see once, and once is probably enough. It’s not the cleanest part of town, and maneuvering through the tourists and the “characters” can be challenging. BUT, you don’t want to miss it. This is where you will see the sidewalk stars on the Walk of Fame. For info on star ceremonies or to locate your favorite entertainer’s star, you can check the website here. Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum is here, and kids love the opportunity to take photos with the “stars” inside (info here). The El Capitan Theatre, built in the 1920s, is also here. El Capitan was converted from a show theatre to a movie theatre in 1941 for the screening of Citizen Kane. Movies are shown daily, and it’s a beautiful setting from a bygone era for watching a movie. For info on the theatre and showtimes, click here. *Beware: the “characters” on the street are not official representatives of any studio. If you take photos with them, they expect $$$*
IN-N-OUT BURGER Just go. It’s one of those things you have to do. There are locations all over town, but we prefer the one in Westwood, near UCLA, on Gayley Avenue. Everyone will ask you when you get home if you had In-n-Out, so just do it. Order your burger Animal Style. See their menu here.
MALIBU Everyone should visit Malibu at least once. We’ve been a few times. You can drive straight up the Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Monica. Park near the Malibu Pier and watch surfers from the pier. Take some photos with the sign in the background. At the end of the pier is Malibu Farm Cafe, a counter service restaurant (walk in only), and at the start of the pier is the Malibu Farm Restaurant (accepts reservations), a table service restaurant. Both are farm-to-table and offer great views. For info on the pier and both restaurants, click here. For shopping, visit the Malibu Country Mart or The Malibu Lumber Yard, both located just off the PCH and full of retail shops and restaurants. Again, these are places you might see some celebrities. Geoffrey’s, located on the PCH, is a 70-year-old legendary hot spot for lunch or dinner, having served JFK and Marilyn Monroe, among others. It offers incredible views of the Pacific Ocean. Reservations suggested. For info on Geoffrey’s, click here. Pepperdine University is also in Malibu. If your kids are with you and they like Nickelodeon’s Zoey 101, lots of the outdoor scenes were filmed on this campus. For info on visiting the campus, click here.
PUEBLO DE LOS ANGELES This is an historic area in downtown LA that was the original settlement that eventually became the city of Los Angeles. The area is home to numerous historic homes (the oldest one in LA!), museums, exhibits, and the famous Olvera Street Market, an iconic Mexican marketplace open since 1930. For more info on Pueblo de Los Angeles, click here.
SANTA MONICA PIER You’ve seen images of Santa Monica Pier in movies (Forrest Gump, Hannah Montana: the Movie) and television shows (Charlie’s Angels, Three’s Company opening sequence). More than 100 years old, the pier offers historical walking tours from its Carousel Bldg on Saturdays and Sundays at 11am and noon. The pier is also the official end (or beginning) of Route 66 and the home of Pier Park, an amusement park featuring a rollercoaster, ferris wheel, and more. The ferris wheel offers beautiful views, and where else are you going to ride a rollercoaster on a pier? Be careful walking around, as the boardwalk is uneven. There are restaurants and vendors along the pier and numerous photo ops. I recommend photos with the ferris wheel in the background, one with the Route 66 sign near the front of the pier, and one along the rail with the beach and Pacific Ocean in the background. Another good photo op: the main sign at the start of the pier. For more information on the pier, click here.
SPRINKLES CUPCAKES The original Sprinkles Cupcakes is in Beverly Hills, on Santa Monica Blvd. Sprinkles offers the world-famous 24-hour Cupcake ATM. If you’ve never experienced this, it’s worth a visit. (They also have a location at The Grove, as mentioned above.) Sprinkles also offers delivery. For more info on Sprinkles, click here.
UNIVERSAL STUDIOS A working movie studio and theme park. Ride the various thrill rides and tour the studio facilities. Many of the rides and attractions are linked to popular movies. Harry Potter Wizard World is most popular, and other popular attractions are rides and experiences based on Jurassic Park, Transformers, Despicable Me, and more. If you like amusement parks, this could be a fun experience. I haven’t visited, because we have an excellent amusement park in Charlotte (Carowinds), and I prefer to spend my time in California doing other things. If this is your thing, though, you’ll likely love it. For more information, check out their website here.
VENICE/VENICE BEACH Home of famous Muscle Beach, a skate park, a freak show, and free spirits, Venice Beach is a must-see. Rent a bicycle in Santa Monica and ride down to Venice Beach along the beach bike path. There are lots of bike rental shops from which to choose. Walk out to the Pacific to stick your toes in the water. Spend some time watching the skaters at the skate park…they are amazing. Shop some of the vendors along the boardwalk and just take in the scene. Enjoy the street performers and artists, and soak up some sun! In Venice, stroll down Abbott Kinney Boulevard, a few blocks off the beach, where there are varieties of boutiques, coffee bars, and restaurants. Check out the Venice Canals while you’re there too. For more info on Venice Beach, click here.
All of these places can be covered in two or three days, if you get an early start and plan well, with the exception of the amusement parks. You should allow a full day for each. Maybe Santa Monica, Venice Beach, and Beverly Hills in one day, followed by The Grove, Hollywood Blvd, and Griffith Park. You can eat at In-n-Out for one meal and enjoy a cupcake from Sprinkles for dessert. This is just a sampling of what the city offers for tourists, but these are iconic spots. There are so many more things to do (see below for a list of more). We’ve been countless times and still have things to check off our list.
Hooray for Hollywood!
MORE PLACES TO SEE AND THINGS TO DO:
Sky Slide (see photo at right, it’s a clear slide from the 70th floor to the 69th floor on the outside of the US Bank Bldg in downtown LA)
La Brea Tarpits
Getty Villa and Gardens
Reagan Presidential Library (Simi Valley)
Lakers Basketball at Staples Center
The Broad Museum
Museum of Ice Cream (tickets are hard to get…must book well in advance)
Museum of Tolerance
Paramount Studios Tour
Warner Bros Studios Tour