Lucky for us, hosting mostly free kids’ birthday parties at the many glorious parks around Los Angeles is available year-round; and with our famous weather, it’s a pretty safe perk to gamble on. From rustic to scenic to built-in activities, the city’s bounty is near limitless. And the best part: no sticky floor and dirty fingerprints to scour afterward. Be sure to check whether there are additional fees around parking or other rules; LA City parks, for example, require a permit fee for bounce houses (we have an entire post just on parks that allow bounce houses). Read on for some of our favorite party parks, with ideas for themes at each one. And check out these other parks with barbecue grills and parks with gated playgrounds, too.
Will Rogers – Pacific Palisades – Cowboy Adventure
1501 Will Rogers Park Road
Nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains, this state historic park really feels as if you’re out in the country, right down to the grazing deer. With trails galore and horse rentals, Will Rogers would make a great venue for a Western birthday party. There are also plenty of shaded picnic tables, barbecues, and a gorgeous green lawn to lounge on, play duck duck goose, or even set up a croquet set. Reservations are available – five or 10 tables.
Malibu Bluffs Park – Malibu – Cool Breezes
24250 Pacific Coast Highway
A free park with a dramatic view of the ocean, this Malibu location will take your breath away. Breezy (and windy) all year round, this can be a great place to throw a party during the dog days of summer (which as we all know can extend into November). The park offers trails, a jungle gym, permits for barbecues, and picnic tables, as well as allowing bounce houses (fee required). Shade is minimal.
Rustic Canyon Recreation Center – Pacific Palisades – Bucolic Coziness
601 Latimer Road
This hidden gem in a Santa Monica canyon offers perhaps the most shade of any park in the city and plenty of picnic tables for vittles. A seasonal pool – open the third Saturday in June through Labor Day – is a terrific and underused amenity. Rustic Canyon also offers barbecues, basketball, baseball, tennis, and volleyball courts. Last time I was there I stumbled on a birthday party featuring a couple of giant parrots. The vintage recreation center is available for rent as back-up, in case of rain.
Virginia Avenue Park – Santa Monica – Get Wet!
2200 Virginia Ave.
This park is an instant classic with an interactive splash-pad water play area (open seasonally from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend) where kids can run in and out of the water. The fountain almost seems to dance as it squirts on and off. There is also the Patio building, next to the water play area, that you can rent and is perfect for birthday parties, as well as a larger community building for rent. There are also a couple of playgrounds, picnic tables (mostly in the sun), barbecues, and basketball courts. Get there early if you want to reserve a table, and bring a swimsuit!
Venice Beach Recreation Center – Venice – Surfs up!
1800 Ocean Front Walk
For a picnic-type party (no picnic tables) with close proximity to a jungle gym, skate park, and live surfers, Venice Beach is the place to hang ten. The kids' play area has a view of the ocean and not a lot of shade, so bring extra sunscreen and, as the playground is not fenced in, make sure the adult/kid ratio provides enough childcare. There are no barbecues and no bounce houses allowed, but plenty of street cred.
RELATED: Top Birthday Party Parks in the San Fernando Valley
Sometimes only beating the candy out of a unicorn will do.
Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area – Ladera Heights – A Sense of Place
4100 S. La Cienega Blvd.
You can see for miles and miles from this urban oasis overlooking DTLA and much more. Eight picnic areas are available for rental for the whole day—just make sure to choose one of the four that are near a playground area and not elsewhere in this sprawling park. Ambitious parents might lead the kids on a hike on the park's many trails and/or go explore the Japanese garden. Tip: Parking is not free on weekends, so come up with a plan to cover that for guests or make plans for drop off and pick up.
Pan Pacific Park – Los Angeles – Film
7600 Beverly Blvd.
Centrally located near the Grove, this surprisingly large park has two different reservable areas for parties. One is larger with a roof and near the play area. The other has a terrific view, no shade, and is up on a hill. Prices vary depending on the number of people. There are also gazebos available to reserve and many barbecues situated around the park. No bounce houses are allowed. As for themes, might I suggest Hollywood, or sports (by the baseball diamond or basketball courts)?
Roxbury Park – Beverly Hills – Tea Party
471 S. Roxbury Drive
With Sprinkles nearby and the fanciness that is Beverly Hills floating in the air, why not have an Alice in Wonderland tea party? Roxbury offers lawn bowling and a croquet and putting green to complete the theme. Shaded picnic tables and barbecues can be reserved in advance ($31 per table, or $215 for a pavilion, which is four tables and two grills). No bounce houses allowed.
Barrington Park – Brentwood – Bounce House!
333 S. Barrington Ave.
Sometimes a bouncy house is all kids really want, and why not give them what they want? This park has a rentable fenced in lawn space that allows for a bounce house, or there are picnic tables with some shade available to the earliest bird. No barbecues are on site, but feel free to bring your own. (Note that the bounce house must come from a list of approved companies.)
Los Encinos – Encino – Culture
16756 Moorpark St.
One of several state historic parks in Los Angeles, Los Encinos boasts a colorful history that mirrors the city’s own – from the Gabrielino Indians to the Spanish. It would make a terrific setting for a Mexican themed party with piñatas, confetti eggs, and pin the tail on the donkey. Free guided tours of the refurbished De la Ossa Adobe are available by appointment. The park boasts more modern amenities as well, including barbecues, a duck pond, and shady picnic benches (first come, first served).
Lake Balboa Park – Van Nuys – Swan Boats
6300 Balboa Blvd.
It's hard to believe a lake big enough to accommodate fishing, kayaking, and boating is nestled in a corner of Van Nuys off the 101 Freeway, but this little oasis has not only multiple playgrounds and a waterfall, but paddle boats shaped like swans available to rent (plus, a lifeguard is on duty from 9am to dusk). Little kids will love the ducks and geese (please pay attention to the signs requesting that you not feed them), while older kids may want to rent a bike or surrey for more active fun. It gets busy on weekends, but there's plenty of parking and in spring the cherry blossom trees all over the park are breathtaking.
Tarzana Recreation Center – Tarzana – Nina Warrior Jr.
665 Vanalden Ave
This tucked-away neighborhood park is great for birthday parties thanks to shady picnic benches and lots of convenient bathrooms inside the rec center, but kids who want to push themselves past the monkey bars will like swinging on the grown-up rings and chin-up bar. The two playgrounds (one for littles, the other for slightly older kids) are shaded, so no one will be too worn out before cake.
Holleigh Benson Memorial Park – Porter Ranch – Tiny Trikes
20500 Sesnon Blvd
While there are the usual playground and picnic tables, the real draw here is the sidewalk loop trail surrounding the park. Little kids can invite friends and guests to bring their bikes and scooters, while adults may want to sit back and enjoy the top-of-the-hill view.
Griffith Park – Los Angeles – Merry-Go-Round
4730 Crystal Springs Road (Park Center between the zoo and
the Los Feliz park entrance)
323.665.3051 or 323.913.4688
For a Mary Poppins-themed birthday party, why not celebrate at Griffith Park’s magical 1926 Spillman carousel? At the bargain rate of $2, kids could go a few times in the midst of other revelries. Chalk would be a great party favor, for kids to practice their sidewalk art. There are a lot of shade trees nearby, or you could find picnic tables in another section of the park with barbecues.
This lake at El Dorado Park begs for a party. Photo by Tracie Hall / CC BY 2.0
El Dorado Park – Long Beach – Boats and Trains
7550 E. Spring St.
Get this: you can actually rent a boathouse shelter with tables, and that comes with the use of 15 paddle boats that seat up to three each. This package even comes with a jumper house. Or you can rent boats individually (weekends only). And if that’s not enough maritime activity for you, there is also a radio-controlled model sailboat area (see above). The park has many other amenities, including the frontier-themed El Dorado Express train ($5 per ride, 11am-5pm Saturdays-Sundays), panning for treasure ($7), barbecues (first come, first served), shady picnic tables (can be reserved or first come first served), an archery range, and two stocked fishing lakes. Do bring cash -- parking is $7 on weekends, $8 on holidays.
Charles H. Wilson Park – Torrance – All Aboard!
2200 Crenshaw Blvd.
The free choo-choo train ride alone, though it runs only on limited days, makes this a terrific park, especially for aspiring conductors. The expansive 44 acres offer dozens of shaded benches, barbecues, a duck pond, two jungle gyms, and a tree house – and the parking is plentiful. Just make sure to plan your party on the right day, as the train runs twice monthly (11am-3pm the first Sunday and noon-3pm the third Saturday). Bounce houses are welcome, and reservations are taken for $50 (for non-residents).
Ryan Community Park – Rancho Palos Verdes – Playing Pirates
30359 Hawthorne Blvd.
We always knew this park as "the one with the pirate ship on the back side of The Hill" while growing up in the South Bay. It's a beautiful spot, on a bluff near the ocean with superb views and mature trees. A pirate party theme with treasure hunt would be ideal, as the main playground has a pirate ship structure for kids to explore and pretend to sail the seven seas. You can rent the patio and activity room for up to 40 guests total ($22-$47 an hour). There is also a tot lot, picnic areas with barbecues, grassy fields, and a baseball diamond.
Polliwog Park – Manhattan Beach – Chicks and Ducks and Geese
1601 Manhattan Beach Blvd.
The highlight of this park is the pond, which plays host to all manner of ducks, geese, and other waterfowl. A natural wildlife refuge borders the pond on one side, adding to the scenic beauty. There are a number of picnic tables, eight of which can be reserved for rental, and six barbecues. There also are three gazebos available to rent( no barbecues allowed at these). Play areas include a lighthouse-inspired climbing structure, sand area, and colorful tot lot. Any would be a great place to play Duck, Duck, Goose.
Originally published June 19, 2012, updated since
Photos via Bigstock unless otherwise noted