Pick and Choose Your LA Itinerary
These are full days! But, you don’t have to cram everything in. Pick and choose what makes sense to you. If you’ve got a little dino-lover, plan to spend extra time at the Natural History Museum, and maybe skip Griffith Park. Conversely, hikers might want to ditch a few museums to spend extra time hiking up to the Griffith Observatory. Read through each day and see where you’ll want to spend more or less time (and definitely decide where you’ll want to eat).
Hikers might want to spend extra time hiking in Griffith Park. Photo by Alexander Bermudez for the Trail Hiking Project
No theme parks make this list, because you can spend all three days at Disneyland/California Adventures easily, and you don’t need me to tell you that. That said, if you’ve got an extra day to spend at an amusement park, you might like our tips and insider secrets for visiting Disneyland, Universal Studios, Legoland, Knott’s Berry Farm, and all the best LA-area theme parks.
Day 1 Itinerary: Downtown, Expo Park, and Griffith Park
People mistakenly think that Los Angeles doesn't have a real downtown. But we do! Because LA is such a sprawling metropolis, we don't have one city center, but many. And the heart of it all is, in fact, DTLA. In recent years Downtown has grown and flourished, and many more people live here. There are theaters and world-class opera, as well as incredible food and history. It's a perfect place to start exploring LA.
Breakfast in Downtown LA at Grand Central Market
Grand Central Market was founded in 1917 as the biggest market on the west coast. Today, California produces 50% of the nuts, fruits, and vegetables in the US. Los Angeles has incredible food from communities around the world. And at Grand Central market, with over 40 vendors and restaurants, families can try any and every kind of food. From traditional breakfast foods at Clark Street Bread or Eggslut to a huge variety of other foods from tacos to delis to seafood and so much more, everyone in the family can find exactly what they're craving. You can fill up your snack bag for threats throughout the day, too.
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Angels Flight is the shortest railway in the world. Photo by @60x80, via Instagram
Across the street from the market is Angels Flight. Dating back to 1901, when the city first started to boom, Angels Flight is a landmark "narrow gauge funicular railway." Basically, that means it's a tiny train that takes people from Hill Street down to Olive Street and back. The total track is just under 300 feet, making its nickname of "the shortest railway in the world" plausible, if not 100% verifiable. A ride to the top takes you right near Disney Concert Hall.
Disney Concert Hall & Grand Park
A short walk from the top of Angels Flight is the Frank Gehry-designed Disney Concert Hall, which sits in the center of DTLA. The ever-present sunshine reflects off the surface and is a marvel to see. See the LA Phil play in its winter home, explore the Broad Museum next door, walk over to the Music Center, let the kids run and play at Grand Park (in the summer, bring your swimsuits and run through the fountains), and walk to the library or The Last Bookstore. Downtown Los Angeles is imminently walkable, and a fun place for families to explore.
The Museums at Exposition Park
After spending as much or little time as you like downtown, it's time to venture over to Exposition Park, for some of the best museums for kids in town. It's also home to USC (go Trojans!).
- California Science Center - Here aspiring astronauts can see the space shuttle Endeavour, and everyone can enjoy the shark tank, special exhibits, IMAX movie theater, and so much more. There are multiple rooms here just for kids to play in and explore. This museum is free for everyone.
- CAAM - The California African American Museum focuses on the culture and heritage of California's African American population. There are rotating exhibits that examine a wide range of art and culture. The museum is free, and has wonderful free programs for kids, too.
- Natural History Museum of LA County - This building is, in my opinion, the crown jewel of museums in LA. Come for the dinos, stay for the hands-on Nature Lab. Before you come, read our insider's guide to visiting the NHM with kids.
- Rose Garden - Be sure to stroll, snack, and snap some pics in the stunning Rose Garden behind the Science Center.
- Lucas Museum Construction - The upcoming George Lucas Museum won't be ready to visit for a few more years, but while you're, be sure to check out the construction of this space-age museum.
- Memorial Coliseum - USC plays home football games here in the fall, but all year round sports fans can take a walking tour of this historic stadium where the Olympics have been held twice.
Lunch at Chichen Itza near USC/Exposition Park
You literally can't come to LA without eating Mexican food. Honestly, any old street taco will be better than anything you can get anywhere else in the country, but to live like a local, try a local favorite like Chichen Itza, which specializes in food from the Yucatán Peninsula. If you prefer Oaxacan cuisine, stop for lunch at Guelaguetza on the way to Griffith Park. It's not exactly on your way, but it's not out of your way, which in LA is good enough. Aren't you glad you have a car?
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The Hollywood sign might be the most iconic view in the city. Photo by Johnathan Lobel, via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
These are the highlights of Griffith Park, moving from east to west. You can’t hit all these stops, but you’ll want to choose at least a few, depending on the ages and interests of the kids in your family. For a more in-depth look at all this 4000+ acres park in the heart of the city has to offer, check out our detailed guide to exploring Griffith Park.
- The Old Zoo - My kids have always loved playing in the space that the LA Zoo used to occupy. It's a great place to picnic, and an even better place to see (free) Shakespeare in the summer.
- Shane’s Inspiration - If your kids need to run and play, they won't find a better spot than LA's original all-inclusive playground. Soak up some LA sunshine while the kids climb.
- Griffith Merry-Go-Round - Built in 1926, this is the carousel that reputedly inspired Walt Disney to build Disneyland. We've got a lot to thank these horses for!
- The LA Zoo - While it's not the biggest zoo in California, it's a wonderful one, and little animal lovers will adore a visit here. Honestly, don't sleep on the bird show, which is a surprisingly enthralling show that kids love. Get our scoop on other tips and tricks for a visit to the LA Zoo.
- The Autry Museum of the West - This is the wild west, after all, and lots of LA kids love visiting the cowboy museum. It's a great place to get a sense of what LA was like before the movies came to town.
- Travel Town - Calling all train enthusiasts! Hop on the mini train here, or explore retired engines. If your kiddo likes Thomas, you simply have to make time for at least a quick visit to this free outdoor train museum.
- Griffith Observatory - The most-visited public observatory in the world, Griffith is also a familiar sight from the many films in which it has guest starred. It's also got spectacular views of the whole city, from downtown to the ocean, with the best view of the Hollywood Sign in town. Hike or drive up, this free spot is worth a visit, and if you have time, the (not free, but not expensive) planetarium shows are wonderful.
- Trails Cafe and Ferndell - This is one of my favorite hidden gems in the whole city. Walk the cool and shaded water walk, play on the playground, and don't miss getting a snack (pie a la mode or an incredible cookie are top picks for kids) at Trails Cafe.
- Lake Hollywood - If your family loves hiking and spectacular views of the iconic Hollywood Sign, head up the 101 a few stops to Barham Blvd., where you'll take Lake Hollywood Drive to Lake Hollywood, a water reservoir in the middle of the city, where you can walk, hike, enjoy the views, and see wildflowers, deer, and bunnies. The car-free loop is a great place to let kids run wild.
Dinner at Miceli’s in Universal City
Lake Hollywood is last on our list of things to see in Griffith Park, because a visit there at sunset is not only stunning, but it puts you close to one of our favorite family restaurants: Miceli's. Located near Universal Citywalk, which makes for a fun post-dinner stroll, you should definitely visit this pizza and pasta joint for dinner. A family-owned and run spot for decades, after 6pm the waiters sing a range of showtunes, hits, and movie favorites. They often take requests from kids. (We used to request songs from The Little Mermaid and Frozen for years, making this my daughter's favorite restaurant ever.)
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Visit Bob's at The Original Farmers Market. Photo by Amanda Schutt
Day 2 Itinerary: Hollywood & Mid-City to Beverly Hills
Breakfast at the Original Farmers Market next to the Grove
Start Day 2 of your Los Angeles explorations right in the middle of the city, at the Grove—or at least Grove-adjacent. (People who live in LA go to the Grove all the time. We mock it mercilessly, but go frequently.) The Original Farmers Market opened as an open air market for local farmers in the 1930s, and has grown and changed ever since. Now you can get fruits, veggies, dog treats, hot sauce, and loads of fabulous foods. Quick picks: Du-par's if your kids are pancake fans, Bob's Donuts for dino donuts if they need something even sweeter, and indulge in beignets at The Gumbo Pot for the grownups. You can even act like a real Angeleno and head over to the Grove for a green juice at Pressed.
After breakfast, leave your car parked here and walk through the Grove, then head south to Wilshire Blvd. to explore Museum Row.
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Travel back in time to when mammoths and mastodons roamed the city. Photo courtesy of the La Brea Tar Pits Facebook page
- La Brea Tar Pits and the Page Museum - This is currently the only "must-do" on museum row, and you don't even need to enter the Page Museum (though I do love it). You can simply stroll the grounds at Hancock Park and see the pits of tar, including the giant tar lake with the mammoth statues stuck in it. Iconic LA.
- Academy Museum - LA's newest museum is a love letter to the movie industry. While it's a wonderful museum, if pressed for time, you can simply admire the architecture and move along. Though if you do go inside, you'll see some amazing movie memorabilia, including Dorothy's ruby red slippers.
- LACMA - Though the museum is mostly missing (it's being rebuilt in an entirely new and controversial design, which you can moan about if you want to sound like a local), the BCAM building is still host to most kids' favorite thing at LACMA ever; Chris Burden's Metropolis II. It's mesmerizing. Also, be sure to check out Burden's Urban Light display at the front of the museum.
- The Petersen Automotive Museum - Gearheads won't want to miss this fabulous car museum. Those who aren't car fanatics can look at the outside of the cool building and go get lunch.
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See Chaplin's old digs. Photo courtesy of Republique Cafe and Bakery
Lunch in Mid-City
Mid-city is a fabulous place to be when you need lunch and you've got kids. These are the spots locals adore.
- Joan’s on 3rd - This very LA spot is on 3rd Street, and it's fun because you'll often spot a celeb, and even more fun because it's delicious deli-style food. The Chinese Chicken Salad is a standout, as are the breakfast sandwiches. There is something here for everyone, and if you leave without a cookie, you did it wrong.
- All Season Brewing - It's entirely possible the breakneck pace of our itinerary leaves you needing a rest. Head over to this local brewery for a killer chilled cocktail, local brew, chilled house-made ginger beer, and some tacos or nachos. The plant-based options are stellar. Sit outside and relax while the kids play skee ball.
- Republique Cafe and Bakery - Republique is located in a space built by Charlie Chaplin in the 20s. It's a gorgeous and incredible fine dining restaurant in the back, with a casual bakery and cafe in the front. The menu items at the cafe, from French toast for breakfast to burgers at lunch, are incredible, but my favorite thing to do is get a wide selection of pastries, quiche, and breads to go, and snack through the rest of the day.
- The Corner of Melrose and La Brea - At this one corner, you can eat pretty much anything you want. M Cafe serves delicious macrobiotic food that Gwyneth Paltrow loves and your kids will actually adore. More in a ramen mood? Tatsu is my favorite in town. Around the corner is the famous Pink's Hot Dogs, and across the street is Mr. Charlie's (which is a vegan riff on McDonald's). And to top it all off is the NY import MilkBar, which isn't very LA, but is quite irresistible.
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Photo by Chris Gold NY courtesy of Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
See Hollywood Like a Tourist
Even locals become tourists when in Hollywood, you just can't help it. For more on what's in Hollywood, check out our complete guide to visiting Hollywood with kids. Here are the highlights.
- Walk of Fame - Find your favorite star!
- Capitol Records - You can just walk or drive by this famous spot where everyone from Frank Sinatra to the Beatles recorded.
- TCL Chinese Theatre and the Handprints - Because you have to at least take one picture with your kids putting their hands in a movie star's handprints. Just bring hand sanitizer.
- El Capitan - Disney's theater is the one place in Hollywood I'd actually recommend taking in a show. It's a grand old movie palace with a Wurlitzer organ playing before the show, a stage show, and Mickey-themed treats. It's Disneyland without Disneyland prices, and a nice cool break on a hot day.
- Madame Tussauds Hollywood - Sure, there's one in every major city, but if you came here to see stars, this is one place where that's a guarantee.
- Ripley’s Believe It or Not - They call it an "Odditorium," and odd it is. It might not be for the littlest ones in your crew (though kids 4 and under do get in for free). But those with a curiosity about the bizarre will be amused and amazed.
- The Magic Castle - While this is a private guest club and kids can only go for the weekend brunch, if you're here on a weekend and your local host or hotel concierge can get you in, the Magic Castle is an only-in-Hollywood experience that's not to be missed.
When you've had your Hollywood fill, take Sunset straight to Beverly Hills. Driving down the palm tree-lined streets is part of the experience. Laugh at the tourists buying Star Maps. You don't need those maps. You've got this guide (and the maps aren't accurate, anyway).
Snack Break in Beverly Hills
Here's where you get snacks in Beverly Hills: Erewhon is the healthy grocery store on Beverly Drive (not Beverly Blvd., which is completely different), the original Sprinkles with the original cupcake ATM, or Laduree for French pastries. Whatever you get, get it to go and bring it to the park at the Montage Hotel. That's what locals do. It's also where we park. And where we use the restrooms, which are the nicest in town. And in a town like Beverly Hills, that's saying something. Fully recharged, you're ready for a quick walk through Beverly Hills to see the sights and take some pictures.
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Where Rodeo Drive and Via Rodeo Meet. Photo by David Vives, courtesy of Pexels
Explore Beverly Hills
- Rodeo & Via Rodeo - While everyone has heard of the shopping on Rodeo Drive, locals know the prettiest little walk is at the end of the block at Via Rodeo.
- Mr Brainwash Art Museum - Eye-popping street art that appeals to kids.
- Beverly Hills Trolley - If your feet are tired, hop on the free trolley that runs on weekends and goes from Rodeo Drive to the Civic Center and back.
- Don't forget to take a picture in front of the Beverly Hills sign on Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Gardens Park.
- If you’re here on a Sunday, go to the Wallis for Debbie Allen's Free Dance Sundays. Actually, see what’s playing at the Wallis and go if they have any kids show playing. This theater books some of the most innovative and interesting children's theater in the world.
Dinner Options Abound From Beverly Hills to Hollywood
You've got options for dinner! If you want to stay in Beverly Hills, I recommend Jon & Vinny’s for fabulous food that requires a reservation, or The Cheesecake Factory. Yes, The Cheesecake Factory. The first location was right here in Beverly Hills, and to be honest, it keeps kids insanely happy. For a splurge, you can of course eat at Spago, which has moved to its newest home in the last few years, and is pretty stunning. It's also probably the most famous LA-area restaurant ever. The food is kid-friendly, but the prices aren't. If you're open to leaving Beverly Hills, nearby spots I'd highly recommend are Gracias Madre in West Hollywood for vegan Mexican food in a stunning environment (which my non-vegan kids adore) or heading back to Hollywood and dining at Yamashiro. The food at Yamashiro isn't the point, though it has gotten better over the years. But the atmosphere and views at this Japanese-inspired mountain palace above the bustle of Hollywood Blvd. make it a worthy stop.
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If you haven't visited the beaches, you haven't visited LA. Santa Monica photo by Clayton Goncalves
Day 3 Itinerary: The Beaches of Santa Monica & Malibu
Fear not, friends. We've packed a lot into two days, and now you can take it easy by the beach.
Breakfast is in Santa Monica
Huckleberry is the only option you are allowed. That’s it. Sorry. Huckleberry Bakery and Cafe is incredible food made by incredible people. Everyone I know has a story about bringing kids to Huckleberry, and how the owners and staff saw crying kids and whisked them to the front of the line, brought back food that had specks of green on the plate, or snuck free treats to hungry kids waiting for a table. They make you feel like family, and you simply must bring your kids here and experience the epitome of LA hospitality. Plus the food is out of this world.
Play, ride, fish, and eat on the Santa Monica Pier. Photo courtesy of santamonicapier.org
Explore 3rd Street and the Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica is the city by the sea and you could spend a week here alone, just relaxing. But with one day to see it all, here's what you need to hit:
- Santa Monica Pier - Sure you can play in the arcade, ride the rollercoaster, or play carnival games. But my favorites on the Pier are at the extremes: I love the historic Carousel and the Looff Hippodrome at the beginning of the Pier and riding on the Ferris wheel above the ocean at the end of the Pier.
- Heal the Bay Aquarium - This little spot is a happy oasis with wonders of the sea, a fabulous staff, an escape-artist octopus, frisky sharks, and mesmerizing sea horses.
- Cayton Children's Museum or ModelLand - Inside Santa Monica Place you'll find one mecca for young kids (the Cayton Children's Museum) and another for tweens & teens (Tyra Banks' ModelLand). Pick your poison, take a load off, and let your kids entertain themselves for a spell.
- Third Street Promenade - While it's not the be-all-end-all shopping destination it used to be, you can't come to Santa Monica without at least taking a walk down the famous shopping street that's closed to cars, filled with street performers, and instantly recognizable from many a movie.
Lunch by the Beach
You can't come to LA without dining by the ocean. If you're ready for lunch when you're on the Pier, I recommend The Albright, which has great seafood and is very family-friendly. If you've got kids who won't eat fish of any kind, head under the Pier to Hot Dog on a Stick. It's not the original building anymore (it was razed in 2022), a newer lookalike building was constructed in the same spot, and what kid doesn't like corndogs? And what parent's wallet doesn't appreciate a nice meal deal? If you're ready to leave Santa Monica, you can head up the PCH towards Malibu and stop for lunch at Gladstones. From the windows there you can often watch dolphins frolic.
The Getty Villa is one of the loveliest spots in town. Photo by Meghan Rose
Up the Coast to Malibu
First stop: the Getty Villa, and let the kids run around the outdoor theater while you have a glass of wine. Reservations are required but admission is free, and there exists no more beautiful museum in the US. Read our guide to visiting the Getty with kids, and then bask in the beauty of this recreated Roman villa.
When you've had enough man-made beauty go back down the PCH for some natural beauty. One of my favorite stops is Malibu Bluffs Park. Here kids can play on the playground, look for whales, or take a cliff walk on the bluffs above the beach.
Speaking of the beach … Now it’s time to go to the Malibu Country Mart, get a giant cookie or cupcake at the Malibu Kitchen and Country Mart, shop and sip complimentary drinks at James Perse, which is the ultimate in Malibu beachwear, or have a glass of wine and watch for celebrities at Fred Segal.
Fortified, it's finally beach time! Talk a walk through Legacy Park, and then cross the street to Surfrider Beach. Here you can take walks on the beach, birdwatch in the lagoon, and see the surfers. Check out the totally unique Adamson House and Malibu Lagoon Museum, if you have time (and if your kids are older - they are not super friendly here to kids under 10, I’ve found).
Day Three Dinner in Malibu
Now it’s time for your final dinner of your vacation and there is only one place to go - Malibu Farm (unless your time in LA won’t be complete without a celeb sighting, in which case you can go back to the mart and dine at Tra di Noi, or you can shell out the big bucks for dinner at Nobu Malibu). At Malibu Farm, the food is locally grown and sourced and you eat on the Malibu Pier as the sun sets on your three-day LA adventure.