Five times the size of New York’s Central Park, Griffith Park was designated as a historic-cultural monument in 2009, protecting it from future development. Angelenos should be thankful to Griffith J. Griffith, a Welsh real estate developer who gifted the land to the city in 1896 as a “place of recreation and rest for the masses.” The result for us has been access to fantastic hiking trails, a home to some of our most iconic museums, and a wealth of other family activities. Lucky Los Feliz and Burbank families can call Griffith Park their local; for the rest of us it's worth setting aside a little time to be surprised by all that Griffith Park has to offer; there are probably one or two items on this list even locals didn't know about!
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A native Angeleno, Jackie enjoys revisiting her childhood as a mom and writer for Mommy Poppins. She did a lot of cool stuff as a kid and has newfound respect for her own mom who made that happen without the internet! Today in Los Angeles, some things are gone, some have changed and some, like the grunion, remain exactly the same. In her former life, Jackie was a development executive on the Fox Studios lot where she rounded up writer/director lists and covered screenplays. Mommy Poppins is much more fun. Jackie's kids, Benjamin and Juliet, agree.
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Every once in a while we parents get an opportunity to re-experience a treasured childhood memory with our own kids. If you grew up here in Southern California, odds are that you made it to a grunion run at least once when you were a child. If you're from elsewhere, chances are that you thought this was total urban folklore. Well, it's no myth; there really are SoCal fish that jump out of the ocean at midnight and slither up the beach when the moon is full. The Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro has been hosting grunion runs with a front row seat for this peculiar phenomenon since 1964. I remember cooking out on the beach with friends and family, bundled up and waiting for those squirmy silver fish to appear. The hot dogs were usually a bit burnt, and the sand was wet and cold, but it was a night of adventure and marine biology that I never forgot.
Toys. Kids love ‘em; parents wish they would put them away. But in this the age of electronics, we can all agree that a good old-fashioned manipulative beats a device with a screen any day. With even big toy store chains like FAO Schwartz and Toys 'R' Us closing shop, it's time for us to rally and support the local toy stores we love if we want them to be here next year—particularly the ones where you find an unusual gift just when you need it.
Whether you live in the area or are just visiting, San Diego is a great place to spend some time. What better weekend is there than the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld, Legoland, and the Safari Park? Wherever you live, the SoCal town with the nation's most perfect weather can be a great weekend getaway for families. I grew up going to the Zoo and Sea World, but there are many other ways to enjoy our southern-most county.
My family doesn’t do a lot of camp. I have two children who loath having their time scheduled, and I am mostly home with them, so in the summer I let them loaf. We all enjoy not having a schedule, and, let’s face it, camp can be pricey. We peruse Mommy Poppins’ Event Calendar, where I always find something fun and usually free. Inevitably, though, the point arrives when somebody, maybe even everybody, is a bit bored—or, in the case of the camp director (me), tired. Also, I do work part time, so I can’t always be in charge of the entertainment. This is a recipe for that most dreaded of all childhood diseases: too much screen time. That's when camp starts to seem like a really good idea, and I regret not having signed up. Even the kids sometimes yearn for something scheduled, because most of their friends aren’t around; they're at camp.
So what to do with a couple of bored couch potatoes? It’s summer. Send them to the beach, the beach, the beach! This is a no brainer. People travel from far away to spend their summers by our shores. We are already here. It would be crazy not to take advantage of this most glorious natural resource. Slather on the sunscreen, get some UV sunglasses, maybe even invest in a wet suit, but make sure those kids get some time in the surf and sand! Of course, if the beach is not your cup of tea, we also know a few other places that don’t require advance planning and will welcome your children for the day. As the summer progresses you may even find more, because sometimes a camp that books by the week becomes more flexible if it doesn’t fill all its places.
Here are 10 you can count on:
The first time you throw your little ones in the backseat of the car and take them to the mall, it’s a magical, low-cost experience for all: Ice cream! Merry-go-round! Free air conditioning! A few hours later, you’ve got yourself a happy, tired family. The twentieth time? Not so much.
But don’t give up! Malls want you to come, and they’re willing to do you a favor or two to get you there. It may seem counterintuitive to head to the mall in search of free stuff, but, in the spirit of reeling us in, many malls offer kid-friendly, free workouts for moms. In other words, the mall is one of very few places where you can exercise without dropping a wad of cash on an expensive class and/or babysitter. I can’t promise that you won’t end up splurging on lunch or a new pair of skinny jeans (that’s the whole point of the free workout, isn’t it?), but the sweat sessions listed below are free to anyone with an iron will.
Nothing says “summer” like barbecue. Many of our local parks are standing by with grills and pits to satisfy that craving for charred food. And the beauty of life in Southern California is that "summer" can be practically any time of year; the 15 parks below have year-round, mostly free barbecue facilities, ready for birthday parties, holiday celebrations, spontaneous picnics, or family dinners al fresco.
Let the parent who has never yearned for a drink and a cheap kids' menu cast the first stone. While Happy Hour was indeed invented as a way to sell alcoholic beverages during a restaurant’s slow period, and mostly conjures images of a not-so-kid-friendly array of inebriated partiers, it can also mean great deals on meals. Many restaurants have Happy Hours that cater to (or at least accommodate) family dining. Here on the Westside, we are spoiled for choice when it comes to late-afternoon or early-evening discounted dinners. As a rule, Happy Hour is mostly a Monday through Friday 4 to 7pm proposition, but the terms are constantly changing, so it is best to call or check a restaurant’s website before settling into a booth. And while you’re checking, it's wise to be sure that you're heading somewhere kid-friendly. Some restaurants are more about the booze than the burgers, and that’s not going to work with kids. The places we've found (and selflessly tested) below are all spots that a family can enjoy together.