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The Best Museums for Kids in Los Angeles

Nothing makes us bristle more than people calling LA a cultural wasteland!  Not only do we have world class opera, ballet, symphony and some of the best food on the planet – Los Angeles also has a wealth of fantastic museums, many of them pure kid nirvana: places with interactive exhibits, cool experiments, live animals, and spectacular play spaces.  In short, these museums are perfect places to spend the whole day (or many days) with kids of all ages.

zimmer

photo credit: Go Los Angeles via flickr

Zimmer Children’s Museum, Miracle Mile
Located on Wilshire Blvd.’s Museum Row, this hidden gem encourages kids to explore diversity and cultural awareness through inspired hands-on activities. There’s a ton of cool things to do, from driving an ambulance and piloting a plane to jamming with instruments from around the world or playing the massive pinball machine. Rotating art exhibits and classes are a big draw, as are the various festivals and Sunday Family Programs. Many of the themes and art installations have Jewish cultural significance with ideas that apply to everyone.

Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.; Sunday, 12:30 p.m. – 5 p.m.; Closed Monday and Saturday and most Jewish and national holidays.

Admission: $7; kiddos under 1 are free. Grandparents are free on Thursdays.

Need to Know: Parking is free in the west parking structure.

tar pitsphoto credit: Tom Ipri via Creative Commons

Page Museum La Brea Tarpits, Miracle Mile
What kid doesn’t love learning about prehistoric creatures? Look no further than this oldie but goodie on Wilshire Blvd., in the shadow of LACMA. The bubbling tarpit is a big attraction, not to mention the open grassy area where kids can be kids. Inside the museum, artifacts and fossils from the Ice Age never fail to awe little minds.

Hours: Daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Admission: $5 for kids, $12 for adults and tots under 3 are free.  The first Tuesday of the month is also free for everyone (but be sure to check the website, as there are no free Tuesdays in July & August).

Need to Know: Come in playclothes – kids adore poking around in the mini bubble-ups of tar that dot the park, but that sticky black goo does not come out of clothing.

endeavourphoto credit: erythraean via Creative Commons

California Science Center, Exposition Park
Located in Downtown’s Exposition Park, this is a science lover’s heaven. But even if your little one isn’t a future lab dweller, there’s plenty to get their minds working.  The IMAX Theater is a big draw for older kids. The three Discovery Rooms are perfect destinations for the 6 and under crowd – they are filled with tons of hands-on experiments like a construction zone, a kitchen, a garden and even a kid-sized TV studio complete with costumes. Plus, there’s the Space Shuttle Endeavour and the fabulous Ecosystems exhibition where you can visit an icy land, go under the sea and even get grossed out in the rot room.

Hours: Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

Admission: Permanent exhibits are free. IMAX tickets: Child (4-12 yrs) $4.25, Adult $7. For Space Shuttle Endeavour viewing timed ticket are required.

Need to Know: Avoid planning a visit during USC game days as the center shares parking with the Coliseum, and traffic is disastrous.  Or take the Metro to the stop right across the street.

kidspace 4

photo credit: Meghan Rose

Kidspace Children’s Museum, Pasadena
This Pasadena establishment is an amazing family destination where activities and learning abound. They have everything a little mind can imagine, from the tike tracks to Kirby’s Kid Corner where it’s all about splashing and helping toddlers develop motor coordination. Visit the Digging Deeper Gallery to discover nature—from examining bugs and insects to learning about raindrops. The Gardens boast bee and butterfly exhibits, a wildlife pond and even a Spider Web climber.  The Galvin Physics Forest has hands-on fun that inspires kids to be innovators and creators, as does the Imagination Workshop.  Your tyke will leave tuckered out!

Hours: Tuesday to Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Admission: $11, kids under 1 are free.

Need to Know: Check the event calendar for festivals and special exhibits and hands-on crafting. Also, be aware of UCLA game days—check the website for closures on those days.

skirballphoto credit: Peter Turman/Courtesy of Skirball Cultural Center

Skirball Cultural Center, West LA
This Jewish cultural institution offers many wonderful family programs as well as a favorite destination for kiddos, Noah’s Ark. This amazing interactive exhibit occupies 8,000 square feet and plenty of activities to fuels a preschooler’s mind. The floor to ceiling ark is filled with animals and plenty of items that encourage the family to build, create, climb and explore every inch.  A new gorilla family landed in the ark last summer, so if you haven’t been recently, go meet them!

Hours: Tuesday to Friday from noon to 5 p.m; Saturday & Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Admission: Kids are $5 and adults are $10.  Thursdays are free.  Noah’s Ark admission in included, but required a timed ticket (so get tickets online in advance if you’re coming on a weekend or free day).

Need to Know: On any given day, the Ark has surprise encounters and drop-in activities, so be prepared for anything.

petersen

photo credit: Petersen Automotive Museum

Petersen Automotive Museum, Miracle Mile
Vroom! Kiddos love cars and trucks and things that go.  The Petersen Automotive is a fascinating but small museum that will rev up your senses and make your kids want to start their engines. Dedicated to all things car, especially the LA car culture, this museum features more than 150 rare and classic cars, trucks and motorcycles. Located on the third floor is The May Family Discovery Center. This interactive “hands-on” learning center is where you will spend most of your time.  Well, here and on the second floor, where you’ll find the Hot Wheels Exhibition and the Batmobile!

Hours: Open Tuesday – Sunday from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Admission: Kids are $5, adults are $15 and kiddos under 5 are free.

Need to Know: If you need to refuel, you can pop down to the ground floor to the always delicious Johnny Rockets to enjoy some shakes, burgers and fries.

wildlife learning centerphoto credit: Wildlife Learning Center’s facebook page

Wildlife Learning Center, Sylmar
Forget the long lines and horrible vantage points at big zoos. Take your kids to the Wildlife Learning Center where they can get up close and personal with 70 different species of animals from around the world! This quaint and beautifully landscaped “neighborhood zoo” will seriously knock you and your kids’ socks off. From Chuckwallas to legless Lizards to a Eurasian Lynx, your family will have the chance to explore the wonders of natural science through interactive learning.

Hours: Monday through Friday from noon to 5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Admission: Kids are $6, adults are $7, and it’s free for children under 2.

Need to Know: You can learn about the rescued animals you’ll meet online, before you go.

 

autry cowgirl

photo credit: Danielle Klebanow

Autry National Center,  Griffith Park
We do live in the wild, wild west after all, and the Autry Museum is a fantastic place to bring kids to explore our history.  From early settlers to the days of sheriffs and gunslingers, Annie Oakley to cowboy movies, Chinatown to the Gold Rush, this spot gives kids an overview of the history of what made the West so wild and how it was tamed (or was it?).  Kids adore the chance to pan for gold, to be in a cowboy movie (green screen and all) and the Family Discovery Gallery which allows kiddos to touch, play, and experience the life of a Chinese American family in the 1930s through a home, a restaurant and a curio company.

Hours: Open Tuesday–Friday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and Saturday & Sunday form 11 a.m. – 5 p.m..

Admission: $4 for kids, $10 for adults and tots under 3 are free.  The second Tuesday of the month is also free for everyone.

Need to Know: Gold panning is only offered on weekends (it’s included with admission), so if that’s something your kiddo wants to try, plan your visit for a Saturday or Sunday.

nhmphoto credit: Antonio Fucito via Creative Commons

Natural History Museum, Exposition Park
Let’s have a show of hands  – who has a kiddo who loves dinos?  Most kids go through a dinosaur phase, and when you visit the Natural History Museum’s Dinosaur Hall, you’ll be (re)struck with your own child-like wonder.  It’s a spectacular space, and the multi-media stations are informative and fun for all ages.  You can also see animal dioramas from all over the world, and be sure to check out the new Nature Gardens and Labs.

Hours: Open 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily.

Admission: $5 for kids, $12 for adults and tots under 3 are free.  The first Tuesday of the month is also free for everyone (but be sure to check the website, as there are no free Tuesdays during the busy summer, and extra ones in September).

Need to Know: In the spring and summer you won’t want to miss the Butterfly Pavilion, where you can get up close and personal with beautiful winged creatures.  In the fall this becomes the Spider Pavilion – a perfect Halloween adventure!

metropolis

photo credit: Meghan Rose

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
We’ve been concentrating on museums for kids, but this grown-up, world-class art museum is a wonderful introduction to art for kids of all ages. You can find a gallery for every interest – Mummies and Egyptian art, playing “I Spy” in the Impressionist rooms, imagining the lives of people from long ago in the furniture collections and looking at the amazingly kid-appealing contemporary exhibits (many pieces look like giant toys to little people) in the BCAM building. There are also several exhibits that appeal directly to kids (Metropolis II is mesmerizing) as well as story times, family tours, family Sunday workshops and more.   And it’s always free for kids! (See below.)

Hours: Mon., Tue. & Thu. from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Fri. from 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.; weekends from 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Admission: Hit the museum membership desk and sign up for the NEXGen program.   Because kids under 17 and one accompanying adult (per child) get into LACMA free with a NEXGEN pass.

Need to Know: If you can find easy street parking, score! If not, we think it’s worth it to pay ($10) to park in the underground lot. Also, after a long day of art, get yourself a cool drink at Rays & Stark Bar and relax while you keep an eye on the kids playing hide-and-seek in the Urban Light installation.

griffith observatoryphoto credit: mmcothern via Creative Commons

Griffith Observatory, Griffith Park
Start with the sweeping views of the city, where on a clear day you can see from the San Gabriel Mountains to the beach. See if kids can spot your neighborhood far below.  Then head inside and learn all about our planets and universe.  What would we weigh on Jupiter?  How is a comet made?  What can you see through the giant telescopes?  Don’t miss a visit to the planetarium for one of their amazing shows.  Public Star Parties are held once a month, where you can come look at the sun, moon & planets and try out a variety of telescopes.

Hours: Tuesday – Friday from noon – 10 p.m. and Saturday & Sunday from 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Admission: Free, shows in the Planetarium $3 for kids and $7 for adults. Kids under 5 are only admitted to the first show each day.

Need to Know: Parking is notoriously difficult, so on a weekend expect a long walk.  The good news – the walk will be gorgeous, with the best views in the city of the Hollywood Sign.  The bad news – it’s all uphill.  So bring strollers or carriers for wee ones.

Los Angeles Fire Department Historical Society, Hollywood
If you’ve got a mini firefighter on your hands, this tucked away museum is a must visit.  (The museum has two locations, but for kids we prefer the Hollywood spot.)  The LAFD has turned the old Hollywood Fire Station (once the largest one West of the Mississippi) into a center for learning about fire safety as well as a place to see historical fire trucks, gear, model engines and more.  The upstairs is a huge playspace for kids to try on fire fighter suits and hats and play with fire trucks and toys.  The museum is staffed with retired firefighters who love to talk with kids, and right next door is the current Hollywood Fire Station, with on-duty firefighters who are happy to give tours and let kids sit in fire trucks (when they’re not busy fighting fires).

Hours: Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Admission: Free

Need to Know: You can walk from here to Sunset Blvd. and Amoeba Records, the Cinerama Dome, Umami Burger and Groundworks Coffee, if you want to make a day of it.

lego castlephoto credit: The Discovery Science Center

Worth the Drive
While these spots aren’t right in the LA area, they’re all well worth the drive.  All of these museums were made just for kids, and you can easily spend the whole day exploring, learning and being entertained at any one of these places.  So when you’ve exhausted LA propers’ best museums for kids and still want more, we suggest a day trip to one of these kid-centric havens.

Kidseum, part of the Bowers Museum, Santa Ana – A great time to visit is on the third Sunday of the month, when the Bowers Museum hosts a free Family Festival.

Discovery Science Center, Santa Ana – Be sure to check on the rotating exhibitions here – from the Science of Gingerbread to LEGO Castles, and Bob the Builder to Da Vinci, they put on great rotating exhibitions at this museum.

Pretend City, Irvine This mini-city just for the small set (best for 2-4 year olds) encourages kids to play grownup and be dentists, firefighters, farmers, construction workers, rockstars, grocery clerks, artists and more.

What are your favorite local museums for kids?

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