Priceless art. Indoor voices. No touching! If that’s what a museum calls to mind, no wonder you’re hesitant to take your little explorers who just gotta touch, (taste?), yell and run. But LA is filled with museums that are pure kid nirvana: 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.
photo: A M. via Yelp
Kidspace Children’s Museum
This Pasadena establishment is an amazing family destination where activities and learning abound. They have everything a little mind can imagine, from the trike 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. The newest spot is the outdoor Arroyo Adventure, with plenty of hands-on wet fun that makes this hotspot lovely in summer months, too. Wherever they choose to play, your tyke will leave tuckered out!
Hours: Tues.-Fri. from 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sat.-Sun. from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Admission: $14, 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 and concerts—check the website for closures on those days.
Good to Know: After all that play, your kids will be hungry. The Kidspace Cafe has drinks and a menu full of kid-sized favorites from hot dogs and pizza to salads and dessert.
480 N Arroyo Blvd.
photo: Zimmer Children’s Museum by ShareWell
Zimmer Children’s Museum by ShareWell
Currently located on Wilshire Blvd.’s Museum Row (with plans to move to a larger space in Santa Monica in 2019), 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. This might be our favorite spot in town for the tiniest of tots; even crawling babies are welcome here, and won’t get trampled.
Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Fri. 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sun. 12:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m.; Closed Sat. and most Jewish and national holidays.
Admission: $7.50; kiddos under 1 are free. Grandparents are free on Thurs.
Need to Know: Parking is free in the west parking structure.
Good to Know: This gem is open on Christmas day.
6505 Wilshire Blvd. #100
photo: Caitlin A. via Yelp
La Brea Tarpits and Museum
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 tar pit 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. Be sure to catch the Titans of the Ice Age 3D movie and up close Ice Age Encounters with a life-size Saber-toothed Cat puppet (both activities require additional tickets).
Hours: Daily from 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
Admission: $7 for kids, $15 for adults and tots under 3 are free.
Need to Know: Come in play clothes—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.
Good to Know: Get in for free on the first Tues. of the month (note that there are no free Tues. in Jul. and Aug.) but every Tues. in Sept. is free. LA County residents get in for free every Mon.-Fri. from 3 p.m.-5 p.m. with a valid ID or utility bill.
5801 Wilshire Blvd.
photo: Richard P. via Yelp
California Science Center
Located in Downtown’s Exposition Park, this is a science and space 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. Plus, keep an eye out for the special, limited exhibits that come to the museum!
Hours: Open daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
Admission: Permanent exhibits are free. IMAX tickets: Child (4-12 yrs) $6.75, Adult $8.95. 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 better yet, simply take the Metro to the stop right across the street.
Good to Know: Got caught here longer than you expected? Thanks to a recent renovation on the ground level, the food options get two thumbs up. Get a snack at the grab-n-go food market, a caffeinated drink and sweet at the coffee bar or for more filling, kid-satisfying options, hit up Trimana Grill.
700 Exposition Park Dr.
photo: Grant Mudford/Courtesy of Skirball Cultural Center
Skirball Cultural Center
This West LA Jewish cultural institution offers many wonderful family programs as well as a favorite destination for kiddos, Noah’s Ark. This timed-entry interactive exhibit occupies 8,000 square feet and plenty of activities to fuels everyone from a preschooler to elementary aged kids. The floor to ceiling ark is filled with animals and items that encourage the family to build, create, climb and explore (cleaning up the faux poop is a favorite ark activity!). In addition to Noah’s Ark, there are fascinating exhibits about being an immigrant in America, Jewish history and rotation exhibits exploring the lives of famous Jewish figures. Plus fun weekend events and concerts that are worth putting on your calendar.
Hours: Tues.-Fri. from noon-5 p.m; Sat.-Sun. from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Admission: Kids are $7 and adults are $12.
Need to Know: On any given day, the Ark has surprise encounters and drop-in activities, so be prepared for anything.
Good to Know: Thurs. are free and are first-come, first-serve, subject to availability.
2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd.
photo: Jonas A. via Yelp
Discovery Cube LA
Located near the Hansen Dam in the San Fernando Valley, plan to spend a whole day exploring the Cube: There are so many activities it’s like a science amusement park, and your kids are going to want to go on every ride. Look for chair lifts, pulley races, a climbing wall, kayaks, a 70 MPH wind tunnel, a clever “aquavator” that simulates an elevator ride into an underground aquifer and a simulated helicopter ride. And that’s just the permanent exhibits. There are also rotating exhibitions all the time, including the super popular holiday Science of Gingerbread extravaganza.
Hours: Daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Admission: Adults are $19.95, kids $12.95, and free for children under 2.
Need to Know: Babies welcome; there’s a special section just for kids under 5 where they’re totally safe from getting trampled while they explore.
Good to Know: During the holidays, they host a Winter Wonderfest with sledding and other snow-play activities but the best part? The free photo-op with Santa.
11800 Foothill Blvd.
photo: Danielle Klebanow
Autry National Center
We do live in the wild, wild west after all, and the Autry Museum in Griffith Park 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 everyone will be fascinated by the newest permanent exhibit, California Continued.
Hours: Open Tues.–Fri. from 10 a.m.–4 p.m. and Sat-Sun. from 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Admission: $6 for kids, $14 for adults and kids under 3 are free.
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 Sat. or Sun. between the hours of 11 a.m-3 p.m.
Good to Know: The second Tues. of the month is free for everyone but check their calendar of events as they often host fun festivals and family-based events on the weekends.
4700 Western Heritage Way
photo: Jonas A. via Yelp
Natural History Museum
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 Nature Gardens and Labs. Mark your calendars for the NHM’s after-hours evenings; that just might be the best time to visit.
Hours: Open 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m. daily.
Admission: $7 for kids (3-12), $12 for teens (13-17), $15 for adults and under 3 are free. The first Tues. of the month is free for everyone (there are no free Tues. during Jul. and Aug., but every Tues. is free in Sept.). Reserve tickets in advance to guarantee entry.
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!
Good to Know: The nature garden is a great area to let the kids run around and let off some steam (if they still have any left) so grab a coffee from the cafe, take a seat and let them climb, dig and roam around to their heart’s content.
900 Exposition Blvd.
photo: Elise H. via Yelp
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
We’ve been concentrating on museums mainly 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, weekend free concerts, family Sun. workshops, the Boone Family Gallery and more. And it’s always free for kids! (See below.)
Hours: Mon., Tues. and 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. Kids under 17 and one accompanying adult (per child) get into LACMA for 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 $16 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.
Good to Know: Metropolis II only runs Fri.-Sun. and select holiday Mon. like President’s Day during select times. And while it is impressive to see this frantic traffic display start, it’s totally worth skipping the crowd and timing it towards the end of its run when the traffic gets turned off and the cars all park quietly.
5905 Wilshire Blvd.
photo: Jean Claire G. via Yelp
At the top of Griffith Park, you are met with 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 go look at the sun, moon, and planets and try out a variety of telescopes.
Hours: Tues.–Fri. from noon-10 p.m. and Sat.-Sun. from 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Admission: Free but shows in the planetarium are $3 for kids (5-12); $7 for adults. Kids under 5 are only admitted to the first show each day and must sit on an adult’s lap.
Need to Know: Parking is notoriously difficult, so on a weekend expect a long walk. The good news is the walk will be gorgeous, with the best views in the city of the Hollywood Sign. The bad news is that it’s all uphill so bring strollers or carriers for wee ones.
Good to Know: Avoid the parking dilemma altogether and take the DASH Observatory bus from the Vermont/Sunset Metro Red Line station.
2800 East Observatory Rd.
photo: David H. via Yelp
Los Angeles Fire Department Historical Society
If you’ve got a mini firefighter on your hands, this tucked away museum in Hollywood 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 play space for kids to try on firefighter 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). I
Hours: Sat. from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Need to Know: There is limited free parking but once you park, you can walk from here to Sunset Blvd. to Umami Burger, Stella Barra Pizzeria or Groundworks Coffee if you are looking for a bite to eat.
Good to Know: f your kiddo’s goal of protecting and serving takes the form of Police hero-worship, then you want to also plan a trip to the Police Museum!
1355 N. Cahuenga Blvd.
5 More Fabulous Museums
It is so hard to pick the top cultural institutions to hang when LA is bursting with amazing museums for kids. So we wanted to mention these museums as well since they are well worth the visit for both kids and adults alike.
Getty Museum and Villa: Both Getty locations (you can visit both museums on the same day for one parking fee) have incredible Family Rooms and Art Detective cards that will keep your kids hunting through the museum all day long. They also have beautiful gardens and special events or concerts for kids.
Children’s Museum La Habra: Hands-on exhibits and a dino garden plus historic caboose make this a great outing.
Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library: The absolute must-see is Air Force One. No matter your politics, the library’s interactive exhibits are designed to keep future officeholders (or just voters) engaged. It is surprisingly fun (and educational) for everyone.
Petersen Automotive Museum: A must-visit for car loving kids, the recent renovation is spectacular and well worth a visit if you haven’t been in awhile.
The Broad Museum of Contemporary Art: Giant teacups, massive balloon animals, Alice in Wonderland-esque splashes of color and the Infinity Room will convince any kiddo that contemporary art is where it’s at. The always immediately sold out family workshops are worth stalking the online calendar of events for.
Wait! Just a couple more!
There’s LA’s crazy, kid-friendly hidden museums. The best new kid’s museum in all of SoCal is worth the drive to Santa Barbara. And we can’t skip mentioning these two OC Kids Museums we adore: Pretend City and the Bower’s Kidseum!
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—Meghan Rose & Andie Huber