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: LeTania Kirkland Smith

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 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 hand-on wet fun that make this hot spot lovely in summer months, too. Wherever they choose to play, your tyke will leave tuckered out!

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

Admission: $13, 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.

Online: kidspacemuseum.org

photo: Zimmer Children’s Museum

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

Admission: $7.50; kiddos under 1 are free. Grandparents are free on Thursdays.

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

Online: zimmermuseum.org

tar pitsphoto: Tom Ipri via Creative Commons

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: $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: 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 & 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) $5.25, Adult $8.50. 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.

Online: californiasciencecenter.org

photo: 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.  (Cleaning up the faux poop is a favorite ark activity!)  In addition to Naoh’s Ark, there are fascinating exhibits about being an immigrant in America, Jewish history and rotation exhibits exploring the lives of famous Jewish figures.

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

Admission: Kids are $7 and adults are $12.  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.

Online: skirball.org

photo: The Discovery Cube, LA

Discovery Cube LA, Hansen Dam
After nearly 20 years at the original location in Orange County, the Discovery Cube Science Museum has finally expanded to a second location in the LA area just about 2 years ago. 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: $12.95, and it’s 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.
Online: la.discoverycube.org

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 everyone will be fascinated by the newest permanent exhibit, California Continued.

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

Admission: $6 for kids, $14 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.

Online: theautry.org

nhmphoto: 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 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: $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!

metropolisphoto: Meghan Rose

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
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 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.

Online: lacma.org

griffith observatoryphoto: 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 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.

Online: griffithobs.orgphoto: Jennifer Arrow

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).  If you’re 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!

Hours: Saturdays from 10 a.m.-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.

Online: lafdmuseum.org/museum27photo: Peter Alfred Hess via  Creative Commons

5 More Fabulous Museums

It is so hard to pick the top 10, when LA is bursting with amazing museums for kids. These museums didn’t make our list because they’re not primarily for kids, but all have sections or aspects that fascinate kids, and will entrance adults.

Getty Villa & Museum: Both the Getty locations (you can visit both free 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. They also have beautiful gardens and special events or concerts for kids.

Children’s Museum La Habra: Ok, this one is even a kid museum, and a wonderful one! That tells you how stiff the competition is. Hands on exhibits and a dino garden & 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 office holders (or just voters!) engaged and is surprisingly fun (and educational) for kids.

Petersen Automotive Museum: This museum not making our top ten may be controversial, but while the interactive Pixar center is a blast for all tots, it’s much smaller and more screen driven than the hands-on kid center here used to be before the multi-million dollar renovation. Still, it’s a great visit for everyone and a must-see for car loving kids.

The Broad Museum of Contemporary Art: Giant tea cups, 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.

Plus!
LA’s crazy, hidden and kid-friendly 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 & the Bower’s Kidseum!

What are your favorite local museums for kids?

—Meghan Rose