Editor’s note: Because events are changing rapidly, make sure to check the websites for latest information.
Looking for fun and free things to do with the kids in LA—even during a pandemic? Read on for all the activities you can enjoy around Los Angeles, without spending a dime.
Off-the-Beaten-Path Hikes Near LA
Leave Runyon to the tourists. Instead, take your little trekkers to one of these lesser known trails where the views are still Instagrammable, but the crowds won’t overwhelm you. From a hidden 58-acre park in Culver City to a natural preserve in Pasadena, here are our favorite easy-to-moderate hikes the whole family.
Best Kid-Friendly Bike Paths
So your two-wheelings tots have maxed out on riding around the block? Fortunately, LA’s beach bike paths—along with a few other car-free paths and trails—are open. Finally, kids can feel the wind in their hair, practice their pedaling and enjoy a change of scenery. If you’re looking to avoid crowds (um, yes please), we recommend visiting these routes during the week or early in the a.m. on weekends. Check out all of LA's best bike paths for kids.
Top Tide Pools
Discover starfish, sea urchins, crabs, anemones and more at these awesome, tucked-away tide pools along the coast.
Hidden Picnic Spots
There’s no better time than now to dine outdoors with your family—and any other members of your quarantine pod. Spread out a blanket and enjoy a meal al fresco at these hidden LA picnic spots.
Children's Book World
Kids can get lost in the stacks at the beloved book store, which regularly hosts readings with top children's authors and performances by popular kiddie musicians. Make an appointment for in-person shopping and make sure to check the upcoming schedule here.
10580 1/2 W. Pico Blvd.
The Hammer Museum
In addition to offering free admission, this UCLA art museum regularly hosts pop-up art studios for little ones, family-friendly movie screenings and guided tours-plus-games for kids ages 7 and up. A visit to the relatively small yet impressive (and manageable!) museum will expose kids to a range of artwork, from 17th century Rembrandts to the more contemporary work of Kara Walker. Make advance reservations here.
10899 Wilshire Blvd.
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 museum "For Families" guide offers a "scavenger hunt" and fun art-themed activities. For older kids, they can also download and listen to a free audio tour which includes family-friendly information about the art. Reopening as of May 26, all visitors must reserve timed tickets in advance.
221 S. Grand Ave.
The Getty Center
While there are a lot of lovely views in and around Los Angeles, luscious gardens to walk around and loads of places to absorb culture, history, art, architecture, and more, The Getty Center is one of the only spots in the city where you get to experience all of that and then some. (Yes, you'll have to pay for parking, but admission is free.) The fun starts with a tram ride that takes you from the parking lot up to the museum itself. Once you're there, be sure to check out the Family Room for hands-on kids activities. Keep on an eye on their calendar as events open up—throughout the year, The Getty also hosts free family events and festivals that are not to be missed!
Sepulveda Blvd. & Getty Center Dr.
Right in our home town is a world class museum that wants you to bring your kids so much that they created a fabulous program: LACMA NexGen membership where kids get in free along with one adult. It's a pretty amazing deal, especially when you realize that at LACMA, there are art exhibits that appeal to kids like rad modern art sculptures, a giant suspended rock and of course, every kid (and grown-up kids’) favorite, Metropolis II. There is also a painting studio in the Boone Gallery where your inspired little artists can create watercolor masterpieces and listen to story time. Tickets are released in blocks of two weeks and must be reserved in advance.
5900 Wilshire Blvd.
California African American Museum
Located in the heart of Exposition Park, California African American Museum (CAAM) is a hub for exploring and learning about the art, history and culture of the African-American diaspora in Los Angeles and beyond. Current exhibitions include Cross Colours: Black Fashion in the 20th Century and LA Blacksmith, showcasing African American artists who work with metal. Once things return to pre-pandemic life, the museum also offers kid-friendly art workshops inspired by the exhibits.
600 State Dr.
The California Science Center
Where else can you see a space shuttle and a shark tank, not to mention play in one of three kids-only Discovery Rooms, explore rotating science exhibits and watch as baby chicks hatch? And all for free? Rainy days, hot days, vacation days, or just “I’m bored” days, the California Science Center is here for you. And for just a few extra bucks ($6.75 for kids; $8.95 for adults) you can round the day off with a spectacular 3D IMAX show.
700 Exposition Park Dr.
Exposition Park, near USC
Every mini engineer and trainspotter will have a blast exploring this outdoor transportation museum dedicated to all things trains. You can climb around on real steam locomotives, check out wagons and other antique vehicles in the barn and even go for a ride on a mini train that circles the park for just $3.
Pack some snacks and grab a seat on the lawn where you can wave at the train as it drives past.
Don't miss their docent-led tours are available by reservation. Check their events calendar for more great activities.
Insider Tip: You can throw birthday parties at Travel Town or hit the gift shop for an awesome gift for a train-themed birthday party or just because.
5200 Zoo Dr.
La Brea Tar Pits
Next door to LACMA are the famous La Brea Tar Pits. While the Page Museum at the center will cost you an entrance fee (unless you visit on the first Tues. of the month when admission is free), there is plenty to explore around the tar pits and gardens that surround the museum.
Check out Ice Age plant life in the Pleistocene Garden, roll down the grassy hills and learn all about being a paleontologist with a peek inside Pit 91 and Project 23, which are still actively being excavated. No visit would be complete without snapping a selfie with those perpetually stuck elephants in the bubbling tar pit. Advance timed tickets are required.
5801 Wilshire Blvd.
Located in the same area as the Santa Monica Pier and the Promenade, this 6.2 acre park (with one of the best playgrounds in LA!) offers climbing structures, rolling slides, a splash pad (when the weather is nice and restrictions are lifted) and beautifully landscaped walking trails.
Parents will love the shaded picnic areas, free wi-fi, and the various cafes and restaurants surrounding the green space in case a case of the hangries appear. Don't forget to visit the overlook to take in the view of the Pacific Ocean and that pier of course.
Added bonus: You can usually find metered street parking on Main St. near Olympic Blvd. If that fails, head to the Civic Center lot for a guaranteed spot.
1615 Ocean Ave.
LA's Central Library
If you have a budding bookworm at home then a visit to your local library is always treat and LA is full of some really special kids collections. Come for the books and stay for the free story time at dozens of Los Angeles Public Library branches, but the coolest by far is the Central Library downtown which houses a massive children’s literature department and hosts story times, puppet shows, and music.
Our other favorite spots are the Santa Monica Main Library and Beverly Hills Library, both of which have awesome collections and kids activities.
Visit their reopening page for a list of libraries and resources now open.
Good to Know: Once things return to pre-pandemic socializing levels, your LA County Library card is also your ticket to more exciting freebies through the Discover & Go program. Login online here and you can reserve free family passes to dozens of museums and attractions across the city, like The Autry Museum and the Natural History Museum.
630 W 5th St.
Santa Monica Library
Beverly Hills Library
Still Closed but Hopefully Opening Soon
Cabrillo Marine Aquarium
Start your Aquarium visit with the sea stars in the simulated “tide pool touch tank” then spend your time winding through the thirty-eight aquaria. Don’t miss out on the favorite aquatic babies exhibit and let the little ones learn a little something at the research station. Be sure to look up and meet the giant whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling.
The museum is free for all but they do suggest a donation to help keep this wonderful community resource going. Parking is free and easy on the street or you can pay $1 per hour to park it right out front. The aquarium hosts loads of kid friendly activities and events, including the fabulous spring time grunion runs—a So Cal tradition.
Check out these other noteworthy Los Angeles aquariums, many of which are also free!
3720 Stephen M. White Dr.
San Pedro, CA
The Griffith Observatory
Spend a day at the Griffith Observatory, poking through the exhibits, figuring out your weight on Jupiter, looking through the telescopes, having lunch in the cafeteria and gazing out from the terrace, where you can see the whole city below. Free public star parties are held monthly, where kids can meet professional and amateur astronomers. And don’t forget about the Planetarium! There are currently three live shows scheduled every 60-90 minutes daily, for just $3-$7 (it’s the only thing at the Observatory with a fee, and kids under 5 can only attend the first show of the day).
If the kiddos need a break, there are beautiful hiking trails behind the Observatory with breathtaking views of the Hollywood sign.
If you want to avoid the parking lot, which fills up fast on weekends, hike one of our favorite trails, Ferndell. Then when you hike back, reward yourself with coffee and pie.
2800 E. Observatory Rd.
—Meghan Rose & Shahrzad Warkentin
feature image via iStock