LA has never been my favorite city. Maybe it’s because I grew up in NYC and there’s some east coast vs west coast rivalry ingrained in me. Maybe it’s because it’s a driving city instead of a walking city. Or maybe it’s that ridiculous pollution that meant I always got sick on every visit I made there. I’d been to LA numerous times for work, and while I had found parts that I liked about it, it simply wasn’t my favorite place.
But the hubster’s best friend is from Iceland (the same one who went with us to Knysna), and he gave us a list of cities where we could rendezvous, and LA was the one we could drive to that seems intriguing. So we agreed to a week in LA to hang out, catch up, and maybe take in some of the sights. Of course our almost 3-year-old was along for the ride. I searched every guide I could find on the internet, claiming to have the best places in LA for a toddler. We went to most of them. So now, here’s MY guide on the best things to do for a week in LA with a toddler.
Visit Griffith Park, Observatory and Planetarium
This was, by far, my favorite tourist attraction we went to on our trip. Griffith Park is way up in the hills and offers some of the best views of the Hollywood sign. We parked slightly down the hill, but definitely not at the bottom. It was metered parking at $6 per hour, but totally worth it. It was a relatively short walk up the hill, and I made use of our awesome baby carrier for Harley… until she decided that running around was a way better idea.
When we arrived, the Planetarium wasn’t quite open yet. But it was fine because we walked around the grounds a bit. They have a scale model of the Solar System built into the front garden, and it’s such a great way to understand the true distance between the various orbits of the different planets. Harley could easily walk from the Sun to Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars, but even just reaching Saturn was a much longer walk than anticipated.
Once inside, the Planetarium has TONS of free exhibits to look at. I really liked the ones that showed how the moon moves and why it goes through phases. But there were also cool ones about the different planets that included buttons to push – always a key part of an attraction for a kid.
We ended up going to the first show of the day, the only one that Harley was allowed in. So if you’re going with a kid under 5, make sure you’re there for the 12:45 show. It was all about water in the solar system, and potential for life on other planets. It was fairly interesting. Not mind-blowing, but intriguing. Harley was… mixed with it. A lot of the kids started crying with the fake rain, and when it got REALLY dark in the theater. It was still cool to an extent for her but will depend on your kid how much they like it.
But Maybe Not the Tar Pits
Harley, like most toddlers/kids, has developed quite a fascination with dinosaurs. She really thinks they’re so cool and loves to play games with them or read books or do anything dino-related. So we thought the La Brea Tar Pits would be a fun excursion. And it was in many ways. There are numerous active tar pits in the area, and plenty of grassy areas for picnics, etc. We didn’t know that before we went, though, so we ended up basically walking around and then going into the museum itself. It’s not a bad museum, as there are some cool animatronic displays and cool fossils to look at – there’s even an interactive exhibit where you can pull rods out of tar and imagine if you could get yourself out of the tar pit. You can even watch the scientists working on stuff they’ve unearthed from the tar pits.
But there aren’t dinosaurs. It’s all ice age animals. Yes, like the movie. It was still fun to see the fossils, to touch the exhibits you’re allowed to touch, and generally wander around for about an hour. Only, if your kid is really into dinosaurs, they might be disappointed. And for the price of admission, I’m not totally convinced it was worthwhile.
We went to the Grove shopping center after the Tar Pits, so at least we extended our wander around in the area. There are some cool water features and fountains, as well as a giant Barnes and Noble bookstore, an American Girl Doll shop, and all kinds of high-end shopping. Doing LA with a toddler meant we couldn’t browse the finer things in life in those stores, though. There’s also a “farmer’s market” that’s really just a giant food court, so I’d suggest grabbing lunch there.
Have fun at Huntington Beach
One of my favorite excursions was the one hour drive to Huntington Beach. It’s not far from LA, but feels like a world away. The beach is GORGEOUS, and there are all kinds of great stores and restaurants. We found a fun Irish pub and pretty much passed the day there. The beer was way cheaper than in LA, and they had some decent food. I actually ended up venturing out for fish tacos that were excellent, and there are plenty of places to find them there.
In fact, we liked Huntington Beach so much that I think Dean and I are planning that our next California vacation will be just that. You know, just a week of lounging by the beach, letting Harley play in the sand, and enjoying all the cheaper food and drink. Maybe I’ll even take surf lessons – it is the surf capital of the States, and every other store you pass offers clothing, wetsuits, surf lessons, and boards so that you can be a part of the local culture.
And be aware at Venice Beach
I really liked Venice Beach and Santa Monica when I’d been to LA before. That’s why I decided we’d stay in Venice Beach for our trip. It was a really nice location, with plenty of excellent restaurants in the area. I liked the beachfront itself, and I ate the most amazing crab cake sandwich at the Venice Beach Ale House. Oh, and bottomless mimosas at The Venice Beach Bar.
But there is a huge homeless population in the area. Walking along the beach, there were tons of tents and clearly homeless people wandering around. Walking from the beach back home, we passed a tent city. In fact, just going to the local grocery store to buy some more diapers/nappies and some drinks to enjoy in our holiday home meant parking next to a huge number of homeless people. I know that they need to be somewhere, but it can really be a bit daunting, and led to some difficult questions from the kid, too.
We did walk the Venice Canals, though, which was really picturesque. In fact, there was a small kid’s park tucked away in there that a local had told us about. It had DUCKS! So there’s the normal kid’s play area, and then a cordoned off spot with ducks. Harley was rather intrigued. At least for a little while. But again, the walk in and out of the area with canals isn’t exactly free from homeless people, so you’ll just want to be aware.
My favorite part of Venice Beach, other than the beach itself, was this incredible French restaurant and market. I found it for our breakfast on the first day there, and it ended up being where we went almost every day. Fresh croissants, perfect crepes, bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon and capers. Plus, there was a nice outdoor seating area and they were incredibly nice to Harley. Before we came home, I bought their phenomenal vinaigrette, as well as some imported sweets and other deliciousness.
Drive to take pictures at The Last Bookstore
Every single guide post that I found for LA included recommendations to visit The Last Bookstore. You all know that I love books, and I’ve instilled that same love in Harley. So of course, we went there. It was… fine?
I mean, parking in downtown LA isn’t fun, but we found a decent spot that was fairly close. There are some incredible displays that worked for some fabulous pictures of Harley in the bookstore. Pretty much, the whole place is just an ideal Instagram photoshoot location. There are also artists studios and some cool, unique items available.
But, when you get down to it, it’s a used bookstore. It made me happy to see a kid’s section with certain books I grew up with, but I’m not always a fan of the messaging in classic kid’s books. Even finding rare books isn’t as much of a mission as it used to be before the days of Amazon, so I’m not quite sure I see the value as far as bookstores go.
As a result, I think it’s a great place to go and take pictures, but not a MUST SEE place in LA. Also, there aren’t any public bathrooms in the store, so make sure that you’ve got another plan in place for any potty breaks with the little one.
And eat all the dumplings in Korea Town
One of my absolute highlights of the trip was our journey to Korea Town to Myung In Dumplings. This is the place where Anthony Bourdain (RIP) ate dumplings in LA, and it is phenomenal. It’s basically tucked away in a strip mall in the middle of a busy part of Korea Town, so make sure you get the turn in traffic correct.
The woman in charge welcomed us and had us sit wherever we wanted, and then brought over cold water, kimchi and a variety of other Korean salads/condiments. Then I ordered dumplings. So many dumplings. I was prepared to become a dumpling.
I love them. Like, LOVE them. And Harley is also a big fan of dumplings. Dean enjoys them to an extent, but it was clear that I would be doing most of the heavy lifting when it came to eating the dumplings. And I did. They were phenomenal. So fresh, so delicious. And so MANY! I had never been outdone by dumplings before, so this was a first for me. We ended up getting a box to take them home, where I was able to enjoy them again another day. Go there. Eat dumplings. Find happiness.
I also saw recommendations for the Natural History Museum, but we didn’t get there on this trip. Older kids might enjoy a visit to Universal Studios, but it seemed like a waste with a toddler – maybe we’ll go back when Harley is a bit older. Do you think we missed any essential LA spots that you love going with a kid?