Say what you want about LA’s traffic and urban sprawl, it’s a heck of a fun place to spend the week with young kids. Every morning my husband and I ducked out of the 2 bedroom Venice Beach bungalow we rented on Air BnB and sipped coffee on the deck under sunny blue skies while the kids played in the shade of palm trees. While the city is huge, we broke the week up into a few itineraries, which worked for us, since nearly every day included a playground or beautiful outdoor park. We rewarded ourselves with lots of good food and fancy cocktails.
We started with lunch and shopping on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, often called the “coolest Main Street in America.” We could walk there from our bungalow, so we lunched at the vegan (and utterly gorgeous) Butcher’s Daughter on pizzas (think: pesto and micro kale for us, margherita pie for the kids). Then we popped in and out of ultra-cool (read: way cooler than us) boutiques, while posing the kids in front of the various street art murals and bribing their cooperation with ice cream. Salt & Straw, the famous Portland-based creamery, has a location here, and their flavors — wildflower honey with ricotta walnut cookies or roasted strawberry and white chocolate, among others — were fun to sample. Many of the shops had outdoor patios with their wares artfully arranged in gardens, which made me want to buy everything. I did pick up a pair of toe-peep Toms that I LOVE.
On our second full day, we headed to the mountains (about a 45 minute drive) to Griffith Park, so we could hike Mount Hollywood. (The trail leaves from the parking lot near the Observatory.) There’s been so much rain in Los Angeles this spring, so the hills were more lush than usual and dotted with beautiful wildflowers. The Mount Hollywood trail, which leads to the famous sign, were easy to traverse with a stroller, even with a few challenging uphills.
As you climb in elevation, you also get incredible views of the city below. Check out the Griffith Observatory with the city behind it below. After our hike, we visited Los Feliz, a funky neighborhood that borders the park, and lunched on cacio e pepe at Little Dom’s, where we sat right next to Joan (actress Christina Hendricks) from Mad Men. Super cool! (We also popped into a sweet bookshop named Skylight Books that has a real live tree growing at its center — and a good children’s section.) On the hour drive home, the kids napped in the backseat.
You can’t go to southern California without hitting the beach, so we packed up the car and spent the day at Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica, a 20 minute drive away from our rental. Attention moms: You may never want to leave Los Angeles after seeing this scene. There’s a playground on the beach, a full-service restaurant serving healthy eats, and even random umbrellas set up for moms to meet up and picnic with their children. (Beginning in May, there’s a lounger-lined pool open to anyone who snags a first-come, first-served reservation.) A long boardwalk leads you down to the extra-wide beach so you can push a stroller with all of your stuff to the water.
We had to spend some time at Tongva Park, a magical green space in downtown Santa Monica designed by the same folks that created the High Line. The park, with shallow paths of water snaking through it, begs kids to take off their shoes and explore. On the south side of the park, there’s also a unique playground with sloped climbing walls, spray fountains and hive-like climbing structures. Here, my husband and I took turns sipping iced teas and chilling, while the other one chased the kids.
Another day, we drove down to Newport Beach, about an hour away, and hung out on Balboa Island for the day. Here, we rented bikes (trailers and tandems for the kids) and pedaled along the Pacific Ocean for a few miles. Between the mountains of Laguna Beach in the distance and the picture-perfect beach bungalows in the neighborhoods, my husband looked at me and said: “I could live here.” Ya think? On our way home, we stopped to meet a friend in Huntington Beach for dinner. Pacific City, a gardened outdoor mall with dozens of restaurants overlooking the expansive ocean, was lively, with families and singles alike. We got a table at a fairly forgettable restaurant, but what we’ll never forget is the view of the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean as we ate.
Speaking of malls, we did walk the Grove, the city’s famous outdoor, fountained shopping area for about thirty minutes, before ditching it — no matter how beautiful, it’s still just a mall. Instead, we landed in Beverly Hills at a sweet little playground named Coldwater Canyon Park, where the kids dug in the sand with diggers, and we chatted with locals about LA life. (The traffic is all people complain about here, but they do complain about it a lot.) After such a cold spring, we were just happy to be outside. All the time.
Then it was back to Griffith Park to ride ponies; my two-year-old was gleeful in the pony ring, while my 7-year-old couldn’t believe he was able to walk around the ring on the pony without someone attending him. (There’s also a train ride here you can take, but we skipped that.) Excited for lunch, my husband and I scored reservations at Salazar in Atwater Village, just minutes away from the ponies. The restaurant, housed in a former auto body shop, sits guests in vintage schoolhouse chairs at rustic wood tables, sand at your feet and olive trees overhead. The smells of Mexican-flavored meats smoking over wood in the kitchen wafted by. Cheers, we said, bumping our frosty lemonades.
On our second to last day, we drove up to Malibu Bluffs Park, a 45-minute drive. (Traffic? It wasn’t that bad.) Here, there’s yet another playground to please the kids, but then my husband and I enjoyed a walking path that headed through the cliffs below while overlooking the endless Pacific Ocean. At one point, we all laid in the grass and watched the clouds laze by. Locals were having an Easter Egg hunt here that weekend; can you imagine?
On our last night, we dined at Coast, housed in a sprawling, New-England style hotel called Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica. While enjoying our swordfish and steak, my husband and I toasted the fact that we had only one tantrum the entire vacation. Our kids, bleary-eyed, particularly our 2-year-old who had taken car naps all week, didn’t want to go home. And neither did we.
If you go…
I recommend renting an Air BnB in Venice Beach or Santa Monica — both are great launching pads for all local sites. We didn’t go to Disney or Hollywood Studios or any of the museums. We just didn’t get to it, since we were having so much fun just exploring local life in the city. But those would make great additions to any itinerary.