Los Angeles is filled with culturally engaging sites that also happen to be a lot of fun. Below, I’ve listed some of my favorite places you may not already have visited for kids to run around and be kids.

1. The old Griffith Park Zoo

Griffith Park is huge and includes numerous hiking trails, grassy lawns, and even an amazing vintage carousel — a popular attraction for kids, though it’s not free.

One of my favorite parts of Griffith Park, however, is the old zoo. The Griffith Park Zoo was constructed between 1912 and 1914 and represents a much-diminished version of what people at the time had hoped to build. Nevertheless, it became a popular attraction among Angelenos of its day until the 1960s, when people finally decided the small enclosures and cramped cages were inadequate and they built a new zoo a couple miles.

Since that time, the Griffith Park facility has been empty and today visitors are free to roam the old enclosures. There’s a mix of big concrete pens and cages, some of which are still locked. It’s a great place for a picnic, or to pretend you are a bear climbing around on exotic-looking cement.

2. El Matador Beach

Southern California is full of fun beaches: Venice, Santa Monica, Newport, Moonlight, etc. etc. But among them all, El Matador is perhaps the most striking.


Located up past Malibu, El Matador feels like a pirate hideaway; towering sandstone cliffs lead down to a beach that is a mix of sand and snarled rock formations. Though El Matador can get a bit crowded, particularly on summer weekends, it’s far enough north and away from the hustle of the city that it always feels relaxing. It’s a great option for anyone — especially families — who want a more dramatic beach experience.

3. The LACMA sculpture garden

I’ve written before about “Urban Light,” one of my favorite artworks of all time, and how it creates a kind of playground for adults and kids alike. It’s a wonderful piece that has been delighting people ever since it opened in 2008.

But it’s not the only great piece of interactive, crowd-pleasing art at the LACMA. Below, Jesus Rafael Soto’s “Penetrable” is another classic; every time I’ve been to the LACMA, its long strands of yellow plastic — which visitors are free to move through — have been a magnet to young and old alike. Best of all, it’s located in the LACMA’s free, outdoor area.

Other free, family friendly highlights at the LACMA include the “Levitated Mass,” which sends viewers beneath a giant stone, and a collection of Rodin sculptures located between “Urban Light” and “Penetrable.”

Related reading: 

Four classic, affordable, and non-touristy Los Angeles restaurants

Five classic Los Angeles donut shops everyone should try

This downtown Los Angeles hotel has the best views of the city, and has starred in loads of films

— Jim Dalrymple II


Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.

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