Imagine – LA’s major thoroughfares wide open and car-free. Bikers glide through greenlit intersections while parents stroll their babies along the streets with little worry; toddlers pedal their trikes furiously on the pavement instead of… More
There are so many other amazing distractions in California, it’s easy to forget that world’s largest tree, the General Sherman, lives only about 4 hours away from Los Angeles in Sequoia National Park. That’s right – the world’s largest tree! (Sequoia is also home to Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the US, but it will be a few years before we can conquer that!) So add another entry to your bucket list because Sequoia is a must-see for residents of the Los Angeles area.
Sequoia is not a day trip destination, and two nights or more is ideal. Plans must be made well in advance to camp inside the park or stay in one of the lodges, but there is plenty of camping and lodging in Three Rivers, a town only about 10 minutes from the park entrance.
For families with younger kids, once a good place to start your tour is at the Giant Forest Museum. There is parking directly across from the museum. From there you can take a number of short hikes, including the 1.3-mile Big Trees trail, a paved path that leads you through a forest of giant Sequoias.
Look! A bear rock!!
After the Big Trees hike, take the shuttle to the General Sherman tree viewing area. Marvel at it’s size, the largest tree (by volume) in the world. We’re talking about 100 feet wide, 275 feet tall, and it’s well over 2,000 years old. It’s a humbling experience. Once you’ve taken that in, hop back on the shuttle and go to Lodgepole where you can grab a bite in the cafe.
With the family refueled, consider taking the 4.2-mile roundtrip hike to Tokopah Falls. It’s a fairly easy and picturesque hike alongside a rushing river for most of the way. At the end, the trail gets narrow and rocky, but it’s worth it for the view at the end. If you can’t make it to the end, you can still view the falls from other points on the trail.
The park gets crowded on holidays and weekends during the summer, so arrive before 10 am. if you want to get a parking space. Avoid moving your car by taking the shuttle to different areas of the park. Make sure to take note of the last shuttle times, around 5 or 5:30 pm, otherwise you will have to hike back to your car.
Best time to go: May – October
Good for: Kids 5+
Watch out for: bears, icy ground certain times of the year, uneven/ rocky ground
Get there: Insterstate 5 north to CA 65 north
Wear: hiking boots, sunscreen, hat, shorts or jeans
Bring: lots of water, snacks, first aid kit, camera
Nearby eats: Lodgepole Deli; The Peaks Restaurant at Wuksachi Lodge; River View Restaurant outside the park in Three Rivers
Need to get away? Is it Spring or Fall? Is it the weekend of Coachella? If you answered Yes, Yes, No, then consider a daytrip to Joshua Tree National Monument. Known for its namesake trees and mounds of boulders, this park boasts a landscape unlike anywhere else in the world. And, it’s so vast, you won’t encounter any crowds.
Under a bright blue sky, the visuals are stunning. In the spring, desert bloom can be found everywhere, sprouting from the Joshua Trees themselves or popping up from cracks. Rocks upon rocks upon rocks will incite questions from kids – how did these get here? So be prepared with an answer.
Well-maintained trails that start from the parking lots are flat and require little to no rock climbing. The popular Barker Dam trail is short and leads you to a picturesque water source (if it rained during the winter). But there’s no doubt you’ll be tempted to go off the path for some bouldering that ranges from beginner level to advanced.
With so many low boulder formations to climb on, this is a natural playground for ages 5 and older. Easy climbs will teach them a different kind of problem solving. When hiking with children, it’s best to stay close to the parking are and have them wear a bike or skate helmet for safety.
The environment can be harsh – extreme cold, extreme heat, prickly cactuses. Check the weather before you go and be prepared with layers of clothing, hats, sunglasses and sunscreen. Dress in jeans, a long-sleeved light shirt, a hat, hiking shoes or shoes with a good tread, a bandana to keep the sun off of their necks.
Eat before or after your day at the park at Crossroads Cafe, a local fave with an extensive menu.
Hey look, a hidden Mickey…
Best time to go: Spring or Fall
Good for: Kids 5+
Watch out for: Cactus spines, agave spikes, rattlesnakes, coyotes
Get there: Interstate 10 to Highway 62
Wear: hiking boots, sunscreen, hat, jeans
Bring: lots of water, snacks, first aid kit
Nearby eats: Crossroads Cafe
74485 National Park Drive
Twentynine Palms, CA 92277-3597
The distance from LA to Ojai used to be described as “one CD away.” These days, I’m not sure what that would be in iTunes language, but usually you can bet on an hour and fifteen minutes to get to there. The town of Ojai is enchanting, with mission-style buildings draped with bougainvillea and the scent of sage floating in the air.
Even better, there’s a shaded bike trail that you can take to explore the entire downtown area. The Ojai Valley bike trail runs 9 miles from Ventura to the heart of Ojai, but for families with young children, a ride through downtown Ojai is an experience in itself. You can access the trail in a number of places, but the easiest access is probably from the park. The trail runs behind Libbey Park and parallel to Ojai Avenue, the main thoroughfare.
And speaking of Libbey Park… the recently renovated playground would easily earn 5 stars from most kids.
You’ll likely be hungry after a bike ride and the playground. Head to Ojai Avenue and start with a honey tasting at the Heavenly Honey Company to tide you over while you choose from one of the many restaurants in the area.
Best time to go: Winter, Spring, Fall
Good for: Kids 5+
Watch out for: streets that cross the bike path
Get there: 101 Freeway to Venture to HWY 126 W to Ojai
Wear: helmet, sunscreen, layers
Bring: bikes, helmets, water, picnic, snacks, first aid kit, camera
Bike Rental/ Repair: The Mob Shop 110 W Ojai Ave, Ojai, CA 93023
Just down the road from Joshua Tree, in Yucca Valley, there’s a peculiar attraction known as Pioneertown. Is this a historic Old West town? Well, not exactly. But by Hollywood standards it’s the real deal – it was built in the 1940s to be an Old West movie set. Nonetheless, kids will love that you can go inside the stores and even pretend to be in jail; sit on a wagon, or simply run around and kick up some dust. It’s usually not crowded, perhaps because anyone visiting Pioneertown is at Pappy + Harriet’s, a popular restaurant and live music venue featuring all-ages shows. You MUST make a reservation well in advance to get into this restaurant on weekends and holidays because it seems everyone wants to eat here, both locals and tourists. Could have something to do with there’s not much around these parts in the way of food. If you don’t have a reservation and can’t survive a 3-hour wait, an excellent alternative is Crossroads, located near the Joshua Tree park entrance.
Pioneertown is located at 5040 Curtis Road, Pioneertown, CA, 92268
LA’s Chinatown is a great place to visit with kids anytime, but it’s even better when giant dancing dragons and martial arts performers take to the streets in the annual Golden Dragon Parade.
The fun starts with getting there. Hop on the subway and take it to Union Station. From here you can either walk to Chinatown, or you can transfer to the Gold Line. Either way it gives you an excellent opportunity to check out Union Station and it’s gorgeous art
deco and mission revival architecture that you’ve likely seen in movies. If you opt for the Gold Line, or happen to be arriving on the Gold Line, get off at the Chinatown Station, and from there it’s short walk latern-lined walk to the Grand Plaza.
Secure a spot along Hill Street or North Broadway. Typically it’s less crowded on Hill Street as you get closer to the beginning of the parade. Note that if you have little ones with noise sensitivity, bring ear plugs and warn them there will be loud noises. There will be lots of startling poppers going off in addition to police officers on motorcycles at the beginning of the parade. The parade tends to be long with many dancing dragons, performers from all over the city, civic leaders and an overall incredible display of colorful costumes.
Before or after the parade, make sure to visit the Grand Plaza shops for trinkets and the Phoenix Bakery for almond cookies and other Chinese sweets.
Now to the best part… where to eat. On the day of the parade you’ll want to be strategic with your timing when it comes to lunch. Chances are if you go before or during the parade, you may be able to get a table at Yang Chow. If you need a quicker option, head to Philippe, an LA landmark which serves sandwiches in a no frills environment.
Technically not an LA-specific attraction, Brick Fest Live visits the area for one weekend in August each year at the Pasadena Convention Center. If you’ve got a Lego lover on your hands, you’ll not want to miss this. Dads are sure to geek out here, too, so make it a family event.
Brick Fest features live shows all day, interactive Lego exhibits, contests, shops and areas for free building. With tens of thousands, if not millions, of Lego pieces just waiting to be stacked, kids will be occupied for hours. Come prepared with water and snacks because there’s no food in the exhibit hall, and it will be difficult to convince the little ones to leave this Lego heaven for a restaurant.
Follow the golden rule on this one: go early, be prepared, and have fun!
For more information, visit http://events.brickfestlive.com.
Yes, that’s water. Real water. And not just water, but a waterFALL?! Add this: it’s not far from Los Angeles. One of a handful of waterfall hikes in Los Angeles, Paradise Falls hike in Wildwood Park is an easy-to-moderate 20-minute hike suitable for kids. Some adventurous parents of young kids might even be able to do the hike with strollers, but there are some fairly steep sets of steps. In all, there are 14 hiking trails in Wildwood Park.
An easy flowing stream tumbles gently over boulder after boulder before it reaches a picturesque 40-foot drop known as Paradise Falls. The falls can be reached from several directions, but for little legs the Teepee Trail might be the easiest and quickest. if you’ve got time, there are plenty of areas to explore in Wildwood Park, including a natural cave called Indian Cave. The scenery is spectacular with mountains rising up on all sides, and the trails are lined with native coastal live oaks and the scent of 3 types of sage.
Wildwood Park is about 30 miles from Los Angles off the 101 Freeway in the city of Thousand Oaks. There are several picnic tables along the trails and water fountains. And another perk, there’s a great playground only minutes away from the park. Because nature is awesome, but to kids there’s nothing better than a playground.
Best time to go: Fall, Spring, Winter
Hours: 7am – sunset
Good for: Kids 4+
Watch out for: wildlife; mountain bikers.
Get there: 101 Freeway from central LA or the Valley; CA 23 from Santa Clarita and Simi Valley
Wear: hiking boots, sunscreen, hat
Bring: water, picnic, snacks, hiking stick, sling or carrier for younger children, first aid kit
928 W. Avenida de los Arboles
Thousand Oaks, CA 91360