Editor's note (11/20/2018): Please note that due to the recent Woolsey Fire, areas of Malibu, including Point Dume and The Sunset Restaurant listed below, are temporarily closed. We suggest calling ahead to verify that the beach and restaurant are reopen.
If you’re looking for a winter-break getaway that’s almost guaranteed to offer sunshine instead of rain, pack your sunscreen and hop a flight to Los Angeles. Southern California is an easy two-hour flight from Seattle, and while LA may be famous for Hollywood glamour, it offers plenty of family-friendly activities for kids of all ages (and adults).
What to know
The city of Los Angeles is a whopping 503 square miles, and while public transportation is getting better, you’ll need to rent a car if you plan to explore different areas.
Daytime temperatures are usually in the 70s, even in the dead of winter, but bring clothes that you can layer, as temperatures may vary by 10–15 degrees, especially near the beach. Be sure to pack hats, as the sun is strong, and many a tourist has suffered a terrible sunburn due to underestimating the strength of those wintertime rays.
Where to stay
If you find it easier to stay at a house rather than a hotel, book a kid-friendly vacation rental through Kid & Coe. It’s slightly pricier than what you’ll find on other sites, but all of the properties offer amenities that appeal to families, including toys, cribs and high chairs.
For a hotel close to the beach, book a stay at Loews Santa Monica Beach. The hotel features a giant, gorgeous pool that overlooks the beach; a complimentary “Loews Loves Kids” welcome gift upon check-in; the “Kids Closet,” full of toys, books, car seats, strollers, night lights, potty seats and anything else you might need during your stay; plus, minibars stocked with child-friendly snacks.
Visitors in search of classic Hollywood glamour will find it at The Beverly Hills Hotel. Known colloquially as “The Pink Palace,” The Beverly Hills Hotel features stunning grounds, a pool and cabanas, which have served as the location for many a movie and TV show. Be sure to make time for breakfast at the iconic Fountain Coffee Room (with first-come, first-served counter service).
What to do
1. Hollywood daze
Start with a stop at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (now known as TCL Chinese Theatre) to see the cement hand and foot prints of classic and modern-day movie stars alike. The courtyard is always crowded, so be prepared to elbow your way in to catch a glimpse of Marilyn’s tiny heel prints. Across the street from Grauman’s is The El Capitan Theatre, a beautiful art deco movie palace that plays classic and first-run Disney movies. Check the schedule for its special sing-along events, which usually include a live-action character from the featured movie.
I’m betting that at least one member of your family wants to see a famous person. The good news is that they really are everywhere in Los Angeles, so there’s no need to sign up for the TMZ Celebrity Tour.
In fact, please don’t waste your money on a bus tour or a movie star map. The tours are often inaccurate (and you won’t see any celebrities), and the maps are so outdated that they might list the home of at least one actor from “The Love Boat.” The places where you’re most likely to see one of your favorite stars are Whole Foods (the Brentwood location, specifically), any of the first-class airport lounges at LAX or the Hollywood Farmers’ Market on Sundays.
If you opt for the farmers’ market, you’ll be able to combine your celebrity spotting with shopping for gorgeous produce and artisanal foods. Don’t miss the shucked-to-order local oysters, yeast-free ancient grains bread or, for the kids, the local face painter.
After you’ve stocked up on produce, head east to Griffith Park and have lunch at The Trails Cafe. Nestled right in the park, The Trails is famous for its avocado sandwich and vegan pies, but it also has a kids’ menu that includes a “Snake Dog” (a hot dog wrapped in biscuit dough) and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
While you wait for your food, take the kids to the playground across the street, where they can play in the sand and climb on the jungle gym. After lunch, follow one of the trails up to the Griffith Observatory. The trails are well-marked, and while parts of the hike are slightly steep, it’s a short trek of less than a mile to the front of the observatory. Time your afternoon right to catch a show at the planetarium after enjoying the 360-degree view of the LA cityscape.
Cap off your day in Hollywood with dinner at Desano Pizzeria. Located in a nondescript warehouse, Desano serves classic, wood-fired Neapolitan pizza. It’s not fancy, but the pies are some of the best in town, the kids love to watch their pizzas being placed into the ovens, and the restaurant has a nice selection of beers on draft.
2. Beach fun
On average, downtown LA receives just 36 rainy days per year, which means that almost every day is a beach day. The Annenberg Community Beach House is located right on Santa Monica Beach.
The 5-acre parcel was formerly the site of a huge beachfront mansion and an ornate swimming pool. While the original mansion no longer stands, The Annenberg features a playground, lots of (clean) restrooms, a splash pad, volleyball nets, a full-service restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, and a public swimming pool.
The pool is closed during the winter, but the beach is open year-round, and you can rent beach gear through guest services. The adjacent parking lot fills up quickly during peak hours, so plan accordingly and book your parking in advance through the City of Santa Monica.
For a beach day that’s more of an adventure, point your rental car north and head to Malibu. Westward Beach at Point Dume State Beach is quieter than the more well-known Malibu beaches, so in the winter you’re likely to have the beach almost to yourself. Pack a picnic and beach gear, because there’s nothing at Westward except some primitive public restrooms.
If you’ve got a hiking family, throw some boots in your bag and head up the trail to the top of the cliff for an even more exquisite view. Make a full day of it and reserve a table for dinner at The Sunset Restaurant, where the food is fine, but the view is the real star.
3. City streets
Downtown LA offers so many fun things to do for families with kids. Start your morning at Grand Central Market with a coffee milkshake from local favorite G&B Coffee. Once everyone is fed, walk across the street to the famous Angels Flight, an old funicular railway that travels up and down Bunker Hill.
Next stop: The California Science Center for a look at the spaceship Endeavour. You’ll need to purchase tickets to see the spaceship, which is so big that it’s housed in a separate hangar built to be its permanent home. The accompanying exhibit has lots of fascinating information about space travel as well as items such as space suits and dehydrated space food. Don’t miss the galleries on each floor that are just for kids and feature interactive crafts and exhibits (including live snakes!).
Close out your downtown adventure with a sushi dinner in Little Tokyo at Restaurant Oomasa. Located in the charming Japanese Village Plaza area, Oomasa is kid-friendly, reasonably priced and serves incredibly fresh fish. After dinner, walk a few doors down to Honeymee for soft serve ice cream that’s sweetened with honey; it’s the perfect way to finish your LA day.