Santa Monica is what I consider my first home. Santa Monica has a comfortable small town feel amidst the big city vibes of LA. The town is relaxed but also full of fun energy with people that are warm, generous, and incredibly open and friendly. Our kids were raised in Santa Monica, and LA will always be one of our families favorite places and our home. Since 2010, when our kids were still 6 and 4 years old, we have been exploring the world, but we return to Santa Monica at least once or twice each year.
Here is our list of 12 Things to Do in Los Angeles with Older Kids. These are the things we do when we are in town and really, this list works even if you are an adult without children.
1. The Perfect Santa Monica Day
First of all, we like to start our day with a 5-mile beach/boardwalk run, rollerblade, walk, or bike ride. After our run, we usually stop at the park by the pier for a bit of climbing and aerial rings. On our walk home, we grab a latte and maybe even breakfast on Main Street. Then we return home to work for a couple of hours and have lunch. In the afternoon, we might visit the library, go for a hike, swim at the YMCA or meet up with friends. In the evening, we may do a jujitsu or parkour class, or visit Bergamot Station, or take in some Irish fiddle at Jameson’s Irish Pub. Whatever we do, our evening will likely include food and friends!
On certain days, we’ll stop by Pacific Park and enjoy a few rides on the Sea Dragon, the West Coaster or the Ferris wheel because that view never gets old. If you like surfing, ZJ’s boarding house on Main street is where to visit for lessons. This is not only a fun thing to do with older kids, or smaller kids, it’s fun for adults.
The Broad contemporary art museum is home to the Eli and Edythe Broad art collection. The Broads have a wonderful collection of playful, contemporary art that will interest and engage even the most reluctant museum goer (Jasper John, Basquiat, Jeff Koons, Barbara Kruger, Takashi Murakami +more). Entrance is free. While you’re in the area, you can also visit MOCA for a complete contemporary art afternoon.
LACMA is one of my favorite museums and my kids have always enjoyed the visits, which cannot be said of all art museums. LACMA has a very generous entrance program and especially for those under 17.
The Getty Villa in Malibu was constructed to give visitors the feel of an ancient Roman villa in the 1st century. The Roman country house feel is the perfect backdrop for the Greek and Roman Antiquities housed within the museum. I always make time for lunch in the museum cafés and I recall enjoying a delightful and relaxing lunch at Getty Villa on my last visit. Entrance is free. Tickets must be booked in advance.
3. Beaches and Sports
LA’s beaches are of course great for surfing and sandcastles plus there are also fun activities just off the beach to watch or do like parkour, parking lot hockey, yoga, volleyball, rollerblading, skateboarding, biking, and chess.
4. The Famous Food Spots of LA
Our daughter recently let me know that she’s looking forward to visiting cool restaurants when we return to LA. You can imagine how thrilled I was! We have always dined out with our two, but there were a few years where it was mostly for training and didn’t bring us much joy. I’m truly looking forward to enjoying meals out in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica with our older teens. A site like Trip Advisor will be your best bet for finding exactly what kind of restaurant you’re looking to visit.
5. Hiking and Views
There are hundreds of hikes around the hills of Los Angeles. A couple of my favorite hikes are Temescal Canyon and the nearby Will Rogers Trails in Pacific Palisades because they are an easy drive from Santa Monica.
The Malibu Creek State Park is also fantastic for hiking. If you want to see more LA history, walk the M*A*S*H Hike. I used to trail run through this area and it really does still feel familiar if you’ve ever watched the TV show Mash. For more info about this hike, I liked the write up at Socialhiker.net.
The walk of fame stars are located on both sides of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine street. Your kids will likely enjoy being closest to the center of the walk where the ‘stars’ will boast more recognizable names. Hollywood can be crowded, messy and full of street performers so be prepared. This part of Hollywood is not glamorous and can turn people off, but knowing that will help you enjoy it. Scout out a quiet lunch location in advance and plan your exit. Finish the day doing a hike to the Hollywood sign (see #5) or maybe a trip to the Hollywood Bristol Farms for groceries (live like a Hollywood local) before you return to your place.
7. Movies – Hollywood Forever Cemetery Summer Movie Nights
If you’re traveling in the summertime, be sure to check out the movie schedule at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Taking in a movie at a famous cemetery is definitely a unique way to enjoy Los Angeles with older kids. Bring a blanket, a picnic meal and even a bottle of wine and enjoy a movie under the stars. It’s a fun way to meet people while watching a movie in a cemetery at night.
The Hollywood Bowl outdoor Amphitheatre is an iconic music venue in the US. The Hollywood Bowl is located in the Hollywood Hills and is the summer home of the LA Philharmonic. There are many special music events like the Sound of Music Sing-A-Long; free weekday open rehearsals; popular bands and World music nights. Check the calendar when you plan your visit to LA. Pack a picnic lunch and drinks and prepare for an unforgettable experience. The Bowl is not to be missed! Oh, parking and traffic are awful so make a plan or at least set your expectations.
Visit Disney Concert Hall for the architecture, stay for one of the special performances that are free for children with the purchase of one adult ticket.
We will be visiting the Los Angeles Holocaust Museum and the Museum of Tolerance as both of our kids have studied WWII and read about the horrors of the Holocaust. The Museum of Tolerance has an excellent World War II and Anne Frank exhibit that will be important for our older kids to see. Check for free museum days and programs geared toward children of a younger age.
A day of shopping would drive younger kids crazy! Shopping in Los Angeles with older kids though is a whole different experience. If you and your kids are looking for the full on LA experience, check out the many famous shopping spots in LA. Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills followed by a cool beverage or tapas at a ‘classically LA’ restaurant. For us, I’m planning Matsuhisa for sushi and Maison Richard for pastries and espresso! Abbot Kinney Blvd. for one of a kind storefronts and small brands in Venice. Montana Avenue in Santa Monica for upscale fashion and smaller brands. Brentwood Country Mart offers boutique shopping with a small town feel. Malibu Country Mart is enjoyable for its open air setting and Cali style shops.
11. Tempest Freerunning Academy A Favorite Los Angeles with Older Kids Activity!
If your kids like running, jumping and climbing things, you’ll want to pay a visit to one of the top parkour gyms in the US with 3 LA locations. The coaches are professional athletes who want to share movement and play with every kid and adult they train. We visit Tempest every time we’re in LA and it’s always a highlight of our trip. If you visit the Northridge location, I recommend King’s Burgers and Got Sushi for a bite after Tempest!
12. Universal Studios Theme Park – Hollywood
And last on our list is Universal Studios. Many people think of Disneyland when they visit LA, but Universal Studios Hollywood Theme Park is the park I would visit in Los Angeles with older kids. At Universal you’ll have access to a Backlot tour which every preteen, teen and adult will find enjoyable. Entry tickets are spendy, though they are cheaper than Disneyland! I recommend upgrading your tickets to the front of the line pass, which allows you to make the most of your time at Universal.
Bonus! 13. Los Angeles is known for its television and film industry, so on your visit you may want to plan to see a live tapings of comedy shows, talk shows like The Late Late Show with James Corden. Sitcom tapings often take place at studios like CBS Studio Center, Warner Bros. Studios, or Universal Studios Hollywood.
Finally, if you would like to discover MORE fun things to do in LA, check out our article on 10 Great Things to do in LA with Kids at Worldschooling Central, a resource for traveling world, homeschool / unschooling families.
Published: 1 April 2017
Last updated: 20 April 2023