Los Angeles for families: the best places to stay, eat and visit | Travel | The Times

2022-10-08 16:56:44 By : Ms. Josie Wu

T he city of angels has a mixed reputation when it comes to travelling with your — ahem — little angels. It takes a while to get to grips with a sprawling city that, despite a well-functioning metro rail system, is in love with the motor car (as any parent who’s been bumper-to-bumper on Highway 405 with a kid with crossed legs will attest).

But in many ways this diverse and neighbourhoody metropolis is ideal for a family holiday. Who can argue with the wide-eyed enticements of Universal Studios with its roaring Jurassic Park dinos and an immersive world dedicated to everyone’s favourite bespectacled wizard? Or Disneyland, where there are rollercoasters for all age groups, including cowardly mums and dads. Then there’s the city’s dining scene, with its retro diners and breezy bistros, which welcomes family groups with open arms (just go easy on those free shake and soda refills). Beyond the theme parks and neon-lit diners, there’s another, cheaper, less-explored LA: the pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods of Los Feliz and Echo Park, and secret green nooks such as Los Angeles County Arboretum, where peacocks strut with more attitude than John Travolta.

From eats to cinematic treats, here’s the best that LA has to offer for families:

Fancy a banana cream pie at a joint with leatherette booth seats, waiting staff with ear-to-ear smiles and a jukebox thrumming out rock’n’roll? The classic American diner, Mel’s Drive-In (mains from £11.20; melsdrive-in.com), lives on at this cherished Sixties feeding hole (the San Fran branch of which featured in the movie American Graffiti, and is replicated brick-for-brick on the Universal Studios lot). Bring a pocketful of quarters for the jukebox and a big appetite: the berry, cream and pumpkin pies could feed a movie set and the seminal Melburger (chuck beef on sesame with Bermuda onion) is the size of a UFO. Stroll off the extra few thousand calories on the adjacent Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame (you’ll step out of the restaurant onto Fred Astaire and Marilyn Monroe).

The Echo Park neighbourhood in east-central Los Angeles is best known as the home of the Dodgers Stadium, but it’s also a mecca for arty families, with its quirky bookstores (Stories Books & Café regularly has readings from top adult and children’s authors); bonkers Time Travel Mart (a convenience store selling high-concept offerings such as fresh dinosaur eggs, robot milk and Viking deodorant); and the eponymous park, a green-bordered lake with graffiti murals, Mexican sweet stalls and swan-shaped pedalos on the lake, which are a big hit with families, rom-com directors and smooching young couples — the last come for the night rides, when the swans are lit like gilded carriages (from £10 per hour for adults and £5.50 for children; wheelfunrentals.com)

Los Feliz is often overlooked by visitors to nearby Griffith Park and Observatory. That’s a shame as this eastside enclave — the under-the-radar home to A-list folk including Angelina Jolie and John Hamm — is as close as LA gets to a walkable, European-style neighbourhood. There are charming vintage and antique stores such as SquaresVille (squaresvillevintage.com), the place to go for lived-in cowboy boots, and atmospheric bistros such as the art nouveau-style Figaro (figarobistrotla.com), which has the sunny-side up croque madame of your dreams.

With soft expanses of sand perfect for smaller feet and a surf scene that will thrill teenagers, Santa Monica beach has all you’d want from a strip of sun-blessed California coastline. The Original Muscle Beach, with its tanned and bench-pressing human attractions, is just south of Santa Monica Pier, with its cluster of fairground rides, and has an underused children’s jungle gym. The surf breaks, at the far north and south ends, are suitable for beginners, if cliquey. Unfurl your towel at Annenberg Community Beach House, where there’s a children’s splash pad, a 1950s warm-water swimming pool, SUP lessons and a fine vantage point for the jaw-dropping sunsets (swimming pool £9 adults, £3.50 children; annenbergbeachhouse.com).

For family travellers, chief aggravations about LA hotels are exorbitant parking fees and loud and nightclubby bar-restaurants (hotels are often double up as the hottest nightlife spots). The Garland, a “family-welcoming” hotel, nails the essentials, with its large swimming pool, poolside bar where parents can kick back with a Garland rum float, and a relaxed restaurant, the Front Yard (mains from £15), which dishes up straightforward lunch and dinner options fast, including delectable seared seabass tacos. Room-only family rooms from £211, parking £27 (thegarland.com)

There’s star-spotting of all forms on offer at Griffith Park, a 4,200-acre natural spot at the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains, where shrubland trails are studded by the A-list taking their morning hike (your correspondent recently spotted a bare-chested Kevin Bacon in the brush), and, on Mount Hollywood (where the trails lead), a 1930s observatory and planetarium with well-curated shows (£9.50 adults, £5.50 children; griffithobservatory.org). These hills are a good spot for a family selfie against the Hollywood Hills sign, or with the James Dean Memorial on Mount Hollywood. The eastern edge of the park has a charming petting zoo and a toy train for smaller children (£3.75 adults, £2.75 for children; griffithparktrainrides.com), with reproductions of classic American locomotives chugging along a mile-long track.

Universal Studios Hollywood is the behemoth of LA’s studio tours and was the first to become a fully fledged theme park. Attractions include a tram tour of the back lots; Jurassic World, with its plunging ride and a raptor encounter; and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which features two rollercoasters and wizardly shows. Super Nintendo World is new for 2023. Avoid the notorious queues by downloading the mobile app and buying tickets and parking in-app in advance (£100 adults, £95 children, second day free; universalstudioshollywood.com). Disneyland (one-day entry £98; disneyland.disney.go.com), at nearby Anaheim, has two theme parks packed with rides.

The chic Short Stories Hotel, which opened in West Hollywood in March, has generously sized family rooms, an outdoor pool in the courtyard and — a real boon for LA — plenty of affordable dining options that can be reached on foot, including at shopping mecca the Grove (with its Häagen-Dazs gelateria) and the Original Farmers Market, where outdoor stalls punt everything from whole rotisserie chickens to handmade dream catchers. Room-only sleeping two adults, two children from £281 (shortstorieshotels.com)

With its 3,000 annual hours of sunshine, Los Angeles County is home to an estimated 250,000 swimming pools, many tucked away on the private properties of the famous and well-to-do. Beloved of in-the-know Angelinos, Swimply is a sharing economy app that lets you book private pools across LA by the hour, from the wacky (a pool in Ascot Hills with a Flintstones theme) to mountain-view pools in the hills. From £50 per hour, £277 per day (swimply.com)

The historic Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, founded in 1947, is one of the best green breathing spaces in the city, with vast aquatic and Asiatic planted gardens, soaring oak stands and Baldwin Lake, home to waterbirds. The jungle garden served as the backdrop for many a Tarzan adaptation and Katy Perry’s video for Roar. Peacocks roam amid scented blooms and daily activities include children and parents’ club Acorns and Oaks, full-moon forest bathing and movies between the trees. Entry £14 adults, £4.75 children (arboretum.org)

15-night California road-trip packages from £1,085pp including flights and car hire (americaasyoulikeit)

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