Whether you go star-spotting in the Hollywood Hills or head straight for the high-octane thrills of Universal Studios and Disneyland, Los Angeles and southern California have all the makings of a once-in-a-lifetime family holiday destination, from the great parks and beaches to the fame-drenched cities.
Aside from Hollywood and the other tourist magnets, southern California’s cities are packed with child-friendly museums and attractions to explore alongside locals. You can learn about the Mexican heritage of downtown LA, for instance, or head to the largest cultural park in the USA and one of the world’s best zoos, both in San Diego.
With so much to do, all you need is the time to enjoy it, and given the fact that you’ll incur jetlag en route, it’s best to spend at least two weeks, preferably more, here.
Things to do with kids in LA and Southern California
Begin in Los Angeles, in the area around Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. Start at Mann’s Chinese Theatre, where kids can compare handprints with the stars, then take in a movie at Disney’s El Capitan Theatre, a historic ‘movie palace’ that shows new and classic Disney films and fan events, and has a walk of fame on which kids love spotting the bronze stars marking spots where Snow White, Mickey Mouse and Co. have stepped Afterwards, pop next door to the Disney Soda Fountain for great shakes amidst an all-American ice-cream parlour feel.
Go star-spotting on the Walk of Fame, keeping your eyes peeled for Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny among the stars lining Hollywood Boulevard. Madame Tussauds Hollywood Wax Museum offers plenty of opportunity to dress up and get close to Hollywood’s best-known celebs.
Head to Universal Studios Hollywood, a real, functioning movie studio with a theme-park attached (book online for summer or face massive queues). Take the famous one-hour Studio Tour and let kids loose on rides such as The Simpsons, Jurassic Park and Shrek 4D. (Do bear in mind that many rides are too scary for under-fives)
Take older kids on one of Hollywood’s many Homes of the Stars bus tours, or better still, buy a map of the stars’ homes and hit the road yourself. You might also take a trip to Beverly Hills to window-shop on Rodeo Drive – don’t leave without catching a glimpse of the infamous Hollywood Sign, visible from more or less anywhere in Hollywood.
Head north-east of Hollywood to the green slopes of Griffith Park to see one of the shows at the Griffith Observatory, or go wild at the Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens in the north-east corner of the park. You can also get back to nature with a hike or horse ride through some of the park’s 4,000 acres.
Explore what downtown LA has to offer families, starting with the marketplace at Olvera Street (El Pueblo de Los Angeles), the original settlement of Los Angeles. Sample great Mexican food before paying a visit to Avila Adobe, the oldest house in LA, now a museum depicting life in the 1840s.
South of downtown, Exposition Park is a great place for a picnic as well as home to two of LA’s most child-friendly museums – check out the hands-on exhibits at the California Science Center or marvel at the T-Rex skull on display at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles.
For an Ice Age adventure, make your way to The Page Museum and La Brae Tar Pits in the Miracle Mile district of LA. Check out the oozing tar pits complete with replica prehistoric mammals before venturing into the museum to ogle the skeletons of saber-tooth tigers.
Don’t miss Disneyland, at Anaheim, an hour from LA – though it doesn’t rate as highly as its Florida counterpart. Close by in Santa Ana, the Discovery Science Center is a large hands-on science museum.
Don’t leave LA without exploring the area’s iconic beaches. Watch the beautiful people work out on Venice Boardwalk or take the half-hour trip south from downtown to Long Beach to visit the Aquarium of the Pacific, the largest aquarium in southern California.
Seek out another great spot for families – Santa Monica State Beach, with good swimming conditions and lifeguards all through the summer, plus year-round entertainment on Santa Monica pier and the oldest funfair on the west coast.
Combine a trip to Los Angeles with a stay in neighbouring San Diego, a very child-friendly city. Take a trolley tour of its historic Old Town or hit the beach at Mission Bay. Then explore Balboa Park, the USA’s largest urban cultural park, home to 15 museums, beautiful gardens and to the famous San Diego Zoo, where you could easily spend a whole day or more without getting bored. It includes a one-hour monorail ride through the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
Coronado Beach, San Diego
You can find almost any cuisine you care to think of in LA and southern California, from classic American fare to Mexican, seafood and the usual international favourites. If you’re worried about fast/junk food overload on family holidays, be reassured by LA’s reputation for healthy living and the preponderance of whole-food stores offering alternatives to burgers and hotdogs.
If, on the other hand, you want to rebel against LA’s size zero culture, sample some of the 32 varieties on offer at The Cheesecake Factory or try out the more incongruous combinations on offer at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles.
San Diego skyline
When to go to LA and Southern California
Warm, sunny weather year-round makes LA and southern California perfect for family holidays at any time of the year. Expect lots of sun and little humidity, with average high temperatures ranging from 15°C in winter to 26°C in summer. You may experience rainstorms between November and March.
Universal Studios Hollywood
Count on paying £3,000–6,000 for 2-week family holidays for four in LA and southern California, depending on the time of year and standard of accommodation.
Flying time11hrs All flight times are based on flights from UK London airports, to the capital or nearest destination airport.
Carbon footprint CO2 Estimated tonnes of CO2 produced for return flights for a family of four.
Offer of the week
Save up to £250* on TUI getaways this summer - that sunny beach is closer than you think! Start packing that suitcase and feel the sand between your toes, pronto.1,000s of free kids’ places available too – including in the school holidays. It’s time for some family fun in the sun - BOOK NOW!
Sign up to our newsletter
For regular family travel inspiration and ideas