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With educational programs, hands-on activities, and rotating exhibits, it’s like these museums really get us, offering endless variations on the answer to, “What should we do today?” Bonus: They’re fun and engaging.
Here’s our go-to list of best museums for toddlers in LA when we’re feeling cabin fever (and not feeling up to a theme park).
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California Science Center
Here’s something to love: Free admission is offered to the permanent exhibits at the California Science Center (including the Space Shutte Endeavour!). Explore as much as your toddler will allow at this popular museum located in Exposition Park, but be sure to include extra time in the Discovery Rooms for children ages 7 and under. This is a space where kids become tomorrow’s scientists, engineers, chefs … and whatever else they can imagine.
Understanding toddlers’ attention spans, the Discovery Rooms operate on a 15-minute rotation schedule during peak hours. Interactive exhibits, story times, activities, and animal displays are all available for self-directed exploration.
Let the little ones toddle their hearts out at Griffith Park, at the foot of the Santa Monica Mountains. Here in one of the largest urban parks in North America, kids can run free on nature trails, stare slack-jawed into space at the Griffith Observatory (or watch a night-sky show at the Samuel Oschin Planetarium), and board a train at the free Travel Town Museum (and check out small-scale trains owned by the Mickey master himself at Walt Disney’s Barn). Listen to their infectious giggles as kids of all ages take a spin on a painted horse on the Griffith Carousel, then check out the live animals at the Winnick Family Children’s Zoo at the 133-acre Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens.
La Brea Tar Pits
Your kids have never seen a puppet quite like the life-size, adult Saber-toothed Cat puppet at the La Brea Tar Pits museum. Stop in for this 15-minute live performance and film display that takes you both back to the Ice Age. Next up, challenge the kiddos to test their strength at the tar pull stop. Climb the sloth statue outside, then pop back inside for the skinny on poop (it’s educational!). And no kid (or adult, if we’re honest) can resist the impulse to roll like a log down the soft, grassy hills outside the museum (also a great place for a picnic for peckish toddlers).
Natural History Museum
From dinosaur encounters to sensory-filled strolls through the blooming Nature Gardens, the Natural History Museum is worthy of many repeat visits on those free days. Combine it with a day at the beloved California Science Center, right next door, or make it a day of its own. We love the Jane G. Pisano Dinosaur Hall, with its 20 mounted skeletons and 300 fossils, and the Dinosaur Lab, where even toddlers can brush and clean artifacts like real paleontologists. Don’t miss the Gem and Mineral Hall, where littles who love all things sparkly will have their minds blown.
Kidspace Children’s Museum
What toddler doesn’t love to dig in the mud? Head to Muddy Boot Farm at Kidspace Children’s Museum in Pasadena, grab a trowel and get diggin’ in this fresh-air exhibit. First Fridays are free, but truly, any day is a great day here. Check out the seasonal butterfly exhibit, where kids can dress up like a butterfly or create a caterpillar out of clay, walk the just-wobbly-enough rope bridge, splash in the dancing water fountains, and take a spin (or three) on the popular Trike Tracks, a mini-highway perfect for the museum’s one – and two-seater trikes.
Cayton Children’s Museum/Santa Monica Pier
Even jaded Angelenos can wile away a few hours with their tykes at the Santa Monica Place, just up the street from another great attraction: the Santa Monica Pier. Start at the Santa Monica Place and make your way down toward the pier and the ocean after!
Among our favorite spots at “The Place,” as locals call it, is the Cayton Children’s Museum, a play space with exhibits ranging from a jet cockpit to an almost life-sized fire engine to a colorful ball pit. It’s since moms are already at the mall, where shopping and dining options are endless, enjoy quiet stroller time once kids are tuckered out and ready for a stroller nap.
Another free-admission favorite, the Getty Center is a fantastic family outing. There are endless all-ages activities, including tram rides, garden walks and art galleries. Get on the free GettyGuide app and listen along as you learn about animals, angels and monsters through stories and music (they’re all tied to museum objects, one way or another!). Wander through the galleries to see which pieces hold your toddler’s attention. Play “I-Spy,” pointing out various elements in artwork and sculptures. And definitely don’t miss making your own art together (bring along paper and pencils or colored pencils and see what moves you both – just don’t bring pens or markers, as they’re not allowed in the galleries).
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
From drop-in workshops where all ages can make art together (the perfect place if you have toddlers and older kids) to special exhibits that allow parents to get a little culture, the LACMA is a win-win. Wiggly kids? Wander around the museum campus to admire the public outdoor sculptures (you may have seen them on Instagram). The “Urban Light” display by Chris Burden is made of cast-iron street lamps that were actually once used on the streets of LA. Or, walk underneath the “Levitated Mass,” a 340-ton granite boulder that hangs above a slot – your kids will be amazed!
Get your kids interested in science from the get-go with frequent visits to the Discovery Cube in Santa Ana (Orange County) or in LA – with thousands of square feet of interactive exhibit space, plus fun festivals and annual events. There’s always something to delight, inspire, educate, and amaze them. Feel what it’s like to lift off in a hot-air balloon, “shop” in a pretend-play supermarket or build a custom hockey player uniform. Stay tuned to the Discovery Cube’s website for upcoming events and educational programs.
Here’s our go-to list of best museums for toddlers in LA with hands-on age-appropriate activities and exhibits.
Located at the Skirball Cultural Center, Noah’s Ark is an award-winning children’s and family destination where everyone is invited to explore, climb, build and imagine on an 8,000-square-foot wooden ark. Multiple generations can bring to life the timeless story of the Ark, while cuddling with life-sized puppets (look closely, they’re all crafted from recycled and upcycled objects, such as baseball mitts and rearview mirrors!). Kids can look for artifact replicas during an archaeology dig, do their own art projects, and listen as a Noah’s Ark educator tells the flood tale in the amphitheater.
Beautiful day and you can’t face being inside four walls? Head to the Hollywood Sign, sort of like an outdoor Hollywood “museum.” Pop your kid in a back – or front-pack or push them up the trail in a stroller. The hike to the Hollywood Sign is totally doable with toddlers. Take the most kid-friendly route, which follows the wide, graded Hollyridge Trail. The trail leads to a paved road (closed to cars) up Mt. Lee. Have a picnic up top while you high-five your kid and gaze down on the Griffith Observatory, Downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood, and, on a clear day, the Pacific Ocean. Workout for the day? Check!
Feeling inspired? No reason not to start museum-hopping with your kids when they’re just two or three. From colorful art to massive sculptures to climb on, planetarium shows (where, let’s face it, Mom or Dad can get in a quick nap!) to dinos for days, we hope this list gives you fodder for many toddler-rific days to come.
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