There is nothing like taking a trip out of town as soon as school lets out. Since spring seemed so busy and stressful this year, we planned a one-week getaway after the last of school in order to relive any leftover stress from the spring semester. Our kids were just as ready as we were to escape the Bay Area, and have some fun!
We planned a five day road trip to Los Angeles. Our goal to was see things in LA we haven’t shown the kids yet. At first, we thought we would play tourist and show the kids all of the usual Hollywood tourist attractions. Surprisingly, our kids had no interest in any of that! So, we ended up finding things to do with kids in LA which were fun, new, and affordable.
Here is a recap of all the fun things to do in LA with kids which filled up our week and kept us busy!
Universal Studios-Harry Potter World
OK fine, this is not affordable, nor is it technically in LA, but we HAD to see Harry Potter World and try Butter Beer! Since Universal Studios is notorious for getting extremely hot, we looked at the weather report and visited on the coolest day during our stay; which was day one. Although the temperature outside was only 68 degrees, it felt like 80. There isn’t any shade there! We knew ahead of time that Universal can get long lines, and get very hot, so we splurged and purchased the “Front of Line” tickets. This was a life-saver since with these tickets, you don’t have to wait in long lines for rides. Some of the lines looked horribly long, and we were able to go right to the front. If you don’t mind spending the extra money, it is worth it to be able to cut the line. No-one should have to wait in line for an hour to go on one ride.
Harry Potter World was our first and most important destination. We quickly went on one ride, and then went over to Ollivanders. Rumor had it that your future wand chooses you! How fun is that?! They put you in groups of about fifteen people to go inside the famous wand shop. I thought we would watch every child enjoy watching a wand choose them, but this was not the case. Only one person in the room gets chosen to have a wand choose them. This would have been a huge letdown had one of our kids not been chosen. We got lucky!
My ten-year-old daughter, who is a HUGE Harry Potter fan, was the one person chosen in our group to have a wand choose her. It was so much fun watching the wand choose her! I was afraid my other two children would be sad they weren’t chosen, but they were OK because they knew my middle child was the biggest Harry Potter fan in our family.
After you watch the wand choose one person, they exit the group into the store. We asked a sales assistant inside Ollivanders if they could help find a wand to choose my other two kids, and they obliged! So don’t be afraid to ask, they will help you! Also, important note: we had no idea the wands were $49 each. Three kids, and three wands, turned into an expensive experience. Be prepared if you want to head into Ollivanders with your aspiring witch or wizard.
My favorite part of the Harry Potter world was eating at Three Broomsticks. They had traditional pub food and Butter Beer! Oh my, Butter Beer is so good! It tasted like cream soda mixed with butterscotch and topped with vanilla whipped cream. I found a few recipes online to make it at home, but they didn’t look quite right. I am going to try to come up with my own formula. So stay tuned for my version later this summer!
If you would like to visit Universal Studios and see “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter,” I recommend “Front of the Line” passes and to arrive when the park opens. If you plan to have a wand choose you, I recommend getting into that line first as the “Front of Line” passes do not work there. Also, don’t get your heart set on being chosen, they choose someone at random. Lastly, be sure to drink Butter Beer! It is really yummy. I had one while we were walking around, and one at lunch. Yum!
La Brea Tar Pits and Museums
The La Brea Tar Pits are an affordable way to enjoy the rich history of our Earth, and Los Angeles. My kids loved seeing the tar pits and found it quite impressive how many fossils were found in some of the small pits! We were also able to see an excavation in progress where archaeologists were finding new fossils right before our eyes!
I recommend arriving at the La Brea Tar Pits when they open in the morning so you can see the museum before it gets crowded; plus park close in the adjacent lot. There are also short movies at the La Brea Tar Pits museum. We watched one about the Ice Age which my kids found extremely interesting. Don’t you just love educational fun?!
There are a couple of restaurants across the street from the La Brea Tar Pits. We ate at The Counter and it was really good. Also, after you visit the tar pits and museum, the Los Angeles Museum of Art is next door and is extremely affordable. We took the kids through three of the four buildings. They ended up quite tired, but they did enjoy seeing the exhibits. I highly recommend visiting both locations in one day.
California Science Center-see the space shuttle Endeavour!
My son wants to be an astronaut when he grows up, so seeing the space shuttle Endeavour was a must! He was in complete heaven seeing the shuttle up close. This too is an affordable place to visit with kids while visiting LA. The permanent exhibits are free of charge and there are also IMAX movies you can purchase tickets to. We watched two; one about space, and one about the ocean. This is a must-see if you visit Los Angeles! It is also another educational stop which is fun for the kids.
Check to see if you need reservations for the space shuttle online here.
Santa Monica Pier
When you visit Los Angeles, you need at least one beach day! Normally I would recommend visiting a quieter, less urban beach; but if your kids get bored at the beach after a couple hours like mine do, then Santa Monica Beach and Pier is a good spot. We went to the beach before the rides opened on the pier. When we were bored with the beach, our hunger kicked in; so we decided to eat lunch before going on any rides. At the very end of the pier there is a fairly new restaurant named Mariasol. It was really delicious! I recommend the Salmon Tropical. It was delicious!
When we went over to the rides, we realized that the prices were quite expensive when compared to Santa Cruz; which is what we are used to. We decided to only send the kids on one ride each since they were $8.50 per ride; that’s a lot! They were OK with it since we had already been to the beach, and done a bit of walking around the pier. After the rides, we had ice cream at Soda Jerks Ice Cream Shop. I had a Cream Soda Float and it was so good! I highly recommend grabbing some ice cream here. They have limited seating inside which you can find by walking into the door next to the Soda Jerks sign; it will look like you are entering the Merry-Go-Round, but if you turn left after going through the door, you will see the ice cream counter.
Mentryville ghost town and hike
If you are local to the Bay Area, and take highway five up and down the state, there is a fun little pit stop you can make along the way to stretch your legs. Mentryville is right off five and only a few minutes drive from the highway. It is an old oil boomtown which is now a ghost town. The ghost town is at the beginning of the hike, so don’t use it as an incentive to get your kids on a hike; we tried that and whoops! The hike is after the ghost town.
There is a parking lot at the town which is only $5. You need to pay the iron ranger which is right at the start of the lot. There are about five structures left in Mentryville; and one is a movie set building built by Disney. As far as ghost towns go, this is quite small and nothing to write home about. It IS a great way to get out of the car and stretch, take a short hike, and learn a little bit about SoCal’s oil history.
A good way to save money when visiting several locations in Los Angeles is with the Go LA Card.; a three-day version is sold through Costco. We didn’t get one for this trip since we wanted to get the “Front of Line” passes at Universal, and this pass only offers regular admission. Although, you can load the card with attractions you want to see a la carte; and in hindsight, we should have done this.
What are some of your favorite affordable things to do in Los Angeles with kids?