It’s easy to get excited about summer and the promise the season holds for outdoor fun, but let’s face it, by July we’re all starting to wilt a little. When you and the kids find yourselves seeking relief from SoCal’s relentless sunshine, head to these shady, splashy and air-conditioned respites for fun summer activities.
Hike to a Waterfall
Shady hikes with running water are not easy to find during parched Southern California summers. That’s why discovering Solstice Canyon in Malibu (at Corral Canyon Road and Solstice Canyon Road; www.nps.gov/samo/planyourvisit/solsticecanyon.htm) feels like such a coup. Throw in the fact that the trail culminates in honest-to-goodness ruins and you’ve got a recipe for rustic kid heaven. The tot-friendly Solstice Canyon Trail is a two-mile round trip and follows a ravine shaded by oak and sycamore trees and lined with coastal sage scrub and wildflowers. Plan to wander off the main path (but watch out for poison oak!) to explore a huge fallen tree that doubles as a natural jungle gym and hollow “tunnel trees” that will make your kids feel like forest sprites. The biggest treats await at the end of the trail: the sprawling ruins of the Roberts Ranch House and, behind that, a hidden waterfall surrounded by boulders and rock walls just waiting to be conquered by older kids who love to climb.
The route isn’t long, but because it includes so many off-trail temptations and some serious rock climbing action, it’s best suited for grade-school and older kids. If you bring younger children along, be prepared to do some carrying and make sure you have enough adults to supervise everyone. Also, note that there are two parking lots – a small one just off of Corral Canyon Road and a larger one located up a narrow paved road closer to the trailhead. Both lots can fill up on weekends, in which case you may need to park down on the street and factor in an additional quarter mile or so of walking to reach the trailhead.
Play Outside – Indoors
Summer vacation is a great chance for children to explore the majestic outdoors, but sometimes it’s just too dang hot outside. The Natural History Museum (900 Exposition Blvd., L.A.; www.nhm.org; 213-763-3466) has long presented an air-conditioned opportunity to immerse ourselves and our children in the natural world. And if dinosaur bones, wooly mammoths and precious gemstones aren’t enough to hold kids’ attention, a visit to the Nature Lab and Gardens is in order. This two-year-old addition to the Exposition Park institution has brought new life to the museum.
The gardens feature a gorgeously designed and abundant edible garden, hundreds of native plants that draw pollinators and beneficial insects, and a fun “Get Dirty Zone” where kids can dig through compost piles in search of pill bugs, help build a large teepee-like structure with sticks and branches, and use special tools to sort through rocks and gravel. Once they’re sufficiently dirty and sweaty, children can step into the bright, airy and blissfully cool Nature Lab, which is packed with even more activities and displays designed to engage the school-aged set. Exhibits showcase live rodents, spiders, turtles, snakes and bugs galore, and interactive features focus on the peaceful coexistence of humans and nature within the highly urbanized zone of Los Angeles.
Eat Educational Ice Cream
True chocolate lovers know that Culver City’s Chocovivo (12469 Washington Blvd.; www.chocovivo.com; 310-845-6259) is L.A.’s only bean-to-bar chocolate maker, serving direct-trade, rustic, stone-ground chocolate that is nothing less than addictive. And now, there’s even more reason to visit, as the shop started serving homemade ice cream this summer.
A visit to Chocovivo offers an education in where chocolate comes from (pods that grow on the trunks of trees in a specific region near the equator), and how the cacao beans are extracted and processed to make the chocolate that we eat. The fruits of all that labor can be enjoyed in chocolate bars, chocolate-nut butters, hot and iced chocolate drinks, pastries and dairy and vegan ice cream in avocado-coconut, black sesame-goji berry, coffee-vanilla bean and other flavors. For kiddos with more traditional palates, there are also fresh mint-chocolate chip and simple vanilla bean courtesy of Straus Creamery. This isn’t your typical chocolate shop or ice cream parlor, but it might end up being your favorite.
Chill With the Sea Creatures
Long Beach’s Aquarium of the Pacific tends to get the most attention as Southern California’s go-to aquarium, and with good reason. The state-of-the-art facility is home to just about every fish or sea-dwelling mammal you’d care to see. But if you’re looking for a more low-key option, the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium (1600 Ocean Front Walk; www.healthebay.org/santa-monica-pier-aquarium; 310-393-6149) operated by Heal the Bay is a great destination. Kids ages 12 and under get in for free, and everyone else pays just $5 per person.
Visitors can see a shark and sting ray feeding; check out sea stars, urchins and sea cucumbers in the touch tanks; observe various ocean habitats and learn more about endangered species and how to protect them. This could inspire older kids to participate in Heal the Bay’s next beach clean-up day. Younger children, meanwhile, will enjoy story times and arts and crafts. After the visit, catch ocean breezes on the rides at Pacific Park, cool off with a milkshake at PierBurger or hit the beach.
Make a Grand Splash
Ever since the big debut of Grand Park (200 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; www.grandparkla.org) in 2012, it has proven to be a huge draw to downtown L.A. and a popular community gathering place. Converting part of the grand Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain into a splash pad was a stroke of genius that turned the lovely landmark into a delightful way for kids to cool down. And now the 12-acre park finally has a playground as well.
The whimsical all-abilities play area features a 20-foot-tall “tree fort,” a long tunnel slide, springy “berms” for kids to bounce on and lots of other innovative features designed to keep kids of all ages active and engaged. The playground is located at the opposite end of the park from the splash pad, in the southeast corner of the section between Broadway and Spring streets.
Get In the Swim
With its picturesque setting in the Arroyo Seco’s Brookside Park, impressive facilities and convenient location next to a state-of-the-art playground, Pasadena’s Rose Bowl Aquatics Center (360 N. Arroyo Blvd.; www.rosebowlaquatics.com; 626-564-0330) is one of the most appealing public pools in the Los Angeles area. The center includes two Olympic-size pools, three diving platforms and a warm-water pool. Programs available for youth include swim lessons, summer camp and, for serious swimmers, a swim team.
After swimming, kids can enjoy Reese’s Retreat, Pasadena’s awesome, pirate-themed, universally accessible playground located just behind the facility. The park is also full of trails and old stone stairways to explore, and ample trees provide lots of shade, making this a great place to enjoy a picnic lunch or dinner. To really make a day of it, head just north of the aquatics center to Kidspace Children’s Museum (www.kidspace.org), which offers Free Family Night from 4-8 p.m. the first Tuesday of every month.
Hit the Sand in Style
The Annenberg Community Beach House (415 Pacific Coast Highway, Santa Monica; www.annenbergbeachhouse.com; 310-458-4904) may be the ritziest way to have fun on the SoCal sand. The five-acre oceanfront property includes a modern beach house and a beautiful, restored marble swimming pool dating back to the 1920s, when William Randolph Hearst developed the property for actress Marion Davies.
The Annenberg is open to the public and charges only modest fees to enjoy the amenities, including the pool, changing rooms, lockers and beach volleyball and tennis courts. Other attractions, including a small playground, picnic area and splash pad, are accessible at no charge. Activities and events, including a cardboard yacht regatta, tours of the Marion Davies estate guesthouse, art exhibits and live music, take place here throughout the summer. Swim lessons and beach sports classes, as well as stand-up paddleboard rentals and lessons, can also be arranged.
Let It Slide
Sometimes a hot summer day just begs for a trip to one of SoCal’s big water theme parks. The “Big Three” are Raging Waters in San Dimas (111 Raging Waters Dr.; www.ragingwaters.com), Six Flags Hurricane Harbor in Valencia (26101 Magic Mountain Pkwy.; www.sixflags.com/hurricaneharborla) and Knott’s Soak City in Buena Park (839 Beach Blvd.; www.soakcityoc.com). Six Flags and Raging Waters are both huge and feature the types of extreme water slides and rides that will appeal to older kids and teenagers, while Soak City has an entire “Gremmie Lagoon” dedicated to younger kids. Ticket prices vary by age at all three parks, but generally run from $25 to $35, with additional fees for parking. The smaller, pirate-themed Buccaneer Bay, located inside the La Mirada Regional Aquatics Center (13806 La Mirada Blvd.; www.splashlamirada.com), presents a more manageable option for younger kids, with prices starting at around $14 and free parking.
Erin Mahoney Harris is a Santa Monica-based mom of two and frequent contributor to L.A. Parent.