When I was a kid, my three brothers and I agreed that going clothes shopping felt more like a punishment than a pleasure. So, when my daughter asked me to take her clothes shopping at local thrift stores, the idea didn’t fill me with excitement. Still, off we went.
During our first few stops, including Goodwill and Out of the Closet, I felt like Julia’s driver, biding my time until she was done. Around the fifth or sixth stop, however, the proverbial light bulb went on in my head. I realized that Julia exploring rows and rows of used clothes was just like me as a teen scouring used-record bins for hidden gems. Once I realized that, I became less a bystander and more of an assistant on these dad-and-daughter outings.
Finding something you and your children like to do together is definitely a pleasure, and Southern California offers a number of gems – some hidden and some not – for dads and kids to try.
Taking your kid to a ball game is an American tradition, but you can take that a step farther and go on a tour of Dodger Stadium. In fact, you can choose from three public tours: the Stadium Tour, the Clubhouse Tour and the Pre-Game Tour. Each provides a unique look into the Dodgers’ world, making fans feel like they’ve visited Big Blue Heaven. Tours range from 45 minutes for the Pre-Game Tour to around two hours for the Clubhouse Tour. Visit www.dodgers.com/tours and click the “Dodger Stadium” tab for details.
The Dodgers played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum from 1958-61, but the stadium’s illustrious history goes far beyond that – including two Olympic Games, two Super Bowls and a World Series as well as being home to USC football since 1923. You can learn about all of this, and more, on the Coliseum’s guided tours. Typically happening at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Wed.-Sun. (including Father’s Day!), the tours last around 90 minutes, taking visitors to the press box and the locker room (subject to availability). There is also a self-guided tour with more flexibility but less access. Go to www.lacoliseum.com to get tour and reservation information.
For a sports outing with a little more action, take your child to a batting cage. Two notable places where you can pretend to be Mike Trout or Corey Seager are Baseball Central (www.baseballcentralla.com) in Mid-City and the batting cages at Castle Park (www.laparks.org/castlepark) in Sherman Oaks. (Castle Park scores extra points because you can also play miniature golf and arcade games there.) While a batting session can help improve young sluggers’ skills, a batting-cage visit can also be all goofy fun, especially for little kids just learning the game. It’s also a chance to show off just how much your baseball skills have diminished since you were a kid.
Or show off your sense of adventure by taking the kids on a hike. There are many hiking spots around Southern California, and a few double as hands-on history lessons. Out in the hills of Agoura (at 2903 Cornell Rd.) sits Paramount Ranch. This national park started as a movie ranch where Paramount Pictures shot its films. Still standing is the Western Town set where you can walk around and pretend you are in an old Western. You’ll find several miles of easy to moderate scenic hikes surrounding the town. Horse riding is allowed, too, if you want to get into cowboy mode. The parkland was also the site of a short-lived car racetrack in the 1950s, and you can act like an auto archaeologist and look for its remains.
For a more urban (but still cinematic) hike, visit the Music Box Steps, located at 923-925 Vendome St. in Silver Lake (www.secretstairs-la.com). The 100 or so steps up to Descanso Drive entered film history as the location for Laurel and Hardy’s legendary comedy short “The Music Box,” where they attempt to carry a piano up this steep flight of stairs. Watch this classic – winner of the first Academy Award for Live Action Short Film (Comedy) in 1932 – before or after the climb to really understand the stairs’ cinematic significance. If you have the video on a handheld screen, you can even watch it in tiny Laurel and Hardy Park located at the foot of the steps.
In L.A.’s vast Griffith Park, you can hike to well-known landmarks including Griffith Observatory, the L.A. Zoo, the Autry Museum and Travel Town. There are also hidden treasures located near these famous ones. If you are headed to the Observatory, take time to hike to Dante’s View. This L.A. cultural landmark offers a shaded spot with gorgeous panoramic views and a wonderful backstory. In 1964, a man named Dante Orgolini created this little garden oasis on his own, and volunteers have maintained it since his death in 1978. It’s a great example of what a single person can do. Find the trailhead directly across the parking lot from the observatory entrance. The sign is marked “Mount Hollywood Hiking Trail.”
Entering the park off Crystal Springs Drive, you can find the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round and Shane’s Inspiration playground to enjoy, but if you want to be more adventurous, take a half-mile walk to the Old L.A. Zoo. To get there, park in merry-go-round parking lot two and walk past the merry-go-round until the lot ends. Shane’s Inspiration will be to your right, and the zoo will be just a 5-minute walk up the path to your left. Pack a picnic lunch, check out the old cages and talk about what the place must have been like before the zoo relocated in 1965. Then, get back in your car, drive 1½ miles north on Crystal Springs Drive to the current L.A. Zoo and see how much zoos have changed.
Griffith Park’s Travel Town has long been a favorite destination for young rail fans. Dads can make a trip there extra special by going on the third Sunday of the month and detouring east on Zoo Drive to the nearby Walt’s Barn (www.carolwood.org/barn.htm). This modest museum showcases Walt Disney’s love for trains and offers a peek at his life and career. Disney and trains – it’s hard to top that for many kids!
Three By Sea
If your little one is more interested in swashbuckling on the Seven Seas than riding the rails, set sail for Bellflower and drop anchor at Pirate Park (16559 Bellflower Blvd.). Youngsters will love it for the pirate ship, skull cave, fort and climbing bridge. Dads will love it because it is enclosed, a change of pace from the typical playground and a place where they can run around shouting “Ahoy, you scallywag!”
If your sea-loving kid is a little older, chart a course for Marina del Rey to enjoy some maritime activities. A good place to check out is Marina del Rey Boat Rentals (www.marinadelreyboatrentals.com), where you can get yourself a Hobie Cat or a Catalina sailboat to captain, or a kayak if you prefer. If you want an adventure in the air and on the sea, they also rent parasails for some high-flying fun.
Down in San Pedro Harbor sits the Battleship Iowa (www.pacificbattleship.com), the only battleship on the West Coast open to the public. Tours, available 363 days a year, spotlight the Iowa’s past. The ship also regularly hosts special events, including a “Brews ‘n’ BBQ” festival on Father’s Day. Visitors can also experience a unique take on that traditional father-and-son experience – going together for a haircut. Every few months, the Iowa opens its barbershop to the public; the next Barbershop Day is July 9.
Cops, Cars and Karaoke
Maybe your kids are the law-and-order type. If so, visit the Los Angeles Police Museum (www.laphs.org) housed in the former Highland Park Police Station. There you can learn about important moments in L.A. law enforcement history (which might be too intense for little kids), have a mug shot taken and step into a jail cell (hopefully the only time that will happen), climb into a vintage police helicopter or onto a CHP motorcycle and check out a selection of historic police vehicles.
Pretend you’re part of the LAPD in “The Starlight Lounge” room at Northridge-Based Amazing Escape Room (www.amazingescaperoom.com). Help the cops build a case against a notorious crime boss to “escape” your room. These escape establishments are growing in popularity but often have age limits. Rooms at Amazing Escape Room aim to be suitable for ages 7 and older. Still, it is good to do a little research to find out which rooms are most appropriate for your kids. Solving an escape room mystery is a terrific way for fathers and children to work together at a fun, memorable challenge.
Lots of kids have fun memories of cruising with their dads. Take a ride with a unique twist during Sunday Rides at El Segundo’s Automobile Driving Museum (www.automobiledrivingmuseum.org). The museum houses an impressive car collection and presents a full schedule of public programs. And every Sunday, the ADM allows its visitors (ages 10 and older) to go for a ride in one of its cars. It is a rare chance to take a spin in a museum piece.
Instead of singing along with the car radio, consider taking the kids out for karaoke. Not all karaoke spots are noisy bars packed with boisterous partiers. At a place like Max’s in West L.A., Torrance and Downtown (www.maxkaraokestudio.com) there are no age restrictions until 10 p.m., so you can drop in for a little afternoon sing-off and teach the kids some favorite songs from your youth – hopefully without too much embarrassment.
Sharing something with your child – whether that’s old vinyl, vintage clothes, new adventures or a song or two – is a great way to fill a day together, and to make it a day you’ll both remember.
Michael Berick is an L.A. dad and Calendar Editor of L.A. Parent.