Things for families to do outdoors in and around L.A.

Outdoor Fun

visit national parks

See National Parks by Land and by Sea

The 418 national parks, national monuments, historical parks and sites that make up the U.S. National Park Service often charge for admission. But there will be six free entrance days in 2019. The first is Jan. 21 (observed birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.), followed by April 20 (first day of National Park Week), Aug. 25(National Park Service Birthday), Sept. 28 (National Public Lands Day) and Nov. 11 (Veterans Day)....

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snow near los angeles

The Great Ice-scape, or How I Learned to Let My Kids Love the Snow

My boys loathe the cold. My boys loathe the heat, too, but since it’s January and about as chilly as it’s going to get here in L.A., I’ll focus on the cold. Hank, who’s 4, has always been more curious about the weather than willing to be out in it. “Tell me more about these hurricanes, Daddy,” he’d say. “Are there tornadoes here?” he once asked. And when he sees...

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Where to Go Whale Watching in SoCal This Season

From late December into early April, Pacific gray whales migrate down the Pacific coast to Baja California Sur, Mexico and then back up to Alaska, giving Southern California a great chance to view these majestic ocean mammals. In Oxnard (, Island Packers and Channel Islands Sportfishing Center offer daily outings. In the L.A. area, you can board boats in Marina del Rey (, Redondo Beach (, San Pedro ( and...

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parks project los angeles

The Parks Project Eases a New Big Sister’s Transition

In March of 2014, just after my son was born, my daughter Eka and I started traveling to as many parks around the San Gabriel Valley as we could. Eka was 4 at the time and very attached to my wife. Our almost-daily trips began as a way to distract her from no longer being the center of her mother’s attention, but soon became a vehicle for my daughter and...

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Birthdays That are So L.A.

Kick your child’s star power up a notch on their special day the L.A. way, with a one-of-a-kind celebration served up with a touch of the delicious, the wild and a side of the fantastic. Why not knock a few things off the bucket list while they’re young, and let the adults come along for the enchanting ride? Around-the-World Adventures in Ice Cream The idea began, once upon a time,...

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tennis in L.A.

Net Generation Brings Tennis to Kids Across L.A.

The 2018 U.S. Open Tennis Championships, which launched Aug. 27, are a prime time to inspire kids to get in the swing of tennis, a classic sport that can be played nearly anywhere – even at home.   Net Generation, a new youth initiative of the United States Tennis Association (USTA), makes it easy for ages 5-18 to learn about the sport and start playing in local schools, parks and tennis...

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millennial dad

Ripe for Satire: A Taste of this Summer’s Farmers Market Scene

On a lazy, unseasonably chilly Sunday morning in L.A. this May, my 3-year-old son exclaimed, “Let’s go to the farmers market!” It was 7 a.m. My wife Kate and I, still half-comatose, were hardly through our first sips of coffee. We looked at each other as Hank continued his demands. Defeated, we shrugged, downed the rest of our coffee, packed up the family and headed out.  In L.A., we’re lucky...

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L.A. Playgrounds

7 L.A. Playgrounds Perfect for Unstructured Play

Right now, parents across the U.S. are feeling the subtle but ever-present tug of war between structured and unstructured time for their kids. The trend over the last few decades has been toward increasing amounts of scheduled activities for children in the interest of safety and student achievement. And despite a large body of recent research on the varied benefits and importance of free play, as well as unstructured play...

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gardeners in los angeles

Make Your Summer Garden Grow in Los Angeles

Planting season in Southern California is not in summer. Gardeners here will tell you it’s best to dream and plan now and plant in fall, when temperatures are kinder to tender young plants. Still, summer is when kids are out of school and families have more time, so I checked in with Rachel Young, director of horticulture, and Rachel Lewellen, harvest garden coordinator, at Descanso Gardens in La Cañada Flintridge...

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Mother Nature vs Materialism with Netiya

One recent morning, my 7-year-old daughter got dressed for school and announced that she was wearing all purple. “Purple shirt, purple pants, purple boots, purple socks, even purple underwear!” she proclaimed proudly. “That’s awesome, Ave!” I said. “Nicely done!” Then she said something that broke my heart a little: “Do you think anyone will make fun of me for wearing all purple?” Oh man, I thought. It’s happening. My self-confident,...

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Quick Getaways: Adventure is just 2 Hours Away

Roar & Snore in San Diego If you’ve dreamed of getting snooze-close to elephants, giraffes, gazelles and antelopes but can’t swing a 22-hour flight to Africa, head down to the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park. The park’s Roar & Snore Safari features some exciting programs, including the Safari Sampler Sleepover and Happy Hoppers Sleepover. Happy Hoppers comes with a wild egg hunt, and Safari Sampler finds you on an...

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Los Angeles Nature Centers

Getting ‘Centered’ at L.A.’s Nature Centers

It has been one of those weeks of endless traffic, of arguing over screen time, of too much social media and disheartening news reports. So, on a crisp, clear Sunday, I head to Eaton Canyon Nature Center in Pasadena. It is a rare morning when I am alone, so I decide to scope out this location and its hikes to see if it would be a good place for my...

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millennial dad

Surprises Behind the Orange Curtain: Good Coffee and Gated Adventure Parks in the OC

This month’s column is an exploration of Bizarro World. I’m talking about that other dimension just south of the Habra-Mirada Line: Orange County. Although the OC is just a 30-minute drive from LAX (traffic permitting), we Angelenos tend to look down on the suburban sprawl just south of us. Perhaps the annual trip to Disneyland or Laguna Beach is the only time you venture behind the “orange curtain,” but I’ve...

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kids outdoors

The Art of Getting the Kids Outdoors in the Los Angeles Area

Our family is very fortunate in having cousin Hannah, the matriarch of the family, turn 92 recently.  Hannah’s four children are now in their 60s and her grandchildren are now having children. Our littlest cousin and her newest great granddaughter, Sloan, was just born a few months ago.  One of the mantras that Hannah has always told each of us as we began having children was that whenever our children...

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fall camping los angeles

Fall Camping at El Capitan

For Angelenos, camping in the fall is an opportunity to cozy up to nature after the crowds have gone back to their grind. November is our family favorite and this year, Park Rangers Tony Annia and Rick Humphrey from El Capitan State Beach, or “El Cap” as locals refer to it, gave us some advice on how to make the most of our annual trip there. Keep things simple during...

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kid-friendly beaches

Best Kid Friendly Beaches Along the Highway 1 Discovery Route

In our land of endless summer, fall is a great time to hit the beach with the family. Pack up the sunscreen and head to one of these beaches along the North Coast of the CA Highway 1 Discovery Route, (H1DR). Each beach community has something unique to offer. Ragged Point Beach:  Ragged Point Beach is a remote beach that is just waiting to be discovered. The steep but short...

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kid-friendly winter sports

10 Winter Sports for California Families

Most of us think of our SoCal home as an oasis of beaches, palm trees and sunshine. But there are plenty of winter sports available in the L.A. area – or not too far afield. From the time my three kids were tots, we went sledding in Frasier Park and skiing in Big Bear and Mammoth Mountain. As my kids got older, mountain resorts became our winter playgrounds for snowshoeing,...

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murals in los angeles

Murals in Los Angeles: Taking Art to the Streets with Kids

L.A. is a heavyweight contender in the battle to be the city with the most splendid street art on Earth. Venice, the San Fernando Valley and the Downtown Arts District are teeming with work by some of the world’s most famous muralists, and our area boasts a torrent of Technicolor innovations from local talent. City officials imposed a mural ban in the 1990s, but it was lifted in 2013, and...

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7 Great Water Sports for Kids

For some kids, choosing a water sport is a no-brainer. Synchronized swim, for instance, is a natural fit for 13-year-old Sophia Davison. “It joins two of my passions – speed swimming and gymnastics,” she says. Other kids might want to explore a little, and the L.A. area’s miles of coastline and nearby lakes make it easy. When my three kids were small, we started kayaking and picked up other water...

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Hitting the Beach for Summer Fun Hollywood Style

To many of us in and around Los Angeles, summer fun at the beach is an afterthought, only beckoning when the inland heat calls for relief. A friend from Studio City once referred to it as “the great A/C unit to the west.” Out-of-towners often accuse us of taking our 75 miles of Pacific coastline for granted. And they're right. I'm feeling especially salty at the moment because I recently...

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Wrightwood Ziplining and Our Leap of Love

We didn’t know my son Kaleb was scared of heights until we rode the Ferris wheel at California Adventure. When our pod started climbing and swaying, he threw himself on the floor and hid his head between his father’s knees. No amount of reassuring could get him to look around. When I learned about “Ziplines at Pacific Crest” in Wrightwood, I thought it would be the perfect place for him...

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la zoo creature camp out

Get Wild with L.A. Zoo’s Creature Camp Out for Families

“Have you ever wondered what happens at the Zoo when the last guest leaves?” As a mom who’s been there literally scores of times with my family, the answer is, "yes."  And you can now be a guest after the L.A. Zoo officially closes. The Zoo offers an overnight opportunity for families and you don't need to bring your own tent or food or electricity to do it. I’d heard of family classes, Zoo...

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Seven Summer Activities for Learning in and Around L.A.

It’s a sweet synergy when you can have fun with your kids while they’re learning. Los Angeles is a big city with even bigger opportunities for families to discover and explore together, but you might not have heard of these lesser-known gems. Among them are a path-blazing center that rescues animals while helping kids connect with nature, a shop where you can go back and forth in time (or, rather,...

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16 Great Ways to Spend Father’s Day in L.A.

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...

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Geocaching With Kids for Outdoor Fun In L.A.

Armed with a modern-day treasure map (of the iPhone variety), my 4-year-old son and I beelined through the park, following the in-app compass to our destination. Ding! “You’re getting close!” the app encouraged. Our hearts were pounding as we arrived where X marked the spot. We frantically flipped over leaves, shuffled rocks and generally sleuthed around a bit, until … pay dirt! My son popped open a small Tupperware container...

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accessible los angeles

Out, About and Inclusive In L.A.

There was a time when “accessible” meant someone with a disability could get in the front door, and maybe up to the second floor – and after that they were on their own. These days, accessibility goes way beyond that, and many L.A. attractions are making it part of their mission. “Accessibility is more than just adding a ramp,” says Peter Martineau, marketing events manager at Aquarium of the Pacific...

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la families

6 Free Workouts for L.A. Families

Whether your goals for 2017 involve a narrower waistline, speedier 5K or just a longer and happier life, they’ll be well served by getting out and getting active with your family. Though the Southland has no shortage of gym memberships and specialty fitness classes, it also offers plenty of free – and fun! – workouts you and your kids will love. This might sound great when the fresh calendar year...

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california farms

Find Big Family Fun on California Farms

When Erin Mahoney Harris became a mom 10 years ago, she found herself becoming more and more interested in where her family’s food came from. That led to a passion for gardening – a challenge in her urban L.A. environment. She and her growing family moved to Santa Monica, where Harris built up an extensive vegetable garden in containers and pots. And she began taking her family to visit local...

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skiing with kids

First-Time Skiing Tips for Success

First time skiing with kids? Use these tips to have a great experience  An avid skier since I was a teen, I was eager to share my favorite winter sport with my three kids. Young adults now, each of my kids stepped into his or her first pair of skis by age 4. Our family ski trips are among our favorite memories: Snacking on Cheerios on chairlifts while watching skiers...

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fun ideas for kids

LA’s Great 8: Exceptional Outdoor Playgrounds

If you have grown tired of your usual haunts of fun ideas for kids and are looking to try more creative, unusual and adventurous playground options, you still have some summer vacation left to go exploring! Here are a few parks that stand out, including a couple of newly opened options to keep things fresh. Slip-Sliding Away While the recently opened South Park playground in Hermosa Beach (425 Valley Dr.)...

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special needs beach wheelchairs

Freewheeling At the Beach

A day at the beach is a quintessential SoCal summer family outing. And even if your child uses a wheelchair, you can hit the sand. Ashley Lyn Olson was paralyzed in a car accident at age 14, and has become a lifelong access advocate. In 2006, she launched to encourage people in wheelchairs to “come access your world.” The northern California resident travels the globe and often hits the...

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family fun magazine

Picnic Perfection: Tips for Healthy, Safe and Delicious Meals On-The-Go

Whether you are headed to the zoo, a park, an amusement park or the beach, day trips provide excellent opportunities to spend time together, create memories and explore the areas surrounding Los Angeles.  These tips from our family fun magazine will keep you fed and maximize the fun. Bringing meals and snacks along for the ride will give you better control over food choices while helping to save money and...

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6 Local Gardens For Families to Explore

Spring is upon us, and it’s a great time to get out and remember why we like the sun. It makes good things grow. Big Garden On Campus That’s true even in some of our most urban spaces. At the southeast edge of the sprawling UCLA campus in Westwood, for instance, lies the UCLA Life Sciences Mathias Botanical Garden. Occupying more than seven acres in a natural ravine, the garden has...

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Four Great Family Bike Trails

If your family's spring break is a "staycation" this year, make your time feel like a bona-fide getaway by slowing down the pace and enjoying a bike ride. Many of us have developed an intense spin class or other stationary riding habit in our day-to-day, but forget that biking outside – just for family fun – can be delightful. "You see a place in a totally different way when you...

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Six Local Farms That Welcome Families

We live in a state that is blessed with a year-round growing season, but spring is undeniably the best time to visit many of California’s small farms. Even here bountiful SoCal, many farms are closed to the public during the winter, and the summer months can be too hot and dusty to make for a pleasant outing. Spring, on the other hand – when goats are kidding, sheep are lambing...

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Meet L.A.’s Hummingbirds

Los Angeles is crammed with contradiction. We are plagued by some of the world’s ugliest traffic, yet Terry Masear, best-selling author of “Fastest Thing On Wings: Rescuing Hummingbirds in Hollywood,” says we’re also home to more beautiful hummingbirds than any city on Earth. Angelenos’ increased sightings of these flying jewels are due in large part to the conservation efforts of hummingbird rehabbers like Masear. Locals who put up feeders for...

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Driving, Dreaming and Daytime Napping in L.A.

How to waste gasoline in style while putting your baby to sleep I’m leaping over speed bumps, cruising the potholed boulevards and aimlessly wandering the canyon roads. I have no destination and am often jammed in a traffic-laden city artery, but I have not an ounce of road rage, lane pain or street defeat. No, I’m delighted, because Hank is still asleep in the back seat. When you have a...

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Plant a Fall Fairy Patch

When Chris Young was growing up in Indiana, and later when he lived in New York City, there wasn’t much to do in the garden in the fall because freezing winter weather was on the way. But 10 years ago, he moved to balmy Los Angeles, where the shorter days and cooling temperatures of fall make it a great time to plant. The yard surrounding the Laurel Canyon home he...

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11 Spots for Cool Summer Fun

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...

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Summer Activities: It’s Pool Party Time!

Take advantage of the summer heat – and keep the party mess outdoors – by making your child’s next party a pool party. I've helped Los Angeles parents throw countless pool parties through my job as a professional mermaid and lifeguard. Here are some of my best tips for hosting poolside events for kids. Choose your theme and entertainment. Swimming mermaids and activity-leading pirates (which is our specialty at Sheroes...

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There’s More to These Playgrounds Than Meets The Eye

When you look at a playground, you might see swings or a jungle gym, but children with disabilities see a fun place that’s inaccessible, excluding them from opportunities to play. Unless, of course, they are visiting one of Shane’s Inspiration’s universally accessible playgrounds, created to bring together children – with disabilities and without – through play. You can find them as far away as Russia, Israel and Ecuador and as...

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Making Nature Visits Easy in the Audubon Center

I often want to spend time outdoors with my son, to let him poke around the leaves, jump, run, climb and get dirty – but without the crowds and without a big production. One of my favorites spots in Los Angeles is the Audubon Center at Debs Park (4700 North Griffin Ave.; 323-221-2255; It is small enough that you can keep an eye on your child, and wild enough...

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Seeing Stars: Where to Take In Views Of the Night Sky

When Angelenos talk about seeing “stars,” they often mean the type on the red carpet. But there’s not an actor or actress alive who can hold a candle to the magnificence of the night sky. The universe might not appear as sparkly and vast here as it does in less-populated areas, but there are still plenty of opportunities to gaze up in wonder at the constellations, planets and moons. The...

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Fountains, Water Play and Splash Pads in LA: Where to Get Wet

By Erin Mahoney Harris From squirting splash pads to burbling brooks, these Los Angeles parks, plazas and playgrounds offer refreshing relief on a hot day – and we’re sure to have plenty of those in store this summer. Downtown’s crown jewel, Grand Park (227 N. Spring St., Los Angeles; 213-972-8080;, has proven a successful gathering spot for concerts, yoga classes and other community events. The highlight of the 12-acre...

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