Now that I have more time with the kiddos, I’m constantly on the lookout for new things to do. But the activities need to be low-cost and not overwhelming for a three and one-year-old. Alas, after some trial and error, I have finally found some favorites.
Check out this Top 10 list of Low Cost attractions for #toddlers & #preschoolers in #LA! Click To Tweet
California Science Center
700 Exposition Park Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90037
Open 10am-5pm Daily, except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day
This place is awesome! We go all the time, and I think I enjoy it as much as the kids. For starters, admission is FREE. There is a $10 charge to park (cash only), but the lot is central to all the surrounding museums and USC. Alternately, you can take the Metro line to the Expo Park/USC Station.
Inside there is a ton of stuff to do – all of it hands on and just screaming for kids to “play with me”! One of my favorite exhibits is the Endeavour Space Shuttle. You do need to book a reservation online, but it is only $2 (or free if you purchase an IMAX ticket). Well worth it.
My kiddos, being young, love the Creative World Discovery Room on the third floor, designed for children ages 7 and younger. It includes a computer lab with iPads and various other rooms for exploration. My kids have seriously spent hours in this area alone (although there is a 15 minute rotation limit when crowded).
The IMAX theater is adjacent, and has some great features (at extra cost). My younger child is too young, so we usually skip, but my three-year-old loves it.
Inside the California Science Center is an eating area with cafes (think: Trimana Grill) or outside eating. I prefer to bring sandwiches and sit outside to eat, adjacent to the beautiful rose gardens.
Aquarium of the Pacific
100 Aquarium Way
Long Beach, CA 90802
Open 9am-6pm Daily, except Christmas and the Fri-Sun of the Grand Prix of Long Beach (usually in April)
The aquarium is great for babies, toddlers, and older kids. One-time entry is not cheap (rack rate of $28.95/adult and $14.95/child 3-11) BUT the annual membership is a very reasonable option. Not only is it tax-deductible, annual memberships start at only $105 per family depending on the age of the children. Aquarium validated parking will set you back another $8 per visit, although if you dine at one of the local restaurants, this can be reduced.
What I love about the aquarium is that even the youngest infants are fascinated by the movement and colors of the fish, while older children can get more involved with the hands-on exhibits. So there really is something for everyone. Two floors of indoor aquariums are complemented by an outdoor area complete with toddler water park, bird exhibit, see-and-touch stingrays, shark lagoon, penguin exhibit, and a seal water show. Highlights indoors include see-and-touch jellies and the various climate exhibits.
You can easily spend a few hours here, and then walk across the street for lunch at one of the many restaurants along the water (everything from Bubba Gump Shrimp to Chili’s to Gladstone’s). If your kiddos still have energy, you can walk over to the lighthouse or take a seasonal water taxi to another local attraction. It is very possible to make a full day out of a visit here.
Santa Ana Zoo
1801 East Chestnut Ave.
Santa Ana, CA 92701
Open 10am-4pm Daily, except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day
Okay, so this isn’t technically in LA, but I just had to add it to the list. While regular admission is $10/adult and $7/child 3-12, I recommend going after 2pm, when it drops to $6/adult and $4/child 3-12. Parking is always free.
Why I prefer this zoo to its northern neighbor is the fact that it is so much more suited to a younger crowd. It is smaller – but offers a train ride that circles the zoo (additional $3 per rider but well worth it), a carousel, a little farm with barnyard animals, playgrounds, and a huge monkey exhibit – along with other animal exhibits. Don’t expect to see lions or tiger or bears (OH MY) here, but what is offered is plenty for young ones without being overwhelming.
There are onsite concessions available, but I recommend bringing a picnic lunch to enjoy – or heading to a local restaurant instead.
1238 South Beach Blvd.
Sporadic Operating Days (Primarily Weekends & Holidays) From 11am-6pm or 7pm – Check Online Calendar
While we’re still in Orange County, I thought I’d throw in just one more goodie. Admission is not the cheapest at $16.95/person ages 13 months and up, but can be brought down to $13/person with your AAA card. In comparison with its more famous amusement park neighbor, however, it is a downright STEAL. Parking is free.
This amusement park is awesome because it is completely designed for the toddler and preschooler age range. Even the youngest child can ride most of the rides (with parent). Best news of all for Mom and Dad? NO CROWDS. Ever. Even on a Saturday at mid-day, you can be walking up to a ride and get right on. Along with the rides are a petting zoo, Childrens Theater, and a Thomas the Train play area that my sons absolutely love. The park is small, so you can easily do everything within a couple of hours.
Concessions are available at the park, but you can also bring your own snacks or check out one of the many local restaurants in the surrounding area.
Griffith Park Travel Town Railroad
5200 Zoo Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Open Daily 10am-3:15pm (Weekdays) or 4:15pm (Winter Weekends/Holidays) or 4:45pm (Summer Weekends/Holidays), except Christmas
For little ones who love trains, this place is perfect. FREE parking, FREE admission, and just a nominal fee of $2.75/person to ride the train (well worth it).
There is so much to do here. Huge grassy areas with picnic tables invite lots of running around, and the museum with old time trains will keep the kids fascinated. There is also an extensive miniature running train set that my kids are in awe of, and then of course the train ride that circles the entire area (one mile of track). Kids can be entertained for hours.
In the heart of Griffith park, there are a variety of eateries nearby. But I recommend bringing a picnic to take advantage of the beautiful grounds.
Southern California Live Steamers
Charles H. Wilson Park
2200 Crenshaw Blvd.
Torrance, CA 90501
Sporadic Run Times, Typically 1st Sundays of the Month (11am-3pm) and 3rd Saturdays of the Month (12pm-3pm) – Check Online Calendar to Confirm Your Date
Another favorite excursion for little ones who love trains. Rides are donation based (except on special occasions when a nominal fee may be requested), and parking is FREE.
This train carries both parents and children for a 10-15 minute ride. The kids love it, and we enjoy it too. I recommend getting there right when they open, as the wait can get long later in the day – even at opening, I would anticipate about a 20 minute wait depending on how many trains they have running.
Once you’re done with the train, you have all of Wilson Park to explore. My boys love the fort and the various playgrounds. There are also all types of sport spaces (batting cages, tennis, softball, basketball, roller hockey, horseshoe, and even an indoor sports center). With plenty of picnic areas and barbecues, it is easy to spend a day here.
Lomita Railroad Museum
2137 West 250th Street
Lomita, CA 90717
Open Thursday through Sunday 10am-5pm, Except Major Holidays
Can you tell my kids are obsessed with trains? Admission for this little museum is $4/adult and $2/kids ages 3-12. However, they sometimes run promotions where kids are FREE. Parking is always FREE.
Don’t expect to spend hours here – it is small. But it’s a great place for kids to come and see the trains. Inside the museum there is a train playset that my boys can play with for a good 30 minutes to an hour. They also have train models that will start up for a dime (one is free) – and it is nice and air conditioned inside for Mom and Dad. Outside in the courtyard, they have a caboose and car that little ones can climb over and into. My boys had a great time pretending to drive the choo-choo train.
Because it is a small museum, there are no food options available. However, a variety of restaurants are nearby in Lomita or neighboring Torrance.
Cabrillo Marine Aquarium
3720 Stephen M. White Drive
San Pedro, CA 90731
Open Tue-Fri 12pm-5pm and Sat/Sun 10am-5pm, Except Thanksgiving and Christmas
This is a great lower-key alternative to the Aquarium of the Pacific. Admission is a suggested donation of $5/adult and $1/child. Parking is $1/hour ($9 maximum) per car. If you become a member (family membership starting at $60/year), parking is FREE.
The aquarium itself has fish tanks, sharks, jellies, an octopus, and an eel. There is also a see-and-touch area available where kids can touch the starfish and sea anemones. Adjacent to the museum are a couple of rooms that are more interactive for kids – there are often talks about different sea life, and kids can see up close and personal with microscopes and magnifying glasses.
Just across the parking lot is the Cabrillo Coastal Park, complete with beaches, walking trails, tidepools, and a marsh. The boys love exploring here and then playing on the jungle gym.
There are great seafood restaurants and concessions in the immediate vicinity, but I recommend bringing food and having a picnic at the Coastal Park.
This amusement park right on the world famous Santa Monica Pier, overlooking the Pacific, reeks of nostalgia. There are various pricing schemes but I recommend the Unlimited Wrist band for $28.95/adult and $16.95/child up to age 7. Try not to pay these rates, as there are always deals online at their website or via other discount sites. Alternatively, you can purchase the annual pass for $99/year (unlimited everything plus 20% off food and merchandise). Parking is paid via the beach lots, city lots, or metered street lots.
This place is everything you could want in an amusement park on a pier. Rides, games, junk food galore, along with sit-down restaurants – all in the sun and ocean breeze. Wear the kiddos out on the rides, and then spend a few hours lounging and playing on the sand. It doesn’t get much better than this for SoCal residents.
Hungry? Treat the kiddos to junk food galore, or sit down at one of the restaurants. My pick is (you guessed it) a picnic on the beach.
Trump National Golf Course
One Trump National Drive
Rancho Palos Verdes, CA 90275
I know you’re scratching your head. Huh? Golf? TRUMP and LOW COST never go together. But hear me out. This is not for the golf course or the restaurants. This is simply for the grounds. Admission and parking are both FREE.
The grounds are gorgeous, and available for all who wish to enjoy them. There are huge grassy areas for kids to run and play, and picnic tables overlooking the beautiful ocean views. Trails will take you down to the dog beach. My kids love coming here for a picnic with the dog (tip: there is a Trader Joes just up the road to pick up all the fixings on the way). Afterwards, they run with the dog and soccer ball until they are completely. worn. out.
One of our favorite things to do is to bring kites. There is a grassy area jutting out over the ocean that is always windy and perfect for kite-flying. The boys can spend a good hour running around with the kites while Mom and Dad take a breather. Another hint – wine is welcome at the picnic tables. Hooray!
So there you have it. My top ten list for restless toddlers and preschoolers in LA. Beyond these are of course the local parks, but when you’re tired of pushing the same swing day in and day out, check out some of these attractions. What others do you have to add to the list? I am constantly on the lookout for new and fun activities to do with the kids.