Only in L.A. – All the Cool and Odd Places to Check Out with Kids

Let’s face it – L.A. can be a bit…cookie cutter. Chain restaurants, miles of freeways crawling with the same cars, identical housing tracts…sometimes you just need to break out of the mold and find the unique, quirky, and cool spots that L.A. has to offer. So put down your Starbucks and plan some oddball trips that your kids will love! Whether you want to see historical ruins on a hiking trail, shop for time travel necessities or visit Southern California’s answer to Atlantis, we’ve got you covered for unique and bizarre spots!


Watts Towers

Twisted metal spires rising towards the sky, colorful glass mosaics, and an overall look that’s reminiscent of Gaudi, the Watts Towers are a sight to behold. Gorgeously quirky and inspiring, Watts Towers were built by Italian immigrant Simon Rodia, who took 33 years to construct the breathtaking creation.It’s a fantastic place to bask in artful glory, and kids will love to gawk at the splendor of it all. There is also an art campus on site, the Watts Tower Arts Center. It offers classes, hosts lectures, and displays art exhibitions for visitors. Classes include jazz and piano, animation, and more. The Art Center even produces a yearly jazz festival, held in September.

Guided Tours (offered about every half hour):

l   Thurs-Sat: 10:30am-3pm

l   Sun: 12:30pm-3pm

l   Price: Adults: $7, Kids 13-17: $3, Kids under 12: Free (Note that admission is cash or check only)

l   Tours are not held on holidays or rainy days.

Art Center Gallery Hours:

l   Weds-Sat: 10am-4pm

l   Sun: 12pm-4pm



Griffith Park Bronson Cave, The “Bat” Cave

Settling for a hike without a tie to Batman? Never! Head to Griffith Park, where a tunnel carved through a rock wall is actually Batman’s Cave! Featured in several other movies as well, this tunnel, known as Bronson’s Cave, was used as the entrance for Batman’s Cave. This fun little hike can be managed by kids of all ages. It’s about 2/3rds of a mile round trip from the parking lot off Canyon Drive and has only a slight elevation gain. The tunnel, wide enough for the Batmobile, will delight your kids as they check out where Batman hangs his cape at night.


San Pedro Sunken City

In 1929, on a cliff in San Pedro, a landslide shut down and covered a beach bungalow neighborhood. Today, remnants can still be seen at the cool little spot known as Sunken City. There are little stretches of road, sunken parking spots, and slabs of concrete that are the ruins, The concrete blocks have been taken by both nature and graffiti artists, which makes the spot oddly pretty and artistic-feeling. The landslide area is closed to the public, but many still enter and walk around (If you do, be sure to exercise caution, wear rugged, closed toe shoes, and go during daylight, so you can watch your footing).

The area around here is cool as well, with a sprawling park, a super neat 19th century lighthouse, and breathtaking views of the ocean.



Murphy’s Ranch: Photo By Matthew Robinson

A place to hike and get one’s history knowledge on! Though it may have its roots in rather unseemly activities, Murphy Ranch is cool and interesting. Built in the 1930s as a hub and compound for Nazi sympathizers, the ranch was designed to be self-sufficient. The buildings that remain include the ruins of several buildings, including stables, a powerhouse, and water towers. In shabby conditions, these buildings are covered in graffiti. Buildings are slated for demolition at any given time, so be sure to check it out while the ruins still stand.

There are loads of stairs on this hike, as well as spots where there’s no shade. Bring plenty of water, a hat, sunscreen, and good solid shoes!  


Griffith Park Old LA Zoo

For a unique family picnicking location, check out the ruins of the Old LA Zoo, just north of the merry-go-round. In 1930, the LA Zoo was founded and housed 15 animals. By 1966, the area was too small for a thriving zoo, and it was subsequently moved two miles away. Now, the old ruins of the LA Zoo are the ideal place for a memorable adventure! Picnic benches have been added to this abandoned location. Large animal enclosures were built into caves, and with the iron bars since removed, it is a cool area for tweens and teens to explore. Little ones will need supervision if they want to venture in the caves, as broken glass may be present. 

Griffith Park Old LA Zoo


Solstice Canyon – Photo By Modern Hiker

Solstice Canyon is just a few hundred feet away from the sometimes crowded beaches, and hustle and bustle, but it feels a world away. If you want to get the kids “out of the city” then Solstice Canyon is just the place. The wide hiking trail is so level it makes it one of the most family-friendly hikes in the Santa Monica Mountains! Kids love exploring the ruins along the path and the rock pool with waterfall at the end of the trail. Just beyond the ruins, a short waterfall spills down the creek into a sequence of rock pools. Solstice Canyon trail (2.1 miles) is probably the most interesting and shaded trail but there are other longer trails as well, or you can combine the trail for a longer, more challenging course.

Note: Parking is free but it gets filled up rather quickly on weekends so try getting there early. You can park along the road but with little kids, you will have to be cautious crossing the street.


Camera Obscura Santa Monica

Tucked away in Pacific Palisades Park, an awesome hidden gem is waiting for you and your kids to discover! A vintage camera obscura is available for the public to see and experience for FREE. This amazing optical device, dating back to 1898, is housed in a small, dark room and uses mirrors to project an image of the surrounding area onto a screen. A vintage captain’s wheel is used to move the mirrors to change the scene on the screen.

To visit the Camera Obscura, go to the senior center, where you can get the key in exchange for your ID.

Business Hours:Mon-Fri: 9am-3pm, Sat: 11am-4pm, Sun: Closed


Clifton’s Cafeteria DTLA

Clifton’s Cafeteria DTLA

Come here hungry, and leave amazed! Clifton’s Cafeteria is an astounding multi-leveled restaurant, offering food, history, and plenty of fun kitsch. There is a huge tree that anchors the place, a cascading waterfall, taxidermy animals, and so much more. Kids will love exploring this unique place and picking their food cafeteria-style.

The restaurant is the oldest in a former chain. It was founded in 1931, and has since been renovated, but kept to the original theme of the restaurant.

This is an absolutely unique place to eat with an amazing ambiance that your kids (and you) will definitely remember!

Business Hours:Mon-Fri: 11am-2am; Sat-Sun: 10am-2am


826LA Time Travel Mart

A store with a time travel theme? Sounds too good to be true! This store has everything a time traveler needs – it’s a lot of fun for kids to visit! Whether kids want to grab a copy of A Wrinkle in Time, dinosaur t-shirts, or a time travel machine part, the shop has it all.

These stores are actual the front part of a truly amazing kid space: 826LA. It offers free workshops, one-on-one tutoring, book production/publication, and a program that offers elementary kids additional reading support. The time-travel shop is full of truly unique items, many designed by 826 volunteers. All proceeds support 826LA programs.  

826LA Time Travel Mart



The Last Bookstore

The Last Bookstore is an amazing shop. It is housed in what used to be an old bank building with marble columns and giant doors – very majestic. Their first store started in a loft apartment and has now expanded to include a record shop, coffee bar and “Labyrinth” mezzanine level solely dedicated to $1 books. You can sell or trade old books here, pick up new ones, grab a record or a cup of coffee, and attend a variety of events. They have so many books they have made a front desk, a hanging mural and a literal tunnel out of books! It is visually definitely worth a visit! You have to pay for parking, either at parking lots nearby or at meters, but make sure to read the signs!

The Last Bookstore

Business Hours: Mon-Thus: 10am-10pm; Fri-Sat: 10am-11pm; Sun: 10am-6pm



Venice Canals

A historic district with quaint European flair right in the heart of Venice Beach! Originally developed in 1905 to be a Venice, Italy knockoff, developers constructed canals and brought in gondolas. The idea never quite took off, with the canals falling into disrepair over the years. Over the past few decades however, they have had new life breathed into them and are now a wonderful place to visit.

The area is beautiful and is a great place to take the family for an interesting walk. Wandering around, there’s plenty to discover! You can find a children’s play area, see beautiful and unusual homes along the water, and cross grand little white bridges that span the canals.

There is a public boat slip where you can set off with kayaks and other small boats; however, no motorized boats are allowed. You can check out the boardwalk nearby for rentals (be prepared to carry your haul!).

With the beach just across the way (and Mother’s Beach a short drive away), pattering along the canals and then lounging on the beach can turn into a fun day for the whole family.

The LA Times does a great write-up about family-friendly stroll along the canals, check it out.