Written by Danielle Directo Meston
Los Angeles has much more to offer than celebrity home tours and run-of-the-mill tourist traps. From the ancient Tongva peoples, who lived off the land long before Spanish settlers arrived in the late 1500s, to the Westward-bound settlers in search of a fresh start in the 19th century, L.A. boasts an array of interesting inhabitants. To learn about their stories and more, check out these fun, family field trips around L.A. The best part? You can get to these destinations on one tank of gas or less.
125 Paseo de la Plaza
Why Go? Explore Los Angeles’ historic plaza, discover the city’s rich history and learn all about the City of Angels’ diverse inhabitants throughout the centuries. Located in downtown L.A., this cluster of historical landmarks offers many free museums kids will love, from the city’s oldest home to L.A.’s first fire house.
Insider Tip: If you’re visiting during a weekday, pay close attention to parking signs—many streets in downtown have strict anti-gridlock rules for rush hour. There are plenty of parking lots nearby, but for those on a budget, Lot 5 at 711 Alameda Street is the most affordable with a flat rate of $5.
Must Do: Be sure to take the free tour of the Avila Adobe, L.A.’s oldest house, given by the Las Angelitas docents Tuesdays to Saturdays at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and 12 p.m. Built in 1818 by rancher Francisco Avila, the former home has seen history unfold around it and was almost demolished in 1928, were it not for one preservationist who transformed the area into a tourist attraction. From being used as a temporary headquarters during the Mexican-American War to housing an Italian restaurant and hotel, this nearly-200-year-old house is a bursting with history.
Fine Print: The Avila Adobe doubles as the Visitor’s Center, open Monday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Hours vary at many of the museums, but most are generally open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
5200 Zoo Dr.
Why Go? A collection of vintage locomotives, freight trains, cabooses, passenger cars and streetcars are open for kids of all ages to explore.
Insider Tip: Bring your own lunch and enjoy a picnic beneath the shaded trees. Since the museum is a popular destination for families on weekends, plan an early lunch to avoid the crowds. If you're planning a big party, you can also reserve designated picnic tables and grilling areas in advance by calling the museum.
Must Do: Climb aboard the miniature train, which circles around the museum twice for a fun and relaxing ride. Sit in the front car by the conductor, and your child might be the lucky passenger picked to announce “All aboard!” as the train leaves the station.
Fine Print: Museum admission and parking is free, and hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday; Train rides are $2.75 per person ($2.25 for guests over 65) and run approximately every 30 minutes starting at 10 a.m. Rides run until 3:15 p.m. on weekdays, until 4:15 p.m. on winter weekends and holidays, and until 4:45 p.m. on summer weekends and holidays.
5801 Wilshire Blvd.
Why Go? Explore L.A.’s Ice Age history at the La Brea Tar Pits and the George Page Museum. Outside, see asphalt seep up through the ground as you explore Hancock Park, which features a life-sized installation of mammoths caught in a sticky situation at the tar pits. In the museum, kids can discover fossils of the creatures that once lived in the area between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago.
Must Do: Join the free, docent-led tours and see real fossil excavation sites, explore the Pleistocene Garden, watch paleontologists at work and more. Tours are weekdays at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.; Saturdays at 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.; and Sundays at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Insider Tip: Go on Tuesdays for free admission.
Fine Print: The museum is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except on New Year’s Day, the 4th of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Admission is $12 for adults; $9 for teens from 13 to 17, college students and seniors over age 62; $5 for kids ages 3 to 12; and free for kids 2 and under. Parking is $7 on weekends and holidays, and $7 on weekdays when you validate your parking ticket at the museum.
23537 Calabasas Rd.,
Why Go? Go back in time to Wild West California at the Leonis Adobe Museum, Los Angeles’ first-ever historic-cultural monument. Explore the 1844-built mansion of Miguel Leonis and his Chumash wife, Espiritu Chijulla, and learn about what life was like when bedpans and outhouses were the norm. In addition, check out the Plummer House, which was once known as Hollywood’s oldest home until it was moved to this location in the 1980s. Today, it serves as the museum’s visitor center and gift shop.
Insider Tip: Stop by the adjacent Calabasas Creek Park, which was modeled after the Victorian-era park. Explore the replica Calabasas Jail, discover a recreated Chumash village hut and relax in the fresh, outdoor air.
Must Do: Pay a visit to the museum’s ranch yard, where your family can meet and feed the horses, sheep, goats, turkeys and other animals that live on the grounds. Plus, kids can learn all about the important roles the animals played in the livelihoods of settlers in the 1880s.
Fine Print: Suggested donation is $4 for adults, $3 for seniors and $1 for children under 12. Hours are Wednesday to Friday and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The museum is closed on major holidays such as New Year’s Day, Easter Sunday, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.