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LA may be known largely for its red carpets, velvet ropes and a lot of other activities that go deep into the night, but that doesn't take away from the fact that the City is a fantastic place to explore with the family. From its miles of wide, sandy beaches to sun-kissed baseball games at Dodger Stadium to its dozens of museums, LA lets a parent give the kids a one-of-a-kind adventure that's long on excitement and short on the typical.

There Are Parks, and Then There Are ParksGriffith Park

Make no mistake: Griffith Park is big. How big? It's the biggest urban park in the U.S. and almost five times the size of New York's Central Park. But that's no reason to be intimidated, as the park provides a ton of activities for the family. Griffith Observatory will wow adults with its stunning architecture while providing a fantastic place for kids to explore with its interactive space displays and its views of the City below, as well as its "Centered in the Universe" show inside its planetarium. The Travel Town Museum lets kids explore, touch and climb over trains from all eras, while Ferndell's creeks and greenery lets the family truly enjoy a nature walk in the heart of the city. The Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens has more than 1,200 rare and endangered species, while the Autry National Center provides a fascinating way to teach the kids about the American West and Native American culture. Finally, Griffith Park has more than 50 miles of hiking trails, many of which are stroller-friendly. And when you're done with that hike, Shane's Inspiration — the first universally accessible playground in the Western U.S. — fills two acres with slides, paths, bouncing areas, chutes and other areas where the kids can have a blast while their folks can take a breather.

Not to be outdone in the "park" department is Exposition Park south of Downtown. Packed within its 160 acres are institutions ranging from the Natural History Museum, which celebrates its centennial in 2013, to the California Science Center to the California African American Museum. And most are within a touchdown sprint of the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and its eternal Olympic torch. The California Science Center, which spans more than 400,000 square feet, is free of admission, while tots under 5 years old get in for free at the Natural History Museum and the California African American Museum. And once a day of museum hopping is done, the family can relax by exploring the seven-acre Rose Garden, which includes more than 16,000 roses and lets everyone savor the day.

Feeling Outright Beachy

Like LA's diverse group of individual communities, the area's beaches provide a bunch of variations on the coastal experience, all engrossing for the kids and adults alike. The City of LA alone provides a wide range of ways to spend the day on the coast. San Pedro's Cabrillo Coastal Park gives families a chance to soak up a full marine-life education by way of the beach's tidepools and saltmarsh, in addition to its Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, which also includes a touch tank and interpretive exhibits. Looking for the classic, surf-and-sand volleyball, Beach Boys type of day? Will Rogers State Beach has that in spades. And then there's Venice's Ocean Front Walk, a world unto itself complete with body builders, chainsaw jugglers, hippies, peddlers, surfers, pickup basketball players and everything else under the LA sun.

One If By Land, Two-By-Two If By Sea

Griffith Park's Travel Town takes care of the trains, but what about a place for the little ones to check out automobiles and one big boat? No worries; LA's got that covered. The Petersen Automotive Museum on LA's Miracle Mile has more than 150 rare and classic cars, motorcycles and trucks covering four floors and more than 300,000 square feet of space. Recent exhibits include sections dedicated to Italian-car design and scooters, in addition to the Museum's permanent exhibits of cars that were featured in TV shows and movies, and alternative-fueled vehicles. Meanwhile, in the San Fernando Valley, Sylmar's Nethercutt Museum has more than 130 antique, vintage and classic cars, all for the admission price of absolutely nothing.

As for boats, the Skirball Cultural Center in West LA features an exhibit on one really big one: Noah's Ark. The 8,000-square-foot "Ark," which took 5 years to build, is fully interactive, complete with "animals" (life-sized puppets and such), storms, music and other stuff, providing doses of fun in Biblical proportions.

Culture Club

Little Tokyo may be part of Downtown, but it's a quieter section with a slower pace, making it a great place to explore LA's long Japanese-American history with the kids. The Japanese American National Museum combines exhibits detailing cultural history for the adults with exhibitions on things like origami and mask-making that can be appreciated by the younger set. Nearby, the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center features the James Irvine Japanese Garden, where families can escape the bustle and enjoy blooming trees and a 170-foot-long stream. Finally, the district has dozens of noodle houses and sushi joints where the family can sample familiar and not-so-familiar variations of Japanese cuisine.

And no cultural visit to LA is complete without experiencing the area's ultimate homage to the Mexican cultureCinco de Mayo PhotoOlvera Street that gave birth to the City: Olvera Street. That venue, located in the northern section of Downtown, features dozens of open-air vendors selling leather goods, artwork and myriad other authentic items. Nearby, El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument commemorates the founding of the city in 1781 with an outdoor plaza that often features live music and other performances. Also, families can explore La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, which opened in 2011 and includes a 2.2-acre campus that features exhibits, educational programs, a public garden and two historic buildings.

Something to Cheer About

With its Dodger Dogs cooking, the San Gabriel Mountains in the background and Vin Scully as a soundtrack, Dodger StadiumDodger Stadium has provided the classic baseball experience with a Southern California twist since 1962. The games run from April to October, and there are usually about a dozen afternoon games sprinkled in the 81-game home season, making the excursion to Chavez Ravine an extra magnificent one.

But if you happen to be in town when the Dodgers are either away or only playing night games, no fear. UCLA, USC and Loyola Marymount provide top-notch college-baseball experiences, all within the city limits. That means more day games, closer seating to the field and ticket prices that can drop to $2 a pop on some days.

. . . and Finally

...an answer to the eternal question: Is the word spelled Fairy or Faery? Parents can ponder that riddle while letting their kids experience the Faery/Fairy Hunts that actors put on every week at locations such as Griffith Park's Fern Dell and West LA's Crestwood Park. The hour-long adventure — best for kids ranging from 2 to 10 years old — provides an experience full of humor, music, environmental education and adventure. The hunts happen one weekend morning every week and let you turn a make-believe experience into a reality for your kids.

 

(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)

 

Editor's note: Links to the websites of hundreds of lodging and dining options in Los Angeles can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

 

Steeped in seafaring history and teeming with art galleries, one-of-a-kind shops and charming restaurants, San Pedro is one of Southern California's hidden gems. This pedestrian-friendly, waterfront destination blends the charm of a small town with urban sophistication with its tapestry of historical sites, hip residential lofts, and the distant sounds of fog horns announcing the arrival of cruise ship passengers from far-flung destinations.

An Unforgettable Seaside ExperienceSan Pedro Fountain 01 SMALLSan Pedro Fountain.

San Pedro's rich maritime history is evident at almost every turn. The Port of Los Angeles, where luxury cruise ships dock regularly amid a succession of ceremonial bon voyages, features a waterfront promenade replete with a two-tiered, palm-lined pathway. This was where TV's most famous cruise ship, "The Love Boat," departed and returned every week starting in 1977 until the series finale in 1986. A recent series of upgrades, including new, state-of-the-art gangways, have been installed at the World Cruise Center. Recognized as the busiest passenger port on the West Coast, the World Cruise Center is an embarkation point or port of call for several cruise lines, including Princess Cruises, Carnival Cruises, Silversea, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Disney Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Seabourn and Cunard. Destinations and itineraries range from Hawaii, Mexico and Alaska to the Panama Canal. Fronting the World Cruise Center, at the crossroads of Swinford Street and Harbor Boulevard, is the Fanfare at San Pedro Gateway. This choreographed water feature boasts nearly five dozen liquid jets that pulsate, sway and spray water to a playlist of popular songs, providing the perfect send-off and homecoming to the thousands of passengers who return from and depart for their dream vacations.

California's largest maritime museum is also located in San Pedro at the end of the waterfront promenade. The Los Angeles Maritime Museum, housed in a classic, 1940s Streamline Moderne Art Deco Municipal Ferry Terminal, displays hundreds of exhibits, including ship models and navigational equipment. The building is significant, as it played a pivotal role with passengers who embarked and disembarked after making their way to and from the many canneries and military bases that were once located on nearby Terminal Island. North of the maritime museum is Fireboat #2 (The Ralph J. Scott) Museum, which pays homage to the harbor's firefighting vessels.

The Port of Los Angeles and San Pedro was the Navy's base from 1919 through most of the 1940s, and the S.S. Lane Victory serves as a reminder of the instrumental role the city played during this lengthy era. Docked at Berth 46, this fully restored World War II victory ship is open for tours and features a treasure trove of memorabilia. Built in 1945 as the war's end neared, the S.S. Lane Victory also served with distinction during the Korean and Vietnam Wars, as well as in times of peace as part of the merchant fleet. During the summer the ship sets sail on hours-long "Victory At Sea" voyages, which are open to the general public.

Another wartime ship, the USS Iowa, will soon share the waters with the S.S. Lane Victory becoming San Pedro's newest maritime attraction. Touted as the world's best-known and most powerful battleship, the "Big Stick," as it's fondly called, is a mighty World War II vintage naval warship that will be permanently berthed in the LA Harbor and open to the public for tours. Outfitted with massive guns and a helicopter pad, the USS Iowa ferried 151 officers and more than 2,600 enlisted men earning nine battle stars for WWII and a pair of stars for the Korean War.

Those passionate about marine life will enjoy The Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, which houses a fine collection of saltwater aquariums teeming with sea life indigenous to the waters of Southern California. Children can explore the hands-on exhibits and activities at the aquarium's Exploration Center, which reveals the habitats and organisms belonging to the nearby Cabrillo Beach Coastal Park.  Young sea animals, such as grunion, garibaldi (the official state fish of California), and white sea bass, are raised and nurtured within the confines of the aquarium's Aquatic Nursery, while the Virginia Reid Moore Library, a research facility, features an extensive collection of works on Southern California ocean life.

Adjacent to the aquarium is Cabrillo Beach, with its fleet of tide pools for low-tide exploring. Photo opportunities abound with the Pacific Ocean and Los Angeles Harbor serving as backdrops. The beach's tranquil setting, calm ocean conditions, and sandy stretch of shoreline lend itself well to families with young children.

San Pedro is also home to some fascinating landmarks, including the Point Fermin Lighthouse. Erected in 1874 and constructed entirely of wood, this beacon of light safely guided ships into San Pedro Harbor (renamed Los Angeles Harbor) for several decades. Restored to its original splendor, the lighthouse is now open for guided public tours. Another city gem is the Warner Grand Theatre. Built in 1941 in the Art Deco style, this former movie palace, one of the region's first sound-equipped theaters, is continually being restored to its original grandeur. Managed by the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, the Warner Grand hosts foreign and classic film series, as well as special events. In Angels Gate Park, The Korean Friendship Bell, gifted from the people of the Republic of Korea to Los Angeles during our country's bicentennial celebration of independence in 1976, sits beneath a majestic pagoda on a commanding ocean bluff.  The enormous bell is rung just four times a year:  Fourth of July, August 15 - Korean Independence Day, New Year's Eve, and every September to celebrate Constitution Week.

Authentic Restaurants

Old San Pedro, bordered by Pacific Avenue, Sixth and Seventh Streets, and Harbor Boulevard, has an eclectic dining scene. Sixth Street, downtown San Pedro's main thoroughfare, is a mini restaurant row with the new Limani Taverna, a delightful Greek eatery, anchoring one end of the street.  With the recent explosion of craft beer, enthusiasts flock for flights and food pairings at the San Pedro Brewing Co., featuring its own onsite brewery. Oenophiles can enjoy their grape counterparts at Off The Vine, featuring small plates and wine tastings.

San Pedro 24 fishermans village SMALLPorts O'Call at Fisherman's Village.Neighboring Seventh Street has its share of dining favorites, too, including the 7th Street Chop House, featuring live entertainment. The Whale & Ale is an authentic British pub with a menu to match, serving prime rib, bangers and mash, and fish and chips. Micro-brewed beers, ales, lagers and ciders pour from the tap and represent the best brews from England, Ireland and the Golden State. For a taste of Hungary, Mishi's Strudel Bakery and Café delivers fresh strudel, sweet and savory crepes, pasta and classic goulash.

Ports O' Call Marketplace is another dining destination located on the waterfront just south of the Maritime Museum. Its collection of fresh seafood restaurants offer breathtaking views of the harbor and include the Crusty Crab, Fisherman's Seafood, Pan Pacific Restaurant, Boardwalk Grill, Ports O' Call Restaurant, Alaska Seafood, Café International and San Pedro Fish Market. It's no surprise that one of LA's most popular annual events takes place here — the Port of Los Angeles Lobster Festival — which pays homage to the spindly crustacean.

Unique Shopping

Complementing the cobblestone streets of Ports O' Call Marketplace are a handful of shops worthy of a visit. Shopkeepers stock their shelves with keepsakes and souvenirs, from ocean-inspired trinkets to gourmet foods. Old San Pedro is also a shopping haven with a bohemian vibe populated by aspiring artists. Mesa, Seventh and Sixth Streets are home to several working studios tucked behind unassuming storefronts. Galleries include Gallery 478, Medea Gallery, Studio 345, The Loft Galleries, and The Living Museum, all of which participate in San Pedro's First Thursday Artwalk, which takes place from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on the first Thursday of every month.

And, as of June, there will be one more place to shop in town when Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles makes its long-awaited debut. Housed in a pair abandoned 1940s warehouses collectively spanning 140,000 square feet, Crafted will showcase locally-made wares from 500 artisans skilled at making glass, furniture, felt hats, carved leather accessories, artisanal foods and more.

Connecting the waterfront attractions with Old San Pedro is the Red Car Line, a 1.5-mile-long vintage trolley line operating from noon to 9:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Accessing the former Pacific Electric right-of-way, these signature, fire engine-red trolley cars are replicated from the 1909 Pacific Electric 500-class interurban cars. The vintage-inspired gems feel like the real deal with wood paneled interiors, open-air windows, classic wooden seats with brass fittings, and advertisements from bygone eras.

Harborfront Accommodations

Situated between the Cabrillo Marina and Cabrillo Beach is the pet-friendly Doubletree Hotel San Pedro. Boasting 226 spacious guestrooms and suites with views of bobbing sail boats, the hotel is ideally located near the Los Angeles World Cruise Center, the largest commercial and cruise ship port to grace the West Coast. It's also within walking distance to Ports O' Call Marketplace and Old San Pedro.

Located in the heart of Downtown San Pedro, the Crowne Plaza Los Angeles Harbor Hotel is walking distance from shops, restaurants and galleries. The 244-room hotel offers free shuttle service to the World Cruise Center, located four blocks away, and to other destinations within a five-mile radius. And with 10,000 square feet of meeting and event space, it is billed as "the place to meet" in San Pedro.

The value-oriented San Pedro Inn and Suites Hotel evokes the feel of a Victorian-style inn with 60 ample-size guestrooms coupled with panoramic views of the LA Harbor and Vincent Thomas Bridge. Guest amenities include complimentary continental breakfast and WiFi.

The budget- and pet-friendly Vagabond Inn San Pedro is situated near the Harbor (110) Freeway, minutes from the World Cruise Center, Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, Ports O' Call Village and other local attractions. The motel offers 70 guestrooms, as well as perks like complimentary continental breakfast and morning weekday newspaper.

 

(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)

 

Editor's note: Links to the websites of hundreds of lodging and dining options in the Los Angeles area can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

 

Los Angeles conjures up images of movie stars, sunny beaches, unique museums and great theme parks. It's a LAX Encounter Restaurant SMALLThe Encounter Restaurant at LAX.world-class destination deserving of time, but if you just have some lag time between flights at LAX, you can step outside the airport and start your California dreamin'. Even a little bit of Los Angeles is sure to whet your appetite for a return trip.

For a Two-to Three-Hour Layover

Before the next leg of your journey, head over to the Encounter Restaurant outside Terminal 2. It's easy to spot. Look for the iconic, spider-shaped restaurant that is synonymous with Los Angeles International Airport. The observation deck and restaurant/bar was recently renovated and is a fun place to watch the planes take off and land.

For Four-to Six-Hour Layovers

Only about 10 minutes from the airport by cab is Manhattan Beach. After poking around shops at Manhattan Village and sitting in the warm sand at the beach, enjoy a nice meal at the Second Story restaurant at the Belamar Hotel. Out-of-towners will get a taste of creative California cuisine, where the culinary team focuses on using fresh organic produce and sustainable ingredients. The menu includes dishes such as marinated skirt steak or pancetta-wrapped pork tenderloin that blend traditional American cooking with a bit of California fusion. Another 10 minutes away is Venice Beach. Enjoy cocktails and munchies at the High Rooftop Lounge at the Hotel Erwin while watching the ocean waves. Then join the waves of people on the Venice Beach Boardwalk, which sports quirky souvenirs, street performers, roller skaters and muscle men working out.

A bit farther (about nine miles from LAX) is trendy Santa Monica. Start with some casual dining at the Fourth Street Grille at the Doubletree Hotel. The hotel is just four blocks from the Santa Monica Pier, where you can ride the 90-year-old carousel, get great views of the beach from the Ferris wheel, or stroll on the pier and watch the fishermen angling their catch of the day. As you walk out from the pier, to your right is the original location of Muscle Beach, the birthplace of the physical fitness movement in the U.S. This beach is also where "Baywatch" was often filmed. For upscale shopping, you can explore the Third Street Promenade, an outdoor, pedestrian-only collection of stores, movie theaters and cafes, stretching several blocks.

Another nearby waterside community (30 minutes by car) is Marina del Rey, one of the largest constructed small boat harbors in the world. Tell the taxi driver to drop you off at Fisherman's Village on Fiji Way. If you are there on a Friday or Saturday night, Hornblower Cruises offers two-and-a-half-hour dinner cruises. Otherwise, there are plenty of restaurants, shops and docks where you can sniff the sea air and look at all the boats going in and out of the harbor.

For Eight-Hour-Plus Layovers

Hop on the LAX FlyAway bus service to Downtown LA. At LAX, the bus is located on the Lower/Arrival Level underneath the green "FlyAway, Buses and Long Distance Vans" signs. The FlyAway will take you to Union Station in about 45 minutes (longer in rush hour traffic). From, there you can take Metro buses and trains to various points throughout the City. The Metro has a free iPhone app, and you can find route maps at the airport. If you arrive in the morning, try breakfast or lunch at the Cielito Lindo, a popular Mexican restaurant on historic Olvera Street. Breakfast options include traditional morning favorites, and lunch has robust yet healthful California-style dishes. Now fortified, start with Downtown sights such as MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art), Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Music Center, Olvera Street, Chinatown, and shopping districts, including the California Market Center, LA Fashion District, and the LA Flower District.

From Downtown, it's a 20-minute Metro Red Line ride from Union Station to Hollywood. Get off the train at Hollywood and Highland and walk over to Grauman's Chinese Theatre. You can get your picture taken with Johnny Depp in pirate garb or Darth Vader. (They are look-a-likes, of course.) Then, explore the courtyard itself with its famous cement footprints and handprints of Hollywood's favorite celebrities. Match your footprints with legends such as John Wayne or Marilyn Monroe. Just around the corner is the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood and Highland, which is the home of the Oscars and Cirque du Soleil's "Iris" show. You can take pictures of the Hollywood sign and then walk over to Madame Tussaud's wax showcase of celebrities. Be sure to look down at the stars on the sidewalk on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. If you get hungry, try Yamashiro Japanese restaurant on Sycamore Avenue. It's a venerable Hollywood institution located on a hill overlooking the city.

Universal City Metro station is 25 minutes away from Union Station. Experience how movies are made on the Universal Studios Hollywood tour and see the backlot of movie sets, not to mention cool attractions such as the new "Transformers™: The Ride 3D."

If you'd prefer to leave the driving to others, take a shuttle or a tour. At LAX, follow signs to the free hotel shuttles and take the Radisson Hotel at Los Angeles Airport shuttle. Amazing LA Tours will pick up passengers there or at any of the other LAX airport hotels. Amazing LA Tours picks up passengers at either 8 a.m. or 12:30 p.m.at the Radisson. Tours include Beverly Hills/Hollywood, Celebrity Homes, Full Day Tour of Los Angeles, and Universal Studios Hollywood with a Front-of-the-Line Pass.

If pampering is what you need, hop in a taxi (30 to 45 minutes) and head for the famed Sunset Strip in LA for a day of massages, yoga, and skin and body treatments at the Sanctuary Spa at the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel. Here, you'll be able to select from an impressive array of treatments designed to refresh and rejuvenate your mind, body and spirit before another long flight.

With any of these suggestions, leave yourself enough time to go back through security.

 

(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)

 

Editor's note: Links to the websites of hundreds of lodging and dining options in Los Angeles can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

 

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