Seven Suitcases Asks: Los Angeles

We ask Tahli Fisher Harkham, designer and co-owner of the hip Family bookstore in West Hollywood, and her husband, cartoonist Sammy Harkham, where they like to hang with kids Ezra, 7, Reuben 4 and Edie, 2, in and around their West Los Angeles home.

LACMA

What are your top spots in Los Angeles to take your little people?

There are so many great spots to take kids in Los Angeles. Here’s a run-down of our current favorites.

 1. Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the La Brea Tar Pits (Miracle Mile neighborhood)

While it’s closed on Wednesdays and best avoided on weekends, this has to be one of our fave places to go in LA, since Sammy and I find it as fascinating as the kids. Begin at the La Brea Tar Pits, walking through what looks like a giant park with saber-toothed tiger statues, but as you head toward the back of the park you’ll see there’s tar bubbling underground, and  woolly mammoths sculptures stuck in asphalt deposits that are between 10,0000 to 40,000 years old. There are small tar pockets all over the grounds, which the kids can poke sticks into along the way. The small, inexpensive Page Museum displays impressive Ice Age fossils — including dire wolves — that were found in the tar pits, and kids can watch scientists working in the glass-enclosed lab, preparing fossils including a recently discovered Columbian mammoth.

From here you can then walk across to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) where there’s a permanent giant ‘yellow noodle’ sculpture (that’s what our kids call it) that children love. It’s made from thin plastic spaghetti-like tubes, hanging down from a 20 meter drop over your heads. A very tactile experience. Head straight to the Boone Children’s Gallery which, like the rest of LACMA is free for under-17s. There’s a large Chinese and Korean-themed room with rice paper and authentic bamboo brushes with black paints, colored pencils, markers and crayons. My kids can easily sit there for an hour and paint. If one of them gets bored, there’s a large bench to one side with a selection of books to choose from. Every Monday and Friday at 2 pm, staff read Korean and Chinese folk tales and books on arts to the kids at story-time. Make sure to check out the main program, as LACMA  always has incredible exhibitions: we recently took our three kids plus four other play-date friends to the James Turell Retrospective. It blew their minds. For lunch there are now more than ten food trucks hanging around opposite the museum on Wilshire Boulevard. The food is fresh and tasty, and there’s a real variety including burgers, Spanish and Vietnamese.

2. Noah’s Ark at the Skirball Cultural Centre (West LA)

This place is absolutely amazing. It’s a bit like being in a fairytale – a fairytale made out of recycled materials. You walk in to a floor-to-ceiling wooden ark, filled with beautiful handmade animals. You and the kids can play, build, climb and just explore the area. Take some food and eat by a small fountain outside. There’s a story time and an art studio where the kids can re-create any of the great animals you’ve seen inside the ark, again, all with recycled materials: toilet paper rolls, shoe laces, feathers, bottle tops…Not to be missed (opens at noon; closed Mondays; free entry on Thursdays).

The Skirball is just up the road from the free Getty Centre, which our kids also love. They have a family room with art activities and a treasure hunt wall that keeps little ones interested. The gardens down below the Centre are beautiful and the view is spectacular. We pack our own food and have a picnic on the lawns. Another highlight of the Getty is parking then taking the tram up the side of a mountain till you reach the museum at the top.

Coldwater Canyon Park

3. Coldwater Canyon Park (Beverly Hills)

This small park on North Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills has a lovely stream running through it, which kids can play in since it’s only ankle-deep. There are also some massive fern trees, perfect for a shaded picnic – so bring a blanket. There’s always an ice-cream man selling Mexican ice-creams.

4. The Grove (La Brea Neighbourhood) 

This retail and entertainment complex is a very touristy spot, but the kids always seem to enjoy themselves here. Barnes & Noble has a children’s section on the third floor and the staff let the kids go wild. They can pull whatever books they want off the shelves and take it to the nearest kids-size table and sit and read, while babies can pull themselves up on the shelves and throw out all the board books. On Thursday mornings at 11am then again at 1pm, they have a kids band. Kids can rock out and sometimes the bands bring instruments for the kids to play. There is also a fountain outside with koi swimming around. After tearing it up at Barnes & Noble, hop on the free tram that takes you across The Grove to The Farmers Market. Get off at the Taschen store, then walk through the market, which I believe dates back to 1934. There are great places to eat here with kids. We love the Mexican fare at Loteria! but there are also some good sandwich places and delis, not to mention the best doughnut place in LA.  Everyone can get something different and meet at the communal tables for a feast.

View from Griffith Park

5. Griffith Park and Observatory (Los Feliz neighborhood)

Perched up in the hills where you’ll find the famous Hollywood Sign, Griffith Park has incredible views of LA and the Pacific Ocean, and if the kids want a closer look they can jump on the telescopes that are are sprinkled throughout the grounds (though this being LA, the view can be a little hazy). Inside the Griffith Park Observatory there are plenty of fun interactive exhibits, like the Tesla Coil with its giant sparks and noise. There’s also a spectacular planetarium though kids under five are only admitted to the first show each day – 12.45 p.m.  weekdays, 10.45 a.m. on weekends.

From here we like to head to head down the hill to the free Travel Town museum, which has all these wonderful old-fashioned trains for the kids to explore as well as a miniature working railroad. The train rides are extremely busy on the weekends, so get in early.

Also in Griffith Park you’ll find a 1935 carousel, pony rides and the LA Zoo. Remember to bring your own food as the cafe here is expensive, and not great for kids.

Annenberg Community Beach House

6. Annenberg Community Beach House (Santa Monica)

Formerly 1920s actress Marion Davies’s private seaside retreat, this glamorous swimming complex (all marble and tile) with its incredible ocean views is now open to the public. As you would expect, it gets packed during summer so it’s best to make an online reservation; 100 are accepted each day, up to three days in advance. Alternatively, if the pool is full when you arrive, put your name on the wait list and head to the café which has a shaded play area. You can also wait on the sand or play in the sprinkler fountain (note that the pool is closed during winter months).

7. Santa Clarita Aquatics Centre (Santa Clarita)

Imagine your child’s favourite park, and then add about 30cm of water. That’s the basic premise at this fabulous aquatic centre about a 45 minute drive from LA. Great for babies to teens, there’s also a lap pool, a dive pool and a 160 foot water slide. There are lifeguards everywhere, and every hour they close the pool for a few minutes so they can clean it out. As you can imagine, it’s pristine!

Underwood Family Farms

8. Underwood Family Farms (Moorpark)

During the summer months we like to visit this working farm in Moorpark, around an hour outside of LA. There are haystacks for kids to climb, pony rides and a petting zoo. They can then jump on a wagon and go fruit and veggie picking; strawberries, blueberries, carrots, broccoli, parsley and celery… they have it all. Our kids have a wild time here as they can run around like crazy, and when everyone’s tired, a tractor takes you back to the front of the farm.

Where do you guys like to eat in Los Angeles with the kids in tow?

One tip I would suggest when eating out in LA is to always ask for a kid’s menu. Nearly every place has one and if they don’t, I would recommend to split the portions, as they are always massive. The restaurant is usually happy to bring out the kids’ food already split for you. The following recommendations are for real ‘LA-style’ eateries.

  • Escuela Taqueria (7615 Beverly Blvd) Super kid friendly Mexican place where you’re always given fresh homemade salsa, guacamole and chips. The tacos are petite and easy for small people to handle.
  • The 5¢ Diner (aka the Nickel Diner)  (524 S. Main St, downtown LA) This old-fashioned LA diner downtown is great for Sunday morning breakfast with the kids. Get there before 9.30am or you’ll end up waiting well over 45 minutes for a booth. They are fast, cheap and always deliver super fresh and yummy food.
  • Brite Spot Diner  (1918 W. Sunset Blvd, Edendale neighborhood) You can sit at the diner’s old-fashioned counter or in one its many shiny, plastic-covered red booths. They offer easy, deli style food. There’s a Happy Hour from 3-6pm during the week, where a range of dishes like vegan enchiladas and cheezy mac are only $6;  perfect for an early kids’ dinner.

Eating frozen yoghurt

  • Ice cream Lab (9461 S. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills) Watch your order being made into ice cream (with the help of liquid nitrogen) right before your eyes.
  • Canter’s Deli (419 N. Fairfax Ave, Miracle Mile neighborhood) At this old school kosher-style deli, the wait staff are all over 60 and love kids. As soon as we walk in, they bring over crayons and colouring sheets. The milkshakes are huge and they’re happy to split them for you. Usually, when you come in with kids they’ll sit you in a booth so they’ve got some extra wiggle room. Very, very old school LA and open 24 hours.
  • Avalon Hotel (Olympic Blvd, Beverly Hills) This place is a secret. A pretty expensive secret. There’s always some Hollywood meeting going on here, and lots of ladies with plastic surgery. Very fun, very LA and a great atmosphere! Sit by the gorgeous pool or inside. Our kids particularly love the pancakes here.
  • Food at any of the city’s great Farmers’ Markets is always delicious. Some of our favourite markets include Hollywood Farmers’ Market (cnr Ivar St & Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood), which is one of California’s original markets, with over 150 stalls and activities for the kids; it’s open Sundays 8am-1pm. On a Sunday, too, is Pacific Palisades farmers’ market, from 8am-1pm (1037 Swathmore Av, Pacific Palisades). We also like Culver City Market (Main St, Culver City) on Tuesdays from 3-7pm, as it’s smaller and more relaxed. Plus they have one of the best apple-growers around.
What’s the best way to get around the city?

Only a car. A car is a must-have. [Car rentals abound in LA, particularly at LAX international airport; compare deals online before booking]

Any pitfalls of a trip to Los Angeles with kids? Anything you’d recommend our readers avoid?

The pitfalls of traveling in LA with kids is the amount of time spent in the car. I would also definitely avoid going on trips to Disneyland or theme parks on any national holiday, as you will be waiting in lines for over 90 minutes.

Five Cent Diner

If you were to ask your children to name their favourite things about the city, what would they be?
  • Ezra’s (7) would be the Observatory at Griffith Park (Los Feliz neighborhood; see above) and Santa Monica Pier (Santa Monica neighborhood).
  • Ruby’s (4.5) would be a tie between Coldwater Canyon Park, as he loves waddling through the stream, and LACMA (see above for both).
  • Edie’s (2) would be the indoor giant fruit play-gym at the food court in Westside Pavilion Mall (West Los Angeles). There are massive fiberglass giant fruit sculptures that the kids can run and climb on; the parents can sit down on cushioned seats along the perimeter of the gym and text or practice their screenplay…
And finally, you have a lovely babysitter for the evening. What does your perfect date-night consist of in the city?

Start off at Matsuhisa (129 N. La Cienega Blvd, Beverly Hills), which is owned by the acclaimed chef, Nobu. The sushi is beyond delicious and you’re always sitting next to a celeb (even if it is Victoria Beckham).

Afterwards, walk up the road to the SLS Hotel (465 S. La Cienega Blvd, Beverly Hills), and visit their patisserie at The Bazaar: again, another notable chef, José  Andrés. Try the passion-fruit marshmallow or the liquid nitrogen coconut ice cream, or any of the hundreds of desserts they have. They’ve got cool cocktails too!

Then to finish off the evening, the Roger Room (370 N La Cienega Blvd, West Hollywood). Very old Hollywood, very dark, very sexy. The bar men all wear black ties and suspenders. Sit in an old red velvet booth and drink some expensive but delicious cocktails: I recently had the Zucker Und Zimmt – vodka, crushed blackberries, pineapple juice topped with cinnamon…

Thanks, Tahli!

Stay tuned for a full Seven Suitcases Los Angeles Destination Guide, coming soon. For now, here’s…
Seven Suitcases’ Picks for LA Stays

Hotel Bel Air Every single bit as swanky as its name suggests, this gorgeous Spanish-mission-style property, lounging in 12 lush Bel Air acres, this five-star darling is surprisingly child-friendly, with pint-sized bathrobes, in-room children’s dining menus, and plenty of other little luxury perks. Dip in the pool (look out for the hourly “pop-up” refreshments), watch the swans glide about on the lake, munch lunch from a bespoke picnic basket, and consider whether you might not just leave that sight-seeing for tomorrow, after all.

Hollywood Orchid Suites Sure, they won’t win any design awards (think: ’80s motel both inside and out), but these apartment-sized suites catering specifically to families (who will likely enjoy the “no-partying” quiet-after-9pm policy), are hard to beat for price-per-square-foot-in-this-crazy-expensive-city. Clean, secure and comfy, there’s free wifi, a decent free breakfast, and a fantastic Hollywood location.

Four Seasons Beverly Hills The Four Seasons excels at luxury child-friendly stays; children’s bathrobes, colouring books, in-room dining menus, pool float-aids, and other little touches make it a great option for little ones (and their parents) in need of pampering….just say ahhhhh.

Inn at Venice Beach Newly renovated rooms with two queen beds, and loft suites with a pull-out queen sofa bed in the living room make for comfortable stays in Venice Beach, perfect for exploring the LA beach scene. Free cookies, fruit, coffee, wifi, newspapers and breakfast, and onsite parking for just $10, complete the reasonably budget-friendly (by LA standards) picture. Check the website for multi-day stay special offers.

Shore Hotel A solid upscale Santa Monica option, the perk here comes in the form of sustainable features, and in the stellar location right on the ocean, with beautiful sea-views from rooms, many of which have two queen beds. A nice (solar heated) pool, and all the Santa Monica attractions (of which there are many), right on your doorstep.

VRBO & Air BnB If you really want to feel LA-like-a-local, trawl through the manifold apartment-rental options on offer with VRBO and AirBnB. Sure, you’ll likely have no pool and no daily room service, but prices can be great (especially for multi-day stays), you’ll have all the space, laundry, and cooking facilities you’re used to at home, and can choose exactly the location you’re after, whether that’s Hollywood for heady or Venice for vibrant.

Chateau Marmont If you’re looking for the real, genuine old-school Hollywood feeling, spring for an inevitably expensive stay at the Chateau, serving Hollywood legends since 1929. One and two-bedroom suites and hillside bungalows, while pricey, have space and character in abundance; there’s a heated pool, babysitting on offer (perfect for the Date Night recommendations above), and high-chairs in the restaurant, where babies – celebrity and otherwise – are welcome.

Farmer’s Daughter A country-style boutique hotel in the midst of the city chaos, Farmer’s Daughter is all ginghams, rocking chairs and denim…with a decidedly hip, modern twist. Situated in the midst of West Hollywood, you’re close to lots and lots and lots of things to do; rooms, meanwhile, can come in the two-queen-bed variety, baby beds are available on request, and there’s a cute courtyard pool.

The Redbury Ok, so it might not really be super-suitable for stays with children, but nevertheless we had to put in a mention of the Hollywood-central Redbury. All that deep red. All that glam. All that elbow-room (it’s apartments-only). And baby cots on offer too. So there is at least one child-related perk…

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