Ah, the sunny days and balmy nights of summertime: visions of watermelon and iced tea compete with choruses of “I’m bored…” from younger members of the household. With kids out of school and temperatures on the rise, Child360 is here for LA area families, with a bushel of suggestions to beat the heat, have some fun, and keep young minds stimulated! The best part? Our local recommendations are fiscally conscious.
Cool Fun by the Seashore
Everyone knows the coast is often 10-20 degrees cooler than inland areas, and aquariums are a guaranteed kid magnet—but pricey admission and summer crowds can be a real buzz-kill. We found two budget-friendly options that appeal to kids of all ages:
Located in San Pedro, the Mammal Care Center offers a unique way for kids to learn about marine life right before their eyes. The primary work at the Marine Mammal Care Center is the treatment and release of rescued California sea lions, elephant seals, harbor seals and fur seals. A visit here provides an up-close look at the fascinating pinnipeds being rehabilitated for eventual release, as well as a powerful connection to learning about ocean conservation, sustainability and how human behavior affects our planet’s largest ecosystem. There are no fees for parking or entry, but donations are welcome. The center recommends arriving between 11:00 am and noon for feeding time when all of the animals are active. Docents are onsite to answer questions and guide families around the facility!
Part of Heal the Bay, this family-friendly facility is home to more than 100 species of marine animals and plants found in the Santa Monica Bay. Children will love the three large touch tanks (which have steps for the smallest children) filled with sea stars, sea cucumbers, anemones, hermit crabs and other tide pools critters from the bay. Daily educational programs feature themes like “Shark Sunday” “Sea Star Feeding”—a popular choice is “Sand Crab Science,” where kids actually dig for crabs on the beach. Admission is just $5 per person; kids 12 and under are free.
What Kids Are Really Learning: Oceanography, Marine Biology, Ecology, Zoology, Socio-Emotional Skills (Empathy, Responsibility)
Cool Fun with Plants and Nature
The enchanting demonstration and teaching garden at Exposition Park’s Natural History Museum is cooled by the evening breeze, making it a perfect summer escape for families to enjoy their free after-hours Friday garden parties. There are hands-on science and garden activities for the kids, live music performances and botanical tours, as well as food trucks and botanical inspired cocktails for sale. The all-ages events are from 5-9 pm; remaining dates are July 12 and 26.
Colonel Griffith funded a public observatory in his will because he believed in the transformative power of observation. After looking through the research telescope at Mt. Wilson he said, “If all mankind could look through that telescope, it would change the world!” The Observatory fulfills his vision by offering opportunities for the whole family to see the sun, moon, planets, and other celestial objects through the historic Zeiss telescope and solar telescope, as well as portable telescopes on the lawn. Free public viewing is available each evening the Observatory is open and skies are clear, with knowledgeable telescope demonstrators on hand to guide visitors in observing.
The Observatory also holds a free monthly “Star Party” with the assistance of the Los Angeles Astronomical Society and the Los Angeles Sidewalk Astronomers, amateur astronomers who share their equipment and answer questions about the sky. The Saturday parties are open to the public and take place from 2:00 pm to 9:45 pm; upcoming summer dates include July 13, August 10 and September 7.
What Kids Are Really Learning: Astronomy, Horticulture, Geology, Botany, Climatology, Zoology (Birds and Insects), Fine Motor Skills, Communication Skills
Cool Fun in the Heart of the City
Though the water-wasting days of running through sprinklers might be just a memory in drought-plagued LA, the area’s water-based amusement parks aren’t our only option for splashing around to beat the summer heat: Skip the drive (and the cost) by taking the kids to a local park’s “splash pad.” Our favorites are all completely free to enjoy, and the best of them is at downtown’s Grand Park, where—in the shadow of City Hall and the Music Center—kids can kick off their shoes and enjoy an interactive oasis amid the concrete jungle.
Other refreshing options include Pacific Park in Glendale, Virginia Avenue Park in Santa Monica, Sylmar Park, Alondra Park in Lawndale and St. Andrews Park in South LA/Inglewood.
Barnsdall Arts/FOJAC and the Barnsdall Art Park Foundation have brought back a tradition that began in the 1970s at this historic estate-turned-park in East Hollywood, by offering free art workshops every Sunday from 10:00 am to noon.
Each workshop is taught by qualified artist-educators and focuses on global culture; different media are explored weekly and may feature painting, textile art, printmaking, clay, sculpture, collage, or 3-D constructions. The program is open to all ages, and all materials are provided. The park itself features grassy hills and plenty of shade if you want to picnic after class.
What Kids Are Really Learning: Motor Skills and Hand-Eye Coordination, Artistic Expression, Physics, Chemistry, Social Interaction Skills