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With its crisscrossing freeways, countless neighborhoods and ever-changing trends, Los Angeles can be discombobulating, even after multiple visits. One way to get a handle on the metropolis — especially if you’re traveling with children and prefer to avoid spots such as Venice Beach or Hollywood Boulevard — is to hit some of its world-class art and science museums, many of which have for years been providing hands-on experiences and arts education for all ages.
Following are top venues to consider when in L.A. with family, all of which prove there’s much more to the city than Tinseltown.
California Science Center With a seven-story IMAX theater, more than 100 interactive exhibits and free admission to its permanent collection, California Science Center is a popular place for families and science buffs. In the World of Life gallery, visitors learn about how living things perform some of life’s vital processes — don’t miss Tess, the larger-than-life model who teaches young scientists about how the human body maintains homeostasis. Little visitors will also love the Creative World discovery room, where they can build structures with blocks, dress up in costumes and more. Of course, a huge draw to the venue is the Endeavour, a shuttle that completed 25 missions to space and is now on display here. Advance tickets to see the shuttle are highly recommended and are required on weekends and holidays (there is a $2 service charge per online reservation, and a $3 fee per phone reservation).
Kidspace Children’s Museum Kidspace Children’s Museum is tucked down in the Rose Bowl canyon in the city of Pasadena, a relatively easy drive from downtown Los Angeles. Guests 3 years old and under can crawl and climb on squishy surfaces and objects in the Early Childhood Learning Center. Older guests are challenged to think about force in outdoor The Robert & Mary Galvin Physics Forest, where they might blast a bottle rocket, build a roller coaster or pull on a giant lever in a unique version of tug of war. There’s also an epic outdoor play area with a tricycle track and water features. A gift shop, a cafe and a nearby shady playground make this a dependable place to spend an entire day with the kids. Admission is $13 for adults and children. Admission is free for those under 1 year old.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art Open since 1965, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) features a collection that spans centuries and represents artists from around the world, from Mexican painter Diego Rivera and French modernist Henri Matisse to English pop-art painter and printmaker David Hockney. But the museum’s large-scale sculptures and installations are probably the best sights to see with children. There’s Chris Burden’s “Metropolis II,” an impressive, multilevel mini-city with zooming cars and clacking trolleys. “Urban Light,” also by Burden, is set of 202 unique lampposts that kids can’t help but play hide-and-seek in. It was also recently announced that the wildly popular Rain Room — an installation that creates an indoor rainstorm with motion sensors that stop drops from falling on guests — is officially part of LACMA’s permanent collection. If it’s hands-on art opportunities you seek, sit down to paint in the Boone Children’s Gallery. Museum entry costs $15 for adults and $10 for seniors and students. Guests under 17 years old enter for free.
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County Looking at dinosaur fossils and stuffed lions, tigers and bears is a great way to pass a day in L.A. Beyond its permanent exhibits, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM) offers outstanding seasonal programming. During spring and summer, children can see monarchs, buckeyes and more flitting insects up close in the outdoor Butterfly Pavilion. Come Halloween, the same space morphs into the Spider Pavilion, and creepy-crawly orb weavers, golden silk spiders and more take over. Other events and programming can be found on NHM’s website. Adult admission is $12, seniors and students pay $9, and the cost for children ages 3 through 12 is $5. Admission is free for kids ages 2 and under.
Skirball Cultural Center Joining the L.A. scene in 1996, Skirball Cultural Center focuses on Jewish culture while aiming to inspire hope, equality and human connection in today’s world. Past exhibits have highlighted the work of author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats; photographs by Ansel Adams of Japanese internment camps in California; and work from Israeli designer Dan Reisinger. The best-known exhibit here for children, though, is Noah’s Ark, a permanent destination where little ones can play with puppets, scarves and hula-hoops; climb net ladders; and experiment with pulleys and moving wooden ramps, all in a whimsical space complete with a towering wooden ark and larger-than-life animal sculptures. Entry tickets to the exhibit are timed and should be reserved in advance. General admission is $12; seniors, students and children over 12 are $9; and children between the ages of 2 and 12 are $7. Children under 2 can enter for free.