Will it be a camel dairy, whale watch, or island zipline day?
Drive Time: 31 miles from DTLA.
Why We Love It: You don’t need to be an overnight guest to enjoy the gorgeous splendor of this upscale cliffside resort. Sprawled over 102 acres, Terranea is home to a network of walking and hiking trails that snake along the coastline to the rocky shores below (even dogs are allowed!). Non-guests are welcome to explore the grounds—and there are plenty of wide open hills and fields for littles to run around. When you’re hungry, the casual (albeit pricey) Nelson’s restaurant offers upscale bar food with a killer view. There’s also a bakery by the front entrance that sells all sorts of yummy treats the kids will want to devour. Unique day experiences are also available to non-guests, including art classes, archery, stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, and a private falconry experience.
Insider’s Tip: Stop by the “Falconry Meet and Greet” every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 11-11:30 a.m. to meet Terranea’s falconer and learn about how he works with these majestic birds of prey.
100 Terranea Way
Rancho Palos Verdes
Related: Terranea: LA’s Best Kept Secret
Riley’s Farm & Oak Glen
Drive Time: 80 miles from DTLA
Why We Love It: The best time to visit Oak Glen is the fall, when apple season brings hordes of tourists up for a good picking. But the agricultural community of Oak Glen is also home to Riley’s Farm, which not only offers farm activities and U-pick all year long, but also Revolutionary War reenactments, including “Adventures in the Old World” Saturdays, with old-time favorites like archery, tomahawk throwing and corn husk doll-making.
Drive Time: Boats leave from Long Beach or San Pedro, which is about 25 miles from DTLA
Why We Love It: The boat ride alone is reason enough to cruise over to our nearest island neighbor. The 1-hour crossing is an easy way to spot whales, dolphins, or other sea life—along with a great view of the SoCal coastline. Once you’ve docked, you’ll feel miles away on this little island where bison roam free and zipline tours whisk you over scenic canyons with views of the Pacific. Rent a golf cart to explore the island on your own, or book a jeep tour to see all the off-road splendor the island has to offer.
It’s worth noting that an amazing 88 percent of Catalina Island is still wild and uninhabited, as it was set aside as protected land by the Catalina Island Conservancy. Consequently, the island has more than 62 miles of unspoiled beaches, and the longest publicly accessible stretch of undeveloped coastline left in Southern California.
Drive Time: 7 miles from DTLA
Why We Love It: Be a tourist in your own town! Griffith Park has enough to offer that you can spend a whole day exploring its 4,210 acres of land (It’s one of the largest urban wilderness parks in the country!). Littles will love whirling around on the historic carousel (and they’ll equally love knowing that this is the spot Walt Disney reportedly came up with the idea for Disneyland). Tiny stargazers will definitely want to see the Griffith Observatory—especially if you have time to see a show in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium, one of the largest planetarium domes in the world. You can make a hiking day out of it by parking near the Greek Theatre and taking the one-mile trail up to the observatory; or, there’s plenty of parking at the top as well.
While you may not fit this all into a day, Griffith Park is also home to the 133-acre LA Zoo—as well as Travel Town, where kids can walk around historic trains and get a miniature train ride. Prefer to see the park on horseback? Griffith Park’s Equestrian Center (called The Los Angeles Equestrian Center) offers trail rides for all levels.
4730 Crystal Springs Dr.
Drive Time: 47 miles from DTLA.
Why We Love It: With its historic Ferris wheel, bustling eateries, and waterfront charm, Balboa Village is a perfect place to spend a family day. There are bike and boat rentals, a nautical museum, and an old-school candy store specializing in nostalgic sweets. If you have time, hop aboard the ferry to Balboa Island—you might even spot a migrating whale on the way over. And don’t miss the Balboa Fun Zone, which is like a pint-sized Santa Monica Pier with far fewer tourists.
Insider Tip: The area is home to the original frozen banana, so don’t leave without enjoying the delicious chocolate-covered treat. Both Dad’s Donut & Bakery Shop and Sugar ‘n Spice claim to be the first purveyors of the dessert on a stick, but the jury’s still out on which spot is the top banana.
600 E. Bay Ave.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
Drive Time: 109 miles from DTLA.
Why We Love It: This tram ride feels like a Disneyland ride, only you’re actually going somewhere (besides around and around). Boasting a two-and-a-half mile ascent on a rotating tram car, it’s thrilling enough for kids (and adults) of all ages. And then, of course, there is the destination: Once atop the peak, there are hiking trails to explore, a small history museum, and a restaurant where you can admire the view and grab a bite to eat at Forest View Restaurant—8500 feet above sea level.
Pro Tip: Dress warmly. Temps at the top are often 30-40 degrees cooler than the valley floor. It’s cold enough that even in spring, there may be a little bit of snow on top, even when the weather is warm below so check the forecast before heading up.
1 Tram Way
San Diego Safari Park
Drive Time: 110 miles from DTLA
Why We Love It: It’s a tad closer than the San Diego Zoo (a difference of about 30 miles) and is still one of the largest zoos in the county for seeing a whole menagerie of wildlife. Sprawling more than 1,800 acres, the park is home to more than 3,500 animals—plus loads of interesting ways to see them, including by open-air safari truck or during a “Roar & Snore” sleepover at the park. Of course, you can also just let the littles run and see the place on foot (stroller rentals are available if your kids get tired of walking).
15500 San Pasqual Valley Rd.
Drive Time: 43 miles from DTLA.
Why We Love It: It’s like a natural playground! Your little bandits will love scurrying across the many prehistoric rocks that jut up from the ground across this 932-acre park near the town of Agua Dulce. The park—which was named after the infamous bandit Tiburcio Vasquez, who used these rocks to elude capture in the 1800s—features gobs of small and colossus rocks, all of which are fairly easy to climb (though we recommend climbing with them for added safety).
Insider Tip: While you’re in the area, stop by the Agua Dulce Winery (open .) to taste the locally-made wine.
10700 W. Escondido Canyon Rd.
Whale Watching Cruises
Drive Time: Varies, depending on where you’re departing from (Dana Point, for example, is about 60 miles from DTLA)
Why We Love It: Living on a coast is good for more than just perennial beach days. Our ocean is teeming with life waiting to be discovered—and taking the kids out for a few hours on the waves means they might get that amazing thrill of spotting migrating whales—plus the resident sea lions, seals, and dolphins that make SoCal waters their year-round home.
When to go: Grey whale season runs from Dec. through Apr.; Blue whale season runs May through Nov.
There are several whale-watching outfits leaving out of LA-area harbors, including larger tour operators like Harbor Breeze Cruises and LA Waterfront, which offer two-story boats for $45 a person (if you book online you’ll save some money!). Or, if you want a more intimate experience, companies such as Captain Dave’s and Newport Coastal Adventures out of Dana Point and Newport Beach offer private trips if you’re willing to pay for the privacy; these tours range from about $71 per person for a Zodiac (up to 20 passengers) to $398 for a private charter (up to 6 people).