Santa Monica may seem like a sleepy beachside town but for those in the know, it’s one of the best places to hang with the kids. And while the ocean is the usually the major draw, there is so much more to explore. From rides on the pier to checking out some stellar aviation history, here are 30 of our favorite activities, west of the 405.
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photo: Roshan Nikam via flickr
1.Sit back and relax while your crew does a little star-gazing Fri. evenings at The Planetarium at Santa Monica College. This weekly, 50-minute digital presentation recreates the night sky and offers the latest news on space exploration and astronomy. Recommended for ages 6 and up; however, on occasion, the 8 p.m. observation is suitable for toddlers.
2. Are your little guppies looking to brush up on their swimming skills or just wade and chill? Either way, dive right into the Santa Monica Swim Center for some cool, aquatic fun. The pools here are heated which makes this the perfect location to take a dip, no matter the season.
3. Looking for a workspace that doubles as a child enrichment classes? Then look no further than Big & Tiny who is taking the parenting work-balance arena by storm. They are committed to helping parents strike a balance between professional and family life and this beautifully designed space is the ultimate destination for those who need to mix business with pleasure.
4. Visit the historical Ocean Park Library for toddler and kids classes (held weekly) like storytime and lego building. After class, grab a bench out front and take a load off while little ones frolick and skip around the enclosed lawn.
photo: Janelle Connor
5. Need a last minute gift for that birthday party on the westside or just something new to change up the old toy box? Cruise over to Quinnie & B toy shop for a wonderfully curated selection of toys, books, games, apparel and accessories.
6. The whole family can enjoy a show at Morgan-Wixon Theatre which regularly features youth players in starring roles. Grab a ticket for the 2019 season and catch Winnie The Pooh or James and the Giant Peach on stage.
7. Make a day of it at South Beach Park located right on the beach. There’s no better backdrop than the Pacific ocean.
photo: Gary V. via Yelp
8. Craving a slice of authentic NY pizza? Head over to Vito’s Pizza for their daily happy hour ($2 per cheese slice) from 3:30 p.m to 5:30 p.m. and you’ll be treated to one of the best thin-crusted pizza on the westside, if not all of LA.
9. At the Annenberg Beach House, the pool is the main attraction (we just wish the season was longer). But perhaps the best-kept secret (other than the seasonal game room), is the splash pad adjacent to the pool which is free, offers tables with umbrellas for parents and operates year round.
10. Dreaming of a winter wonderland in LA? Join in on the fun at ICE skating Downtown SM, a seasonal ice skating ring, opening early Nov. 2018 and running until early Jan. 2019.
photo: Janelle Connor
11. Shop (and dine) until you drop along a strip of retail heaven that is known as Montana Ave. After making stops at Pink Chicken, Peek Kids, and Splendid, get ready to chow down at places like Le Macaron (for French pastries and sublime chocolate), Rori’s Artisanal Ice Cream, Sweet Lady Jane, Art’s Table, or The Courtyard Kitchen. Before you head home, check out what’s playing at the Aero. Every now and again, they feature fantastic kid’s programming.
12. Take a self-guided donut tour of Santa Monica and load up on some of the best treats the city has to offer from DK Donuts, Sidecar to Dunkin Donuts.
13. When things heat up in the city, snag an all-day pool pass at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel and let the kiddos splash around and sip mocktails.
14. Drop-in classes and membership are available at My Gym, a fantastic indoor gym. Kids go wild for the activity stations while parents dig the playlists. Instructors here are top notch and teach classes which are developmentally appropriate. Bonus? The first class is free! Call ahead to reserve a spot.
photo: The Acorn Store via Facebook
15. Wander around The Acorn Store toy shop where everything is made of either wood, cloth, cardboard or tin. There’s also an impressive collection of fairy and princess dresses for sale, which will leave your little pixies in total fairytale bliss.
16. Stop by the DTSM Farmer’s Market (Wed. and Sat.) and pick from an incredible selection of fruit, vegetables and artisanal goods.
17. The pond with ducks and turtles is the biggest draw at Douglas Park but the park also has plenty of space to roam around, play and picnic. Kids will have a blast on the traditional playground structures and equipment. A massive water fountain that has since been drained serves as training ground for kids working on their scooter and bike skills.
18. When playtime is over, stop by Cookie Good for their best selling Caramel Pretzel Chocolate Chunk cookie—it’s even more delicious than it sounds.
19. Look no further than Monica + Andy, a baby and toddler store, for the sweetest organic clothes in the city. While you’re there, check out the events calendar and find out what’s on tap for little ones looking to move their bodies. They currently offer yoga for preschoolers every Sun. at 11 a.m. and come this fall, we hear DJ Natalie of Baby DJ School will be spinning on the ones and twos and teaching a weekly music class for kids.
20. The splash pad at Tongva Park is legendary and the sights are spectacular at this westside fave (not to mention a regular celebrity parent hangout spot). It’s also totally free to throw a birthday party here, just sayin’…
21. Kiddos feeling inspired and ready to create a masterpiece? Drop-in to PAINT:LAB’s open lab for all ages or gather your brood for “Family Sunday,” where a family of four can paint together from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for $50.
22. “Bravo, bravo!” will be the shouted as they applaud the interactive family shows and holiday specials at the must-see shows at the Santa Monica Playhouse.
photo: Erin Harris
23. Get to digging Mon. and Wed. from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and develop those gardening skills at Ishihara Park and The Learning Garden. Kids of all ages are welcome, no reservations required and it’s totally free. Don’t forget to give your kids their first spin on a true merry go round.
24. Make lasting memories with the family at Pacific Park at Santa Monica Pier. It’s worth fighting the hustle and bustle of this popular tourist destination for a ride on the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel. Don’t forget to stop by Heal the Bay’s Santa Monica Pier Aquarium for a chance to get up close and personal with over 100 marine life species.
25. Stroll the Third Street Promenade with your crew and enjoy music and dance numbers by super talented street performers and artists looking for their big break. Big name brands for kids and tweens drive the retail scene but smaller boutiques are peppered throughout. Old school toy store, Puzzle Zoo, is a must stop.
26. Every Tues. evenings from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. you’ll find some of the best food trucks in the city, conveniently parked in the same spot.
27. You’ll want to order your cold treat in a cone (choose pretzel, cake, waffle) at Beach City Creamery, which gives some of the best ice cream shops in the city, a run for their money. The strawberry balsamic is divine. Oh, and they serve hot dogs!
photo: Ashley Murdock
28. Bring your aircraft obsessed aviators to the Museum of Flying and Santa Monica Airport Observation Deck. Let them crawl in and out of cockpits and even ride a flight simulator (riders must be 48 inches tall). And before you leave the airport jet over to the observation deck and watch as private planes take off and land.
29. An art-while stop is the 26th Street Art Center (Bergamot Station) (an old railroad station turned art hub) and makes a great introduction for little ones with short attention spans. Most galleries here are small studio spaces which makes them perfectly sized for restless youngsters.
photo: Janelle Connor
30. Ride the Expo line to the final stop in downtown SM and head over to shop, eat and play at Santa Monica Place. Kids will zoom past the food court and head straight to the indoor playspace, Samo’s Clubhouse.
Insider Info: Make a stop at the newest, universally accessible playground North Beach Playground, built for kids of all abilities. This playground accommodates children regardless of their social, emotional or physical capabilities, fostering fun and compassion for all and includes separate play areas for children 2–5 years old and another for children 5-8 years old.
AND…We hear doors will open in early 2019 at the Zimmer Children’s Museum by Sharewell (to be renamed) located at Santa Monica Place. In addition to the play areas we’ve come to know and adore, the museum will be airier, lighter and strategically situated off the Expo so kids from all over the city (especially those underserved) can share in the joy.
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