When I first laid eyes on Los Angeles, I hated this city.
Dirty, so much traffic, no charm, no center. WTH?
And then we came back to L.A. and lived there for three months – with a one-year-old in tow. And what happened? I fell in love at second sight.
A drink with a view: Hotel Erwin on the Venice Ocean Front Walk
Los Angeles with kids – the essentials
Transportation – how to get around
Let’s start with the most important fact: Yes, you need a car. If you want to see or do anything, even a simple grocery run, you will need four wheels. Otherwise, Uber-ing has already become a verb, so that’s your other option (although in L.A., you should generally take a Black Car rather than one of the cheaper options – be careful).
L.A. has buses, too (though they run irregularly and with a schedule that would make the hair of us spoiled Swiss stand on end). L.A. is also home to a new form of transport, the Metro, but I haven’t tried it myself yet. But whatever you do, being stuck in traffic is part of the L.A. experience. Angelenos love to whine about it, just like we Swiss love complaining about the weather.
Children’s car seats – if you haven’t brought them with you from home for the flight *– are available directly from your car rental company or you can buy them cheaply at the discount retail store Target. Another option is to rent baby equipment, for example from Babysaway.com.
If you have a car, you can easily go shopping. I definitely recommend Whole Foods – even if the prices are on the steep side. If you don’t have the time or energy to go grocery shopping with your kids, it’s also good to know that the chain now offers a home delivery service in some parts of the city. Check your ZIP code to see if you qualify. Also great, fresh and local: The farmers markets all over the city.
As you would expect, L.A. is very well covered when it comes to doctors – there are huge hospitals and everything you need in case of an emergency. A trip to the emergency room can, however, mean hours of waiting and most likely a huge bill. My tip based on experience: Look for a local Urgent Care station for non-emergencies or sickness on weekends. More about that in my post on “Vacation Illnesses”.
Mobile phones and Internet
If you plan on staying in the U.S. for a while, you may want to get a U.S. SIM card with a data flat rate. In L.A. traffic, you definitely want to be able to get the latest updates from Google Maps in real time. SIM cards for a month starting around $50 and can be renewed online. We got ours from T-Mobile.
If your cell phone or laptop gives you trouble, Tech Studio Mac and PC Repair is THE place to go – repair in just a day.
Where to stay in Los Angeles? Location, location, location!
When choosing where to stay, the most important criterion for us is whether we can walk anywhere for activities and food. With kids in tow, every minute spent in traffic is pure hell, so we prefer to leave the car in its parking spot. With (little) kids, I can definitely recommend the districts Santa Monica and Venice, though we chose to stay in Venice. (We like its hippie charm and somewhat alternative atmosphere, as well as the fact that it isn’t quite as pricey as Santa Monica. If you want to feel the Venice vibe, check out the television series Californication or Flaked on Netflix.)
❤️ Abbot Kinney #losangeles #venicebeach A photo posted by Andrea Jansen (@anyworkingmom) on
We stayed at an Airbnb here, close to my favorite street in the world, Abbot Kinney. We also once stayed at the heart of the Venice Canals. Both times, that put us within walking distance of restaurants, two playgrounds, the beach and the Venice Beach Front Walk. However, some of the streets in Venice are bit dodgy – that must be said. The howling of fire trucks and police sirens is part of the backdrop of this city. If this makes you feel a bit nervous, Google your chosen location before you book or follow @Venice311 on Twitter for the latest police alerts.
The best accommodations for the lowest price – and already clustered by area – can be found through AllTheRooms. Alternatively, you can browse privately owned apartments also through the following major platforms: Airbnb, VRBO or Homeaway.
Important: make sure that your place comes with a parking space or that there is plenty of street parking available. Warning: Street cleaning is carried out once a week and requires ALL cars to be moved out of the way – if they’re not, they get towed immediately. You should definitely take all the complicated parking signs seriously.
To get over jetlag the first couple of nights after arriving or if you’re only staying in the city a short time, we can recommend the Oceana Beach Club. It’s stroller friendly with big Lanai suites including a sofa bed. And: We love the pool, where kids play in the afternoon and the grown-ups have drinks after dark (when the kids are sleeping in the rooms).
You can find a detailed description (German only) of the Airbnb and the hotel written by yours truly at mamicheck.ch.
L.A. for foodies with kids – eating in the city
Nowhere in the world have I eaten as well as in Los Angeles – and so healthy, too! From vegans to people on a paleo diet, there’s something for everyone – and of course, anyone with their heart set on it can get a meal at Taco Bell, too.
Here are some of my favorites – all of which are fine with kids (other than the bars, of course). The eateries below are most definitely not explicitly marketed as kids or family restaurants, but they all have high chairs.
Breakfast / brunch / lunch
Gjelina – A small but impressive selection of breakfast dishes. Not very busy in the morning. With comfortable patio seating. At night, it’s THE ultimate evening hot spot thanks to its Californian tapas: Be sure to reserve in advance and maybe organize a babysitter.
Kreation – As healthy as it gets. You can even go on a juice cleanse. Me? I prefer the Huevos Mexicanos.
Geoffrey’s, Malibu – An extravagant brunch on the terrace high above the ocean. Be sure to reserve.
The Cow’s End – My personal favorite. Açai bowls, breakfast tacos and great coffee.
Fig – A bit of Italy, a bit of France and plenty of California.
The Farmers Market at the Grove – Fine fast food with plenty to choose from.
The food court at the Santa Monica Place mall at the end of the 3rd Street Promenade (top floor) – with a huge pirate ship in which kids can play to their heart’s content.
Lunch / dinner / supper
Reel Inn Restaurant – Fish! Fresh!
The Ivy – You will allegedly ALWAYS see at least one Hollywood star when you dine here. Or not. Maybe I was just too engrossed in my food.
SaltAir – Also serves fresh fish, oysters and everything from the sea.
James’ Beach – A relaxed atmosphere and the best fish tacos in town. Also good for takeouts.
Leona – A MUST for Californian cuisine.
Hatchet Hall – Woodfire cookery, whatever that actually means. Excellent.
26 Beach – Burgers, baby!
Hotel Erwin Rooftop Terrace – For a wonderful aperitif with a view.
The Otherroom – Good drinks, good wine, good atmosphere.
Zinqué – Wine, but also delicious food.
The Rainbow Bar – A hangout for rockers since 1972. An L.A. icon.
Hinano Café – A cult place to hang out. With live bands and locals.
Shopping with and for kids
On this street, where I always end up broke – Abbot Kinney – my favorites include two stores selling kids’ clothes. I could literally buy all of the stock in Burro, topped off by a hoodie in size 2 from Aviator. At the Toms Flagship Store you can bury yourself in shoes (and drink coffee too), and if you need to get some invitations printed for an upcoming birthday party, simply head to Urbanic Paper.
3rd Street Promenade
The Promenade is a pedestrian area lined with major brands (Apple Store, GAP, Banana Republic…). It’s a great place for a stroll because you can also watch a multitude of street artists show off their (ahem) “skills”. A cool highlight: At Lids you can buy baseball caps in kids’ sizes and even get your name written on them while you wait.
This huge outdoor shopping mall is the perfect place to run around. It also has its very own choo-choo train and is, of course, visited by Santa in the run-up to Christmas. By the way, did I mention all the celebrities who regularly attract the paparazzi here? My favorite store: Pottery Barn Kids
For your day-to-day shopping and pretty much EVERYTHING you could possibly want, from groceries to shower curtains.
Robertson Boulevard / Rodeo Drive
Virtually every single guide to L.A. lists these two streets as shopping highlights. This is a good tip, if you happen to be called Kim Kardashian. If you’re not, you’re probably better off just window shopping (especially if you’ve got the stroller with you). Attempts to actually shop here may lead to Pretty Woman-style scenes. A cool location on the intersection between Robertson / Beverley Blvd: the Leica Flagship Store
Melrose Place, remember? You know, Billy and Alison? They apparently lived somewhere around here – in fiction, of course. Although the street isn’t quite as hip as it used to be back in the 90s, it’s still worth a visit. It’s also where you can buy gems such as Paul Smith T-shirts in kids’ sizes – yippee! – as well as taking artsy photos in front of the pink building.
…and as if that weren’t enough:
You should definitely pay the biker shop Deus Ex Machina a visit. Why? Because it’s awesome! A wonderful yet expensive shop in which Any Working Dad actually feels most at home: the bookshop Hennessey+Ingalls. Unknown Artist Apparel offers a multitude of cool, California-inspired T-shirts and also has a sales stand on Venice Beach Front Walk.
Los Angeles with kids – things to do
There is SO much to do with kids in L.A. They’re pretty much welcome wherever you go, but it’s essential to time things perfectly with little ones. After all, nobody wants to get stuck in traffic for three hours on a day out. L.A. is home to numerous museums, amusement parks and, of course, the beach.
There are way too many to list in this post, but here are my top 14 activities that both kids and adults will enjoy in L.A. (plus one that you’re better off avoiding).
And here’s a few essential tips before you head to L.A.:
Never drive in the rain. It might end up being your very last drive.
Stick to the rules. This applies from the moment you fill out your ESTA right through to every time you cross the road. Yep. Just because you’re European, it doesn’t mean you can march diagonally across the (empty) intersection as if it were no problem at all. When they catch people doing what they call “jaywalking,” the cops are definitely not amused, and many a European has been left scratching their heads in confusion (as well as paying a hefty fine).
Be generous when tipping. If you give a tip of under 15%, don’t be surprised if your waiter looks at you with a worried expression and asks if something was wrong. Be sure to always tip between 15 and 20%, especially if your kids have left the contents of half a bowl of spaghetti under the table yet again.
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