10 Free L.A. Things to Do With Kids That Don't Suck for Grownups

The California Science Center's Kelp Forest is one of its free permanent exhibits.EXPAND
The California Science Center's Kelp Forest is one of its free permanent exhibits.

Any parent, older sibling or cool babysitter knows that finding activities that appeal to both kids and grownups can be a ... challenge (read: a daunting task that's enough to make you want to throw your arms up in defeat and just buy another damn season pass to Universal Studios).

It's a struggle for balance that seems to predictably end with unhappy (or worse, bored) kids, or adults desperately in need of a stiff cocktail. But it doesn't have to be this way — when it comes to finding things to do that appeal to both ends of the age spectrum, think of the following list as the Holy Grail of L.A. entertainment. Between the price tag (free) and widespread appeal, there's a good chance you and your charges will want to revisit these spots time and time again.

View from the Getty Center
View from the Getty Center
Timothy Norris

1. The Getty Center
More than just a world-renowned arts museum, the Getty Center is an urban oasis perched atop a hill in Brentwood. The Richard Meier–designed complex — accessed via a futuristic tram ride from the parking lot » includes multiple dining options, manicured gardens, exhibition galleries, and indoor and outdoor public spaces (many of which have free Wi-Fi — score). Beyond the space, the Getty Center is also renowned for its free education and event initiatives; check the full calendar for tours, concerts and artist talks.

Adults will love: The panoramic views of Los Angeles, the free GettyGuide family tour, and the large lawn for the kids to play/tire themselves out before bedtime. Also, the two coffee carts.

Kids will love: The arts-focused activities in the family room, and Garden Concerts, a free outdoor music series for kids and families.

Know before you go: Admission is free, but parking is $15 per car at the tram stop.

1200 Getty Center Drive, Brentwood. (310) 440-7300, getty.edu.

One of many book-inspired design features at the Last BookstoreEXPAND
One of many book-inspired design features at the Last Bookstore

2. The Last Bookstore
Despite an ever-increasing irony in name and a tagline that reads “What are you waiting for? We won’t be here forever,” the Last Bookstore seems to only get more popular with age. The iconic DTLA bookstore is the third iteration of a project that began in 2005 in a loft; today, the store occupies a 22,000-square-foot space at the corner of Fifth and Spring. But it's more than just a place to pick up some Pulitzer Prize–winning literature (or, more likely, Mindy Kaling's latest memoir) — the Last Bookstore also includes the Spring Arts Collective gallery shops, extensive collections of vinyl records and graphic novels, and an arts and rare books annex. Despite changing tastes and technologies, the Last Bookstore continues to buy, sell and trade books.

Adults will love: The opportunity to see their kids experience the magic of a physical book, and the reminder to pick up that novel that’s been at the top of your list.

Kids will love: The whimsical mazes of book stacks worthy of their own version of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

Know before you go: You’ll need to check large bags or backpacks at the front desk.

453 S. Spring St., downtown. (213) 488-0599, lastbookstorela.com.

El Matador Beach's rock formationsEXPAND
El Matador Beach's rock formations

3. El Matador Beach
SoCal’s version of the legendary Pfeiffer Beach is this Malibu hideout, known for its striking cliffs, sea caves and rock formations. The breathtakingly beautiful beach has remained something of a hidden gem; its secluded location north of Zuma has ensured that El Matador's natural geology remains largely unspoiled. Though it's most popular during the summer, those who choose to visit during winter months  — perhaps for a picnic or sunset from the sand, with a sweatshirt — are likely to have it to themselves.

Adults will love: Compared with Santa Monica and Venice beaches, El Matador is more secluded, less crowded and more narrow; without the stress of dodging other parties’ oversized umbrellas and trekking across what feels like miles of hot sand, parents can (finally) understand why people call days at the beach “relaxing.”

Kids will love: Getting to embark on their own mini-adventure exploring the sea caves.

Know before you go: The entrance to the beach requires traversing a fairly steep flight of stairs; this might not be suitable for people with injuries or physical disabilities.

32350 El Matador Beach Road, Malibu. lamountains.com/parks.asp?parkid=145.

Glendale Community College's Cimmarusti Science Center
Glendale Community College's Cimmarusti Science Center
Glendale Community College

4. Glendale Planetarium shows
Sure, L.A.'s notorious smog and city lights might not make it the best city for stargazing, but thanks to Glendale Community College and its free series of planetarium shows, Angelenos can get a peek at the cosmos. The shows are held on Thursday afternoons and presented by a live narrator — so, yes, the kids are welcome to ask questions. Following the school's winter break, the Afternoon With the Stars series kicks back off on Feb. 23; check the full calendar of events for more information. Public events are listed in red.

Adults will love: A midday siesta in the cool, dark planetarium.

Kids will love: Discovering more about the vast world around them — without it coming from science class.

Know before you go: The planetarium is located at the top of the Cimmarusti Science building on the north side of campus; visitors can park in one of the campus' metered lots.

1500 N. Verdugo Road, Glendale. glendale.cc.ca.us.

The Warner Bros. Studios lotEXPAND
The Warner Bros. Studios lot

5. TV show taping
Sure, locals typically roll their eyes at the idea of spending time anywhere near a production set—we get it, sounds like a lot of assistants running around with iced coffee, trams giving cheesy tours and execs acting like they own the place (which they kind of do, to be fair). But this quintessentially L.A. activity is a pleasant surprise; even the most jaded Angelenos will love getting a behind-the-scenes look at one of their favorite TV shows. And, hey, if not, the excitement and wonder in the kids' eyes will make it worth the trip. Just don't let them get any ideas about getting into showbiz. Most L.A. studios — including Warner Bros., Sony, Paramount and NBC — offer free tickets either through their website or a third party.

Adults will love: Choosing a taping of a show that the whole family can watch together in anticipation of the taping, like America's Funniest Home Videos or The Voice.

Kids will love: Watching the live episode in hopes of catching a brag-worthy glimpse of themselves on TV.

Know before you go: These days can be long and tiring, so bringing some extra snacks to sneak while waiting can be a game-changer — especially for cranky little ones.

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