In the years since downtown Los Angeles' big comeback, much of the hype has been on activities for the grownups. While the bars, nightclubs and trendy restaurants can certainly spruce up a date night, this neighborhood isn't exclusive to the 21-and-up crowd. Stop through downtown during the daylight hours and you'll find plenty to do that's fun for kids and won't bore grownups to death. Here's a mix of cultural institutions, holiday events, art galleries and fun food options that can make your afternoon with the kids pretty exciting.
1. Hit up Chinatown
Chinatown is one of the most kid-friendly destinations in the downtown area. Whether you go for Sunday morning dim sum or a late-evening dinner, the restaurants are mostly casual, family-centric environments. If you're stopping by for a midafternoon stroll, there are plenty of places to pop in for a snack. Toy vendors are all over Chinatown. There's also no shortage of confetti blasters, a must-buy item, in the neighborhood.
Throughout the year Chinatown is home to free, family-friendly events. The biggest of these is the Chinese New Year Festival, which took place on Saturday – hey, there's always next year. Tip: Don't blow the whole day looking for a parking spot; take the Metro to the Gold Line's Chinatown stop. Chinatown Central Plaza, 950 N. Broadway, Chinatown.
2. Visit the Japanese American National Museum
The Japanese American National Museum is a wonderful museum near Little Tokyo's Gold Line station. The museum has hosted an eclectic range of art exhibitions, such as the now-traveling “Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty” and West L.A. gallery Giant Robot's Biennale shows. The museum's ongoing exhibition, “Common Ground: The Heart of Community,” documents this history of Japanese-Americans.
The museum hosts frequent events including Free Family Days that focus on specific subjects. A “Making Music” family event gives kids the chance to play with musical instruments, learn how to make an origami piano and even try their hands at DJing. Japanese American National Museum, 100 N. Central Ave., Little Tokyo; (213) 625-0414, janm.org.
3. Learn about animals and history in one spot
Technically, the Natural History Museum is in West Adams, but this Exposition Park learning center is worth the trip a little bit farther south. Whether your child has a passion for dinosaurs, birds or bugs, you can encourage their curiosity and learn together here. But critters aren't the only focus. Check out the “Becoming L.A.” and “Ancient Latin American Art” exhibitions to learn history too.
NHM also brings in stellar special exhibitions. In 2015, “Mummies” brought together ancient remains and modern technology to better understand lives that existed thousands of years ago. Regular activities include gallery tours and nature walks. It also has weekend programming designed for different age groups, including a Critter Club for 3- to 5-year-olds and a Junior Scientists group for 6- to 9-year-olds. While you're here, make sure you visit the kid-friendly California Science Center as well. Natural History Museum, 900 Exposition Blvd., West Adams; (213) 763-3466; nhm.org.
4. Celebrate a birthday with a puppet show
Bob Baker Marionette Theater made our list of “weird” places to visit in L.A. because it's a wonderful bit of retro entertainment for people of all ages. However, the primary audience for this local institution is children.
The theater opened 2016 by bringing back its first show, “Sketchbook Revue,” which runs through March and features handmade puppets and lots of music. The child-centric programming runs Thursday through Sunday, with 10:30 a.m. shows on weekdays and 2:30 p.m. performances on weekends. The Bob Baker Marionette Theater is about more than the show; children can celebrate their birthday in a theater-adjacent room, and party packages include dessert, decorations and a surprise presented during the show. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., Echo Park; (213) 250-9995, bobbakermarionettes.com.
5. Gallery hop from Corey Helford to Q Pop
Last year, Corey Helford Gallery, a popular establishment for checking out both up-and-comers and major players in the pop surrealist world, moved from Culver City to downtown. The new space is massive and, as co-owner Bruce Helford explained at the time of the reopening, people are invited to visit with their families in tow. It's a great opportunity to introduce young art fans to popular artists such as Shag, Eric Joyner and Ron English. Corey Helford Gallery, 571 S. Anderson St, downtown; (310) 287-2340, coreyhelfordgallery.com
To make this a gallery-centric day, head into Little Tokyo and check out Q Pop. Located near Anime Jungle inside a bustling neighborhood plaza, this small gallery and boutique features a lot of pop culture-centric themed shows, like tributes to Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball. The group shows tend to be large and, while you may not recognize the artists by name, you've probably seen plenty of their work on TV. Q Pop, 319 E. Second St., #121, downtown; (213) 687-7767, qpopshop.com.
6. Spend an afternoon reading at Central Library
The crown jewel of the Los Angeles Public Library system, Central Library is big, beautiful and packed with reading material for kids and teens. Not only are there the usual storybooks, classic children's literature and young-adult novels but they also have a pretty good manga collection.
Like other LAPL outposts, Central Library has regular community events, and lots of those are geared toward children and teens. This includes story sessions and young crafter groups. Also, while it may seem at odds with your desire to get the kids reading more, there are game days for teens. Los Angeles Central Library, 630 E. Fifth St.; (213) 228-7000, lapl.org/branches/central-library.
7. Check out a performance at El Pueblo de Los Angeles
I mentioned some of the major cultural events at El Pueblo de Los Angeles in my Metro Red Line guide, and this seems like a good place to remind you that the location from which this city sprang is a family-friendly destination with activities fit for all ages.
In addition to large cultural celebrations such as Blessing of the Animals and Dia de los Muertos, El Pueblo is home to a regular schedule of events that includes cooking lessons, Aztec dance performances, concerts and film screenings.
El Pueblo's proximity to Olvera Street makes it a good location to check out an event and then grab lunch or dinner with the family. If you're in the mood for something different, though, walk over to Intiraymi Restaurant for a delicious Peruvian meal in a casual setting. El Pueblo de Los Angeles, 125 Paseo de la Plaza; 213-628-1274, elpueblo.lacity.org.
8. Explore the performing arts at the Music Center
The Music Center's commitment to performing arts isn't just for adults. The annual Very Special Arts Festival is a free event that emphasizes the creative work of students with disabilities. Meanwhile, the Blue Ribbon Children's Festival is open to fifth graders in Los Angeles County and gives them the chance to learn dance.
Throughout the year, there are family-friendly events, which have included everything from DJ sets in the summer to a holiday ukulele concert. The W.M. Keck Foundation Children's Amphitheater is made for youngsters, but even L.A. Opera has matinee programming. Los Angeles Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave.; (213) 972-0777, musiccenter.org.
9. Stroll through Grand Park
Grand Park is a serene spot in a very busy section. Located near City Hall and Superior Court, this gathering spot is designed for more than just city employees and jurors. Come here during a weekday afternoon and you'll find families spending time together at the picnic tables and teens hitting up the on-site Starbucks.
On the Music Center side of the park, you'll find a few Little Libraries, some of which may have reading material inside. Closer to City Hall, there is a nice, small playground for children. It's a clean park with a beautiful, sprawling landscape that brings together flora from across the world as a tribute to the many people who make up Los Angeles' population.
Grand Park hosts a handful of events throughout the year, such as Â¡Lunchtime!, a food truck-centric event that includes concerts from the studios at Los Angeles County High School of the Arts. Grand Park, 200 N. Grand St.; (213) 972-8080, grandparkla.org.
10. Get some ice cream
It's been a good day. You got through an afternoon downtown and the kids have (sort of) behaved. They deserve a treat and, fortunately, there is no shortage of sweets in this part of town.
If, however, you want to get your kids a dessert that comes with a spectacle on the side, go to Ice Cream Lab in Little Tokyo. This spot looks like it was made for mad scientists with a street-art fascination, and the frozen goodies they concoct are just as wild. Ice Cream Lab makes their liquid nitrogen ice cream while you wait. You can pick standard flavors like chocolate and vanilla or something unusual like Blue Velvet (with cupcake and cream cheese frosting) or Salt Lick Crunch (vanilla mixed with pretzels and caramel with sea salt on top) and watch as these ice cream techs mix it all together and let the steam rise. It's beautiful and delicious. Ice Cream Lab, 369 E. Second St.; (424) 270-0009, icecreamlab.com