From innovative technology employing virtual reality and immersive thrills to simple old-timey amusements like mini golf and train rides, family fun in L.A. runs the gamut. Here are the best in the game(s).
Best Simulated Flight
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter's Forbidden Journey, the new experience based on J.K. Rowling's iconic stories and settings, is worth braving amusement park crowds and chaos, and even mystical monsters, to enter and ride. You'll join wand-carrying kiddies sporting black robes and red and yellow scarves, meandering about Hogsmead Village as they shop for magical supplies, drink Butter Beer (there's real beer for grown-ups) and absorb the otherworldly charm of Universal Studios' Wizarding World of Harry Potter. But entering this re-created universe is really all about Forbidden Journey, the centerpiece ride inside Hogwarts Castle. You'll actually enjoy waiting in line for the ride, with so much to look at (3-D holograms along the line actually set up the story you will experience on the ride) and absorb. The ride itself — which is like a roller coaster meets simulator meets 4-D movie — is one of the most thrilling experiences out there, employing new robotic technology and design that no thrill ride out there does. You'll follow Harry and his friends on flying broomsticks throughout the castle, out into the sky and into creepy-crawly and spooky realms. The stunningly re-created academy is as awesome outside as it is inside, with elaborate light shows on its exterior nightly. 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City; (800) 864-8377, universalstudioshollywood.com. —Lina Lecaro
Best Virtual Vortex
At this point, virtual reality is no longer a strange new form of entertainment. Pretty much everyone has at least donned a VR headset and felt the sensation of being immersed into lifelike, fantastic new worlds. But there are different levels of hyper-reality, and if you want the latest and greatest, you must check out the Void. Located inside popular shopping malls in Glendale and Santa Monica, the innovative, themed experiences here are whole-body, collaborative and basically mind-blowing, with 4-D touches (a breeze on your face or a startling rumble behind you) that make it feel astoundingly real. You join your family and friends or other patrons as avatars inside these cyber-adventures, which adds a level of interaction and fun, and sometimes competition, too. With the horror-themed walk-through "Nicodemus" and lively activations tied into popular movies such as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Wreck-It Ralph, the Void is a stunning high-tech escape from the real world. thevoid.com. —Lina Lecaro
Best Old-School Place to Putt
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Sometimes we all need to regress. Hitting one of the four delightfully kitschy 18-hole mini-golf courses at Golf N' Stuff in Norwalk will surely help you get in touch with your inner child or even help you connect with your own flesh-and-blood offspring. Opened in 1969, and still featuring most of its original vintage sculptures, Golf N' Stuff lets you tee off toward a crooked haunted mansion, a replica of Big Ben, several magic castles, pirates protecting a gold-filled treasure chest, sparkling blue ponds or a Dutch-style windmill. A 15-foot-tall tree house was the winning spot for a tree-sitting Guinness World Record in 1983, after a publicity-seeking actor lived there for 431 days, 2 hours and 30 minutes. Movie buffs will dig that scenes from The Karate Kid were filmed here in 1984. To round it all off, there's a miniature race car track, bumper boats and a video arcade, all perfect for an unexpected adventure with friends or family. 10555 Firestone Blvd., Norwalk; golfnstuff.com. —Nikki Kreuzer
Best Place to Play Public Transport
In a city with a still-anemic public transit system, Griffith Park's pair of miniature train rides conjure sensations of both warm nostalgia and downright novelty. While kids relish the sheer innocent fun of trundling along on the one-third-scale Griffith Park & Southern Railroad or the slightly smaller, similarly retro Travel Town Railroad, adults — depending on their background — can discover (or rediscover), albeit briefly, the bonding experience of communal travel so rare in car-centric L.A. At the park's southern edge, the mile-long Griffith Park & Southern has been entertaining children, literal and inner, since the 1960s, while up on Zoo Drive the Travel Town Railroad runs loops around the eponymous SoCal railway museum. Griffith Park & Southern Railroad, 4400 Crystal Springs Drive, Griffith Park; (800) 438-1297, ext. 805. Travel Town Railroad, 5200 Zoo Drive, Griffith Park; (800) 438-1297, ext. 806. GriffithParkTrainRides.com. —Paul Rogers