Because Disneyland and Universal Studios aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, why not take time to explore some offbeat spots with the kiddos that don’t involve throngs of super fans or exorbitant admission fees? From a historic downtown cafeteria to a bookshop complete with climbing wall, these family-friendly destinations will take kids and their parents off the beaten path, helping them to discover a new side of Los Angeles. -Laura Clark

Tropical jungle scene mural in the main dining room of Clifton's Cafeteria (credit:

Clifton’s Cafeteria

648 S. Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90014
(213) 627-1673
More Info

Eager to give the kiddos a taste of old-school Los Angeles? Built in 1931, this downtown cafeteria sports kitschy mountain décor, complete with a waterfall, faux trees and a rock-side chapel. As for the fare, visitors can sample the roast turkey, beef brisket or wide variety of desserts. For kids, there’s even a Children’s Treasure Tray ($3.50) that comes with a surprise toy. Visit soon, though, because it was recently sold to Andrew Meieran, owner of downtown bar The Edison. While the cafeteria will remain, renovations are more than likely.


Vineland Drive-In Movie Theater

443 N. Vineland Ave.
City of Industry, CA 91746
(626) 961-9262
More Info

With drive-in movie theaters quickly going the way of the poodle skirt, this lone outpost in City of Industry is a great way to show kids what it’s like to watch films al fresco – and see just how many people you can pack into a car. While gates open at 6:45 p.m., movies begin at dusk. Best part? If your child falls asleep, you don’t have to wake her up to get her back to the car.

Heritage Square Museum

3800 Homer St.
Los Angeles, CA 90031
(323) 225-2700
More Info

Tucked into a small neighborhood just east of the 110 North to Pasadena is a Victorian village that pays homage to 19th century SoCal. Visitors can imagine they’ve gone back in time by wandering through the eight preserved structures, which include former homes and a carriage barn. In addition to tours and regularly scheduled events, Heritage Square also offers a family-friendly Halloween tour, where kids can make 19th century harvest crafts, pick a pumpkin from the pumpkin patch and listen to spooky stories in one of the museum’s houses.

Spiderman reads to a cute little girl at Blue Chair Children's Books (credit: Mindy Dahl)

Blue Chair Children’s Books

177 N. Glendora Ave.
Glendora, CA 91741
(626) 335-8630
More Info

Not only can kids get their reading on at this independent bookstore in Glendora, but they can also shake off any excess energy by climbing the walls – literally. Blue Chair Children’s Books offers a climbing wall for kids if they need a break from the books. The bookstore also boasts author visits and themed tea parties.


Pretend City Children’s Museum

29 Hubble
Irvine, CA 92618
(949) 428-3900
More Info

Tykes can pretend they’re adults at Pretend City Children’s Museum in Irvine. With more than 15,000 square feet of interactive exhibits, kids can make believe that they are part of a working, thriving community – just one that’s a wee bit smaller than the real world outside. From a grocery store to a post office to a bank and health center, Pretend City offers the kids’ version of adult work-a-day life, minus the bills and taxes, of course.

“Hamlet, Prince of Puddles”

L’Enfant Terrible Theater Company
Bootleg Theater
2220 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90057
(213) 389-3856
More Info

Yes, the adults’ version of “Hamlet” is a little messy, what with all the murder and revenge. However, family-friendly theater company L’Enfant Terrible is making this Shakespearean tragedy accessible to even the smallest of audiences through its adaptation, “Hamlet, Prince of Puddles.” Reconceived as a comedy, the play should appeal to adults and tykes alike. Now, there’s the rub.

The Donut Hole

15300 Amar Rd.
La Puente, CA 91744
(626) 968-2912
More Info

In search of a tasty treat coupled with a wacky adventure? While not close to a lot of other attractions, The Donut Hole in La Puente offers patrons the pleasure of actually driving through a huge donut-shaped building, where they can order their fried ring of goodness at an inside window. The experience alone is worth the trip.

The Museum of Jurassic Technology

9341 Venice Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 836-6131
More Info

Inspired by relics and artifacts from the Lower Jurassic time period (yes, millions of years ago), particularly those that “demonstrate unusual or curious technological qualities,” this hands-on museum serves as a repository for everything from art and natural history collections to exhibits of L.A. mobile home and trailer parks (an offshoot of the ancient mobile dwelling) to the decaying dice of illusionist Ricky Jay. While an unconventional outing for sure, the museum also serves as a place to spark the imagination.