Kid-Friendly (And Cheap!) Weekend Adventures in the L.A. Area

Pack up the kids and get ready for an awesome, affordable adventure.

Credit: Danielle Directo-Meston
Credit: Danielle Directo-Meston

Written by Danielle Directo-Meston

Sometimes all it takes is a little planning to have a great family outing. When routine exploits just aren’t cutting it anymore, shake things up by exploring new terrain, taking in an exhibition, or visiting a landmark and learning a little something about our local history. Here are awesome events to attend and places to visit around town before fall ends. Best part? All of them can be done on the cheap and on one tank of gas—or less!

Cabrillo National Monument

1800 Cabrillo Memorial Drive, San Diego


Why Go? Whether your kids are into history, nature or marine biology, there’s something for everyone at this San Diego tourist attraction that’s loved by visitors and locals alike. Learn all about the native Kumeyaay Indians and Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s historic expedition of 1542, explore the 1800s-built Old Point Loma Lighthouse, and discover a multitude of cool sea creatures, including starfish, octopi and anemones at the tide pools of Point Loma. Not only does this peninsula boast beautiful ocean views and kid-friendly hiking trails, it’s also the perfect place for whale watching in the winter months.

Insider Tip: Food options near this historical landmark are limited, so pack a picnic lunch or pick up sandwiches at one of the many local cafés in nearby La Playa. If you’ve got a furry family member joining your adventure, keep in mind pets are allowed only in the tide pools and coastal areas of the park. In addition, be sure to wear comfy walking shoes and check the weather before you head out to ensure clouds and fog don’t put a damper on these breathtaking views.

Must Do! After you visit the top of the lighthouse, be sure to pay a visit to the Assistant Keeper’s Quarters next door. Get a glimpse into what life was like during the late 1800s and see cool artifacts from the days before smartphones and GPS devices guided travelers to their destinations.

The Fine Print: Hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and the park is open every day except Dec. 25. Entrance to the park closes at 4:30 p.m., and all visitors must exit by 5 p.m. Admission is $5 per vehicle and $3 for walk-ins, bicyclists and motorcyclists, and your ticket is valid for five days.

Conejo Valley Botanical Garden

350 W. Gainsborough Road, Thousand Oaks


Why Go? Let your kids grow their love for the environment and plant life at this beautiful 33-acre botanical garden. Discover rare fruit trees from around the globe (what kid wouldn’t want to see an ice cream bean tree?), relax in the Japanese Tranquility Garden (perhaps enjoy a moment of silence from the kids), explore California’s native plants and see a variety of birds and butterflies in their natural habitats. Plus, experience panoramic views of the Conejo Valley and walk along the Nature Trail to see what the area looked like before humans settled on the lands.

Insider Tip: Barbara Song, a volunteer who’s been serving the gardens for nearly 30 years, recommends wearing open-toed shoes to protect your feet during hiking. In addition, she suggests bringing plenty of water and sun hats to keep family members’ heads cool. The garden is staffed by a dedicated team of volunteers, so if you loved your visit, be sure to show your appreciation with a donation.

Must Do! Plan your visit for a Sunday, when the colorful Kids’ Adventure Garden is open. It’s an “intriguing, lovely little spot for walking through with children,” Song says, where kids can learn about plants named after animals in the zoo garden and get a glimpse of carnivorous plants. With plenty of space to run and play, the garden also boasts a popular tree house, a greenhouse pod and more fun and educational activities.

The Fine Print: General hours are from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the Kids’ Adventure Garden is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays; admission is free. The gardens are closed on all major U.S. holidays and may open later on select days.

Santa Monica Mountains: Paramount Ranch, Malibu Creek State Park and Solstice Canyon

Paramount Ranch: 2903 Cornell Road, Agoura Hills,


Malibu Creek State Park
1925 Las Virgenes Road, Calabasas, CA 91302


Solstice Canyon
GPS coordinates: N 34.0350 W -118.7445

Why Go? For nature lovers, movie buffs and history enthusiasts, the Santa Monica Mountains are the perfect setting for an all-day outdoor day trip outside of L.A. While this national recreation area spans nearly 154,100 acres from the Pacific Ocean to inland regions, the park features an easily accessible cluster of sites just a short drive apart. Kids can do their best cowgirl and cowboy impressions at the Western Town in Paramount Ranch, a movie set built by Paramount Studios in the 1950s. Then, take a quick drive to Malibu Creek State Park, where a moderate hike will take you through beautiful mountain views and famous scenes from “Planet of the Apes” and the iconic TV show “M*A*S*H,” just to name a few. In the mood for more adventures? Head further south and check out Solstice Canyon (about a 25-minute drive), where a short hike will take you to a stone cottage believed to be Malibu’s oldest house, then trek further down the trail to explore the ruins of a once-grand mansion.

Insider Tip: While there is a fee for parking at Malibu Creek State Park, those who are up for a short walk can park along Mulholland Highway. Some visitors recommend parking near the sign for the Grassland Trail, which leads straight into the park. There are plenty of picnic tables throughout the park, so pack a lunch for the entire crew and enjoy the outdoors while you munch. There also are plenty of food options at the nearby Malibu Country Mart (3835 Cross Creek Road), an outdoor boutique mall of designer clothing shops. The Malibu Kitchen & Gourmet Country Market offers sandwiches and burgers (between $10 to $16), deli cheeses and meats, baked goods and more.

Must Do! If you have kids between 8 and 13, be sure to stop by the Visitor Center and pick up the park’s free Junior Ranger Program book. Children will have fun learning about the Chumash Indians, who once called the Santa Mountains their home, and they’ll also earn a cool Junior Ranger patch.

The Fine Print: The Visitor Center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except on major federal and American holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. The Western Town is open from 8 a.m. to sunset. There are no fees to enter the national recreation area, but there is a fee for parking at Malibu Creek State Park (call the visitor center for the latest information and costs).

Willowbrook Apple Farm

12099 South Oak Glen Road, Oak Glen


Why Go? This family-owned Willowbrook Apple Farm orchard is often a top pick because of its warm, helpful staff and variety of kid-friendly, hands-on activities. It’s the area’s smallest farm at two and a half acres, but “because of that, I really get to know my customers and their children,” says owner Cheryl Swanson. Many families make their visit a fall tradition.

Insider Tip: Pack a picnic lunch for a convenient alternative to long waits (and fussy tots) at local restaurants, says Swanson. She recommends the Oak Glen School House Museum locale, which offers a playground and plenty of picnic benches. And remember to bring a jacket since higher altitudes mean lower temperatures.

Must Do! Don’t forget to try the apple cider station, where kids and adults can mush their pick of sweet and tart apples into delicious juice using the old-fashioned press and take home a jug to enjoy later. Love animals? Make sure you pay a visit to two of the farm’s most popular residents: Blossom, the pot-bellied pig, and Comet, the miniature horse. If those two loveable creatures aren’t enough, there’s also one giant, cuddly Flemish rabbit. Last but not least, stop by Willowbrook’s gift shop, which is stocked with locally made preserves, apple salsa, barbecue sauces, raw honey and more. Swanson tells us she plans on “taking it up a notch” and infusing honey with lavender, vanilla bean and other new flavors.

The Fine Print: Hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, and admission is free. Pressed cider is $8.95 for a half-gallon and $14.95 for a full gallon. Apple pickers can fill a three-pound bag for $7.50 or a five-pound bag for $11.95.

Max Bean October 26, 2013 at 10:19 AM
Awesome list!


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