826 Valencia St., Mission
The powerful brainchild of Dave Eggers, 826 Valencia is the flagship for his childhood literacy project—and also home to the pirate store. Here, you'll find after-school writing programs for under-resourced kids, along with all the gear you need for any Peter Pan/Captain Hook fantasies. There are similar concepts—all wonderful, all life-changing—all over the country.
1220 5th St., Santa Monica
Though its just two-blocks from the Third Street Promenade, which sucks up a lot of the area's oxygen, this is inarguably one of the most special toy shops in the country. Everything here is made of wood, from the pint-sized grocery store stands (complete with farmers market fruits and veggies) to the rainbow-hued teethers.
Annenberg Community Beach House
415 Pacific Coast Hwy., Santa Monica
Sitting on the site of what was once a giant mansion that Randolph Hearst built for actress Marion Davies in the ’20s, this is now a 5-acre, completely public beach house, complete with the home’s original Olympic pool (the house was irreparably damaged by an earthquake, which led to its demolition). When it’s not pool season (Memorial Day through Labor Day), there’s still a lot to do, including a toes-in-sand cafe and beach volleyball for kids.
Aquarium of the Pacific
100 Aquarium Way, Long Beach
The aquarium doesn't just stop at fish: There's also a very friendly flock of lorikeets, along with sea birds, seals, and sea otters. There are several permanent 'Galleries' alongside the temporary exhibitions that show what life is like under the Californian waves. Kids will enjoy the chance to pet the rays and sharks, and budding veterinarians will be fascinated by the chance to watch real-life procedures on the resident animals in the new Molina Animal Care Center.
Boone Childrens’ Gallery @ LACMA
5905 Wilshire Blvd., West Hollywood
While the kid-friendly galleries at LACMA are packed with inspiration, on the second floor of Hammer Building you’ll find a space where little ones can actually put brush to paper and make art. While on-site, sign them up for a free LACMA youth membership—they can visit the museum for free whenever they want (and bring one adult guest along).
Brentwood Art Center
13031 Montana Ave., Brentwood
Brentwood Art Center's classes cater to all kinds of artistic interest, from drawing techniques to comic book illustration. During the summer and winter breaks, Brentwood Art Center also offers one-week and two-week day camps for kids aged 5-13 where they get to try painting, drawing, sculpture and printmaking.
1405 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice
Equal parts clothing boutique and toy store, this is the sort of place where you can pick up a gift for anyone under 10. It's very well-edited, meaning that there aren't a ton of options, but they're all good, from Aden & Anais swaddle blankets, to non-toxic crayons, to robot-printed pajamas.
California Academy of Sciences
55 Music Concourse Dr., Golden Gate Park
This is an incredibly rich and well-staffed resource for everything science-related, from informative exhibits on the future of our planet, to an incredible planetarium, to a scaled-down rainforest complete with all sorts of live critters. On Thursday nights, they do a really fun adults-only party with numerous bars and amazing guest DJs.
California Science Center
700 Exposition Park Dr., South LA
The Space Shuttle Endeavor is parked on-site, there’s an IMAX theater, and you can ride a high-wire bicycle perched 43-feet above the ground. Those are just some of the flashiest thrills: Little ones can experience the ice walls of the arctic, the aridity of the desert, and a view of the ocean floor. Plan to spend multiple hours.
2710 Main St., Santa Monica
This is one of those spots that will make you believe that having kids doesn't always require a cacophony of brightly-colored plastic toys: Airy, and sparely stocked, Caro Bambino offers everything you'd want for a clean-lined, modern nursery—and nothing more. There are well-designed cribs, a smattering of wooden toys, and neutral-hued onesies.
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