Best Los Angeles Family Attractions on a Budget

Jocelyn Murray March 6, 2012 No Comments


Tots and Travel Recommended

Los Angeles, California is known for its diverse family attractions from museums, to zoos, aquariums, amusement parks and botanical gardens. If you are looking to spend some fun quality time without going broke, you will find the following venues perfect for a day out with the kids. Listed alphabetically, these attractions are all priced under $20 for admission, while some are even free!



Adventure City – Anaheim

Adventure City Drop Zone

Adventure City's Drop Zone is just one of the thrilling rides at this fantastic amusement park

A phenomenal theme park without the exorbitant prices, Adventure City is perfect for families who enjoy amusement parks but don’t want to drain the bank, spend hours in long lines, and fight crowds. With free parking and $14.95 admission as of 2012 (infants 12 months and under are free), you can’t pass this up. A fun variety of rides and attractions have kids and their parents squealing in delight, including coasters, to the park’s nostalgic 1938 Express Train, a vintage 20-horse carousel, balloon rides, vertical wheel rides, circling plane rides, the thrilling Drop Zone, a Thomas the Tank Engine hands-on play area, and much more. There is also a petting farm with live animals, children’s theater, arcade, and tasty food for hungry revelers.  For more information visit their website



Cabrillo Marine Aquarium – San Pedro

Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

The Cabrillo Marine Aquarium has lots of fascinating creatures in its exhibits, touch tank, and along the coastal tide pools outside

Established in 1935, this aquarium is a little gem that focuses on marine life from Southern California. Its exhibit hall displays animals and plants from the open ocean, rocky shores, and sand and mud environments in a variety of tanks. It has a fascinating aquatic nursery which also functions as a research laboratory. Its exploration center features plenty of engaging hands-on activities that are especially exciting for children, while a large touch tank with lots of creatures, and adjacent tide pools among the rocks by the ocean are lots of fun to explore. Admission is free but donations are suggested at a low rate of $5 for adults and $1 for children. Parking is $1 per hour with a maximum of $9. For more information visit their website



California Science Center – Los Angeles

California Science Center

The California Science Center has lots of hands-on and interactive exhibits (photo courtesy of Richard Kim)

The California Science Center is full of engaging interactive galleries and over 100 hands-on exhibits that fascinate young and old alike. With free admission to their permanent exhibit galleries, there really is no excuse to miss it. The informative exhibits teach guests about the amazing life processes of living things, the many human innovations and inventions, ecosystems, air and space, and much more. The California Science Center also features special paid traveling exhibits and an IMAX Theater with riveting shows. As of 2012, show prices are $8.25 (adult), $6.00 (ages 13-17), $5.00 (ages 4-12) with discounts for members, groups and multiple shows.  For more information visit their website



Griffith Park – Los Angeles

Griffith Park pony rides

Children love the pony rides at Griffith Park

One of the largest urban parks in North America, Griffith Park has a lush and rugged landscape with trails that are perfect for families to explore through hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking. Children can also take pony rides ($3 per ride for kids under 13), and ride on the beautifully hand-carved vintage carousel that was built in 1926 with a band organ that plays more than 1500 medleys of waltzes and marches. There are several designated areas to enjoy a leisurely picnic in the shade, as well as children’s playgrounds at various locations by the picnic grounds.  The LA Zoo and Travel Town Museum are close by, as is the renowned Griffith Park Observatory which has free admission to its permanent exhibits and grounds. For more information visit their website



Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens – Los Angeles

LA  Zoo tortoise

The LA Zoo features lots of exhibits, children's zoo with petting area, and carousel rides

Who doesn’t love to go to the zoo? The Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens is home to more than 1,100 mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, as well as over 800 species of plants. The exciting exhibits include gorillas, elephants, bears, monkeys, birds, lions, hippos, rhinos, zebras, and much more. Guests can visit the walk-through aviary, the reptile house, and a two-acre children’s zoo with petting area. The zoo also features an animal-themed play park for children to explore, a carousel, birds show, and a variety of programs for visitors experience the amazing animals up close. As of 2012 admission prices are $16 (ages 13 and up), $11 (ages 2-12) and free for children under 2, as well as free parking. For more information visit their website




Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County – Los Angeles

Lions Natural History Museum Los Angeles County

Lions at the Natural History Museum Los Angeles County

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is a great choice for families any time of the year. Its exhibit galleries are large, open and spacious, so that even on a crowded day you can see many of the fantastic exhibits with their lifelike displays.  Adults and children alike enjoy exploring the realistic dioramas where they can see innumerable animals from all parts of the globe like elephants, bears, lions, monkeys, walruses, giraffes and much more up close. An impressive collection of dinosaur fossils and ancient sea creatures are also featured. The museum also has a Discovery Center where children can touch, dig, play and explore the countless objects and artifacts, as well as see live animal presentations and more. Admission as of 2012 is $12 (adults 18 and over), $8 (ages 13-17), $5 (ages 5-12) and free for children 4 and under. For more information visit their website

See also: Splendid Spooky Spiders at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County


Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits – Los Angeles

Page Museum La Brea Tarpits - mammoth

This mammoth at the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits moves and makes grunting noises

Want to see wooly mammoths and saber-toothed cats up close? The Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits is the perfect place to see these amazing animals who roamed our very own Los Angeles back in the last Ice Age. This museum makes an ideal visit for families because it’s small, spacious and engaging with great exhibits and a short informative 15-minute video presentation shown regularly throughout the day that takes visitors back to prehistoric Los Angeles when the many now fossilized animals – including mammoths, saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, ground sloths, and countless varieties of birds – got trapped and preserved in the tar that still seeps through the ground today. The museum also has a lush atrium with koi fish pond, and a glassed-walled lab for guests to watch the fossils being cleaned and prepared for exhibit. As of 2012 admission is $11.00 (adults), $8.00 (ages 13-17), $5.00 (ages 5-12) and free for children 4 and under. For more information visit their website



Santa Monica Pier – Santa Monica

Santa Monica Pier

The Santa Monica Pier stretches out over the shores of the Pacific Ocean

Sitting on the coast of the golden sands overlooking the endless Pacific Ocean, the Santa Monica Pier is great fun to visit for families. It boasts a small family amusement park - Pacific Park - with 12 exciting rides including a coaster, solar-powered Ferris wheel, a vintage carousel from 1922 inside a historical landmark building, and much more. The park also features 18 midway games where players try their skills at winning stuffed animals and other prizes. An assortment of shops and dining options from restaurants to smaller eateries and concession stands are enticingly situated. But best of all are the breathtaking views of the expansive glittering ocean under a regal sun. While entrance to the Santa Monica Pier is free, parking ranges from $6-$12 as of 2012. Guests can pay per ride or buy unlimited ride passes for $18.95 (ages 8 and over), $13.95 (ages 7 and under). For more information visit their website



South Coast Botanic Garden – Palos Verdes Peninsula

South Coast Botanic Garden - Turtle

A turtle sunning himself after a swim in the lake at the South Coast Botanic Garden

A visit to the enchanting South Coast Botanic Garden takes guests on meandering paths through lush landscaping, trees, colorful flowers, fragrant gardens, and a lake with ducks and turtles. Over 2,500 plant species from around the planet are featured, including those from as far as the Mediterranean, Africa and Australia. Plenty of wildlife with countless bird species can be seen. The nostalgic children’s garden is simply delightful with its nursery rhyme themes that include a yellow brick road and a cottage from Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Other highlights include a cactus garden, Japanese garden with koi pond, and stunning rose garden with over 300 varieties on display. As of 2012, parking is free with adult admission for $8, $6 for students with ID, $3 for children 5-12, and free for children 4 and under. For more information visit their website



Travel Town Museum – Los Angeles

Travel Town locomotive

The miniature train rides circle the perimeter of the park

For children and train enthusiasts of all ages, the Travel Town Museum is an absolute delight with free parking and free admission (voluntary donations in lieu of admissions are accepted). There are interesting exhibits with informative displays, vintage cars and dozens of railroad locomotives for climbing and exploring. Visitors can also go on the miniature train ride which tours the perimeter of the grounds, and check out the gift shop with railroad themed toys, clothes, book, snacks and beverages. For more information visit their website


Related Articles:

Top 10 Zoos on the West Coast USA
5 Top Los Angeles Museums for Families
Travel Town Museum: On the Right Track for Kids
Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

avatarAbout the Author:

Jocelyn Murray is a travel writer and historical fiction novelist. She holds two university master's degrees in both English and Education, along with a bachelor's degree in Economics and European Studies. She also has a teaching credential and taught at the elementary school level.

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