Summer has begun and I am getting into a routine with my 4 year old who has been out of school for awhile now. I find summer magical and I want to take advantage of all of the fun free events, summer only activities and day trips! Next year he will formally start school and so my weekday trips will be limited to holidays and now weekends. I made a list of places that are FREE this summer and my ideal day trips for a fun pLAycation! Some of these events are only offered during the summer so I will make sure to specify which ones! And I am all about sharing is caring so message me if you know of other places, opportunities and day trips that I need to visit.
Summer around SoCal and FREE:
- Utilize your local public libraries – each library (county or city) offer summer reading challenges (with prizes), story time, movies, themed events, and some even offer free lunch (LA branches here for a complete list). I love visiting the library on a weekly basis during the summer and meeting my local families! I’ve always gotten a magical feeling about libraries since I was little and it’s only gotten better as a parent.
- Concerts/Movies at the Park – Most large city parks offer concerts/movies on the green only in the summer. Grab a blanket, picnic dinner and make your way over to an evening of fun entertainment. I love exposing a variety of musical genres to my kids. We recently watched a U2 cover band and now that’s what the kids want to listen to daily.
- Hollywood Bowl – FREE! Say what?!?! The LA Philharmonic offer public rehearsals so you can take the little ones over early (starting the second week in July, Tuesday-Thursday) starting at 9am until about noon. Bring your breakfast and listen to a free performance. Parking is literally in front too, so I always feel like VIP when I go!
- Unique Parks – Marina Park in Newport Beach, Barn in Whittier, Heritage Park in both Santa Fe Springs and Cerritos (same name but very different), All Inclusive Park in Huntington Beach (Ninth St. on the beach) – All of these parks are amazing in their own way and FREE! Pack a lunch, blanket and head over to one of these fabulous parks for hours of fun and exercise.
- Zuma Beach (Malibu) and Annenburg Community Beach House (Santa Monica) – Two kid-friendly beaches that have clean bathrooms and parking! But make sure to get there early because they are popular with families. Annenburg has a splash pad, pool and playground so plan to be here all day!
- Bowling – Kids Bowl Free provides a list of places that offer free bowling across California during the summer! Coupons are available on their app! This is such a fun and family friendly activity.
- College/University visit – Seriously colleges and universities are hidden gems and an untapped resource for families! Don’t wait until you apply or tour colleges in high school to visit, go now! There are so many free museums and events that take place in a college/university. Pack your breakfast or lunch and go explore inside buildings, campus museums, botanical gardens, eat on the student lawn, or watch a game. There is so much to do on a college campus!
- Getty Villa/Getty Center – These two art museums are worth a visit or two during the summer. The experience of visiting different exhibits, walking through gardens, and experiencing some of the kid-friendly activities/events are amazing. You only need to pay for parking. Sign up for Getty 360 where you learn about the events available for free. Upcoming family activities include: Making Mosaics (July 13th), Build-A-Beast (July 14th), and Garden Concerts for Kids (series starts in August).
- Los Angeles County Museum of Art – Do you know you can enroll your child (infant-17) for a free LACMA membership and you can get in free with them? Sign up at the museum and you don’t need to be an LA resident to join, anyone can! So if you know someone who is planning their LA trip tell them to stop by LACMA for a free visit! What an awesome opportunity to check out art work and its FREE! Visit the Boone Children’s Gallery to interact and create your own art. Have you ever read the children’s book Olivia? Ever since I read it I see art from a child’s lens and I’m inspired to take them to see art and then come home to create our own.
- Griffith Park Observatory – Does your child love space or do you want to foster a love for astronomy? Visit the Griffith Park Observatory for the whole family. Check out the planetarium, space exhibits and walk to the terrace to get a great view of LA and the Hollywood sign! Not only is it free but if you want to make a day trip out of it there’s a ton more to do around the observatory!
Day Trips – And speaking of day trips!! Here is a list of some day field trips you can take to maximize any trip especially if you are making the trek through LA traffic! I just did one to Newport Beach from the valley and we had a great time! There are a couple on the list that I haven’t done but I’m planning on doing this summer.
- Kid’s World, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Cal Lutheran University and Cake Monkey (Ventura County). Okay so Cake Monkey is at the LA County line, but its en route to Kid’s World and probably some of the best pastries I have tried. So If you are making a day trip, here are four places to visit that are near to each other. Kid’s World is one of the largest indoor playgrounds I have been to and we loved it! Spend a good three hours here and have lunch because the food is really good! The Da Vinci exhibit is now available at the Ronald Reagan Library along with an Air Force One tour! You can always check out Cal Lutheran University for a picnic, stroll and free event! Like I mentioned earlier, visiting a college/university is always a plus!
- America’s Teaching Zoo – Is a hidden gem located in Moorpark. I can’t get enough of this place and every time I visit I fall in love with it even more. Run by students, the zoo animals were misplaced, rescued or retired and can’t go back into the wild. They engage with visitors and educate us wildlife and ways we can help. I love that it is small so it feels doable to take our time, attend an animal show, take the behind the scenes tour and engage with the close encounters.
- Descanzo Gardens (Flintridge) – This is on my list of places to visit this summer. I have heard some amazing things about Descanzo Gardens. The story time, concerts, flowers in bloom, variety of gardens and overall ambiance is supposed to be great.
- Griffith Park – Shakespeare Festival – This is another Free option! There are two Family Nights scheduled in July (Sunday, July 14th and August 25th) that provide additional activities for the kids. The plays begin at 7pm and are located at the Old Zoo in Griffith Park. But as I mentioned above, taking a day trip to Griffith Park is filled with awesome things to do – train rides, zoo visits, planetariums, Autry Museum, and a Shane’s Inspiration playground.
- Children’s museums – Do you know the new Cayton Children’s Museum in Santa Monica is opening this weekend? I am excited to visit! It is located in Santa Monica Place so visit some shops and restaurants during your visit or a short walk to the boardwalk! If you can’t make it to Santa Monica there are two other children’s museums that I love Pretend City (Irvine) and Kidspace (Pasadena). Both are very different but respectfully amazing! Pretend City has a list of fun events happening during the month of July especially Space Week! Take a trip to the Irvine Spectrum for lunch and then return for some more pretend play. And once it gets hot, Kidspace is awesome for their water stream area and indoor play space.
- Ventura Country Fair – I have hears that this is such an amazing fair to attend. It’s walking distance from the beach, there’s awesome entertainment and activities. While exploring their website I came across their Reading is FUN-damental program. So since the fair doesn’t open until July 31st, you have a month to read. The Ventura County Fair invites students to earn free carnival rides through their “Read & Ride” program for kindergarten through 8th grade students. The fairgrounds is near Marina Park and the Channel Islands Visitor Center which is supposed to have some great things to see.
- Zoomars Petting Zoo and San Juan Capistrano Mission – Take a trip south on the Metrolink to San Juan Capistrano! Visit the mission where they are offering summer kids’ crafts for $5. Then head over to Zoomars, a western experience, where there’s a variety of things to do. Their attractions include: playground, petting zoo (you can feed the animals), panning for gold, hay maze, and mini train ride. There are plenty of restaurants nearby like Ruby’s Diner!
- Aquarium of the Pacific, water taxi and lighthouse visit – When I relocated back to LA from Boston, the first place I had a membership to was the Aquarium of the Pacific (Long Beach). It is such an amazing aquarium that is entertaining and educational for all ages. I love that over the past 2 years, they have developed the area and there is so much to do. There is a great water taxi ride that you can take around there. Behind the aquarium is a trail that leads to a lighthouse which is perfect for a scenic walk with kids. There are plenty of dining options too so you can stay all day.
- Rocket Fever – Columbia Memorial Space Center, Donas and Portos – Rocket Fever has to be the best event and hidden gem across SoCal, well if you are big into STEM! It is a FREE event hosted at the Columbia Space Center in Downey. Children receive a rocket and access to the museum, along with other goodies. You can have your rocket launched by paying $5 for the motor, but it is worth it (and you get it back). There’s an amazing space ship bounce house and a ton of vendors. While you visit the museum, there are a ton of crafts and activities for children. Making the trek? Stop by Donas for some deliciously decorated donuts, and for lunch stop by Portos for some cuban sandwiches. Side note: We fell in love with this place that we rented it out for our sons’ Star Wars themed birthday party. And it happened to be one of the most affordable options in the area.
- Santa Barbara Zoo and the beach – I can’t get enough of the SB Zoo! It overlooks the ocean with a breeze and some friendly animals that you can actually see closer than other zoos. I’ve done a day trip here with a couple of other moms and it worked out nicely. We arrived by 10am and left by 4pm and it was fine. I wish I would have taken a stroll to the beach since its literally right next to the zoo. You can leave your car in the parking lot and walk right into the beach. But as the days will get hot, this is a great outdoor option since it is cool and you can escape the LA heat.