Parks and piers, art and stars in LA

The windmill chapel at Lake Shrine Temple, and Knott’s Berry Farm’s Soak City water park.
The windmill chapel at Lake Shrine Temple, and Knott’s Berry Farm’s Soak City water park.
By Stacey Collins
Globe Correspondent / November 29, 2009

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LOS ANGELES - This city, known as a haven for celebrities and surfers, is also a terrific destination for families, with an abundance of affordable activities.

As you would expect, for any tour of LA you’ll need a car. Pack flip-flops, shades, a sweater for the cool nights, and stay in Westside, the beach side of town. Following are traditional sites and some hidden gems to add to your itinerary.

Pacific Coast Highway is a must-do. As you drive north to Malibu, you’ll have mountainous rockface on your right and the Pacific whitecaps on your left. If you want to take a dip, plenty of beaches line the route. Or consider a hike or nature walk through the Santa Monica Mountains; the picturesque waterfall trail starts off Temescal Canyon Road.

The ride can be enlightening as well, with a visit to Lake Shrine Temple, built to honor world religions. Just off the highway, this tranquil spot houses a shrine to Ghandi. Take 20 minutes to walk around the man-made lake and inhale the scents of the lush garden. Icons of religions provide inspiration for all. George Harrison of the Beatles chose this sanctuary for his memorial service. Children enjoy feeding the koi fish and swans.

When you arrive in Malibu, there are plenty of lunch options. Paradise Cove is an ideal spot where you can enjoy your meal on the Adirondack chairs on the beach. A less expensive option is Malibu Seafood, with stunning views of the Pacific from the outside deck.

For any parent hoping to persuade children that museums are fun, the Getty Center is the place to go. Feast your eyes on the building’s architecture as you take the trolley up the hill. Inside, the “art detective cards’’ and hands-on activities make learning art an adventure. Lunch at the outside cafe, or bring a picnic and eat on the lawn near the central garden. Admission is free.

Another bargain is Santa Monica Pier. Here sounds of the amusement park mix with the crashing of the ocean and the screams of happy children. The rides will dangle you over the ocean, and the aquarium is worth a visit. The beach, just steps away, is the place for little ones with a pail and shovel or a boogie board, or they can cruise the bike path. Boogie boards, bikes, and roller blades are available to rent. Venice, home of popular Muscle Beach, is a mile south on the bike path. The popular 3rd Street Promenade shopping district is walking distance from the pier.

Any Boston sports fan ought to stop by Sonny McLean’s, headquarters for Red Sox Nation West. A friendly place that offers the charm of a Boston neighborhood pub, it is referred to as the “Massachusetts Embassy.’’ Images of Bobby Orr, Larry Bird, and Ted Williams adorn the walls. Video and basketball games provide entertainment for the children.

Later cruise Sunset Boulevard, past Bel Air mansions, or the landmark locations along the strip. Try Thai Town for terrific food at a great price. Or check out “Thai Elvis,’’ an impersonator who sings at the Palm Thai Restaurant while you dine.

Grauman’s Chinese Theater is where fans find their favorite actors’ sidewalk stars. A viewing deck upstairs gives you a look at the Hollywood sign. Out-of-work actors dressed up as “Star Wars’’ or other movie characters will try to coax you to pose with them, and they’ll expect a tip. Since this is a congested part of town, don’t plan to stay too long.

Not far from here is Griffith Observatory. There’s a world-class telescope and state-of-the-art planetarium, but the excitement starts on the drive up as you look over the foothills of Hollywood. The exhibits will spark young imaginations. Admission to the grounds and building is free, and there is a small fee for the educational films.

Of course, a visit wouldn’t be complete without the quintessential Hollywood experience: seeing the taping of a television show. Tickets are free, but it’s best to plan ahead. Visit to find children’s shows, such as Nickelodeon offerings. Bring sweaters because the studios are chilly.

For a theme park experience, Knotts Berry Farm is 40 miles south of the city. In addition to world-class coasters, it offers water parks and historical replicas. What was a farm now welcomes millions to its 185-acre park.

And a parting tip: Don’t try to spot celebrities. It’s said that the secret to catching sight of a star is not to be looking, and when you least expect it, that’s when you’ll get a glimpse.

Stacey Collins can be reached at

If You Go

What to do

Lake Shrine Temple

17190 Sunset Blvd. Pacific Palisades


Gardens and lake open Tuesday to Sunday.

The Getty Center

1200 Getty Center Drive


Open Tuesday to Sunday, closed Monday and some holidays.

Griffith Observatory

2800 East Observatory Ave.


Open Tuesday to Sunday.

Grauman’s Theater

6925 Hollywood Blvd.


Santa Monica Pier

1600 Ocean Front Walk

Santa Monica


Knotts Berry Farm

8039 Beach Blvd., Buena Park


Tickets $23-$53.

Where to stay

For listing of 25 hotels in Santa Monica offering the third night free.

Where to eat

Paradise Cove Beach Café

28128 Pacific Coast Highway Malibu


Lunch and dinner, $13-$30.

Malibu Seafood Fresh Fish Market and Patio Café

25653 Pacific Coast Highway Malibu


A la carte $3-$6.

Sonny McLean’s Irish Pub

2615 Wilshire Blvd. Santa Monica


Appetizers $7-$12. Entrees and pizza $10-$17.