Los Angeles: A surprisingly great place for a quick family getaway. Three days is all you need to see a little bit of everything.
LOS ANGELES – Looking for a great warm-weather getaway that includes sun, sand, sea, and a James Beard Award-winning taco truck or two? Search no further than Los Angeles, one of my favorite spots for kids and grown-ups alike. And remember: No matter what the weather is where you are right now, it's always summer in LA.
Los Angeles is usually an easy place to get to with frequent flyer miles, which saves a nice penny. Once you've landed at LAX, with its Jetsons-esque control tower, head straight for the Fairmont Miramar in seaside Santa Monica. Less well known than nearby Shutters and Casa del Mar hotels, the Miramar offers the perfect mix of old Hollywood (bungalows and industry types taking meetings on the patio) and proximity to the beach. The property is off Ocean Boulevard, just five minutes from the Santa Monica Pier (aka Kid Heaven) and the hotel's fully-staffed beach cabanas, where you'll feel secluded amidst tall palms and relative calm.
DAY 1: The Warm-Up
If you're living large, book a bi-level bungalow. They're perfect for families and offer multiple terraces for swimsuit drying and picnics of decadent room service pancakes. The pool area is, of course, key for any kid, and the Miramar's amorphous version — complete with hot tub — doesn't disappoint. Ditto Fig Restaurant, which is twenty feet from the pool area. Hotel restaurant haters out there, stop your eyerolling and prepare for foodie greatness. Chef Ray Garcia's creative take on the classic California chopped salad features only fresh, organic, locally grown ingredients from the nearby Santa Monica Farmers Market. Everyone will love simple grilled cheese (gruyère or cheddar with tomato jam), pasta-less lasagna, and BLTs that are beyond compare.
After idling and eating, you'll want to take it off-campus. I find the best days with children include a mix of culture, playgrounds, and delicious food. Head up shop-lined Montana Avenue to the outdoor mini-mall Brentwood Country Mart. "Mini-mall" may be a stretch: Reese Witherspoon buys her trendy cover-ups and artisinal ice cream cones here. Kids will love pony rides in the parking lot on weekends and fish tacos and fries in the "food court." I stock up on tiny Tretorn tennies at Poppy Store, possibly my favorite children's store in the United States. A one-stop shop for toys, gifts, and basics, Poppy carries a perfectly edited mix of tasteful European brands (like England's Caramel Baby and Child) and American originals — all perfectly packaged, too. Kids will be distracted by the 25-cent ride-on toys outside the shop's window (talk about a throwback), allowing parents time to shop in peace.
Finish your day at Pizzeria Mozza, Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton's Hollywood hotspot with the best pies on the planet. Top the killer crust with the basics (margherita for beginners) or squash blossoms and speck for more sophisticated palates. This spot packs quickly, so book online if possible or suck it up and endure the line. If you have room for dessert, swing by Menchie's on the way back to the hotel for DIY frozen yogurt creations, complete with 40 colorful candy toppings.
DAY 2: A Malibu Mindset
Start with breakfast at Cora's Coffee Shoppe, a sweet local hangout with Illy cappuccino, blueberry-banana-orange smoothies, and burrata caprese omelettes. Once you're appropriately fortified, head north up the Pacific Coast Highway for a day in picturesque Malibu. Make reservations at the kid-friendly Getty Center and Villa and roam the endless gardens that overlook the Pacific Ocean. All ages will be mesmerized by the museum's Greek and Roman treasures and collections of armor, coins, and beautiful photography by Atget and Walker Evans, among others.
After so much fresh air and light, you'll want to pack it in early. The best, old-school supper in town is at Ivy by the Shore (1535 Ocean Avenue; 310-393-3113) in Santa Monica. Ask for patio seating and feast on American classics with a SoCal flair: more chopped vegetable salads, pizzas, and decadent sundaes. Added bonus: The kitschy Hawaiian theme provides built-in entertainment for kids while parents people-watch. Stroll over to the twinkling Santa Monica Pier, which comes alive at sunset, before heading back to your hotel oasis.
DAY 3: Go Glam
When in LA, give in to its twin cultural pillars: celebrity and sunshine. A perfect third and final day includes breakfast to go from Huckleberry Cafe and Bakery. Who knew that star sightings pair so perfectly with prosciutto-stuffed croissants and Niman Ranch bacon-maple biscuits? (Huckleberry's new offshoot, Milo + Olive, serves delicious wood-fired pizzas, locally sourced everything, and great wines by the glass.) Head up Wilshire Boulevard to the eclectic Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), so kids can explore the Boone Children's Gallery before hitting the Page Museum and its oozing, prehistoric La Brea Tar Pits.
That's enough looking and learning. Time to repair to the Beverly Hills Hotel for a little lunch and Polo Lounge-ing. The pink landmark has verdant grounds, secluded spots for hide and seek, and one seriously glamorous pool scene. Your biggest decision here will be where to eat, and you'll want to let the kids tiumph with their choice: The Fountain Coffee Room, a 1950s gem of an old-fashioned soda fountain with bar stools, great burgers, malts, and floats. The only things missing are Bogey and Bacall and Lucy and Desi.
If you have energy to burn, make your last stop Griffith Park, a massive play space that is home to the Los Angeles Zoo, the Griffith Observatory, pony rides, a miniature train system, the Greek Theatre, and much more. Rent bikes to reach the merry-go-round built in 1926 near the Los Feliz entrance, where all 68 horses are jumpers wearing bejeweled bridles. How can you not love LA?
PLAN YOUR TRIP
Popupla's Los Angeles Guide: For hotels, restaurants, shops, sites, itineraries, and more.
See all the locations in this story. (Google Maps)
Photos: Courtesy of Poppy Store; Christina Ohly.