Don't get me wrong. I love me some mouse ears and have Main Street nostalgia, but every trip to Southern California need not be all about Mickey. As a native California girl, I grew up experiencing L.A.'s finest kid encounters, including those beyond Disneyland. Here you'll find a sampling of the many vacation options to experience with your family in the Los Angeles area, along with insider tips for saving time and money while in Southern California.
Travel Town at Griffith Park
Travel Town is one of L.A.'s hidden gems, located just a stone's throw from Warner Bros., NBC and Disney Studios in Burbank, Calif. At Travel Town, the kids can explore the rich railroad history of Southern California while they climb and experience hands-on entertainment aboard historic passenger cars. At the end of your journey, catch a ride on the miniature train for only a few bucks and enjoy lunch under the shade of a tree.
Insider tip: Griffith Park is also home to famous trails with views of the Hollywood sign. Try to avoid the hike during peak summer heat, and always bring plenty of water. Other activities inside Griffith Park include the Griffith Observatory, the Museum of the American West and the Los Angeles Zoo.
True, Newport Beach is south of Los Angeles in Orange County, but it is one of the best coastal locations you'll find in Southern California. If you can't help but make a stop at the Happiest Place on Earth, then Newport is the perfect place to unwind after all that "happiness."
Enjoy a day watching the surf, building sandcastles and spotting dolphins playing in the waves. Bring a picnic lunch, plenty of water and sunscreen, and relax with the family.
Insider tip: Weekdays in Newport are your best bet to avoid crowds. Drive past the pier a mile or two and you'll find ample street parking in Newport's residential neighborhood. Park for free curbside and walk a block or two toward the beach. Secluded pathways, narrowly tucked between beach cottages, make you feel you're stepping into a private yard — but these beaches are all public.
William S. Hart Ranch and Museum
Located in historic Newhall, about 40 minutes north of Los Angeles, you'll find history living on. William S. Hart Ranch is named after a famous actor of the silent film era. You can tour Hart's mansion and ranch home for free. Inside the Spanish Colonial Revival-style mansion, you'll find original furnishings, early Hollywood memerobilia, Native American artifacts and a collection of Western art.
Insider tip: Be prepared for a short hike up a dirt trail to visit the mansion.
Six Flags Magic Mountain
One of the best thrill parks in the country is located in Valencia, Calif., which neighbors the William S. Hart Ranch and Museum in Newhall. Roller coaster enthusiasts will not be disappointed with more than a dozen massive thrill rides to choose from at Six Flags Magic Mountain. Take advantage of the "parent swap" if you have little ones sitting out the big coasters. Magic Mountain also has a fantastic kids area with rides for even the littlest thrill seekers and family rides for all ages.
Insider tip: Check for discount rates on Six Flags Magic Mountain's website. Sometimes ordering group tickets can give you a significant discount even if you don't use every ticket. Save time getting there by exiting the Interstate 5 freeway before Magic Mountain Parkway. Try using McBean Parkway or Valencia Boulevard as an alternative exit.
Los Angeles and Southern California have tons of entertainment, with a good amount of it free or at moderate cost, to offer vacationing families. While this is only a small sample, it gives you a taste of what a true local likes to do in L.A. with kids and a family in tow. The cool California scene offers experiences for families of every age, any time of year.
Jessica Sanders is a wife and mom who loves to write and travel, and write about travel.