Family holidays in Los Angeles: Fun times in Tinseltown

Taking the kids? No worries. California’s biggest city might be known for exorbitant designer shopping and oh-so-swanky hotels, but there’s still plenty to fit a family budget. Watch surfer dudes ride the waves at a dozen free Los Angeles beaches. Shake your tail-feathers with Donald Duck at Disneyland.Or explore museums that are so much fun the kids will never guess they’re educational too.

LA’s great outdoors

If the sugary sands and glorious LA sunshine at Venice Beach don’t entertain the kids, the characters almost certainly will. Tattooed bikers and inline-skating musclemen challenge you not to gawp, while daredevil chainsaw jugglers risk life and limb to do precisely the opposite. Southern California surfing culture is legendary. Watch tanned longboarders ride the crests and shoot beneath the curls at Surfrider Beach and have a go yourself if you dare.

Los Angeles amusement parks

Disneyland may be nearly 60 years old but the world’s original mega theme park still has the power to thrill. Prepare for a drenching on Splash Mountain and try not to embarrass yourself by screaming the Haunted Mansion down in front of the kids. Instead, make their day by getting Mickey’s autograph and letting them stay up past bedtime for the pyrotechnic spectacular that is Fantasmic. Few travellers would willingly seek out the real Montezuma’s Revenge, but its namesake takes centre stage at Knotts Berry Farm theme park. This adrenaline-charged coaster hurls white-faced passengers from 0-88kmph in a stomach-churning three seconds. Don’t forget to scream.

Hollywood highs

The iconic white lettering of the HOLLYWOOD sign is synonymous with showbiz. Take a souvenir snap from across town or climb the footpath into the Hollywood Hills to view it up close in all its 15-metre-high glory. Or search for your favourite celebs along the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This galaxy of bronze stars honours such luminaries as Britney Spears, Big Bird, The Simpsons and some 4,500 others. Finish your walk at the grand pagodas of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. This elaborate 1927 movie palace recalls the glitter of the old silver screen and houses the handprints of Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart and many more famous palms, forever preserved in concrete.

At the movies

Celebrating long-dead movie icons is all well and good, but the kids probably couldn’t give a monkey’s who played Tarzan in the 1930s. Thankfully there’s modern movie magic in LA too. Explore recreated Main Street USA and let boy – and girl – wizards unleash their inner Harry Potters on backstage tours at Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros studios. At Universal Studios, trams tote visitors backstage for behind-the-scenes tours of the world’s largest studio, including movie sets and celebrity dressing rooms. Keep your eyes peeled for movie stars on filming breaks. Cap your visit with 3-D animated thrill rides and high-tech virtual roller coasters at the studio’s Hollywood-themed amusement park.

LA’s magical museums

Tess – a 15-metre-high animatronic woman – turns boring science into stimulating hands-on exploration at the popular California Science Center. Ancient fossilised life-forms entice even the most reluctant museum-goer at the La Brea Tar Pits. Like a real-life horror flick, the deep, bubbling pits lured and entrapped unwitting sabre-toothed tigers and mastodons for around 40,000 years. Rise above the terrestrial at Griffith Observatory, LA’s free space museum. Enter beneath bronze domes made famous by the James Dean classic Rebel Without a Cause, then explore the universe through oversized projection shows in the planetarium. While you’re there, shoot snaps of the Los Angeles skyline – the Griffith’s views of Tinseltown are among the best in town.