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Trains at Griffith Park

Los Angeles County
Trains at Griffith Park
All aboard these family-friendly train experiences in Griffith Park

This massive urban park gives youngsters not one, but three, chances to ride trains. (Well, make that four, if you count the L.A. Zoo’s Choo Choo.) Tucked in Griffith Park’s northwest corner, you’ll find Travel Town, a transport museum focusing on the history of the Western railroad thru the 1930s. With dozens of vintage train cars lining the campus, some dating as far back as 1880, it’s an impressive collection for any locomotive lover.

For $3, guests can ride a miniature train twice around the mostly outdoor museum’s perimeter. With just one tunnel it may not be a long excursion, but the close encounters with real-live steam engines (including one that kids can climb) and a gift shop stocked with train-related items (like Thomas the Tank Engine toys) make the trip worthwhile. Be sure to wander to the back of one of the buildings: There you’ll find an observation window where, on the weekends, your little ones can stand nose-to-glass while rail hobbyists skillfully assemble a teeny-tiny model railroad and its surrounding California landscape.

Next to Travel Town is an independently run facility, L.A. Live Steamers. Only open on Sundays, guests can ride for free (with a suggested donation of $3) on miniature trains, maintained by local train clubs, which snake through tunnels and go by shrunken towns. (Note to parents: These trains are of a smaller scale—riders straddle the seats rather than sit on benches—so there’s a height minimum of 34 inches.)

Don’t miss Walt Disney’s barn, which was transported from the backyard of his Holmby Hills property in 1998. The barn, where the famous rail enthusiast built and maintained his own train collection, is only open on the third Sunday of every month from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

If you’re only in it for the ride, then head straight to Griffith Park & Southern Railroad near the park’s south entrance. Kids can board one of two miniature train reproductions with kitschy names: the Colonel Griffith or the Freedom Train. From there, they’ll wind along a mile of track over bridges, past meadows and grazing ponies, and through an Old Western town. Be sure to look for statues of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, greeting passersby from outside their cottage.  

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JB Lumix/Getty Images

Spotlight: Griffith Park

Los Angeles County
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As the largest municipal park in Los Angeles, Griffith Park protects 4,511 acres of mountains and canyons at the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountains. It’s a remarkable stretch of rough, hilly wilderness in the heart of an enormous urban area—and it’s also home to a wealth of culture.

Want to hike? Choose from more than 50 miles of trails lacing the chaparral-studded slopes, including one to the top of 1,625-foot Mount Hollywood, the park’s highest point. Another trail takes you to the site of the Old Zoo, where you can explore animal enclosures that have been abandoned and untouched for over 50 years. Unpaved roads also provide access for mountain bikers and trail rides; guided rides out of Sunset Ranch include great views of the Hollywood sign.

Griffith Park has a more refined side, too. Learn about American western art at the Autry Museum of the American West. Leading musicians love to play at the open-air Greek Theatre. Kids can get close-up looks at koalas and Komodo dragons at the Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens. And high on a slope overlooking Los Angeles, the landmark Art Deco-era Griffith Observatory gives you a window to the cosmos.

The sprawling public park is now well known for its cameo in 2016’s smash hit La La Land—actors Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone begin their epic dance scene twirling on one of Griffith Park’s hilltops as city lights twinkle below (more on this later). But the public park has been around for generations. It was an eccentric mining tycoon, Colonel Griffith J. Griffith, who in 1896 donated over 3,000 acres of his Rancho Los Felis to the City of Los Angeles. It was a Christmas gift to be used as “a place of rest and relaxation for the masses.” Since Griffith’s original contribution, bits and pieces have been added to the park, which now attracts more than 10 million visitors a year.

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Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens

Los Angeles County
Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens
Close encounters with exotic animals

No time for an African safari or Amazon adventure? Then take a walk on the wild side at this remarkable—and remarkably varied--attraction in L.A.’s Griffith Park. Explore tropical habitats at Rainforest of the Americas, and observe chimps in a natural setting of waterfalls, palm trees, and rock formations in Chimpanzees of Mahale Mountains. (World-renowned primatologist Jane Goodall praised the chimps’ digs as one of the world’s outstanding zoo habitats.)

The L.A. Zoo is home to more than 1,100 animals, including 29 endangered species. Get close-up (but safe) looks at spectacular Sumatran tigers, deadly Komodo dragons, and bright orange orangutans. The zoo is also a horticultural paradise with more than 7,500 individual plants. And, as you’ll discover in the kid-friendly California Condor Rescue Zone, it has played a key role in bringing the iconic California condor back from the brink of extinction.

Insider’s tip: Go nose-to-nose with a rhino at the zoo’s Indian Rhino Encounter.