Oddball Los Angeles: Attractions for Kids Weird at Heart

It can be difficult to find entertainment that appeals to the whole family, especially if yours has a broad variety of interests and tastes. In Los Angeles, the best antidote to this inertia-causing obstruction is to go weird.

The city’s penchant for food-shaped buildings, illogical museums, celebrity grave sites, and themed restaurants can be a little disturbing – or intensely interesting to a child’s amazing imagination, a teen’s sense of irony, and Pops’ sense of nostalgia. So have fun!

Warning: Suggesting any of the following attractions has been known to elicit a vague “huh?” from most family members.

Watch and Learn

The first destination for people-watching (which can in itself get quite weird) is Venice Beach, known to some as “Muscle Beach”. If you don’t see an insanely ripped body builder or a silver-painted robot man within the first ten minutes, you’ve probably gone to the wrong beach. In this alternate universe, it’s perfectly acceptable for your kids to stop, stare, and point. So enjoy the bad manners, funky sunglasses, and “bad elements” of society. Don’t worry, they’re harmless.

Watch puppets (marionettes, that is) parade around a stage with extraordinary agility at Bob Baker’s Marionette Theater. The theater’s founder, Bob Baker, was once an animation supervisor for Disney and a puppeteer for movies like Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. And now you – yes you – can see his musical theater performances nightly!

For a different kind of dinner show, head over to the Magic Castle, where the Academy of Magical Arts hosts dinner shows for members and guests of the adjacent Magic Castle Hotel. Kids are invited to matinee shows on weekends (yes, members take things that seriously) so plan your visit here carefully.

An Alternate Education

It’s not just spur-of-the-moment oddities that make Los Angeles weird. Actually, a number of the strangest corners of the city have been memorialized with museum exhibits and displayed proudly for the world to see.

No description does justice to the bizarre collection of obscure artifacts that make up the Museum of Jurassic Technology. Your whole family will find displays about killer birds, portraits of Russian space dogs, diatribes about alien encounters in Victorian times, and artifacts from mobile home parks equally confusing and fascinating. This is a “don’t miss” for older kids and teens, requiring a lot of reading comprehension – and a fair dose of skepticism.

The “mainstream” version of Jurassic, geared towards younger kids and grandparents, is Ripley’s Believe it Or Not! Museum in Hollywood. Displays still tend towards the questionable, but the shrunken heads, vampire killing kits, and scrap metal sculptures are a little more obvious in their “unbelievable” nature. All in all, this makes a great stop for curious minds.

Cross the street in Hollywood for even more oddball entertainment: The Hollywood Wax Museum produces not-quite-lifelike statues of celebrities that are great for photo-ops, but won’t fool most of your friends back home. Still, their curious quality qualifies this as a star attraction for odditorium addicts.

End your museum tour – if you dare – at the Museum of Death, a Hollywood homage to serial killers, cult leaders, and the great crime scene photographers. You can even watch a recruiting video for the Heaven’s Gate Cult. It’s a great way to sour your depressive teenager on the idea that death is cool. Fair warning: This is not for the faint of heart or the squeamish (or young!) child.

Shopping on the Edge

Step into the Old World at the Alpine Village, a quaint Bavarian town in a southeast Los Angeles suburb. A real German bakery and butcher, antique stores, clock repair (to get you on German time), and an importer of European products have all set up shop in the simple white huts with crossed wooden beams. If you didn’t know better, you’d think you had crossed the Atlantic. . .

Back in America, find your vintage threads and Halloween costumes at Junk for Joy, a Burbank outfitter renowned by Hollywood costume shoppers, hipsters, and grandparents. For the child who likes to play dress-up, this is heaven.

Stylish Eateries

No list of the absurd is complete without a mention of Clifton’s Cafeteria, one of the most nostalgic themed restaurants in the city. Spoken of in hushed tones and with a dreamy smile, Clifton’s has been undergoing a three-year-long renovation since its original owners, who had been in the restaurant business in Los Angeles for over one hundred years, sold.

The 1935 cafeteria, which served as an inspiration to the likes of one Walt Disney, has sold meatballs and Jell-O to a voracious family crowd for generations in the Yosemite-themed interior forest. Complete with pine trees, stuffed black bears, gophers, a nature chapel, and three additional floors of vintage wallpaper and art deco atmosphere, this palace of kitsch is a bona fide legend in its own right. And you can still get meatloaf, mac and cheese, or spaghetti any day of the week.

In a Disney-esque corner of downtown, you’ll find St. Vincent’s Court  in a small alley off of 7th Street between Broadway and Hill Streets, less than a block from Clifton’s. The oversized facades of French, Turkish, Italian, Chinese, and Greek eateries provide a plethora of options for your picky kids, while still exposing them to new foods.

Keeping within the Downtown area, make your way to The Original Pantry for a midnight (or early morning) pancake. As the city’s oldest 24-hour diner (it hasn’t locked the door since 1924), it’s a rare breed in a city of early dinners. Check it out on that jet lagged night when the kids can’t sleep in, and your hotel’s continental breakfast looks especially disgusting. The theme here is diner fare, but it is The Original – so it holds up to its own standard.

For more theme than your kids can handle (call ahead to see if the show is 21+ or all ages), check out the mother of all Spanish flamenco-themed Mexican-American restaurants, El Cid. Yes, they do have flamenco dinner shows; they also have silent film screenings, short film nights, cover bands, burlesque, and mountains of atmosphere.

Love visiting oddball locations around the world? Share some of your favorites (in and out of Los Angeles) in the comments below!

Cover by photogolfer/Shutterstock. Venice Beach by View Apart/shutterstock. Clifton's Cafeteria by la.curbed.com. El Cid Flamenco Dancer by lifeabsorbed.com.

Tags : travel   Los Angeles   California   

Elodie Nilsson
LOVE the Museum of Jurassic Technology!! Also kids book author's kooky shop - The Time Travel Mart in Echo Park...so fun for the kids!