Where did Chloe want to travel to for her special 10th birthday trip? When it was her turn her big sister Sabrina had chosen Paris; for Chloe, it wasn’t the City of Light or London or Beijing or Rome. Nope. For her it was closer to home: LA.
The first thing when planning a family trip is to find a destination enjoyable for all, and Chloe’s excitement about Los Angeles — more specifically, Hollywood — and even more specifically seeing the Hollywood sign, meant that we were off to a great start.
Choosing destinations can be dicey, but one solution is to have kids make a list, and whatever connects with your interests is a winner. Plan to leave time for rest and for surprises. Compromises are good, but if all enjoy the activity they may not even be needed. Eat comfortably and casually. Throw in a bit of culture if you can. Provide ability to take photos — but don’t let it get in the way of the moment. Break rules on treats and hours. Emphasize safety and courtesy, but otherwise, loosen up. And try to think like the young companion you’re with.
Then, choose family-friendly lodging near where you’ll be exploring. In my case it was near Universal Studios Hollywood. I could have chosen one of the popular chains near Universal, like Sheraton or Hilton, which have big pools, and lots of kid-friendly amenities. But I dug deeper and found a one-of-a-kind, family-friendly, retro-glam hotel near all the Hollywood good stuff: The Garland.
The low-rise hotel is set on seven acres centered on a lush pool, near where they serve good, fresh food on a patio with lights in the trees and outdoor movies at night. The Garland also has a comp shuttle to nearby Universal and the nearest metro — a big plus. I splurged on a suite to allow for some alone time, with a dining table and fridge and a private alcove just for Chloe with her own desk and TV.
Here’s our six-day itinerary, leaving down time and chances for serendipity, and geared to her desires. Long enough to get a good idea of LA, but short enough to leave Chloe wanting more.
Day 1, Saturday
Arrive at hotel from LAX to put away bags, swim a bit, relax. Chloe chose to decorate her area of the suite with a few familiar things she brought along. I had bought her an I Love LA tee at the airport and she couldn’t wait to put it on. She was getting comfy.
We grab our picnic dinners bought at the airport, some layers for the cool evening, and Uber to the close-by outdoor Hollywood Bowl to see the musical “Mamma Mia!” (her sought-after Hollywood sign can be seen in the background — a bonus, and a kick-off to the trip).
Day 2, Sunday
We sleep in, then Uber at 10 am to the Magic Castle for brunch. This is the official private club for magicians. You need to book ahead, and we were lucky that teen magicians from around the world were performing that day. A potential David Copperfield performed sleight-of-hand a few feet away while we ate delish pancakes. Irma the ghost who plays the piano and answers questions through the keyboard was a special hit.
We might have spent the afternoon walking around Malibu Pier, or visiting La Brea Tar Pits, but Chloe wanted to swim at the pool — and so she did. I reminded myself throughout the trip that she will be back to LA, and right now it is all about feeling comfy, relaxed and happy.
At 6:30: A surprise! Always good to have one. Because she had a thing about The Hollywood Sign I splurged and booked a 15-minute helicopter ride out of Burbank airport, not far from the hotel. She rode shotgun, taking photos. Win-win: not only a closeup, but also her first helicopter ride.
A casual dinner at the hotel, and after, Chloe was inspired to try out several magic tricks, inspired by our magical brunch.
Day 3, Monday
Universal Studios all day. If you can afford it, front-of-the-line tickets are a blessing. Other ways to save time and avoid crowds are to go on a weekday — never on a holiday if you can help it, and experience the most popular attractions early or late. Crowds thin after mid-afternoon, and since the park is open through the evening you might skew that way.
Favorite was The Studio Tour, an hour of back-lot info and a bunch of scary, creative encounters, some in 3D. A brush-up of Harry Potter helps for you as well as your kid.
We had a casual early dinner at Universal CityWalk, and then arrived at iFly indoor skydiving. They show a safety video, suit you up and give you a few minutes of faux skydiving in a clear cylinder where passersby can watch. Big hit. I sat this one out.
Day 4, Tuesday
We Ubered to the hop on/off Starline bus, and toured Hollywood and Beverly Hills. We could have spent all day going wherever else we wanted to see, but it was hot on the top deck of the double-decker, so after two hours we opted out of the transfer to the Santa Monica bus, and instead cooled off with a drink where we began, at the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Tonight, dinner was on the patio at the hotel; then Chloe swam with other kids, enjoyed the fitness room, and watched tv in her nook.
Day 5, Wednesday
Chloe decided to get up early to have an hour with a fitness trainer along with lots of adults, and then went back to sleep until almost lunchtime. She then wanted to go back to see all the rest of the 2,600 stars on the Walk of Fame. We managed see about a thousand, and it didn’t seem to matter much that she didn’t know who most of them represented! We also saw movie memorabilia at The Hollywood Museum and hundreds of handprints and footprints in front of the Chinese Theater.
We dined again at the hotel (the food and setting were special enough for encores), then swimming, soaking in the hot tub, and watching Star Wars al fresco.
Day 6, Thursday
We relaxed at the hotel with a late check out, reflecting on the week. It was all about Chloe’s special birthday. Leaving in the afternoon from LAX, Chloe declared “LA was AWESOME!” And it was for me too.