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THE CREME DE L.A. CREME | Family

Do Disneyland, Then Diversify

Beyond the well-known theme parks are attractions that brim with entertaining and educational opportunities.

August 10, 2000|SUSAN FREUDENHEIM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Anyone who comes to Southern California with kids knows the one place you have to go: Disneyland. Some parents may think it's outdated or out of touch, but it's not. Disneyland remains one of the best theme parks in the country, and despite the enormous crowds that descend on the Anaheim park daily, the park is still fun to visit and manageable most days. Recent visitors have been raving about the current fireworks show, "Believe . . . There's Magic in the Stars," but more important than any ride or attraction is the new fast-pass system, which cuts down on the long lines by assigning guests a time for some of the most popular rides: Space and Splash mountains, Roger Rabbit's Cartoon Spin, Indiana Jones and the new Autopia.

Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, Universal Studios Hollywood and Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia all have their fans, as do the various water parks, which include Knott's Soak City U.S.A. (Buena Park), Hurricane Harbor (a Magic Mountain spinoff), Wild Rivers (Irvine) and Raging Waters (San Dimas), but more out-of-the-ordinary fun, particularly for families with smaller kids, can be had at San Diego's SeaWorld and Legoland (just north of San Diego, in Carlsbad).

SeaWorld seamlessly mixes big-thrill entertainment with science, and killer whale Shamu remains irresistible. Legoland may be geared to kids younger than 7 or 8, but it allows visitors to indulge the Legomania that seems to be ageless, wows with re-creations of landmarks from the Eiffel Tower to the Hollywood Bowl made exclusively from the colorful tiny blocks, and still provides some chills with small-scale rides that are nonthreatening.

For families with children 5 and under, affordable Adventure City in Buena Park is another perfect way to spend half a day or so. A manageable 10 short rides allow for multiple repeat experiences--always popular with the toddler set--and almost all of the attractions allow adults to ride sidesaddle. Also on a small scale, but geared toward an older set, is the enormously popular Santa Monica Pier. For a place with so few rides and arcades, there's a lot of energy on the pier. It's as much fun just to eat ice cream and watch some of the sideshows as it is to ride the Ferris wheel, which still provides one of the best views of Southern California. An often-overlooked hidden treasure just under the pier is the UCLA Ocean Discovery Center, a mini-aquarium that is rich in activities and touch tanks for small children.

There's plenty of educational entertainment suitable for families in and around L.A., from the world-famous San Diego Zoo and sister site Wild Animal Park to the much smaller L.A. Zoo in Griffith Park or the relatively new Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific and the California Science Center in Exposition Park, just south of downtown. The aquarium, on a beach site across from the landmark Queen Mary, has a new 2,500-square-foot gallery dedicated just to jellyfish, for example, and its many tunnels inside packed tanks provide an exciting fish-eye view of the world.

The Science Center should be a must-visit for anyone with elementary school-age children; not only are the interactive exhibits fun and smart, but the shows presented throughout each day are innovative enough to keep even the most distractable kids engaged as they're learning.

For a hike or bike or horse ride, a game of golf or an evening at an outdoor amphitheater, there's nothing like Griffith Park, the 5-square-mile mountainous strip that stretches from Hollywood to Glendale and Burbank to Los Feliz. An estimated 10 million visitors come to the park each year, but at five times the size of New York's Central Park, Griffith Park is too big to really get crowded, except on some of the main traffic thoroughfares. An old-fashioned carousel and pony rides are popular attractions, as are the zoo, the train center known as Travel Town and the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, where kids can not only learn about cowboy life, but also dress in vintage costumes.

Much more civilized, but still a great outdoor activity for kids of all ages is a trip to Descanso Gardens in La Canada Flintridge and/or the gardens of the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino. At each, the landscaping is vast, varied and beautiful, and there's room for kids to run ahead, leaving parents to enjoy the finer points. Not far from one another, these two splendid parks are a long way--in spirit, if not in distance--from Disneyland, but they're just as memorable and just as much a part of Southern California's cultural heritage.

Addresses, hours, prices. Page 29.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

"Go about a mile or two up Topanga Canyon Boulevard from Pacific Coast Highway and park near the bridge. Then get out of the car and walk up the stream bed. You can listen to the coyotes howl at night. You can see people camping, see rattlesnakes and some beautiful scenery right in the middle of L.A."

T.C. BOYLE

Novelist

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