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No sooner is one school holiday over than it's time to start thinking about the next - so if you're planning a family trip to the City of Angels this summer, here's our guide to the best kid-focused activities on offer in LA and the surrounding area...
Aquarium of the Pacific
America's fourth largest aquarium has more than 50 exhibits dedicated to the diversity of the Pacific Ocean, and is home to more than 11,000 animals, representing almost 500 species.
Most popular exhibits include the Sea Otter Habitat, home to rescued sea otter Maggie. When she was rescued she weighed just six pounds, was fed every 3 hours and had to be hand groomed with a dog brush until she could learn how to take care of her own coat. In the Shark Lagoon, you can interact with more than 150 species of sharks and rays including sand tiger, whitetip and zebra sharks, and learn about their senses, sizes, teeth and behaviour via various interactive displays. The new Molina Animal Care Center allows visitors to view veterinary medicine in action, with a state-of-the-art treatment centre where you can watch surgeries and animal examinations like an otter having its teeth cleaned, with the opportunity to interact with the Aquarium's veterinary staff and ask questions.
On 17 May this year, the Aquarium's first permanent penguin exhibit will open, featuring Magellanic penguins rescued from Brazil where they were stranded outside their native habitat.
Aquarium of the Pacific, 100 Aquarium Way, Long Beach, California 90802
Horse riding at Sunset Ranch Hollywood
They describe themselves as having the 'best view in Hollywood' and with an outlook over the Hollywood sign, downtown Los Angeles and the Griffith Park observatory, they're probably right.
Sunset Ranch Hollywood offer a decent range of trail rides for all abilities, or even some riding and horsemanship lessons for the uninitiated and steed-shy. One hour ($40) and two hour ($60) guided trail rides will take you through the hills of Griffith Park to the top of Mt. Hollywood, from where a wide 360° sweep of LA will take your breath away, from downtown to the beach and from the mountains to Santa Monica. Hungry riders should opt for the BBQ Ride, which culminates in a festive, musical BBQ bonanza, or the four hour guided sunset Dinner Ride which leads you over the mountains to a Mexican restaurant in Burbank.
No reservations are needed for the one and two hour guided rides - just turn up and giddy up!
Sunset Ranch Hollywood, 3400 North Beachwood Drive, Hollywood, California 90068
California Science Center
There's loads for kids to get their teeth into at the California Science Center this year, including the only West Coast appearance of National Geographic exhibition Cleopatra, which opens on 23 May. The 13,000 square foot exhibit shines a light on the mysterious life of the last queen of Egypt and features gigantic statues and jewellery from Cleopatra's lost palace in Alexandria; the largest collection ever assembled in the US. Ancient Egypt also comes to life in the Omar Sharif adventure Mysteries of Egypt, which will be playing on the Science Center's seven-storey IMAX screen throughout the exhibition's run.
It's also been announced that the California Science Center is one of four institutions who've been chosen to receive a Space Shuttle Orbiter for permanent display. NASA has now officially transferred the title of Space Shuttle Endeavour to the museum, and it's envisaged it will go on display later this year. If you can't wait that long, there's plenty of other air and space-themed highlights to marvel at in the Air and Aircraft and Humans in Space exhibitions.
Admission to the Science Center's permanent exhibition galleries is free; IMAX admission varies depending on age. Some other attractions, including the Ecology Cliff Climb and the High Wire Bicycle have a separate charge.
California Science Center, 700 Exposition Park Drive, Los Angeles, California 90037
Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal Studios celebrates 100 years of making movies this year, and its California theme park Universal Studios Hollywood will look to showcase its filmmaking legacy with a renewed focus on its studio tram tour attraction.
What's got people most excited however, is brand new next-generation thrill ride Transformers: The Ride 3D, which opens on 25 May. Promising to be an ultra-immersive sensory experience, the ride fuses flight simulation technology with HD3D media and blurs the lines between fantasy and reality.
Even without Transformers, Universal Studios is home to some of California's best-loved attractions including Revenge of the Mummy - the world's scariest indoor rollercoaster, the Simpson's Ride, a simulator ride through Krustyland and Jurassic Park - a hair-raising 84 foot raft plunge.
Universal Studios Hollywood, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, California 91608
Six Flags Magic Mountain
If rollercoasters are your thing, then Six Flags Magic Mountain will have you screaming and waving your arms in the air in no time. (And if they're not, then we can always help you cure your veloxrotaphobia.)
Magic Mountain is a 260-acre park in Valencia, just north of LA, and was the first in the world to feature a coaster - Goliath - with a drop of more than 255 feet and a top speed of 85 mph, known in coaster-lingo as a "hypercoaster". Its initial 61-degree near-vertical drop sends riders plunging into absolute darkness as they speed through a 120 foot underground tunnel, before emerging at extreme speed and soaring another 100 feet into the air. Other monster coasters include the belly-flopping wooden coaster Apocalypse, the unique "floorless train" design of Scream, and the first vertical spinning coaster in the US, Green Lantern.
This year's newest thrill is due to open in summer 2012. Named after one of DC Comic's super-villains, Lex Luthor: Drop of Doom will be the world's tallest vertical drop ride. After being hoisted to the top of a 400 foot tower, you'll experience five seconds of freefall at speeds of up to 85 mph, before being stopped just a few feet above ground by a sophisticated braking system.
Six Flags Magic Mountain, 26101 Magic Mountain Parkway, Valencia, California 91355
Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens
Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens is located in Griffith Park, and is owned in its entirety by the City of Los Angeles.
The zoo has just opened a new $14 million reptile and amphibian habitat called The Lair - Living Amphibians, Invertebrates and Reptiles - described by the zoo as a total 'condominium complex' for creatures as rare and exotic as Mexican beaded lizards, Fiji Island Iguanas, Armenian Vipers and Poison Dart Frogs.
As fascinating as those creatures undoubtedly are, it will take some doing to beat the popularity of the Campo Gorilla Reserve; two separate habitats which are home to one family troop of four lowland gorillas, and a second bachelor pair. The zoo is also home to dozens of other mesmerising mammals, including meerkats, lemurs, chimps, ocelots, tamarins and tapirs.
Los Angeles Zoo, 5333 Zoo Drive, Los Angeles, California 90027
Virgin Atlantic operate flights to Los Angeles from London Heathrow. Visit Virgin Holidays for a wide range of holidays to California and beyond, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and the California Coast.
Thanks to the following Flickr photographers: Amazing header shot of Six Flags © Beyond Neon. Aquarium of the Pacific © Lane 4 Imaging, California Science Center © Adan Garcia, Universal Studios © crabers.crab, Six Flags @ Jeffery Turner, Los Angeles Zoo © Robert Bejil Photography.
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About the author: MaxineMaxine Sheppard
Maxine is the editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.