Big Chol Hamoed Fun on a Tiny Budget


Rebecca Klempner

For many families, chol hamoed outings bust budgets nearly as badly as the actual Pesach expenses themselves. Not only that, but following a particularly extravagant excursion, kids may expect you to top yourself the next time yom tov rolls around! The good news is that Southern California provides plenty of opportunities for outings that offer just as much fun at a fraction of the cost of Disneyland or Universal Studios. All of the following suggestions will set you back for less than $50 for a family of six, and many cost nothing more than gas and picnic food.

Here, first, are some general rules:

  1. Consider the ages and attention spans of your family members.
  2. Do any family members have a hobby or special interest? Cars, animals, art, gardens, trains, and hiking are all subjects around which you can plan outings.
  3. Always pack plenty of kosher l’pesach food and water – more than you ever expect to need. Also, consider packing spare clothes and towels, even when you think you will be far away from water.
  4. On longer drives, audiobooks can make the journey as memorable as the destination. Many audiobooks can be found at public libraries, even downloadable to your phone via an app!
  5. If you do decide to splurge on a more expensive trip, yearly memberships to the zoo, museums, and the like often cost less than buying individual tickets for each family member, especially if you might return over the summer or during Sukkos vacation.

Take in a View

With its diverse landscape, California offers opportunities to admire the variety and splendor of Hashem’s creation.

Close by:

Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook – Many people use these hillside stairs – located at 6300 Hetzler Road in Culver City – for exercise, but some don’t realize that a stroller-friendly hiking trail crisscrosses the steps. The slope is covered in native plants, and (harmless) lizards often skitter by. At the top, you’ll find restrooms, places to picnic, and an amazing view of L.A., capturing everything from Downtown to the Pacific. There’s a visitor center, as well, with scientific and historic explanations of the site. Street parking can be tricky, but free. There is also parking on the grounds of the park for $6, but it’s at the top of the hill, not the bottom.

Greystone Mansion – Prefer a romantic stroll? Head into Beverly Hills to visit picturesque Greystone Mansion. The manor house – which has served for many movie shoots over the years – is surrounded by terraced gardens, fountains, and stunning views. Parking is free, and there are public restrooms, but there is no picnic area. Occasionally, the grounds are closed for filming, so you may want to call ahead. The number is on the website.


Mt. Pinos – Do you love the mountains? Do you want to escape the city’s noise? An hour and a half drive north into the Grapevine will get you to Mt. Pinos, deep inside the Los Padres National Forest. While during the winter the area is well-known for its snow, during the spring and summer, the area bursts into bloom. Astronomy fanatics flock to the peak for stargazing, as well. Drive to the highest parking lot, Nordic Base. A hike through pine forest will lead you to the summit. Along the way, you’ll pass through fragrant wildflower glades and take in breathtaking views. You’ll need a National Parks’ Adventure parking pass in order to park legally. Buy one at the ranger station in Lockwood Valley or in any BIG 5 Sporting Goods store. $5 will get you a day pass; $30, a year pass. There are plentiful picnic areas, as well as primitive restrooms in the campground. Make sure your vehicle is prepared for mountain driving.

Point Fermin – Choosing the best view of the Pacific Ocean is a challenge, but if you are taking the whole family, a good place to start would be Point Fermin, in San Pedro. While the cliffs just north, along the edge of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, are quieter, Point Fermin offers easy access to parking, rest rooms, a nifty lighthouse to tour and explore, a playground, and fantastic kite flying on the slope above the park, which houses the Korean Friendship Bell. The lighthouse can be toured on some days of the week – and it includes a fun dress-up area for the kids.

Malibu Lagoon – Another great place to admire the Pacific is Malibu Lagoon, located where Malibu Creek dumps into the ocean. Surfers enjoy Surfrider Beach, but most visitors will find water temperatures too cold at this time of year. However, this beach offers other treats: cheap parking, port-a-potties, and a stroller-friendly trail with signage explaining the local wildlife. The picnic area is clean, and hundreds – if not thousands – of birds flock over the lagoon. Species include both common varieties and exotic ones. Adjacent, you’ll find Adamson House and the adjoining Malibu Lagoon Museum, which you can tour to learn more about locally made arts-and-crafts period tile work and about the local Chumash Indians. Those two museums charge a small fee, and hours are somewhat limited, so check the Adamson House website if you want to include them in your plans.

Historic L.A.

All around L.A., you can find places to learn about our state’s heritage, the Chumash and Tongva Indians, and Spanish and other non-native settlers of California. Most of these destinations are best enjoyed by adults and children 5 years old and up.

Rancho los Alamitos – A historic home and ranch where fabulous docents explain about the ranchero period of California history. Recent renovation makes this site even more fun and informative, with a short film and animal exhibits. Admission and parking are free, but donations are welcome.

Rancho los Cerritos – Another rancho in Long Beach, this one offers amazing insights into everyday ranch life. The docents often dress in period clothing. You will also learn about the native Tongva tribe. Ask to visit the gardens and play old-fashioned children’s games! A small donation is requested, and parking is free.

El Pueblo de los Angeles – Many Angelenos spend decades of their lives in L.A. without ever checking out the place where the city started out. Ignore the touristy marketplace (unless you like touristy stuff!) and focus instead on the Avila Adobe, the Chinese American Museum, the old firehouse, and the newly restored America Tropical mural. Some sites charge a small fee, others are free. If you are traveling with five people or less, take public transit to avoid nasty Downtown parking fees. The closest Metro stop is Union Station, almost directly across the street.

The Banning Museum – The Banning Museum in Wilmington is located in a renovated Victorian Era mansion. Phineas Banning and his offspring lived in this house during the period during which they established the Port of Los Angeles. The collection contains antique furniture and clothing from multiple generations. There are gardens surrounding the home, as well as other, historical exhibits.

More Free Museums:

If you’d like a museum experience, but don’t want to pay hefty fees, there are a number of free museums in L.A. County.

  • While parking costs about $10 at Exposition Park, you can visit the California Science Center with just a small donation (remember that this is not a good destination for any Kohanim in your group). The Rose Garden in the center of the park should be lovely and fragrant at this time of year.
  • Just a drop further is the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, which you could pair with a trip to Point Fermin (mentioned above). They request a donation, but parking is free.
  • Both Getty locations charge only $15 per vehicle for parking but charge nothing for admission.
  • LACMA is free for children and one adult per child when they sign up for NEXTGEN.
  • The Broad Museum is free, although travelling Downtown might cost you either in Metro fare or parking. In case contemporary art scares you, there is a highly-praised audio tour available tailored to kids and voiced by Levar Burton. Also, the security guards double as docents and have extensive knowledge about each piece in the collection.
  • Those who like their art mingled with a bit of anthropology will enjoy the Fowler Museum at UCLA. Campus parking does cost a small amount. Be sure to get a map of the university – there’s also a wonderful sculpture garden to visit.
  • The Griffith Observatory is free unless you see the planetarium show. Be careful with parking, there – on a busy day you might have to park far down the hill.
  • The Skirball will be free that Thursday, as well.

Regardless of your chol hamoed plans, may you have fun! And a chag kasher v’sameach!