A. Los Angeles is a great place to take children if you're willing to drive. There are numerous parks and museums, some of which are specifically designed for families, and some very good interpretive centres on the coast that make the most of LA's position on the Pacific. Many of these are free, which will really bring down the cost of entertaining a family. The drawback is distance. You'll need a hire car and you may not want to visit too many places in a day.

Make sure you carry a form of ID for your sons, since different admission rates tend to apply for under-12s and those between 13 and 17.

To start with something unexpected, and right in the heart of Los Angeles itself, visit the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits at the George C Page Musuem (00 1 323 934 7243; www.tarpits.org; 5801 Wilshire Boulevard). Rancho La Brea is a veritable treasure trove of fossils preserving the largest collection of Ice Age plants and animals in the world. Around 40,000 years ago, sabre-toothed cats and mammoths roamed the Los Angeles Basin and today visitors can watch through windows as their bones are cleaned and repaired at the Page Museum Laboratory. There are also life-size replicas of various extinct species outside in the grounds.

Opening hours are 9.30am-5pm Monday to Friday and 10am-5pm at weekends and public holidays. Adults $7 (£3.90), 13-17 $4.50 (£2.50), five-12 $2 (£1.10), parking $6 (£3.30).

Still relatively central, you might try the very hands-on California Science Center (00 1 323 724 3623; www.californiasciencecenter.org; 700 State Drive, Exposition Park), which is extremely popular, but best visited at weekends or after 1.30pm when school parties have gone. There's an Imax cinema, a high-wire bicycle (which children are allowed to ride), an earthquake demonstration and "Tess", a recumbent 50ft figure whose brain lights up as she demonstrates the functions of the human anatomy. Opening hours are 10am-5pm daily. Admission is free, parking $6 (£3.30).

For some fresh air and adventure, pack a picnic and drive half an hour north to the William S. Hart Park (00 1 661 254-4584; www.hartmuseum.org; 24151 San Fernando Road, Newhall) which contains the home of the famous cowboy star of the silent era. There are free guided tours of his Spanish colonial-style mansion, which contains original furnishings, Hart's Hollywood memorabilia and Native American artefacts. There's also a 1910 ranch house in the grounds with live animals in its yard and a herd of American buffalo roaming free. Opening hours are 10am-12.30pm Wednesday to Friday and 11am-3.30pm at weekends. Admission is free.

If that went down well you might also try the Santa Monica Mountains Recreational Area (00 1 818 597 1036; santamonicamountains.areaparks. com; 2813 Cornell Road, Agoura) north of Mulholland Drive in Malibu. It was once owned by Paramount Pictures and contains a Western town where Wells Fargo, Gunsmoke, Paleface and Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman were shot. Opening hours dawn to dusk daily. Admission is free.

It would be a shame to be in Los Angeles and not make the most of the Pacific Ocean. There are plenty of beaches to choose from, but also think about Long Beach's Aquarium of the Pacific (00 1 562 590 3100; www.aquariumofpacific.org; 100 Aquarium Way, Long Beach). It offers the chance to come face to face with and even touch sharks and to discover the full range of marine inhabitants in the Pacific (More than 12,500 creatures are on display). You can also book whale-watching cruises. Opening hours are 9am-6pm daily. Adults $19.95 (£11), children aged three-11 $11.95 (£6.60).

For something more cultural you might consider the Bowers Museum with its Kidseum (00 1 714 480 1520; www.bowers.org/kidseum/kidseum.asp; 2002 North Main Street, Santa Ana), which is the first "hands-on" art lab museum for children in the US. Probably ideal for a 10-year-old but too many screaming children for your older son. Opening hours at the Kidseum are 11am-4pm Saturdays and Sundays, $5 (£2.80) for under-18s. The Bowers Museum opens 10am-4pm Tuesday to Sunday, adults $17 (£9.40), under-18s $12 (£6.70).

The US created the modern comic book, so "The Art of the American Comic" is worth a look. This exhibition is at the Hammer Museum (00 1 310 443 7000; www.hammer.ucla.edu; 10899 Wilshire Blvd, Westwood) until 12 March and is free on Thursdays. Opening hours are 11am-7pm Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays; until 9pm Thursdays and 5pm Sundays; closed Mondays. Admission (except Thursday) is $5 (£2.70) and free for under-17s accompanied by an adult.

Sadly the Griffith Observatory will not reopen until later this year. This structure on the slopes of Mount Hollywood first opened in 1935 and has been explaining Life, the Universe and everything else to two million visitors ever since. At the moment it's undergoing renovation. However if you're back in Los Angeles later in 2006 be sure to look it up (00 1 323 664 1181; www.griffithobs.org).

Send your family travel queries to The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS or e-mail crusoe@independent.co.uk