I admit there are some days when I am at a total loss as to how to entertain my kid. He has mounds of toys and yet sometimes there is nothing for us to play with. And though we live a block and a half from a terrific park, sometimes I just can’t go push him on a swing yet again. On those days, the “bad” mother in me often puts on the T.V.

But sometimes on those days we are inspired by our city. Santa Monica and the surrounding area are blessed with fabulous free outdoor activities, like beaches and parks and mountains, but it is also a great place for fun kids’ activities with just a little added cost.

So here, for your future enjoyment, is a list of some of our favorite kids places in the L.A. area. For most, bring your wallet.

The Zimmer Children’s Museum: This is a very sweet and small children’s museum in the mid-Wilshire district. It is made up of several small little playrooms with different themes. The kids can serve you a meal in a restaurant, play newspaper editor, or command a plane or ambulance. The only thing I don’t love about The Zimmer is that it isn’t just down the street from my house. Because sometimes I think about going and then think about driving across town and then head to the park and push Ben on a swing for an hour instead.

Noah’s Ark at The Skirball: This is a spectacular exhibit at The Skirball. Giant giraffes made out of recycled goods loom from above. You can make it rain and the ark itself is pretty impressive. The craftsmanship of this exhibit may be lost on young children, as it was on mine, but my husband and I were really impressed. He and I each went for a climb up in the ark as our son lingered below knocking over the many stuffed animals that live in the ark two by two. In fact, Ben probably had the most fun going up and down the outside stairs and running through the mist in the gardens, but for an older kid and an adult, this is a great afternoon. And they may even learn something.

The Los Angeles Zoo: Ah, the zoo. I will get my qualms with this zoo out of the way first. It is a little hilly and a bit of a workout to cover the whole thing. The animals are spread out so it requires a lot of walking, which with a 2 year old who refuses to get in a stroller, can always be a bit challenging. Some of the grounds are older and certain signs that tell you about the animals are fading.

But, there are real giraffes here and the baby giraffes alone are bigger than anything you can imagine. There are lions and tigers and bears (oh my). And a rhino and a hippo even. There is even Reggie the Alligator, our very own local celebrity.

The gorilla exhibit is by far my favorite. When we were first there, they were chasing each other and sliding down their hills, enjoying themselves in such a way that made me so jealous.

My son likes the zoo, simply because we usually get him ice cream.

Natural History Museum: This is a very accessible, kid-friendly museum. There are dinosaurs and bugs and a crazy looking shark. What’s not to like?

The last time we went, we attended a cool dinosaur “puppet show,” which was a guy in a costume that was so life-like that as he roared my son grabbed me and started screaming he wanted to go, “home, home, home!”

KidSpace: This museum is certainly worth a drive to Pasadena, if not several. I briefly considered moving to Pasadena to have easier access to this place because it is so much fun. But then I remembered it is really hot there.

The mall (yeah, the mall): On days when you just want to let the kids play (and sit on the side and watch), the fruit structure in the food court at The Westside Pavilion is terrific. We have a standing play date once a week with some friends of ours and I am always taken with how much fun they continue to have here, by simply chasing each other or climbing the big banana or simply watching the elevator go up and down.

Travel Town: This is simple. Travel town is beyond awesome. It has old trains you can climb aboard. Travel Town is free. We will be having my son’s birthday party there. If you have not been there, go. Now. And on Sundays check out the Steamer ride next door.

What is fabulous about L.A. is that this list barely scratches the surface of things to do here.

My son’s most favorite thing to do though, besides being pushed in a swing, is hopping on the Big Blue Bus outside our door. “I’m on the bus,” he exclaims with glee to anyone who will listen. Because sometimes all it takes is 75 cents and a fast ride with a cool ocean breeze.

Though nothing actually beats simply watching the garbage truck go by.

Rachel Zients Schinderman lives in Santa Monica with her family. She can be reached at Rachel@mommiebrain.com.

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