Kid-friendly restaurants come in all different shapes and sizes. One restaurant was actually built for kids.

Giggles ‘n Hugs on Wilshire Boulevard near Bundy Drive really sets the bar for kid friendly. The owner, unable to find a place to eat with her daughter that was truly geared toward children, decided to start one. From its kid-sized chairs to kid-sized utensils, it’s designed with kids in mind.

The meals are definitely kid friendly and surprisingly adult friendly as well. Salads, pasta, pizza and chicken please everyone. It’s high quality, healthy food that even manages to sneak veggies into favorite kiddy meals.

Perhaps more importantly, kids are allowed to act like kids, they aren’t expected to sit still and quiet through a long (or even short) meal. They are always welcome to take a play break. And they love the place. They immediately head to the large open area filled with toys and new playmates.

The play area is large enough to accommodate outdoor fun indoors (good to remember during our rainy season). And in addition to having every kind of toy imaginable, they also have activities and shows; during dinner, entertainers sing and give kids musical instruments to play.

On the negative side, there are only so many tables, and eating can become a very cramped experience. When crowded, the ambient noise can be deafening and headache-inducing. The experience can also be expensive. Most adult meals are around $10; children’s meals are around $7; snacks are between $4-$7 and drinks are $3. In addition to the food, you have to pay a “playground fee” of $9 for the first kid and $6 for a sibling. We spent around $60 for a couple of hours of entertainment at the restaurant. Also, socks are required so remember to wear some or be prepared to buy a pair.

Another restaurant goes above and beyond to entertain kids.

Uncle Darrow’s just celebrated their 10th anniversary of providing Cajun/Creole food. We stop by the restaurant, which is located on Lincoln Boulevard near Washington, on our way to Costco to pick up supersized boxes of diapers. Los Angeles Magazine has bestowed the best Cajun/Creole restaurant award on Uncle Darrow’s, so you know the food is good.

Jazz on the outdoor patio provides the family-friendly element. The house band, legendary Joe Banks and Friends, plays every Thursday and Saturday at noon to 2 p.m. for free. Dash and Zora danced to the music and were fascinated when one of the musicians played two trumpets at once. Outside eating is always my preference with messy kids (thanks to our pigeon population) and a more forgiving attitude towards noise.

Uncle Darrow’s also offers kids meals. The kids menu is only $5.99 for two pieces of catfish or chicken, one side of red beans and rice or jambalaya or salad along with French bread and a drink. Dash also enjoyed the grown-up jambalaya, although he usually is violently opposed to spices. We recommend the delicious fried beignets covered in powdered sugar when you have purged all remnants of your New Year’s diet resolutions.

On Fat Saturday (Feb. 27) from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Uncle Darrow’s is having its 10th Annual “Mardi Gras West.” Family festivities include free live music from T-Lou and Super Hot Zydeco Band, a crawfish boil, dancing and raffles.

Still others carefully cater to the kid set.

Any restaurant that greets a family by asking if they want a highchair or booster, hands out crayons and something to color on with their kids menu and has a modified sippy cup with a straw falls into this category. If you come early on a Friday night with a child or two in tow you’ll fit right in at El Cholo. The outdoor patio with its wishing well fountain is a big hit with the kids, weather permitting of course. And the Mexican favorites on the menu para los ninos are all quite reasonably priced at $6.25 each, though Addison tends to just steal rice and beans off our plates.

Then there are some restaurants that are just unexpectedly kid friendly.

Finn McCool’s, an Irish pub on Main Street, is one of the few places that serves a good burger and beer in Santa Monica so Addison’s dad, Steve, and I were both loath to give it up after Addi was born. Luckily, even without any of the extra kiddy stuff, Addison really likes it (though they did just add a menu for the wee ones where you can get most mini-sized traditional Irish favorites for $5.95). For a pub they are amazingly kid friendly (some don’t even allow children inside i.e. Father’s Office on Montana) and not just to Adam Sandler’s and Rob Estes’ kids. We’ve been known to go once or even twice a week and are rarely the only family toting kids. The staff is great. Some have kids. Some don’t. But they all seem to get a kick out of the ones that come in. Maybe they are trying to recreate the whole family atmosphere one gets in Dublin pubs? Whatever it is, Addison especially loves the music, making friends at the bar and of course the chips. Like her dad says, it doesn’t matter the age, a French fry is a French fry.

And then there’s Panera.

We couldn’t write an article about restaurants without mentioning Panera (Wilshire and Fifth). It is a rare morning these days that I’m not greeted first thing by cries for “bagel, bagel, bagel”. This is Addison’s way of saying she wants to go to Panera, which we do on a very regular basis and are always greeted warmly by their welcoming staff who know us by name and bagel and never forget to give Addison her very own little water glass to practice drinking with. Panera also has great salads and sandwiches and was recognized by Health Magazine and Zagat’s for its healthy, on the go options. They also have a kid’s menu ($3.99 for a sandwich) and a community bulletin board filled with smiling pictures of happy young customers. Parents Magazine named them one of the 10 best fast-casual family restaurants.

Events this week:

Best-selling, award-winner Mo Willems will be reading his latest works “Cat the Cat, Who is That” and “Let’s Say Hi to Friends who Fly” at Barnes & Noble on the Third Street Promenade at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 23.

On Sunday the 28th, Energy Rocks 5k run/walk and 1 mile youth run will begin at Barnard Way at 8 a.m. and end on the historic Santa Monica Pier. The post race party will feature high school bands, fitness and fun for everyone. Funds from the event will go to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Education Foundation Athletic Endowment Fund. Interested in racing? Register at before noon Friday the 26th.

Also on Sunday, McCabe’s (3101 Pico Blvd.) is having a kids concert with Earthworm Ensemble at 11 a.m. Tickets are $8 (kids under 2 are free).

Find a calendar with local events, helpful links, and more adventures of Addison, Zora, and Dash at

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