15 Things to Do in Van Nuys (CA)

Written by Bart Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Van Nuys is the most populous municipality in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley.

Located in central LA County, it’s close to many of the state’s major highways, making travel and day trips easy for those looking to experience many of Southern California’s premier attractions quickly.

Van Nuys was founded in the early 20th century. Though it has expanded significantly since then, it retains a number of old neighborhoods and original Spanish mission and art deco architecture that give it more character than many nearby cities and towns.

Below are 15 things to do in and around Van Nuys, California.

1. Woodley Park

Woodley ParkSource: Junkyardsparkle / Wikimedia | CC0
Woodley Park

Though Van Nuys is spread over a relatively large area, many of its municipal parks are easily reachable on foot for those staying in downtown accommodations.

Woodley Park is conveniently located on Woodley Avenue, at the northwest intersection of California Route 101 and Interstate 405.

It features tons of amenities that make it popular with walkers, bikers, picnickers, and sports lovers. Its facilities include covered seating areas with built-in barbecue grills, multiple lakes and public golf courses, a playground, baseball field, and lots of wide-open spaces.

Additional non-traditional park activities include cricket and archery on a dedicated range.

2. The Japanese Garden

Japanese Garden, Van NuysSource: Sam Howzit / Flickr | CC BY
Japanese Garden

Located on Woodley Avenue in downtown Van Nuys, the Japanese Garden is spread across nearly seven acres of prime San Fernando Valley real estate that’s been cultivated to emulate traditional gardens from Japan’s feudal era of the 18th and 19th centuries.

The garden is often referred to as the ‘Garden of Water and Fragrance,’ because it features several ponds, fountains, and dozens of species of aromatic plants and flowers.

It’s open year-round, has flowers that bloom during different seasons, and is an excellent place for a relaxing stroll or quiet time for reflection away from the crowds.

3. Van Nuys Airport Public Observation Area

Van Nuys Airport Public Observation AreaSource: Lithium366 / shutterstock
Van Nuys Airport Public Observation Area

There’s nothing more powerful and dramatic than an aircraft under full-throttle struggling to get itself airborne.

These days, most airports have pretty tight security, which makes getting close to the planes only possible for passengers. But aircraft enthusiasts visiting Van Nuys have another option.

The Van Nuys Airport is one of the Golden State’s busiest non-commercial airports. It features a public observation area that’s an entertaining and engaging place to spend an hour or two.

The facility includes live broadcasts of air traffic control communications and interactive exhibits. It is an especially popular attraction for retired pilots and families traveling with kids.

4. Mercado Buenos Aires

Mercado Buenos Aires, Van NuysSource: tjdee / Flickr | CC BY
Mercado Buenos Aires

As the crow flies, the distance between Van Nuys and Buenos Aires, Argentina, is slightly more than 6,100 miles.

But hungry visitors intent on experiencing the vibrant South American cuisine need venture no further than Mercado Buenos Aires on Sepulveda Boulevard.

The restaurant has been around for more than three decades and is the undisputed king of traditional Argentinian cuisine in the San Fernando Valley.

The Mercado is part market and part restaurant and specializes in hearty steaks, crispy empanadas, and sweet, creamy cakes made with milk called ‘tres leches.’

Mercado Buenos Aires also does a bustling takeaway business.

5. Sepulveda Dam Bike Path

Sepulveda DamSource: VCVisions / shutterstock
Sepulveda Dam

The Sepulveda Dam in Van Nuys was constructed more than 80 years ago to prevent seasonal flooding along the Los Angeles River.

One of the San Fernando Valley’s most impressive humanmade structures, it is an often-overlooked attraction that offers fitness-minded travelers lots of recreation options.

The bike path along the dam is usually void of visitors during the week. Its flatness and relatively smooth surface make it a good fit for bikers, walkers, and inline roller skaters not interested in exerting too much effort.

There’s ample parking at the lot on Woodley Avenue, but you’ll need to bring your own water, as there aren’t any fountains.

6. Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve

Sepulveda Basin Wildlife ReserveSource: Gerry Matthews / shutterstock
Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve

The Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve in Van Nuys is comprised of nearly 230 acres, which were set aside as a bird and wildlife refuge and native plant reintroduction area.

The reserve is divided into northern and southern sections. It features an extensive network of trails leading through various natural environments that are home to a great diversity of plant and animal species.

The trails are well-marked, and animals such as snakes, foxes, geese, and egrets are commonly seen.

The reserve’s main entrance is located on Woodley Avenue in Van Nuys, and detailed trail maps can be found online.

7. Anthony C. Beilenson Park

Lake Balboa, Van NuysSource: divanov / shutterstock
Lake Balboa

Though Anthony C. Beilenson Park is technically within Van Nuys city limits, its natural splendor and wide-open spaces tend to make visitors feel like they’ve taken temporary leave of Southern California’s notorious hustle and bustle.

The park is comprised of more than 80 acres, the centerpiece of which is Balboa Lake, boasting a surface area of nearly 30 acres.

Named after a prominent local politician, the park offers guests a variety of outdoor recreation activities, including swimming, picnicking, biking, walking, and wildlife viewing.

The park gets few visitors during the week and early in the morning, but it tends to draw crowds on the weekends in the summer months.

8. Van Nuys Golf Course

GolfSource: Kati Finell / shutterstock

Southern California experiences as many sunny days per year as anyplace else in the country. It’s dotted with golf courses that run the gamut from pricy and ultra-exclusive to public and relatively inexpensive.

Van Nuys Golf Course features two distinct courses totaling 27 holes. They’ve been popular with savvy San Fernando golfers since they were designed and built in the mid-‘60s.

The 9-hole executive course plays just more than 1,500 yards and can usually be completed in about an hour.

There’s also a 2,200-yard,18-hole par-3 course that’s about a third of the length of most traditional courses in the area.

9. Pedlow Field Skate Park

Skate ParkSource: Parilov / shutterstock
Skate Park

Young skaters are generally a cliquish bunch; as such, the nearby city of Lake Balboa recently built them a dedicated skate park on Victory Boulevard, just a few blocks west of the Van Nuys Airport.

The park is only open to skateboarders and inline skaters, so if you’re interested in whooping it up on a bike or scooter, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Pedlow Field’s amenities include half-pipes, massive skate bowls with rails, steps, and walls, and other cool features like pyramids and a waterfall.

When the park is open, there’s a guard on site, and skaters will need to wear helmets to be in compliance.

10. Nat’s Early Bite Coffee Shop

BreakfastSource: elena moiseeva / shutterstock

Located just two blocks east of downtown Van Nuys, on Burbank Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, Nat’s Early Bite Coffee Shop is one of the San Fernando Valley’s standout eateries.

Nat’s is close to many of Van Nuys’ most popular attractions and features full breakfast and lunch menus, tons of drinks options, and entrees that come in such hefty portions that many visitors need to ask for doggie bags.

During peak times, Nat’s can really draw the crowds, so it’s not uncommon to find lines. But previous guests have noted that the service was efficient, and wait times were kept to a minimum.

11. The Burbank Aviation Museum

Burbank Aviation MuseumSource: StacieStauffSmith Photos / shutterstock
Burbank Aviation Museum

Over the years, companies headquartered in Southern California have played significant roles in the aviation industry.

The Burbank Aviation Museum is a locally run, non-profit organization that was founded to preserve and promote the region’s rich aviation past.

The museum’s exhibits include photographs, equipment, and fascinating first-hand accounts of pilots, engineers, and ground crew members spanning decades, as well as a number of vintage aircraft that have been restored to near-original condition.

The museum is located about 20 minutes southeast of Van Nuys along Interstate 5.

Most guests spend between an hour and two onsite before heading out on other adventures.

12. Rodeo Drive

Rodeo DriveSource: Gabriele Maltinti / shutterstock
Rodeo Drive

Few places conjure images of opulence, exclusivity, and high-dollar shops like Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

It’s a two-mile stretch of blacktop that’s home to some of the world’s priciest retail outlets. Though most visitors haven’t got the cash and credit to actually buy anything, it’s still one of those iconic California attractions that shouldn’t be overlooked when visiting the area.

It’s common to see movie stars and other entertainment moguls driving casually by in their Italian sports cars, and the area is also home to several historic landmarks like the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

Rodeo Drive is about 20 minutes south of Van Nuys.

13. Colony Theater

TheatreSource: Andrey_Kuzmin / shutterstock

Located on North 3rd Street in Burbank, the Colony Theater has been one of Southern California’s premier live entertainment attractions for more than four decades.

Not surprisingly, the area is full of talented performers, who flock to LA from all over the county, and Colony is consistently ranked among the country’s top theater companies.

The theater is known for its intimate setting and varied year-round performances that include music, dramatic theater, film screenings, guest speakers, and even programs designed with kids in mind.

When traffic isn’t bad, the theater is about a 20-minute drive east from Van Nuys.

14. Griffith Park

View from Griffith ParkSource: Sean Pavone / shutterstock
View from Griffith Park

At nearly 4,500 acres, Griffith Park is one of the largest urban parks in the country.

It’s also home to some prominent area attractions, making it a convenient stop for those who’d rather not spend half their vacation time in the car traveling from one site to the next.

From the hill near the Griffith Observatory, it’s possible to take in panoramic views of Los Angeles, Hollywood, and even the Pacific Ocean when the skies are clear.

The park is a pleasant mix of open natural spaces and humanmade attractions. It features a network of well-marked paths leading to a number of distinct areas.

The park’s entrance is located on Crystal Springs Drive in LA, less than half an hour from Van Nuys.

15. Greystone Mansion and Gardens

Greystone Mansion and ParkSource: Yuriy Chertok / shutterstock
Greystone Mansion And Park

Since the advent of California’s booming movie and entertainment industries, Beverly Hills has been the exclusive domain of the uber-wealthy.

The Greystone Mansion and Gardens were originally built in the late-‘20s, feature an opulent 55-room home built in the Tudor Revival Style, and sprawling grounds that stretch over more than 16 acres of prime So Cal real estate.

The property is frequently featured in popular movies and television shows, but it must be visited as part of a docent-led tour.

Tours tend to fill up quickly, so reserve your spots before making the 25-kilometer drive south from Van Nuys.

15 Things to Do in Van Nuys (CA):

  • Woodley Park
  • The Japanese Garden
  • Van Nuys Airport Public Observation Area
  • Mercado Buenos Aires
  • Sepulveda Dam Bike Path
  • Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve
  • Anthony C. Beilenson Park
  • Van Nuys Golf Course
  • Pedlow Field Skate Park
  • Nat’s Early Bite Coffee Shop
  • The Burbank Aviation Museum
  • Rodeo Drive
  • Colony Theater
  • Griffith Park
  • Greystone Mansion and Gardens