Santa Rosa With Kids: Safari West

I’ll admit that after going to Safari West, I fail to be impressed by the other safari outings I go on. Well that’s because I haven’t been to Africa yet. I’m sure I’ll find that even more impressive. But until I can get myself and my son to Africa, taking a trip to Safari West in northern California is as close as we’re going to get.

Safari West is a privately-owned wildlife preserve primarily dedicated to the propagation and conservation of endangered species. It is home to over 80 animal species that roam the 400 acres of California foothills near the city of Santa Rosa. I am a mother primarily dedicated to finding every cool place within driving distance from the Bay Area. This little family safari excursion did not disappoint and of course I’m going to tell you why.Here are some things we loved:

We got to ride in a jeep. It was a real Jeep, that  trudged up and down hilly terrain, often making us feel as if we were going to tip over. That’s the good part though.

We got to touch an ostrich egg and we were also given the opportunity to touch dried animal dung. I opted to let that particular opportunity pass me by.

We got very close to some animals. The giraffes strolled past our window, and the herd of zebras ambled a few feet away. We even forgot that in the golden hills of California you’re not supposed to see a herd of zebras.

Look, Ma! I didn't even have to zoom in!

 

We learned a few things. For example, we learned that ostriches like to peck at shiny things inside Jeeps, and their tiny heads are a lot more intimidating than one might think. We actually did learn a lot about the animals from our guide. Just don’t ask me to teach you any of it, I didn’t take notes.

Some things to consider:

A tour will cost you quite a bit more than a trip to the zoo, but I found the price comparable to many other special tour or animal experiences at a zoo.

You have to be there early. So you can either leave at the crack of dawn to get there on time, or you can stay in Santa Rosa. There is lodging at Safari West, and it looks pretty cool to stay in the tent cabins. But since that was out of our price range at the time, we stayed at another motel in Santa Rosa.

You will be in the jeep for about 2 hours and that is more than many small children can handle, or enjoy. I went when my child was five (going on six) and he did just fine. A year, or even a few months earlier, and it would’ve been a different story altogether. You’re the best judge of how much your young child will be able to sit through.

This is not a zoo, but you will be able to walk up to some of the animals. You will see mostly birds, but also the giraffes and the cheetahs in enclosures near the entrance.

For information on prices and tour times check out their website.

Another Kids Go West approved kid-friendly adventure in Santa Rosa is the Charles M. Schulz Museum.


Santa Barbara Zoo

Honestly, I didn’t go to Santa Barbara to hang out with giraffes; I was only thinking about reading my book on the beach. But since my kid rarely shares my vision of a perfect weekend getaway, I added a few stops to our itinerary that would satisfy his vision as well. So we spent one morning at the Santa Barbara Zoo because kids love zoos (and my kid is crazy about them). Besides, the zoo is only a few blocks away from the beach, so I knew we could just head down for some afternoon napping in the sun afterwards.

The zoo had plenty to see and do to keep us busy for over two hours, but you could certainly spend more time if you have younger kids. The exhibits were all well maintained and accessible for kids. Here are some of of our favorites:

1. The Eeeww Exhibit (Insects and Reptiles)

I have grown to love hissing cockroaches and salamanders because I have a boy who makes me touch all the creepy crawlies, so we enjoyed our stroll through this indoor exhibit to check out some of the world’s most unappreciated creatures.

2. The Penguins

Kids really enjoyed trying to read the name tags on the wings of the warm-weather Humboldt penguins as they swam around their exhibit. There was plenty of room to see the penguins from lots of different viewpoints.

3. African Veldt

The giraffes in this exhibit have the best view of the sparkly Pacific Ocean, and they seem pretty happy about it. Or maybe, it was because we visited while people were lining up for the giraffe feedings.

4. Tropical Aviaries

We walked through indoor and outdoor aviary exhibits and got a close-up view of many birds.

5. Asian Small-Clawed Otters

The energetic otters draw a large crowd. The exhibit has new otter pups, so there’s the extra cute factor as well.

When you go:

The zoo is open 10-5 everyday except Christmas. Current admission is $12 for adults and $10 for children. Check website for updated information. Parking is $5, but there plenty of the Santa Barbara visitor trolleys that stop right in front of the zoo.

Got Nothing But Love

Dear Stick-in-the-Sand Poet,

I couldn’t agree more.

Love,

Carolina

P.S. This is San Francisco’s Ocean Beach in January.

Linking up to Delicious Baby’s Photo Friday.

Take the Kids to the de Young Museum of Art

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The de Young Museum of Art in San Francisco houses over 25,000 works of art, but most kids will only appreciate a few of these during their visit. That’s fine. It doesn’t take a lot to foster a love of art.

I’ve been taking my son to the de Young since it reopened in its new building in 2005, and we have found new reasons to enjoy our visit each time.

The Works of Art

There are eight major galleries in the museum; housing works of art ranging from Mesoamerican ceramics to Contemporary American art. In other words, there are plenty of opportunities for kids to find a piece they like. Sometimes my son gravitates towards the masks in the Art of Africa gallery, while other times he is drawn to the Superman painting in the modern art wing. You can rent the family audio tours, or just view the art at your own pace.

The Osher Sculpture Garden

Who says that you have to be inside the museum to appreciate art? When he was five years old, my son loved to run around the apples in the sculpture garden and eat cookies at the cafe tables outside. Heck, you wouldn’t even have to pay admission if you just wanted to stroll through the sculpture garden. There will, however, be an additional cost for bribery through cookies.

The Observation Tower

Even if your child isn’t inspired by the works of art, he may be taken in by the views of Golden Gate Park and San Francisco from the observation deck in the North Tower. This is my son’s favorite part of the museum. He comes for the views, while I sneak in some art. There’s no rule for how to get kids to like art museums. Again, there is no admission cost for anyone to take an elevator ride up to the tower.

When You Go

When visiting art museums with kids, it’s always a good idea to go at their pace. Luckily, you won’t feel so bad that you only see half the museum, since the admission is free for children under the age of 12.

The museum hosts special family art programs on Saturdays. Check website for more information. On Friday nights, the museum is open until 8:45 and has some art-making activities for all ages.

 

Na Aina Kai Botanical Gardens

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I would like the Na Aina Kai Botanical Gardens to be in my backyard. But since I don’t live on 240 acres of oceanfront land in the tropical isle of Kauai, I’m going to settle for a visit from time to time.

Na Aina Kai was a private garden until it was opened to the public, this includes the Under the Rainbow Children’s Garden which was created for the owner’s grandchildren. This children’s garden is kiddie heaven: with water features, a maze, and super-cool play structures. I picked this as the one garden I was going to visit with my son (you have to tour a garden while in the Garden Isle, after all), and booked the Children’s Garden Family Tour. You can only visit the garden with a tour, and the family tour is the only one you can book with children who are under the age of 13.

During the first hour of the tour, we were guided through the formal gardens and the children were handed a paper bag to put any garden treasures they found along the way. They filled their bags as we walked through a hedge maze, under the rainbow shower trees, and around the beautiful green orchid hanging from a tree. The children were also given the opportunity to feed the poi fish. Oh, and we saw teeny, weeny frogs too.

The second half of the tour was spent in the Under the Rainbow Children’s Garden. Here the kids got to roam free. They played in the water around the 16-foot bronze Jack and the Beanstalk water fountain (bring the swimsuits). Then they wandered through the Gecko-shaped hedge maze, climbed and slid from the treehouse play structures, and played in the covered wagon and railroad train. The adults, well, they sat back and wished they were five years old again.

Useful Tidbits:

Book these popular tours ahead of time, since days and times are limited. The family tours are on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 9:30 and 1:30; Fridays at 9:30. Admission prices are currently $30 for adults and $20 for children. Yes, it’s pricey but it was well worth it. The tour groups are small and your kids will have access to their own private kiddie heaven. Check the website for current information.

Ty Warner Sea Center

The Ty Warner Sea Center is the aquatic branch of the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum, and is located right over the Pacific Ocean on Stearns Wharf. It is a small aquarium, but what it lacks in size, it makes up with engaging and accessible exhibits.

At the shark touch-pool, my son got to touch a harmless swell shark. The tidepool tank had viewing windows that were accessible to even the youngest toddlers and an underwater tunnel for them to walk through as well.

Older kids enjoyed some of the computer-based exhibits throughout the first floor of the center. We also spent some time with some other aquarium youth volunteers as they pulled up samples (of mostly seaweed) in netted cages attached to ropes. They were all great about answering questions and giving information about specimens they had for viewing under video microscopes. 

The second floor of the aquarium was a special exhibit called Superpowers, about animal adaptations, which included another touch-pool opportunity. The 39-foot model of the gray whale and her calf hangs in the main entrance, right over the gift shop.

Useful Tidbits: Admission for just the Sea Center is currently $8 for adults and $5 for children ages 2-12. You can also get a Santa Barbara Nature Pass and get admission for the Sea Center and Natural History Museum for two days. Parking is free for the first 90 minutes with validation from the Sea Center. Check the website for current information.

Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove

I saw the first Monarch Butterflies fluttering around the streets of San Luis Obispo, about fifteen miles away from the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove. I’m glad that I did, or I would have completely forgotten that they start arriving at their winter home in the groves of Pismo Beach in early November. So then I would have just driven right by them on Highway 101, and I would have missed the best pit stop ever.

If you’re in the Pismo Beach area between the months of November and February, follow Highway 1 to Pismo State Beach and the North End Campground entrance. Find the free parking in the campground and follow the marked path. Besides seeing trees full of butterflies, you’ll find docents, displays, and some binoculars set up for the kids to get a closer view.

I have already written about our annual visits to the Natural Bridges Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Santa Cruz, California: here, here, and here. I know that I’m a little obsessed with these orange buggers. It’s just that they’re so darn cool. So what are you waiting for? This winter, go find a butterfly grove near you.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

I have a kid who is donning a zookeeper costume for the second Halloween of his young life, so I tend to spend a lot of time at zoos with my little animal enthusiast. We have seen more elephants, giraffes, and lemurs than I’d like to remember. But since I’m here to share our adventures, I will remember our few trips out to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (formerly known as the San Diego Zoo Wild Animal Park). Here are our favorite San Diego Safari Park experiences:

1. Elephant Overlook

There are not many places where a kid can see an elephant herd in California, so the Elephant Overlook exhibit is definitely worth a visit. There are eight baby elephants to ooh and ah at. Be sure to follow the elevated pathway alongside the huge exhibit until you get the best close-up views of the pachyderms. We found these guys hanging out in a corner of the exhibit, but the enclosure is pretty big so keep looking, you won’t miss them. Ha.

2. Lion Camp

This not the place where you want to set up your tent and roast marshmallows, but it is the place to go find the kings of the jungles lazing around just inches away from you (through the thick glass window, of course). This exhibit lets you and the kids get safely and uncomfortably close to the lions, much closer than most zoo exhibits. They looked quite cozy on their bed of boulders, but I wouldn’t go tapping on the window.

3. Journey Into Africa Tour

The park’s main visitor draw is this 25-minute tram tour through the Heart of Africa exhibit. Among the many African animals, you will see the giraffes, rhinoceros, gazelles, and impalas out the tram windows. This is not a tour that will let you experience a closer interaction with the animals (you will have to pay for the photo caravans if you want the giraffes to come up to the window), but it will let kids get a glimpse of animals wandering around more freely in their bigger enclosures.

4. Lorikeet Landing

This is the place to go if you like green-naped lorikeets swooping down on you and your kid. The lorikeets are not afraid of people, mostly because the homo sapiens come into the aviary with cups of nectar for them to dine on. The people may be afraid of them though, so this is not the place for kids who don’t like lorikeets climbing-or potentially pooping-on their heads. My kid, a.k.a the crocodile hunter, feared no lorikeet and loved every minute of it. So much so, that we had to go get another cup of nectar. It does make for a great photo opportunity though.

Tips:

This park is part of San Diego Zoo, but it’s about 35 miles away in the inland city of Escondido. Don’t expect to do this park and the zoo in one day unless you have some sort of death wish. Give yourself at least a good half-day to explore the Safari Park, we’ve been twice and still not seen the whole thing, mostly because it involves a lot of walking in the California desert heat.

It’s hot, so plan to go early in the morning during the summer or just avoid that season altogether.

Plan to do a lot of walking because there are fewer but larger exhibits that are spread out throughout this huge zoo park. But don’t let that stop you from exploring at least some of the park by foot, there is much more than the tram tour.

Check the website for special events, additional experiences and the occasional deal (kids get in free this October, for example).

Columbia State Historic Park

What: Columbia is a preserved and recreated Gold Rush town located about three miles north of Sonora, California. There are exhibits displaying historical artifacts throughout the town, and some even provide hands-on activities for kids. You can also take a stagecoach ride or try your hand at gold panning. Some of the proprietors of the shops, restaurants and hotels are dressed up in period clothing.

Why: We were driving back from a trip to Yosemite National Park along historic Highway 49 and knew this was the perfect opportunity to introduce the kiddo to a slice of California history.

My Kid’s Picks: He didn’t let the lanky cowboy intimidate him while he tried panning for gold at the Hidden Treasure Gold Mine place in the town’s southern end. It took a few tries and some refinement of his technique, but he got to take a few “gold” flake home for show-and-tell. At the working blacksmith shop, he also got his named hammered into a horseshoe souvenir. We took an ice cream break at the Fallon Ice Cream Parlor and also bought a few bottles of sarsaparilla (looks like a beer bottle) soda. And of course, our kid-approved activities wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the ol’ candy shop.

Mom’s Verdict: This is one of the best sites along the Mother Lode highway for kids to get a feel for the Gold Rush era. It may not be the most historically important town, but its neatly restored buildings and living history component makes it the most enjoyable for kids. It was worth walking up a few blocks to check out the old Columbia Schoolhouse, where school is no longer in session, but you can take a peek at the rows of desks and dunce chair at the front of the room. You can also get a bathroom pass and check out the historical outhouses by the school. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s always good for kids to get a bit of perspective, so that they can better appreciate the bathroom at the at the next gas station pit stop.

Useful Tidbits: California’s Gold Country towns can get unbearably hot during the summer. Be prepared for the heat or plan your trips for summer or fall instead. Admission and parking are free. The museum open 10-4 daily, most businesses are open until 5. Gold Rush Days are held on the second Saturday of every month 1-4. Check the website for regular town tour times.


Today’s Tip: When You Give a Kid an iPhone

…he just may find a way to pass the time.

He’ll never be bored while waiting for his flight…

…or while waiting for his kid’s menu at the restaurant…

…or even while waiting for the big tall dude to sit down and stop shaking his pom-pom at the big playoff baseball game.

But if his mom leaves him unattended with the iPhone camera for too long, she just may have to delete a lot of very embarrassing pictures. (Sorry you’re not getting any photos of me with the clown hair and big red nose.)

Photo creations by the kiddo using Faces iMake and Squiggles apps. I found out about these apps while browsing two very helpful kid’s apps sites Moms With Apps and Best Kids Apps.