Monthly Archives: June 2010

Extreme Mammals at California Academy of Sciences

Did you know that whales once walked on four legs? Don’t worry you’re not alone, I didn’t know either. My son did, and he was happy to tell me all about the walking whale, Ambulocetus, while we toured the new Extreme Mammals exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

My Kid’s Picks:

Nothing impresses an eight-year-old more than the extreme, whether it be extreme cannon balls in the swimming pool or extreme mammals at the museum, so this exhibit was right up his alley. As we strolled the nine sections of the exhibit, my son tugged at my sleeve begging me to check out the “freaky” animals. He did stop and read the information behind each display, but seeing the fossils and animal models was the big draw. It’s one thing to learn about prehistoric animals at school, and a whole thing altogether to see them in person. His favorites were the glyptodont-an extinct relative of the armadillo as big as a car-and the live tree shrew in the Reproduction section.

Mom’s Verdict:

I really liked that the prehistoric focus of this exhibit, since this is the one area I found a bit lacking in the new Academy of Sciences. Whenever there is an opportunity to take my son to see some of these fossil and taxidermy displays in person, I will hop at the chance. This exhibit is better suited for school-aged children, but even the younger bunch will enjoy getting a glimpse of the extreme mammals. We saw a few toddlers touring the exhibit, but at a much speedier pace. The timed entry made the exhibit easier to see, without hordes of people trying to push your kid while he checks out that three-horned deer relative. The lighting is a bit darker in this particular hall, so it may be a bit scary to sensitive toddlers.

Useful Tips:

This exhibit requires you get passes for timed entry. Get your passes on the second level once you enter the museum. They are handed out on a first come, first serve basis.

There will be a picture taken of your group in front of two wooly mammoths before you enter. Do tell the photographer you would like to have at least 50% of your group not come out with their eyes closed in the picture. I speak from personal experience.

There is no photography allowed inside the actual exhibit, though, so I wasn’t able to share any with you. But there are a few on the Academy website.

I found my second visit to the new Academy of Science to be much more enjoyable, mostly because the crowds have thinned out. I will have to revisit my previous tips post and will have a more detailed post about the Academy later this month. In the meantime, head down to the Academy of Sciences to check out the Extreme Mammals before they’re gone. The exhibit runs until September 12, 2010.

We received complimentary media passes for this visit to the Academy of Sciences, as always views and opinions shared here are all my own.

San Francisco Family Vacation

Today’s Tip: Saving a Bit on Your Hotel Stay

I spend a lot of my trip-planning time, trying to make my travel dollars stretch when it comes to choosing hotels. I just booked seven different hotels for one of our trips this summer and had to find a way to make them all affordable. It took time, but I’ve mastered a few simple rules for getting the best possible hotel for the least amount of money. Because I’m such a giver, I’m going to share them with you today.

1. Stay just outside the city. It’s no surprise that hotel rates in big cities are high. It may be convenient to be in the heart of the action, but for some families it’s just out of reach. I found that the most affordable hotels are always just outside the city, the cheapest options being found around airports. Some cities here in the western states have good public transportation to get you back to the heart of the city, even though you’re just outside of it. But some cities don’t. In Los Angeles, for example, you will be doing a lot of driving if you’re far from the attractions you want to visit. You don’t want to do a lot of driving in Los Angeles, so you will have to find hotels in the location you want.

2. Stay in a newly-opened hotel. Aaahh, there’s just something about that new hotel smell. I know you’re probably thinking that it would be too expensive to stay at the newer, fancier properties. It can be. But it’s not, if you book early enough to snag all those opening rates. When I browse the hotel chain websites, my eyes perk up when I see a soon-to-open property listed. If the dates match my trip dates, I look for any pre-opening or opening rates. Just know that sometimes it’s a gamble, because hotels don’t always open on time. So I book a second option (never prepaid) just in case. I love this master list of hotel openings at the website Hotel Chatter, but I’m a bit geeky like that.

3. Book early, or not. I booked many of the hotels for my June trip about two months ahead of time. I never prepay them, unless they’re an unbeatable deal, so I have time to keep looking as I get closer to my trip. There may be those last-minute deals that pop-up, so I will still keep looking. It has been my experience, though, that I rarely find a deal that’s so much better that I have to rebook my hotel. When you’re traveling with kids, you have specific room types and specifications that you’re looking for, and those are rarely the room types that show up in those last-minute deals.

4. Use your memberships. I use my AAA membership discounts at almost every hotel, the rates are almost always cheaper. Costco also has good deals, but they’re more limited in the number of hotels that are offered.

5. Find those hotel deals websites. There are hundreds of websites offering hotel deals, more than I have time to follow. I like Travelzoo and Hotwire Travel Ticker. I also have to give a special shout-out to a site that is geared for traveling in the Pacific Northwest: Northwest Cheap Sleeps.

Am I missing any other tips for saving money on hotels? Please do share.

Cool Kids’ Calendar Planner: World Oceans Day Events

World Oceans Day is on June 8 and many aquariums and museums in California are holding special family events to celebrate and bring awareness about our oceans and how we can keep them healthy. I’ve compiled a list with links to some of the events taking place this week. If I’m missing any, just add them to the comments.

Monterey Bay Aquarium is holding it’s World Oceans Day event this weekend, June 5-6 and is free with admission. There will be a special family craft room and special feedings throughout the day.

Birch Aquarium is holding special events all month, beginning on Tuesday, June 8 with a special Dr. Seuss, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish theme activities.

Sea Life Aquarium is holding family events on June 5.

Aquarium of the Bay is holding family events and scavenger hunts from Sunday, June 6 to Tuesday, June 8.

Even if you can’t make any of these events, you should consider a trip to the beach for a little impromptu clean-up and celebration of your own.

Linking up to Trekaroo’s Spotlight Thursday, head there for more family travel ideas.