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.
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.
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.
‘Tis the season to take the family to enjoy the Christmas lights, catch a matinee of the Nutcracker, and get that picture with Santa at the mall (unless you have a kid that refuses to get within a foot of the mall Santa). If you’re looking for ways to keep the kids busy this holiday season, you will find plenty of options in California. Here are two of my favorite family-friendly events in California this month. They’re educational too, just don’t tell the kids.
Snow and Reindeer at the California Academy of Sciences from November 23 to January 2.
Kids love to listen for reindeer hooves on their roofs on Christmas Eve, so take them to the east garden of the Academy to meet the reindeer at the Reindeer Rendezvous special exhibit. Then step inside the igloo presentation dome to watch the five-minute video about the North Pole. There are plenty of daily science, animal, and cultural presentations to choose from, but if you go on Wednesdays, you’ll get to meet the scientists that explore the Earth’s coldest regions. Don’t forget to get a picture with Santa Claude, the Academy’s alligator character, and catch the indoor snow flurries.
These special holiday activities are all included with general admission tickets. Check the website for more information and schedules.
The Science of Gingerbread at the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana from November 23 to January 3.
Kids know how darn cute (and yummy) houses can be, so take them to the Discovery Science Center this month, so they can see the entries of the gingerbread house competition displayed throughout the center. On weekends, kids get to check out the gingerbread decorating demonstrations, and try their hand at baking at the measure-and-mix learning station. There are also daily shows and presentations, such as the “Matter of Taste” show. If you want to participate in a special gingerbread house workshop, check out their website for more information.
Linking up to Trekaroo Spotlight Thursday, where other bloggers are sharing their lists of favorite holiday events.
What: The San Francisco Cable Car Museum
Where: It’s located high up in the Mason and Washington cable car barn in (you guessed it) San Francisco, California.
Why: We wanted to learn more about those famous cable cars, without having to actually stand in one of the long lines to board one.
My Kid’s Picks: The penny machine. Yes, there seems to be one of those wherever we go. He also enjoyed seeing the wheels that turn the cables and checking out all of the maps and grids for each cable car line. In the downstairs viewing area, he checked out the cables that entered the building from the channels under the street. This is a trip underground.
Mom’s Verdict: The museum is often overlooked, mostly because it is not near any other major attraction. You can, of course, ride up in a cable car and then back down. In addition to the behind-the-scenes look at the machinery that keeps those cable cars moving, there are a few antique cars on display. It is worth a stop if your kids are into learning about modes of transport, and if you’ve already seen many of the other attractions in San Francisco. School-aged children will get the most of out of the visit. Oh, and if you can’t guess from watching the video: it’s loud.
Useful Tidbits: Admission is free. There is only street parking so we parked in a garage on California Street (a few blocks away). The whole tour of the museum took less than twenty minutes (including a bathroom break and penny machine session). There is also a small, inexpensive cafe across the street. We stopped there for a panini and Italian soda for lunch.
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In our household, it isn’t Christmas without a trip to Christmas in the Park. This San Jose tradition celebrates its 30th anniversary this year and I hope it stays around for another thirty years. You hear that gingerbread people? Don’t go anywhere. Here are the reasons we love this holiday event.
1. The Christmas displays are the main event. The whole reason for going to Christmas in the Park is to check out all the retro displays. We love the Santa Claus train, Caribbean Christmas, and Gingerbread House displays. Keep your eye out for the winners of this year’s community-decorated Christmas trees that can be viewed throughout the plaza. The trees are sponsored by all sorts of groups, from Girl Scout troops to high school art classes.
2. The lights are pretty. While you can visit the holiday displays all day long, the best time to go is right at dusk. Have some hot cocoa with your afternoon snack and take a stroll trough the plaza when the lights start to twinkle on all of the trees.
3. And there are rides. Yes, be prepared for a little whining from your kids when they lay their eyes on all of the carnival rides. There are things that spin, things that go, and things that may clean out your wallet. The rides are located usually located on side streets by the Tech Museum and the Fairmont Hotel.
4. The festive decorations can also be found indoors. Stroll on over to the Fairmont Hotel right across the street from the plaza to check out the gingerbread house that’s big enough to walk through.
5. It’s all (relatively) free. There is no admission charge for Christmas in the Park. There are, of course, plenty of things around the plaza to spend your money on: the rides, the plastic reindeer toys, and the delicious churros.
Just the facts: Christmas in the park is in downtown San Jose at Plaza de Cesar Chavez Park. It runs November 27 through December 27. Check out the website for more information.
There are only two reasons my son will get into the car for the six-hour drive to Los Angeles: 1. Disneyland, 2. The Getty Museum of Art. That’s right, my son loves an art museum as much as he does Mickey-shaped ice cream. So maybe he’s not your typical kid, but I think his love of the Getty has a lot to do with how this art museum gives families the red carpet treatment.
Here’s why your kids may grow to love The Getty as well:
- There is a ride. To get up to the museum, you can choose to walk or ride the Getty Tram. I’m guessing that most kids (and tired parents) will prefer to ride up. Plus, you can convince your kids it’s almost like Disneyland.
- There is a room just for them. The Family Room is housed in it’s own small building, and is obviously the most kid-friendly place in the museum. This room looks more like a discovery museum than an art gallery. It has at least five hands-on activity areas, where kids can make a mask, play with mirrors, look through “art” peep holes, and decorate an illuminated wall with their own manuscript designs. My son’s favorite area was the tube sculpture cove. He spent almost half an hour trying to make the perfect sculpture, but realized he had to share his sculpting space with other kids who didn’t necessarily share his vision. In the end, he did get a bit of uninterrupted play time to finish his sculpture. Because this room has limited capacity, we had to wait about 15 minutes to get inside. It was definitely worth the wait though.
- They will find engaging art galleries. The summer we went, they had a special exhibit about science and women, with paintings of flowers and insects. Inside the special exhibit, there was an area for kids to color their own flower prints. There was also Art Detective cards available, with clues that kids had to look for in the paintings. These cards are great because they provide kids with a way to actively engage with the art, and parents don’t have to come up with the activities themselves. You can use Art Detective cards for other areas of the museum-pick one up outside the Family Room.
- They can roam the gardens. Art can be appreciated outdoors as well. Kids like to check out the garden paths and the sculptures of the Central Garden. Parents will appreciate that they won’t have to keep tiny hands away from any valuable art. Oh, and did I mention you can catch some of the best views of Los Angeles? The grounds, architecture, and scenic location of this museum are what make it such an unique experience.
- So many activities, so little time. There’s so much for families to do at the Getty, that we didn’t get a chance to try it all out. I would have liked to try the Family Art Stop to get a “hands-on gallery experience with a single work of art”. The workshop is free, but you do have to sign-up at the Information Center. Check their website for days and times, depending on the season you’re visiting. If you like to do the audio tours, there is one available just for families. You can rent the GettyGuide audio player at the museum’s entrance hall for five dollars.
I love the The Getty Museum of Art for all of these reasons and for the fact that admission is free. You will need to pay $10 dollars to park your car. The cafe has plenty of kid-approved food, and a beautiful outdoor eating area to enjoy some of that southern California sun. You are allowed to bring your own picnic to eat on the lawn next to the Central Garden, or any of the public seating areas.
Family Travel Tips