All packed up and looking for somewhere to go? We’ve got terrific suggestions from the Los Angeles Times to steer you in the right direction. In fact, 14 of them. Enjoy and bon voyage!
1. Safari West Wildlife Preserve & African Tent Camp, Santa Rosa, CA: A cheetah and a serval prowl the hills. Lemurs and monkeys watch from trees. Zebras, rhinoceroses, giraffes, wildly striped bongos and Barbary sheep graze in a field. Visiting this wildlife preserve is cheaper than going to Africa, with the opportunity to see many of the same animals in a natural setting, just 60 miles north of San Francisco. Added plus: cottages and luxury tent cabins give guests a chance to experience the preserve overnight.
2. Cave & Mine Adventures, Vallecito, CA: Adventurous families might want to explore California Cavern, Moaning Cavern or Black Chasm Cavern (a national natural landmark) 80 miles southeast of Sacramento. You’ll encounter stalactites, stalagmites and cave rooms filled with crystals. Some cave tours involve walkways and stairs, while others require hiking, climbing on ladders, crawling through mud, sliding and slithering over, under and around massive boulders. The Middle Earth Expedition (for kids 16 and older) entails walking through knee-deep sticky clay, squeezing and crawling through uneven terrain and rafting 70 feet across an underground lake. Claustrophobes, fear not: you can pan for semiprecious gems or ride a zip line in the fresh air on the Earth’s surface.
3. California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco: It’s a ‘round-the-world trip in one location, featuring an African Hall with penguins, aquarium with sea creatures (clown fish!) from the California coast to the Philippines’ coral reefs, and a hot and humid 4-story rain forest (Madagascar, Borneo, Costa Rica and the Amazon River basin with free-flying butterflies and birds, tropical amphibians, reptiles and exotic flowering plants). And don’t miss the 4½-acre Living Roof featuring 1.7 million native drought-tolerant plants and a cosmic show in the all-digital planetarium.
4. Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite, Fish Camp, CA: Counselors at the Kids Adventure Club diligently lead their 5-to-12-year-old charges on outdoor activities that, depending on the season, include sledding, ice skating, mountain biking, archery and scaling a 25-foot climbing wall. The evening Kids Camp features movies, crafts, games and dinner. At the lodge, families can choose among horseback riding, hiking, playing in the arcade or swimming in indoor or outdoor pools. And just 30 miles to the north, one of America’s most magnificent treasures is waiting to enthrall you: Yosemite National Park. Alternatively, two miles to the south will bring you to the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad.
5. Children’s Museum of Indianapolis: It’s a good thing kids love dinosaurs, because on March 8th, Leonardo, a rare mummified one, makes his debut in the Dinosphere, a former cinedome with a ceiling featuring virtual days, colorful sunrises and sunsets every half hour, complete with thunderstorms and other dramatic weather.
6. Trilogy Excursions, Lahaina, Maui: What could be better than learning to snorkel in the shallow tide pools of Hulopoe Bay Marine Sanctuary on the south side of Lanai. The full-day Discover Lanai tour includes sailing on a 55- or 64-foot catamaran to the island (with the possibility of seeing dolphins and/or whales, December-April), snorkeling instruction and a guided snorkel tour. Snorkelers and swimmers might see peacock grouper, bright yellow tang, turquoise parrotfish, striped convict tang or the state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapuaa (as much fun to say as it is to see). Families can also play beach volleyball, tour the Lanai Culture & Heritage Center or trek along a nature trail to catch a glimpse of offshore Pu’u Pehe or Sweetheart Rock.
7. National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, Fort Worth: Designed to honor women “whose lives exemplify the courage, resilience and independence that helped shape the American West,” this one-of-a-kind museum celebrates former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, painter Georgia O’Keeffe, sharpshooter Annie Oakley and even the plucky animated cowgirl Jessie from “Toy Story 2.” Kids’ favorite? The bull ride, of course! They sit on a toned-down training bull while a video camera rolls. The footage then is sped up and mixed with old rodeo footage to create the illusion that your plucky youngster is a rootin’ tootin’ rodeo champ.
8. Rancho de los Caballeros, Wickenburg, AZ: This guest ranch has plenty of activities for families, such as swimming in the 60-foot-long pool, exploring local ghost towns, and hiking and horseback riding in the Sonoran Desert. The best part? The ranch also provides tons of activities for the kids—riding, tennis, scavenger hunts, tie-dye, hikes around the ranch searching for bunnies, lizards and tarantulas—while you sneak off to play golf or relax in the spa.
9. Canyonlands Ballooning, Moab, UT: In the cool of the early morning, a maximum of 14 guests float over stunning red-rock landscapes in or near Arches and Canyonlands national parks. The pilot points out geologic formations eroded by wind and water and tells humorous stories about the early days of ballooning. Sometimes the balloon scoots close to the ground in Mill Canyon so kids can grab leaves off the cottonwood trees; other times, it drifts over the Marching Men or Tower Arch or Uranium Arch on Courthouse Plateau. Along the way, keep your eyes peeled for bobcats, foxes, coyotes, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope or even a rare mountain lion. At eye level, maybe a red-tailed hawk, peregrine falcon or golden or bald eagle might be sighted.
10. Rosa Parks Museum, Montgomery, AL: The Cleveland Avenue Time Machine in the Children’s Wing appears to be a typical 1955 Montgomery city bus. Look closely, however. It has no tires, looks as if it’s being held aloft by soft purple light and low fog, and is “driven” by a robot named Mr. Rivets. During the 22-minute journey on this magical bus, passengers time-travel through strange and colorful lighting patterns and look out large windows to meet Harriet Tubman, Dred Scott and Homer Plessy. As the bus makes its way through the 20th century, you’ll see and learn about those who gave their time, energy and sometimes their very lives to end segregation and discrimination.
11. Paws for Adventures, Fairbanks, AK: It’s not every day you get to whiz along in a sled pulled by Alaskan huskies! Children older than 12 might enjoy three days of “mushing school” on groomed trails; winter-hardy families with older kids can choose overnight sled-dog trips, which can be customized.
12. Captain Memo’s Original Pirate Cruise, Clearwater Beach, FL: Get ready for two hours of high-energy activity on the 70-foot-long, three-masted Pirate’s Ransom as it sails the Intracoastal Waterway and the Gulf of Mexico. Crew “pirates” tell tall tales about high-seas high jinks while they paint wispy mustaches and tiny goatees on little faces. Between water-gun battles and musical chairs, junior buccaneers watch for bottlenose dolphins and hunt for treasure: “gold” coins hidden on the ship’s deck. Older privateers may prefer on-deck dancing to rock ‘n’ roll, country or the blues.
13. Woodward at Copper, Copper Mountain, CO: Looking for a different kind of summer vacation? Join your teens and tweens in learning tricks and jumps at this high-octane facility for developing ski, snowboard, skateboard, BMX bike and mountain-biking skills. You start indoors on trampolines, then move to specially-developed skis and boards on wheels that simulate the feeling of being on snow, ending up outdoors on park-and-pipe real-snow runs.
14. Schaffer’s High Sierra Camp, Sattley, CA: Parents’ paradise! Schaffer’s overnight summer camps are for kids only. Activities include hiking, backpacking, white-water rafting, rappelling, ropes courses, archery, drama, improvisation and dance, such as tap, jazz or hip-hop. Not far from a dozen Sierra lakes for swimming and kayaking, the camp emphasizes trying new things and making new friends.