Free Family & Children’s Activities in California

Bored Kids. Looking for a family activity. Here are things to do with your kids before they are grown up. And, if you have a great idea, suggest your own ideas to share with others. Or. offer comments on ones already suggested.

Automotive Museum’s – Really classic cars

59 Corvette Classic CarIf your family includes a number of car buffs, finding a classic car show or automotive museum will be loads of fun. Here are a few museum’s to try:

Blackhawk Museum Danville, Calif – It combines international treasures with art and technology displays. See blackhawkmuseum.org.

National Automobile Museum Reno, Nevada – Vintage one-of-a kind cars including Packards and Rolls Royces. See www.automuseum.org.

Snoopy’s Museum – The Charles Schultz Museum

Snoopy Charlie Brown MuseumThe World War I Flying Ace first hounded the Red Baron in 1965 and he still rides high in Santa Rosa, CA, site of the popular Charles Schultz Museum, ice rink and gift shop. See schulzmuseum.org

California Poppy Reserve

California Poppy ReserveFrom mid-March to mid-May, blossoms can carpet this 1,760-acre sliver of land on the Mojave Desert’s west edge in Antelope Valley. In good years, poppies, lupines, owl’s clover, goldfields, and creamcups spread color along seven miles of easy trails. The colors of nature will absolutely awe you! For more information, go to: parks.ca.gov/?page_id=627.

Indoor Sky Diving – Lift Off!

indoor sky divingWhen your inner daredevil isn’t quite up to jumping from an airplane, why not try indoor sky diving? Step into a vertical wind tunnel where a powerful fan whooshes air at 160 mph, lifting you off your feet. An instructor hovers (literally) nearby throughout your first flight. Beginner packages range from $40 to $70.

Visit Solvang – A little bit of Denmark in California

solvang california

You bet it’s kitschy. And what’s wrong with that? The faux-Danish village of Solvang, California located 35 miles northwest of Santa Barbara, is a blast to visit, especially at Christmas. The town makes merry with pagents, parades, caroling, and the construction of an 8-by-11-foot gingerbread house – using 250 pounds of cookie dough, which is displayed at the Royal Scandinavian Inn. Don’t leave town without breakfasting on aebleskiver, the spherical Nordic answer to pancakes.

See how money is made

California Academy of ScienceKids are always fascinated when money is coined and printed. The US Mint offers tours in Washington, D.C. and Denver, CO. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing prints paper money and provides tours in Washington, D.C., and Fort Worth, Texas.

Build a geodesic dome

geodesic dome newspapersA geodesic dome is the strongest dome you can build. Geodesic domes are made of interlocking geometric shapes—often triangles. Because loads are spread over many triangles, these domes are especially strong. Make yours out of newspaper and see how strong it can be. For instructions: pbs.org

Dune buggy at Pismo Beach

dune buggy pismo beachRide the sand dunes at Pismo Beach, California in an ATV or dune buggy. Get a thrill jumping the dunes and then jump in the ocean for a refreshing cool down.

Indoor Volleyball

Indoor VolleyballKids don’t need a gymnasium to get exercise on a cold winter’s day. This version of volleyball can be played indoors without risk to lamp or limb. To play, first tie a piece of yarn or string across a 10-foot playing area, about 1 foot above the floor. Divide the players into 2 teams and have them set up crab style (faceup, leaning on their hands and feet) in their stocking feet on each side of the string.

Space Center Houston – Johnson Space Center

In general, Texas is not known as a ‘high-tech’ state. However, during the Space Race of the 1960s, Houston secured its place in the technology field with the role played by Space Center Houston.

Take a Chocolate Tour of San Francisco or Your Own Home Town

Ghirardelli SquareTake a walking tour of San Francisco’s best and famous chocolate eateries. Either do your own self-tour or take one by www.gourmetwalks.com. These tours are at 10:30am Wednesdays and Fridays and 2pm Saturdays. For your own walking tour:

Scharffenberger Chocolate Maker – Ferry Building Marketplace, One Ferry Building, Shop #14. 415-981-9150. Better yet, drive to Berkeley to visit their headquarters.

Monterey Bay Aquarium – A California Marine Adventure

Monterey Bay AcquariumLike most fish stories, this one just gets better over time. In 1984, on the site of a cannery immortalized by John Steinbeck, a new attraction showcasing the splendors of the sea opened its doors. In large glass tanks designed for easy viewing, sleepy-eyed octopuses clung to coral outcrops. Slow-motion stingrays kicked up sand along the bottom while antic otters skittered across the surface, clacking shellfish like castanets.

Hearst Castle – One Grand House

Hearst CastleLike many Californians, I skipped past Hearst Castle for years. I’d seen Orson Welles’s 1941 classic, Citizen Kane, and figured I knew all I needed to about Citizen Hearst and his San Simeon monument to self-indulgence. Fifty-six bedrooms, 61 baths, 41 fireplaces—the scale alone is embarrassing. It apparently took a village to house this man, who had the wealth of a Medici and the ego of Nero.

Moss Landing: Sanctuary of the Central Coast

moss landingThe sea otters are so close you can hear one munching a crab, making a cracking sound like a kid with a bag of sunflower seeds. It’s a cool, gray morning near the tiny town of Moss Landing, Calif., and I’m sitting in a flatbottom boat with 15 other passengers, gliding across the waters of Elkhorn Slough. The otters—27 of them in this particular group—seem wholly unconcerned with us. A mother otter nurses her pup; another rolls in the water.

Sled in sand

Grab a sled, squirt the rails with furniture polish, and go for a spin in Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Schedule your trip for June, and you can catch the annual Castles, Kites, and Concerts event, featuring—you guessed it—sand castles, flying kites, and music concerts. See www.nps.gov/grsa.

Relax and Go Wild with a Houseboat

What a wonderful way to spend time with grandparents, the kids, and their friends. Rent a houseboat for a week or weekend. Fish, swim or watch a DVD inside while enjoying some tranquil time. This is one of the most affordable vacations and in this economy that’s a great fit for a family or share with friends.

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