If your kids like to roar back in time with dinosaur books, they will love going hands on in the Bay Area. They won't ride the actual beasts of course—that would be Jurassic Park stuff—but they can explore Bay Area hangouts that celebrate the biggest animals that ever roamed the surface of the earth. Whether museums, playgrounds, or fun play spots, these places will tickle their paleontologist bones and might inspire a lifelong passion for the Earth's extinct mighty reptiles.
Meet Dinosaur Skeletons in Museums
In San Francisco, you can't miss the T-Rex standing smack in the lobby of the California Academy of Sciences. Rising high above little ones in the tell-tale predatory position, this Tyrannosaurus rex is actually a cast composite of three individuals housed at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta, Canada, one of the world leading centers in paleontology. Standing "shoulder to shoulder" with the mighty T-Rex will give your kids a rough idea of how big the animals were. But wait, the academy has much more. Climb two levels to find a half-size replica of a Velociraptor skeleton next to shelves of dinosaur books for all ages in the Naturalist Center on Level 3. For more prehistoric thrills, go down to the swamp area and find a replica of Megalodon jaws (a huge prehistoric shark), then continue on to the south wall of the Islands of Evolution exhibit and observe ammonite and trilobite fossils as well as a woolly mammoth tusk. Big, right?
In Berkeley, the Lawrence Hall of Science and the University of California Museum of Paleontology are the places you want to visit to satisfy that dinosaur itch. Designed with education in mind, the Lawrence Hall of Science exhibits in the auditorium lobby a T-Rex skull, a mastodon skeleton (a sort of mammoth) and a simulated paleontologist dig of a Triceratops horridus. Short of heading to the Badlands or deserts where real bones are uncovered with toothbrushes, it is a great opportunity for kids to see what a real life dig looks like: tools, half-buried dinosaur skull, big canvas tent for sun protection. It's all there!
Now the Museum of Paleontology is a sticky spot because it's dedicated to science research and is therefore closed to the public—except once a year and that's when you have to plan ahead. On April 21, 2012 visit the Annual Cal Day Open House to see a tyrannosaur skeleton, a Pteranodon and a Triceratops skull in the hall, plus fossil collections you never get to see otherwise. You might even peek in the back rooms stacked high with drawers of the real fossils used for study.
Dig Some Bones
It's legal! Well, in two Bay Area playgrounds that is. You can't just go digging around anywhere on public land but these two playgrounds cater to the dinosaur-obsessed crowd by offering a unique sandbox experience: kids can dig some bones!
At Howarth Park in Santa Rosa, the sand area hides an artist's rendition of dinosaur bones in the form of an 8-foot long skeleton buried in the sand. Cemented to the bottom of the sand box, the skeleton doesn't surface above the sand. You have to dig with your hands or beach shovels to uncover it. Think of it as sandbox top level excavating. When the park's volcano's water feature is active, kids shuttle back and forth between the volcano and the sand box to clean the bones.
In Dublin, the Emerald Glen Park features amazing water features and slides as well as a sand area with buried dinosaur bones to dig away.
Throw a Dinosaur Birthday Party
Yes you can and it doesn't have to involve a trip to New Mexico or Argentina, as tempting as it sounds. For a DIY party, start at The Bone Room in Berkeley, a store where feathers, skeletons and fossils are as common as skulls and odd insects. Pick up your party favors and fun cake toppings, such as small toy dinosaurs, dino-skeletons, chocolate-covered insects or insect lollipops. Now follow these instructions and throw the perfect dinosaur birthday party complete with Jurassic hats and pail-eolithic dig. Done deal!
If you prefer a hands-on approach at an art studio, CQ's Art For Kids Studio in San Bruno organizes dinosaur-themed birthday parties where kids can use recycled materials for their dinosaur art projects - think dinosaur models made of oatmeal containers and paper towel rolls and the like. Then it's cake and goodie time!
Get Into Birding
No joke. Did you know that birds are living dinosaurs and technically reptiles? Think about the pelicans, blue herons and turkey vultures - don't they have that odd "ancient clawed hands wide orbit" look? Somehow, bird-watching is a way of observing dinosaurs! To optimize your chances to see a variety of birds, visit bird sanctuaries such as the Richardson Bay Audubon in Tiburon, the Hayward Regional Shoreline in Hayward or the Pescadero Marsh Preserve in Pescadero. And don't forget your binoculars!
Thanks to Ronnie Sharpe for having a dinosaur-obsessed daughter and sharing her local resources.
Laure Latham is the author of The Best Hikes with Kids: San Francisco Bay Area. Laure grew up in New Caledonia, a remote island in the South Pacific between Australia and Tahiti. Along with her spirited brothers, she spent her childhood years playing in bushes, building forts, climbing trees, fixing kites, and snorkeling around coral reefs. Then one day she really had to grow up. After a stint as a tax attorney in France, she now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where she writes about the outdoors and travels with her two young daughters and husband. A complete chocoholic and tea-addict, she needs her daily fix to breeze through the day, luxuries she always packs along in her backpack for her hikes.
You can read more about her on her blog Frog Mom.
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