The weather is definitely turning wintry, so get ready to spend more and more time indoors with your little ones. Fortunately, indoors doesn't have to mean housebound. If you find yourself feeling cooped up within your four walls, take the kids on a day trip. There are plenty of places no more than a couple hours' drive where you can get a change of scenery without having to head outdoors. Here are five of them:
1. California Academy of Science
The California Academy of Sciences draws huge crowds each and every day, and for good reason. Where else can you trek through a 4-story rainforest, see penguins being fed, touch a scaly snake, see an African savanna, dive into a tropical reef and visit the stars, all under one roof? Speaking of roofs, don't forget to take a a trip to the top floor to check out the Living Roof, a Teletubbie-like landscape of gently sloping hills and meadows, with round sunroofs popping up between the wildflowers, a testament to the museum's sustainable architecture and commitment to living green.
2. Monterey Bay Aquarium
With over 623 marine species featured in over 200 award-winning exhibits, almost 2 million people visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium every year, making it one of California's most popular attractions and the nation's No. 1 aquarium. Plan to spend at least 3-4 hours enjoying the exhibits and attractions. Some don't-miss highlights are the mesmerizing jellyfish, the swaying kelp forest, the otter tanks -- especially during feeding times! -- and the deep sea fish tank with my favorite, the oddly-shaped sunfish. Get your hand stamped and take a lunch break just outside the aquarium at Cannery Row, where you can enjoy clam chowder or fish and chips. Then head back inside and let your little ones run around the aquarium's Splash Zone, where they'll touch sea stars and splash around in the water play area.
3. Jelly Belly
The world's most famous jelly bean company holds free forty-minute factory tours at their Fairfield plant, just an hour's drive north of San Francisco. Jelly Belly tour guides take you around a real working factory, where you'll see how they cook up all their sweet treats (factory workers do not come on weekends so they show videos instead). Little ones will love watching robot arms pick up boxes of jelly beans and place them on conveyor belts, where they'll roll along on their way. The aroma of real chocolate, peach, pineapple or whatever flavor they're making is mouth-watering, and so are the free samples you'll get along the tour. Afterwards, have a jelly bean-shaped pizza or hamburger at the Jelly Belly Cafe. Don't forget to stop by the factory store on the way home, where you can pick up Jelly Belly treats, including their famous "belly flops," a pack of not-quite-perfect Jelly Belly beans, at a great bargain.
4. Chabot Space & Science Center
Young astronomers and astronauts get up close and personal with planets, stars and galaxies far, far away at the Chabot Space & Science Center. They can submit a question to a real life Astronomer or Scientist, take a photo in a replica Gemini Transport Capsule, participate or look through a telescope at the same stars that kids looked at over a hundred years ago. There are so many things to see and do, a day will pass by at the speed of light.
5. Seymour Discovery Center, Santa Cruz
For a behind-the-scenes look at the life of a marine scientist, head over to the Seymore Marine Discovery Center at UCSC's Long Marine Lab. The lab serves as a base for university faculty and researchers to conduct marine field studies in Monterey and the surrounding waters, and the Discovery Center's interior mimics the labs where scientists spend their days. Visitors can join daily tours to see and learn about how scientists are studying the lives of marine mammals and their ocean home. In between tours, visitors can explore the center's interactive exhibits, see the world's largest whale skeleton, peer into lab tanks, hold an assortment of sea creatures in their seawater table, even touch a friendly shark in their shark pool.
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