Pacific Coast Highway (a.k.a. 101) in Northern California. Highway 101 along the Northern California coast is even more dramatic than it appears on TV. Rugged picturesque coves with tide pools protected by statue like rock outcroppings vie for attention against giant redwoods, cascading flowers and condors gliding thermals.
Pet a shark. The Ocean World Aquarium is one of the best privately owned aquariums in the U.S. with an amazing variety of sealife and many opportunities to learn by doing. Three unique ocean environments are showcased at the facility. In addition to the 500,000-gallon saltwater aquarium with touch pools and underwater viewing, visitors will also see otters, bat rays and sea lions. This is the place to pet a shark, clap with the sea lions and laugh at the fish. A topnotch aquarium, not to be missed. (304 Highway 101 South, Crescent City, 99553. 1 (707) 464-4900 or www.oceanworldonline.com)
See the big reds. Just look up and be amazed. Redwood National Park has the distinction of being home to the tallest trees in the world. Majestic and magnificent the groves of ancient giants create a powerful visual impression. Spanning more than 60 miles in length the Park covers more than 75, 000 acres with almost 20,000 acres of old growth redwood forest. One of the stateliest trees on the planet, 345-foot tall Stout Tree is located along Howland Hill Road, the historic stagecoach route to Oregon. Discovery: For Star Wars enthusiasts Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is worth a hike. It was the setting for Return of the Jedi. (1(707) 464-6101 or www.nps.gov/redw/index.htm)
Follow a sky trail. Experience the redwoods from an aerial gondola more than 125 feet above the forest floor. The Trees of Mystery SkyTrail gondola provides visitors an unforgettable journey through a forest of majestic coastal redwoods, bringing participants to eye level with some of the world’s oldest and tallest trees. From majestic to cultural and quirky, it is also the location of the End of the Trail Museum showcasing the largest private collection of Native American artifacts, clothing, pottery, baskets, weapons and tools. Discovery: The quirky award goes to the largest Paul Bunyan statue in the world. (15500 Highway 101 N. Klamath, 95548 1-800-638-3389 or www.treesofmystery.net)
Discover science across the bay. At the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge on the Sausalito side, the Bay Area Discovery Museum provides exciting hands on science for young children. A comfortable, caring place, they have created numerous ways for ways for families to play together and learn together. The Museum offers permanent exhibitions, as well as changing exhibitions each year and an extensive list of performances, workshops, events and educational programs. (East Fort Baker 557 McReynolds Road, Sausalito, 94965. 1(415) 487-4398, 289-7268 or www.baykidsmuseum.org)
Look up at the Golden Gate. Enjoy earth, ocean, and space all at the same place. Golden Gate Park is one of San Francisco’s natural gems. Within the park is a world class museum experience just waiting for unsuspecting visitors. The California Academy of Sciences, a nonprofit, educational and research institution, includes Steinhart Aquarium, Morrison Planetarium and the Natural History Museum each with excellent displays, exhibits and programs. Discovery: Arrive by public transportation and receive an admission fee discount. (55 Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, 94118-4599. 415-750-7392 or www.calacademy.org)
Meet at the Pier. On the waterfront Pier 39 is a 45-acre complex that has an amazing variety of activities to enjoy. From street performers and the famous carousel to a thrilling Turbo Ride and the Riptide Arcade, the places exudes fun. Whether you are looking for fun-filled attractions, unique shopping, and an up-close look at California’s playful sea lions, or superb dining with a Bay view, San Francisco’s Pier 39 is the place to be. It’s the place to take a Bay Cruise or watch the resident sea lions at K-Dock. It is also the location of Aquarium of the Bay as well as more than 110 stores and 11 full service restaurants. Discovery: K-Dock is now officially designated a “Watchable Wildlife” viewing area which means Marine Mammal Center volunteer docents are available to answer such questions about California sea lions. (Two blocks east of Fisherman’s Wharf at Beach Street and The Embarcadero. San Francisco. 1(415) 705.5500 or www.pier39.com)
Travel over trestles through the trees. Within the dramatic redwood forests near the Santa Cruz Mountains, south of San Francisco is one of America’s last steam-powered narrow gauge passenger railroads. Once the transportation of gold-miners, lumberjacks, and early pioneers, today it provides a bit of living history. One route travels along the San Lorenzo River Gorge to the historic boardwalk at Santa Cruz. The other train no longer needed for logging, trudges under giant redwood groves and up a winding narrow-gauge grade to the summit of Bear Mountain. (Roaring Camp Railroads, Felton, 95018. 1(831) 335-4484 or www.roaringcamp.com)
Take a slough safari. South of San Francisco Elkhorn Slough is one of California’s largest wetlands and part of a National Estuarine Reserve located in central Monterey Bay. The Reserve is an important habitat for a wide variety of wildlife including sea otters, harbor seals, feeding sharks, giant slugs, waterfowl and migratory shorebirds. Elkhorn Slough Safari provides a way to visit this estuary on a two-hour pontoon boat cruise. On board with each trip a naturalist aids passengers in understanding the dynamics of slough ecology and evolution. Discovery: There are special activities provided for children on each trip. (Moss Landing.1 (831) 633-5555 or www.elkhornslough.com)
Laugh at the fish. The fascinating exhibits at The Monterey Bay Aquarium provide unique glimpses of the hidden world within Monterey Bay, at the heart of the nation’s largest marine sanctuary. The state of -the-art exhibits re-create the bay’s habitats, from shallow tide pools to the open ocean and deep sea. From splash tanks to swimming with the fish there are wonderful memories waiting to be claimed. The facility conducts sea otter research and supports marine sanctuary conservation and initiatives. (886 Cannery Row, Monterey, 93940, 24-hour information line 1(831) 648-4888, 1 (831) 648-4800 or www.montereybayaquarium.org)
Visit an American Castle. In the Santa Lucia Mountains of California is the location of William Randolph Hearst’s 250,000-acre San Simeon ranch. At the center of the ranch on a hilltop overlooking the Pacific Ocean, La Cuesta Encantada (The Enchanted Hill), a dream that took craftsmen and laborers almost 28 years to complete. Known as Hearst Castle by most, it is a 165-room Mediterranean Revival style castle framed by more than 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and pathways and guestshouses. Tours of the La Casa Grande (main house) provide a glimpse of the lavish lifestyle of its creator. Discovery: Throughout the year living history evenings are scheduled. Created to add the human element to the lavish retreat, they are conducted by actors portraying guests of Mr. Hearst. (750 Hearst Castle Road, San Simeon, 93452. 1(805) 927-2020 or www.hearstcastle.org)
© 2003 Travel Communications, Inc.
Content syndication services provided by TheFamilyTravelFiles.com