1. USS Midway, San Diego
The USS Midway was one of our country’s longest serving aircraft carriers that housed over 225,000 sailors while it was in service. This “city at sea” has 60 exhibits and 25 restored aircraft. See the quarters where crews slept, explore the engine room, the huge galley and even the ship’s prison. Walk around the flight deck to view the restored planes and flight controls. The museum has several family-oriented activities including flight simulators, climb-aboard aircraft and cockpits, music videos, and an Ejection Seat Theater. It is suggested that you plan to spend three of four hours aboard the ship, depending on the age of your children.
2. San Diego Air & Space Museum, San Diego
The San Diego Air and Space Museum is home to vintage planes, an aircraft carrier exhibit, and space age technology. As you enter the museum, you’ll find yourself standing under a model of the Montgolfier brother’s hot air balloon of 1783, which made history as the first manned vehicle to lift a person above the earth.
Mint condition aircraft used during wars, including World War II, Korea and Vietnam, are on display. Throughout the year, the Air & Space Museum hosts lectures, student programs and special events. Check the website for events, dates and times, and be sure to view the Kids Page to learn about events and displays at the museum specifically created for kids.
Address: 2001 Pan American Plaza, San Diego, California 92101
3. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles
Housing 35 million specimens covering 4.5 billion years, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is expansive in both size and collections. You and your family will explore three floors of permanent exhibits, covering everything from dinosaurs to butterflies to African mammals. The museum hosts daily story time and endless activities for kids.
On the weekends, 3 to 5 year olds can participate in Critter Club, where the museum’s live animals are introduced to the smallest patrons. There are special education opportunities for children of all ages and adults, so be sure to review the website for the times and days.
Address: 900 Exposition Blvd, Los Angeles, California 90007
4. Discovery Science Center, Santa Ana
The Discovery Science Center is a 59,000 square foot facility that is dedicated to educating children and sparking their natural curiosity. The center focuses on science, math and technology and houses 120 interactive exhibits and programs. There are many themed areas for children of all ages where they can investigate Perception, Quake Zone, Dynamic Earth, Techno Arts, Discovery Stadium and Air & Space.
Children age 5 and under will like the Discovery Stadium and KidStation, where kids can role play dressed as pirates, mermaids or tropical fish or participate in electronic finger painting. Outdoors, you’ll find Dino Quest, the world’s first interactive, electronic dinosaur exhibit, as well as explore other life-sized hands-on exhibits. Plan to stay as long as your children’s attention span, because there is a lot to do and see here.
Address: 2500 N. Main St., Santa Ana, California 92705
5. San Diego Model Railroad Museum, San Diego
Any child with even a moderate interest in trains will find the San Diego Model Railroad Museum fascinating. The name pretty much says it all: it’s a museum full of model railroads, all of them fully operational and manned by engineers. Young children will really enjoy the Toy Train Gallery, where they will recognize favorites from the Thomas the Train series and other popular children’s themed shows.
The only warning: young children might want to touch the trains and exhibits and that is obviously not an option. Other equally intricate exhibits have stairs and platforms so that the smallest patrons can still get a good view.
Address: 1649 El Prado, San Diego, California 92101