Head west where the sun sets last and pioneers' dreams came true.
There are zoos, and then there are zoos. The San Diego Zoo at San Diego's 1,200 acre Balboa Park is one of the largest in the world with more than 4,000 animals — among them a rare giant panda and the largest number of koalas outside of Australia. Take a guided tour of the 100 acres, including Tiger River and Polar Bear Plunge, or hop on the Skyfari gondola for a bird's-eye view of the park. The zoo was founded after the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, when many exotic animals were abandonded and, in 1922, it took up permanent residence at Balboa Park. The Safari Park is 32 miles north in Escondido.
Fantastic views await those who visit Glacier Point. At an elevation of 7,214 feet, the point offers amazing views of a Yosemite National Park, including Yosemite Falls and Half Dome. The point can be reached either by car, which can take an hour to go the 30 miles, or by walking the moderately strenuous Four-Mile Trail, which heads up 3,200 feet above Curry Village. The road is closed from November through May or June — and in winter you'll need a pair of skis or snowshoes to see it — but if you time it right, you will be rewarded for your efforts. Try to catch it at sunset.
The Rock. The Island of the Pelicans. Regardless of the label, Alcatraz Island is a haunting and facinating spot in the San Francisco Bay. What started as the oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast in 1846, was taken by the military in 1858 and, in 1934, became a federal prison that would house such notorious figures as Al Capone, George "Machine Gun" Kelly and Robert Franklin Stroud (the "Birdman of Alcatraz"). The prison, which no one had ever successfully escaped from, closed in 1963 and was declared a historic landmark in 1986. These days, visitors can hop a ferry to the island.
While the whale exhibit was an act of movie fantasy for the 1986 film "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home," there is still plenty to see at the Monterey Bay Aquarium — one of the largest in the world. Located on the site of a former Monterey sardine cannery, the aquarium, which opened in 1984, houses 35,000 plants and animals — including stingrays, jellyfish, sea otters and penguins. Visitors also can watch a diver hand-feed the sharks, fishes and other animals in the Kelp Forest exhibit, the first in the world to grow live California Giant Kelp.
Sci-fi lovers and rock 'n' rollers can unite at the Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, located next to the Seattle Space Needle. The Experience Music Project, which opened in 2000, includes a large exhibit on the history of Seattle sound called Northwest Passage, that includes Bing Crosby, Jimi Hendrix, Heart, and Pearl Jam. The Science Fiction Museum, founded in 1996, includes such areas as "Brave New Worlds" and "Them" — and you'll find Captain Kirk's chair from Star Trek and the the Death Star model from Star Wars (the Sci-Fi Hall of Fame moved to Seattle in 2004 from Kansas City).
Santa Monica Bay is a great place for kids to learn how to surf -- the waves rarely get too big and the current isn't as strong as at other Southern California beaches. If your stay is long enough, you might want to sign your child up for a 4-day camp with Santa Monica Surf School, or if your child (or you) just wants to get his feet wet (so to speak), this outfitter gives two-hour lessons all year long. They'll provide the board, wetsuit and instructors who are longtime surfers. You just need to show up on this expansive beach and get ready to dive in.
Get up close and personal with the marine life of the beautiful San Juan Islands on a San Juan Outfitters Sea Kayaking Adventure. All ages and abilities can take part in a three-hour tour, five-hour tour or multiday tour that covers some parts of the 150 islands that make up this area. The company specializes in Family Kayaking, which creates a hands-on wildlife experience where kids 6 and older can hold jellyfish and sea stars; explore a kelp forest; and look for seals, otters, and other creatures of the sea. It all ties into the company's mission: "People have an innate drive to be outdoors, and we enjoy the opportunity make it happen."
If Hawaii was represented by a fruit, it would probably be a pineapple. The state's connection to this sweet tropical plant can be found at the Dole Pineapple Plantation on "The Gathering Place" island of Oahu. It was here in 1901 that the Hawaiian Pineapple Company was founded by James Dole. What started as a fruit stand in the 1950s, opened to the public in 1980 as Hawaii's "Pineapple Experience." In addition to tours, visitors can ride the Pineapple Express, and get lost in The Pineapple Garden Maze — the world's largest — which stretches across two acres and 2.46 miles.
Magic happens everyday in Disneyland, and you never know who is going to join you in a spot of tea at the Mad Tea Party. The attraction, based on the famous scene from Alice in Wonderland, has been entertaining guests since the park opened in 1955. It moved from its location near Sleeping Beauty Castle in 1983, when Fantasyland got a makeover, and now spins guests next to its neighbors: the Storybook Land Canal Boats, Alice in Wonderland and the Matterhorn Bobsleds. Since guests control the spinning on each of the 18 teacups, many have figured out the key to going faster: Have just one person spin at a time.
Astoria is considered to be the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies — it was the region at the Western end of the Lewis&Clark Trail and the two stayed near present-day Astoria during the winter of 1805-1806). Your young explorers will enjoy stretching their legs and getting some fresh air on the four-mile Astoria Riverwalk, a paved, information-filled walkway that borders the Columbia River. Then hop on the Riverfront Trolley or take a ride across the 4.1-mile-long Astoria-Megler Bridge, which was dedicated in 1966 and is the longest three-span truss bridge in the world.
Astoria Riverwalk, Astoria