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Because Missing Out Is Never Fun!

Avenue of the Giants

Try this with your oversized SUV so we can all
laugh at you!

Avenue of the Giants
Throughout Humboldt County, CA

Three words:  Big.  Ass.  Trees.

Humboldt County is well-known for a variety of recreational activities, but the most impressive of nature’s gifts to this region is the long stretch of old Highway 101 between Fortuna and Garberville.  You can spend days on end exploring over 30 miles of redwoods, camping, hiking and swimming along the way.

The Avenue of the Giants is a tourist’s paradise.  Visitor centers at either end provide free information and maps for you to plan your trip, and roadside souvenir and snack shacks supply you with the necessary fuel for short or long hikes.  The route is peppered with captivating attractions such as the Immortal Tree, nearly 1,000 years old, which has survived a lightning strike and a flood.  You can tour the Tree House, an actual home built into a live redwood.  Several Drive-Through Trees offer double-pronged forms of entertainment: you’ll giggle as your slowly roll your vehicle through a tree, windows down so you can touch the inside of it like thousands before you; then, you can wince in anticipated failure as too-large SUVs realize they are, indeed, too large to complete the task.

If a quiet afternoon is more your style, seek out the Dyerville Giant, a behemoth at over 350 feet tall, and contemplate whether anyone was around to hear it make a sound when it fell in 1991.

Nimbus Fish Hatchery

They make swimming uphill
look easy.

Nimbus Fish Hatchery
Rancho Cordova, CA

I hate to admit that I rely on my GPS far too much.  Even when I return to my hometown, I rely on it to get from point A to point B.  So imagine my disbelief when I learned at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery that salmon and steelhead trout are able to miraculously find their way back to the river of their birth…from the freaking ocean!  That’s impressive.

Visitors to the hatchery can witness this phenomenon first-hand.  When the fish ladders are open, salmon and steelhead swim through the gate at the base and instinctively jump up each step, making their way towards the hatchery.  At the top, they enter holding ponds and, if they are mature, move on to the tranquilizing tank in the spawning deck.  What happens next during the egg-taking process is covered during the informative video shown in the visitor’s center…I won’t ruin the excitement for you!

Multiple raceways hold growing salmon until they are ocean-ready.  25 cents gets you a palmfull of pellets you can use to feed the fish (or get your friends splashed).  Netting covers the area to keep out prey.

Before leaving the site, take some time to learn about all about river clean-up and conservation efforts, salmon and steelhead record weights, and many other facts that will make you further appreciate your next sushi dinner.

Angels Flight Railway

Fun for a buck in L.A.!

Angels Flight Railway
351 South Hill Street
Los Angeles, CA

Don't fret, siderodromophobes: at 298 feet, this will be the shortest train ride of your life.

Located across the street from the Grand Central Market, the Angels Flight Railway puts the fun in funicular!  Depending on your timing you'll board Sinai or Olivet, the two railway cars given makeovers during the last two decades.  Start ground-level on Hill Street and ride the brief, steep slope up to the peaceful California Plaza Watercourt.  At 50 cents each way, a trip on this historic train is a bargain.

Angels Flight originated in 1901 and was refurbished within the last two decades, providing a slick-looking, relaxing ride.  On weekends, the Watercourt is nearly vacant and therefore a nice place to sit and reflect, high above the hustle and bustle of the busy city.  Close your eyes and clear your head, or tear through bags of international food and drink just purchased at the Grand Central Market across the street.  Who am I to judge?

Rubio's Beach Cleanup & Party - 05/11/13

Save the oceans!  You can't surf through garbage.

Rubio's Beach Cleanup & Party
Oceanside, CA

Your favorite purveyor of beach eats is holding a huge party in anticipation of World Oceans Day!

On May 11, Rubio’s will host their annual beach festival in Oceanside, California, launching their “Be a Friend to the Ocean” campaign for 2013. Over 1,000 community members are expected to join in the festivities at the Junior Seau Oceanside Pier Amphitheatre.  The celebration will kick off at 10 a.m. and include free lunch for all attendees, cooking demonstrations, complimentary surf lessons, face paintings, an extreme bocce ball tournament, beach games and art exhibitions comprised of trash from local-area artists. San Diego’s own 94.9 FM will be on hand, as will two Southern California bands, The Little Ones and Jet West, to perform live.

Mark your calendars, do something great for the environment, and get rewarded with lunch on Rubio's!  Sounds like a great way to spend a Saturday to me...

La Brea Tar Pits

Sometimes, you end up in a sticky situation...

La Brea Tar Pits
Los Angeles, CA

Celebrity gossip isn't the only thing they're digging up in L.A.  There are mastadon fossils, too!

For tens of thousands of years, crude oil has seeped up through the earth because of the Salt Lake Oil Field beneath Hancock Park, forming pools thick enough to trap even the largest animals.  The tar preserved the bones, and of the bones that have been excavated, cleaned, studied and recorded, the best are on display at the Page Museum.

Fossils of bison, mammoths, ground sloths and condors can be found inside the museum, along with fossilized plants, insect and more tiny organisms.  Walking through the museum tells a fascinating story of prehistoric creatures that once roamed the area before shopping and double-decker buses took over.

Be sure you don't miss the informational short film detailing the history of the pits and the ongoing excavation of 23 large wooden boxes and 327 bucket of material taken from a site where fossils were found while constructing an underground parking garage.  With several years' worth of material for paleontologists and volunteers to dig through and document, no doubt will the collection at the Page Museum be an ever-evolving story of creatures who did just fine for thousands of years without a Starbucks on every corner.

West Coast Falconry

This experience is for the birds!

West Coast Falconry
Marysville, CA

There's an old belief that a bird pooping on you is a sign of good fortune to come as a result of suffering an inconvenience.

Luckily, I wasn't inconvenienced during my first falconry lesson given by the experienced instructors at West Coast Falconry.  A picturesque view of the Marysville hills provided enough of a gorgeous atmosphere to calm the nerves of even the most anxious first-timer.  Not that I needed it, of course - I couldn't wait to get up close and personal with a beautiful bird of prey!

Your lesson begins with an interactive discussion about the role the birds play in our environment, along with some helpful information about the sport of falconry.  But the real fun begins when participants take turns holding a hawk (hopefully, without freaking out), then learn to call a hawk to their gloves with simple hand motions.  Okay, okay, a little raw meat may also be involved, but it's still impressive.

Should you find that 60 minutes of instruction aren't nearly enough time to spend with these fascinating creatures, then make plans to return for their half-day Falconry Experience or 90-minute Hawk Walk through the Sierra Foothills.  Wear a hat, since a longer period of time spent with the birds increases your chances of being "inconvenienced".

Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary

Donations welcome.  Don't be 
a cheapskate!

Folsom Zoo Sanctuary
Folsom, CA

The Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary is a great alternative to the Sacramento Zoo if you prefer not to drive in circles for hours to find a parking spot.

Additionally, the $6.00 admission price (less for kids) is a great low-cost choice if you don't mind a few animals missing from their cages here and there.

For nearly three decades, the Sanctuary has been a safe haven for rescued and injured animals.  Some find permanent residency here, and some stay temporarily before finding new homes.  The Sanctuary is home to a wide variety of residents including bears, canines, reptiles and numerous peacocks that roam free, providing unique photo opps.

Ask for the availability of a private table for your group to enjoy breakfast on the bear deck prior to the zoo opening.  Food for humans may not be included, but food for bears is a guarantee if you don't stay on your side of the glass wall.

Glass Beach

A safe (?) place to walk on broken glass.
Fort Bragg, CA

On a picture-perfect day, you can see for miles.  Endless stretches of beach, salty waves crashing into the rocky shoreline, and butts up in the air belonging to those collecting bits of glass, polished by the sea, all while giving beach rules against such behavior the collective middle finger.

Decades ago, the area surrounding Glass Beach was a dumping ground.  Refuse was thrown right into the ocean, including vehicles!  By the mid-60s, the activity was banned. Today, glass still washes ashore, shiny from years of erosion, among occasional rusty spark plugs and newer gum wrappers from today's nefarious youth.

Be sure not to go barefoot!  You'd think that would be obvious, right?

Golden Gate Fields

This guy's job blows!
Golden Gate Fields
Albany, CA

Golden Gate Fields appeals to several sectors of the population: families looking to shut their kids up for an afternoon, ladies whose dreams of owning a pony never came true, degenerate gamblers thanking God for occasional $1 hot dog and beer specials, and folks like me who enjoy watching it all.

All kidding aside, this is a place where fun and excitement reign supreme.  If you don't enjoy watching teeny, tiny men race the bejeezus out of majestic galloping beasts, you're not American.  Watch for fun, or ask designated employees to teach you the ins and outs of sports betting.  Pepper this experience with food and drink specials, live musical performances and occasional theme days, and you've got the makings of a pretty spectacular weekend.

Still not sold?  Consider the fact that one ten-tenth of one percent of all wagers goes towards equine research.  Gamble...for education's sake!

Skunk Train

Cue Foghat right about now.

Skunk Train
Fort Bragg / Willits, CA

With over 125 years of history in Mendocino County, the Skunk Train not only provides passengers with a dose of nostalgia, but also a very, very slow way to travel between Fort Bragg and Willits.

Choose between a variety of one-ways, round-trips and overnighters, as well as special events which may include barbecue meals or Easter egg hunts.  Chug along miles of tracks which snake through the redwoods and catch glimpses of deer and water fowl as you pass over bridges, pondering a much quieter time before iPads, cell phones and mp3 players.

The nickname "Skunk" was earned in the mid-1920s when the fumes created by the gasolines engines combined with fumes from crude oil burned to keep passengers warm.  Folks living along the tracks often stated they could smell the train before they could see it.  This is still a far more desirable warning than today's men with their Axe Body Spray.

Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree

Attention, Hummers:  Forget it!
Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree
Leggett, CA

The Chandelier Tree is quite possibly the best thing to come out of the 1930s...besides my grandmother.

Also known as the "Drive-Thru Tree", it is just that: a titan of a Sequoia hollowed out at the bottom so tourists can marvel as their automobiles (hopefully) cruise right through. Some roll their windows down so they can touch the inside of the tree.  Others ponder whether their vehicles will get wedged inside, and the rest of us wait patiently with video cameras and smirks on our faces hoping to God that they do.

After visiting the Chandelier Tree, I wanted to phone my mother to tell her I'd just driven into a massive redwood; then, I realized it's probably not a good idea to induce a heart attack when you're four and a half hours from home.

Confusion Hill

Ice cream AND scientific anomalies?  Viva America!

Confusion Hill
Piercy, CA

A great place for a bathroom break, Confusion Hill has something for everyone: a Redwood Shoehouse and Totem Pole providing adorable photo opps for the kids, a Mountain Train Ride for railfans, and a Gravity House to humble those who think they can easily explain how balls can roll uphill.

The Gravity House is the real star here.  Unlike the similar, popular attraction in Santa Cruz, this one does not offer a guided tour; visitors are allowed to roam the property at their own pace, and the lack of explanation possibly adds even more fun to it all.  Hang from a bar at a seemingly exaggerate angle, watch your water bottle roll uphill, and wonder why taking one step into this mystery spot makes you instantly queasy.

Been there, done that?  Eh, go balance a rock.  No, really!  A small area is devoted to the Rock Balancing Challenge, which may sound super lame until you find yourself trying to outdo past visitors in the accompanying photos, grumbling "I can do better than that!" under your breath.

Barry R. Kirshner Wildlife Foundation

Durham, CA

Lions and tigers and bears...seven bucks!

This sanctuary houses and cares for exotic animals from all over the world, including those with special needs like injuries and other medical conditions.  Coming from both captivity and the wild, this collection of creatures includes foxes, lemurs, servals, wallabies and several varieties of reptiles.  The Foundation provides educational programs on-site and throughout the local communities, and depends on donations and grants to sustain the business.

Guided tours are available, but (unlike the animals) you're also free to roam about and watch as massive snow leopards and bobcats are fed and attended to by handlers who'll happily answer your questions.

Over 1,000 pounds of meat are fed to the animals each day.  After witnessing a Siberian Tiger devour chicken parts, bones and all, you may rethink that Popeye's lunch you were planning on.

Old Faithful Geyser

Sunset Magazine!  What more do you want?

Calistoga, CA

Old Faithful leaves nature lovers oohing and aahing over the marvel brought about by the culmination of water, heat and fissures and fractures within the earth.  Given the near-accurate 30-minute intervals, skeptics wonder if the steam and water attraction is button-controlled by the cashier inside the gift shop!

Be patient, and a rumbling beneath the ground will lead to a spectacular eruption of scalding-hot water shooting nearly 100 feet into the air.  Pass the time between water shows by petting the four-horned sheep, llamas, or attempting to startle the famous Tennessee Fainting Goats into collapse.

If the intervals are suspiciously longer than 30 minutes during your visit, be sure to secure your belongings once you arrive home - it may indicate an earthquake is near.  You've been warned!

OstrichLand USA

Like yours truly, this guy is always hungry.

OstrichLand USA
Solvang, CA

After spending several hours shoving Aebleskiver down your throat (which sounds a lot dirtier than it is), the next logical thing to do would be...feeding ostriches, of course!

A few bucks get you the experience of a lifetime.  Dog dishes affixed to dust pans are the perfect receptacles for food pellets; hold onto these handles for dear life, as the creatures will try time and time again to grab the contraptions out of your weak little hands.  This is where strong core muscles come into play: plant your feet, don't turn your back to the birds, and hope for the best.

Afterwards, stand back and admire these beautiful creatures.  Then, ponder the fact that contrary to all other birds, ostriches are the only ones who store their urine separate from their feces.  Just something to keep in mind the next time you bite into that juicy ostrich burger.

Huntington Beach Kite Party - 03/10/12 - 03/11/12

Go fly a kite!

Huntington Beach Kite Party
Huntington Beach, CA

My 4th or 5th grade class held a homemade kite-making contest.  The instructions were simple: build a kite at home, bring it to school, be judged by your peers.

My resourceful father fetched two tree branches from the backyard, then cut up a brown paper grocery bag for the traditional diamond-shaped face of the kite.  For the next couple hours, I sat and decorated it with fat Crayola markers.

When I was done, I asked him if he was going to make a tail for the kite.  I vaguely remember him saying something like, "They asked for a kite, not a tail!"  Imagine my embarrassment when I was the only kite-maker who showed up with a kite, sans tail.  My gracious teacher must have felt my pain, because she affixed a tail before hanging up my kite with those belonging to my classmates.

Feel free to bring your own creation to the Huntington Beach Kite Party, although local retailer Kite Connection sells them right on the pier.  This aerial celebration draws kite fliers from all over the globe to show off their skills, and a roped-off section is reserved for pros.

Keep your fingers crossed for a nice breeze, or you'll be sitting in the sand with a kite as lifeless as my grammar school project.

Quicksilver Ranch

Yes, I'm aware of how cute I am.

Quicksilver Ranch
Solvang, CA

Some things are just more adorable in miniature, such as donuts, golf...and mental breakdowns.

Horses are no exception to this rule.  Quicksilver Ranch owners Aleck and Louise Stribling have been breeding miniatures since the early 80s, and they welcome travelers from all over the world to visit their expansive ranch to experience these creatures in their beautiful, tranquil environment.

Should your kid pull a Veruca Salt and insist on taking one home, you'll be delighted to find that many minis are indeed up for sale.

Guess what else can be found in miniature?  This article.

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