Kids love California for its beaches and its theme parks—but also for its ingenuity. After all, this is where their favourite TV shows and movies are made, and where a lot of their favourite gadgets have been created. And just like the farms that dot the Golden State, California’s brains and talent are a sustainable crop—so your child can take home some of that wisdom and savvy. So on your next California family vacation, treat your child to a cool class or camp—ranging from one-hour animation or cooking lessons to family sleepovers at a zoo or even weeklong kids camps for filmmaking or robotics. (Granted, plenty of kids want to learn how to surf or skateboard in the Golden State—and we have some great tips on where to do that too.) Brainstorm with your family on our list of fun learning vacations.
Cook Like a Celebrity Chef With its wealth of big-name chefs, California is an excellent place to give your future Michelin-star culinary artist a cooking class—and one designed just for pint-size chefs. At the Gourmandise School in Santa Monica, kids and teens aged 6 to 17 years old can take cooking and baking classes with themes like handmade pastas, donuts, and of course, the quintessential “Taco Truck” class.
If you’re visiting the Bay Area, head to Culinary Artistas in San Francisco to sign up your chef-in-training for a creative cooking class—ranging from one-hour classes to weeklong camps—in beautiful Ghirardelli Square; and if your child is four or older, you can drop him or her off and then go exploring yourself. Or, choose from weeklong camps during spring or summer, like Flavors of the Mediterranean or the Alice Waters–inspired Vegetarian Dishes.
Farther north in California’s wine country, plan an interactive parent/teen cooking class (for ages 12 and up) at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa. Select from a wide variety of special Saturday Kitchen classes like Artisan Breads, Desserts, or Spain and the World Table. In addition to hands-on cooking instruction, you’ll also score a CIA logo apron, recipes, and a cool lunch together.
Lights, Camera, Action Whether your child yearns to be in front of the camera or is curious about what goes on behind the scenes, California offers a variety of ways to cultivate those ambitions. Kids can try out their acting chops at a single day drop-in improv class at the iconic Groundlings in Los Angeles, or hone their onstage skills during a one-week intensive summer workshop.
Camp Reel, a non-profit in Oakland, offers four-day summer camps that teach young women storytelling and production skills, while Outside the Lens in San Diego offers Saturday photography workshops at the beautiful Liberty Station—as well as longer summer camps focusing on stop-motion animation, documentaries, and music video-making for grades six and up (students aged 11–12).
For kids who love to animate, try a one-day cartoon-drawing class at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, or take a two-hour (or longer) workshop on animation, storyboarding, and costume design at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco.
Ready for the big leagues? Located in the Southern California mountains near Big Bear, Pali Adventures’ summer program offers weeklong sleepaway camps with specializations such as Hollywood stunts, filming, movie makeup, and acting.
Walk and Talk With the Animals Animal lovers can get their fill of furry, feathered, and fishy creatures with classes and camps that give kids a front-row seat on the animal kingdom. At the Los Angeles Zoo, kids as young as two will enjoy “Wiggle Squiggle Zoo” fun with a parent, while six-year-olds can take a Zoo Critter class on “Tropical Treasures” (and the whole family can even participate in a collection of 90-minute Saturday classes). In the East Bay, Oakland Zoo offers a ZooCamp (for ages ranging from four to the teens) that combine games, crafts, and science experiments with lots of up-close time with the animals. Down south, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park has four and five-day camps throughout the summer that let campers touch, feed, meet, and learn about animals throughout the park.
For kids who want to explore animal life under the water, SeaWorld San Diego offers overnight and weeklong camps throughout the summer, as well as the popular family sleepover experience that includes educational activities, dinner, a place to sleep by the actual exhibits, and access to the park the next day.
If your child is interested in a career with sea life, head to Long Beach’s Aquarium of the Pacific, where kids can take a Junior Biologist class or even a Job Shadow class with a veterinarian, marine biologist, or mammalogist. In Central California, kids can participate in summer day camps through Monterey’s Camp SEA Lab, exploring themes like “Flukes & Flippers” or “Explore the Shore”. And for a truly “immersive” class, take the 90-minute surface scuba diving lesson in the Great Tide Pool at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which offers a memorable hands-on learning experience.
Train to be a Techie Star For tomorrow’s scientists and engineers, California has a serious lock on the S.T.E.M. scene (science, technology, engineering and maths). Younger kids will love LEGO classes and camps at Play-Well locations throughout California, with a curriculum designed by engineers and featuring classes such as Jedi Engineering or Minecraft Master. Fascinated with robots? Sign your child up for an I.D. Tech robotics summer camp at Palo Alto High School or at various Southern California locations, where kids aged 6 to 17 will learn how to build, program, and control their own robots.
If college campuses are on your California tour, consider a weeklong camp through the Digital Media Academy. With classes in game design, programming, and robotics, the program offers high-quality, technology-focused summer camps at UCLA, UCSD, UC -Irvine, and Stanford. Grouped by age (spanning 6 to 17), kids can take camps like Minecraft Game Design, iOS App Development, LEGO Robotics, and Adventures in Wearable Tech & Fashion Design.
Farm-to-Fun Experiences California grows over one third of the nation’s vegetables, and over two thirds of its fruits and nuts—so a farm tour or overnight stay offers a vivid way for kids to learn about where our food comes from. At Mendocino County’s Philo Apple Farm, spend the night in an apple orchard and participate in a cooking demonstration (check their calendar for special events designed for families with kids).
In California’s Central Valley, visit Rosa Brothers Milk Company, east of Visalia, for an educational tour around the dairy farm in the “Moo-Mobile,” including a visit to the creamery where kids can see how milk is bottled and turned into ice cream. Then head southeast of Bakersfield to the Adorable Alpacas ranch in Tehachapi. A weekend walking tour will let you pet an alpaca, learn what they eat, and see how their fibre is spun into yarn. For a hands-on ranch experience, families can spend the night at Rinconada Dairy Farm in Santa Margarita, where kids can experience a typical day on the ranch gathering eggs, feeding the sheep, or even helping with milking the cows.
From swooshing and swooping rides to interactive animal experiences and world-class attractions, SeaWorld San...