Many family-friendly California institutions are posting virtual experiences and cool lessons online, allowing kids to get a taste of these attractions even when at home. Whether it’s building a piñata, learning about marine animals, or even experiencing the thrill of a roller coaster ride next to the ocean, the opportunities are endless—and almost all of them are totally free.
Fire up the laptop, tablet, or mobile phone and pay a virtual visit to these beloved attractions, listed south to north.
New Children’s Museum, San Diego
The interactive museum in downtown San Diego is posting a variety of how-to videos on its web site, ranging from making a bottle-cap tambourine to crafting a mini taco piñata.
SeaWorld San Diego
The marine-life theme park has posted a variety of conservation-themed educational activities for kids that exercise science, math, and geography skills, broken down by three grade ranges (K–4, 5–8, 9–12). Kids can also watch the Saving a Species series, comprised of 25-minute episodes about the challenges faced by species such as cheetahs and penguins. For a study break, take virtual rides on the park’s Electric Eel coaster, Manta coaster, and the Bayside Skyride.
LEGO Building Challenge, LEGOLAND California
The Carlsbad theme park has launched a weekly how-to video with one of its resident Master Builders. Budding architects can learn how to build a little dachshund or a cupcake to celebrate LEGOLAND’s March birthday. In a fun twist, kids can also submit their own creations as well as suggestions for upcoming videos.
Disneyland Resort, Anaheim
Put yourself on Main Street, USA, by watching the recently debuted Magic Happens parade—an online version of a classic Disneyland experience—posted by the Disney Parks Blog. The new Disneyland Park parade features nine new floats, with nods to movies such as Sleeping Beauty, The Princess and the Frog, and Coco—and this version even gets you up-close looks, like when Frozen’s Kristoff does a little guitar solo for fans on the front row.
Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach
Hold a fun marine life-science class with these stay-home-friendly resources from the famed Los Angeles County aquarium. The Aquarium Webcam Resource Kits (geared to grades K–6) includes videos, worksheets, and activities related to the aquarium’s live webcams, while the Sustainability Series and Career Connections series (both for grades 6–12) introduce students to food-and-water resource challenges and cool STEM careers.
Cayton Children's Museum, Santa Monica
This hands-on children's museum, which debuted inside Santa Monica Place in 2019, may be temporarily closed, but the spirit of nurturing young people lives on in its virtual offerings. If your kids are missing recess (and how could they not?), tune in to Cayton Recess on Instagram Live and YouTube on weekdays at 11 a.m. or 3 p.m. PT for sing-alongs, storytime, art activities, yoga, and more.
Peterson Automotive Museum, Los Angeles
This car-centric museum on Wilshire Boulevard offers daily livestream activities—like creating your own license plates, building a convertible sports car out of clay, or just enjoying a car-related story time.
The L.A. County museum has posted fun at-home experiments (such as a festive mash-up of dish soap, milk, and food coloring), as well as tips on how to make kids’ birthdays feel special while sheltering in place.
Spitzer Space Telescope, Pasadena
NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, affiliated with CalTech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, recently concluded its 16-year-plus mission. You can “tour” it thanks to the “Exoplanet Excursions” VR experience, in which you can control the telescope and see how it has collected data over its long run.
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, Simi Valley
The popular presidential museum is currently offering full (and free) access to all of its online curriculum, including lessons on presidential elections and the Supreme Court. Or, take a tour: The home page includes a video tour led by actor Gary Sinise, and on April 1 the museum will hold a virtual tour via Facebook Live that’s geared toward 5th–8th graders.
MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration and Innovation, Santa Barbara
This family-friendly attraction has posted some of its most popular crafts and activities on its web site. Print out one page to create a board game, like kids normally do in one area of the museum, or use household items to make a “marble run” based on MOXI’s Roll It exhibit.
Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey
Ever seen a bloodybelly comb jelly? How about shovelnose guitarfish? Check out the world-class aquarium’s Meet the Animals page, a virtual aquarium page depicted in trading-card-style glory. You can also print out “critter cards” for games, watch live cams of marine wildlife, and read animal stories.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
The beachside amusement park in Santa Cruz is posting videos on its Facebook page that put you right into their coasters. Take a ride on Undertow and the famed Giant Dipper, both offering ocean views and vicarious butterflies in your stomach.
The Tech Interactive, San Jose
The Silicon Valley museum offers a variety of at-home problem-solving activities for different grade levels, along with a 25-minute virtual field trip that includes hands-on activities and introductions to scientists and engineers. You can also watch a few IMAX educational films on demand, including National Park Adventure, narrated by Robert Redford ($3.99 to rent, but others are free).
Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose
The downtown San Jose landmark—striking looking, thanks to its bright-purple edifice—has created an ongoing museum presence for kids staying home. Its virtual museum page lists lots of activities and videos, such as making big soap bubbles and checking out giant Ice Age animals. Get on the museum’s email list and you’ll receive more new activities twice a week.
The Exploratorium, San Francisco
Browse this don’t-miss museum’s Learning Toolbox for interesting videos based on its exhibits. Or, set up some of the teacher-tested “Science Snacks” activities that use simple materials (like balloons and ketchup packets) to explore the realms of chemistry, physics, astronomy, and more.
California Museum, Sacramento
Download a free coloring book filled with California symbols (like the lovable state bird, the California quail) from this museum based in the capital city. For more coloring, download the free, ready-to-color landmark drawings from the folks at Visit Sacramento—including the Tower Bridge, the Golden 1 Center, and the Delta King Hotel.
Nicholson van Altena Glass, Auburn
This Placer County–based glass art studio is inviting kids (and grownups too) to submit a drawing, painting, or design that would look good rendered in glass. Email your creation to email@example.com or post it on Instagram with the hashtag #NvAGlassDesign or #NvAGlassDesignKids. On April 17 two entries will be chosen (one from an adult, one from a child) and the studio will create the winning designs in glass and ship them to their creators.