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Road Trip: Between the Theme Parks

Extend your days between rollercoasters and animal encounters with educational excursions for the whole family

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You can’t take your kids to Southern California without visiting some of the country’s best theme parks, such as SeaWorld San Diego, LEGOLAND California, Disneyland Resort, and Universal Studios Hollywood. Extend your trip to explore beyond the parks during your “off” days. Consider this action-packed adventure that includes stops to stretch tired legs—and pile on even more fun.

Stop one: Bowers Kidseum

Opened in 1994, the high-tech and interactive kids’ museum in Santa Ana features an archeology room with a lab housed in an Egyptian tomb, a puppet theater, a glow-in-the-dark “glow cave” for art projects, and a selection of drums from around the globe. Distance to next stop: 51 miles

Stop two: March Field Air Museum

Head to Riverside to get an extreme close-up of more than 70 aircraft and 30,000 artifacts throughout the past 100 years of aviation history, including a full-size replica of the 1903 “Wright Flyer” and the F-100C Super Sabre fighter plane that first flew in 1955. Next stop: 52 miles

Stop three: Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Completed in 1963, the tramway features the world’s largest rotating tram car, which ascends two and a half miles in just 10 minutes. At the top, 8,516 feet, spend the day hiking in Mt. San Jacinto State Park’s 50 miles of trails, then relax and refuel as you enjoy the view at the on-site restaurant, Peaks. Next stop: 57 miles

Stop four: Desert Queen Mine

Head to Joshua Tree National Park for an afternoon of exploring the wild desert landscape. Hike the Desert Queen Mine trail, a 1.6-mile kid-friendly route, to reach the remains of a once-functioning mine. Next stop: 90 miles

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Stop five: Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain

Take the scenic route through the mountains and stop in Big Bear for lake (or winter snow) activities. Kids will love the thrill of the bobsled-like alpine slide and parents will appreciate the panoramic Big Bear Lake views the whole way down. Next stop: 91 miles

Stop six: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

In Pasadena, become a real-life astronaut for the day at this working NASA-owned lab that houses 19 spacecraft and constructs rovers for outer space. Insider tip: Plan ahead. Individual tours must be booked online at least three weeks in advance. Next stop: 20 miles

Stop seven: La Brea Tar Pits and Museum

Finish in Los Angeles, where you can marvel at Ice Age fossils from 650 prehistoric creatures. Ranging from saber-toothed cats to Harlan’s ground sloth, the creatures are trapped in time in 10,000- to 40,000-year-old gooey and bubbly asphalt deposits.

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