USS Hornet - Places For Kids

USS Hornet

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707 W Hornet Ave
Alameda, CA 94501

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(510) 521-8448
10 am – 5 pm Daily
Free for Children (6 and below, w/ paying adult)
$10 for Youth (ages 7-17)
$15 for Students, Military, Seniors
$20 for Adults
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For a 900-foot aircraft carrier, the location of the USS Hornet is more hidden than might be expected. Once you arrive at the parking lot, the signs make it easy to get on board. The workings of the engine room should fascinate any kids who like to know how things work, while the flight deck and jets are just as fascinating visually as they are once you find out how they work. Bringing children under the age of five might be a small challenge, as the ship is large and might be a little spooky, especially the sick bay.
History buffs will love seeing the sleeping bunks where men rested until it was time for them to be on duty, the elevators for the fighter...

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​1. Closing days: Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, New Year's Day.

2. Trip planning: While it is easier to drive in an park across from the pier, it is possible to get within a mile or two of the USS Hornet by BART, 511 Transit, or AC Transit. If you happen to be working in a trip to the ship from Fisherman's Wharf, try using the Alameda/Oakland Ferry if you don't mind a 2-mile walk.

3. Free admission for kids four years old and younger.

4. Flight Simulator: For a reasonable extra $6 per person, pack in up to 15 people for a five-minute ride that shows you what a plane can do. For $3 more per person ($9 total), work in a second ride for five minutes. Simulated flights...

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Boarding Party on The USS Hornet

Telephone: (510) 521-8448 ext. 224

Time: 3-4 Hours starting no later than 1 pm

Party price: $25 per person (minimum 10)

Included: 1-Hour Guided Tour, 3-Hour Access to CPO Lounge, Dog Tags for Birthday Child

Themes: N/A

Website Link:

Bring Your Own: Desserts, Decorations, Candles, Tableware (Plates, Cups, Cutlery), and Adult Chaperones for every 6 children

Not every kid can say that they went on an adventure tour, no holds barred, on a floating museum.

The USS Hornet may not supply much in the way of candles or cake, but anybody can get that at a grocery store and bring it on board. (There's a fridge in the mess hall where parents can stash the supplies.) So long as...

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California Academy of Sciences

55 Music Concourse Dr., San Francisco, CA 94118

While kids may never get excited about the periodic table of the elements or fulcrum formulas, they will get excited about science at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. At a certain age, kids need to explore important questions about life on Earth. The Academy of Sciences is a hands-on place for parents and kids to figure out how things work – and why. Spread out over 400,000 square feet, the Academy's three major attractions (aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum) show great examples of the planet's natural resources, from the water reclamation system to the solar-powered 'Living Roof' with 2 acres of plant species. Animal-loving kids can see the past and the future, from the Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, to the tropical rain forest with a bat cave and an overhead freshwater fish tank (the Flooded Forest). Technology-loving kids may be glued to the digital planetarium and galaxy exploration tour. Penguin-loving kids should see the colony of waddling African penguins in the 25,000-gallon exhibit, complete with a rocky shore and naturalistic temperatures. Don't miss the feeding times and FAQ sessions (twice daily at 10:30 am and 3 pm), if your kids are the questioning type. Former visitors will hardly recognize the new facility; open between 9:30 am and 5:00 pm. Pirahnas at the Steinhart Aquarium are close (not too close), while fish and sharks weave through the Philippine Coral Reef. Small and great sea creatures at the California Coast Gallery range from the tiny tidepool anemone to the giant octopus. Each membership allows you to feed penguins, and gain access to the RSVP-only Holiday Nights show with live reindeer. There's as much all-ages activity at the Academy as in the on-site cafe. (Adults enjoy Thursday Nightlife shows, with earthquakes and alligators - and alcohol.) One Academy sleepover (Penguins + Pajamas) is the best mix of a safe outdoor family vacation. After planetarium shows and animal demos, park the family sleeping bags next to the aquarium (or swamp), wake up to a continental breakfast, and keep on exploring.

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Asian Art Museum

200 Larkin St.
San Francisco, CA 94102

Unlike some museums, Asian Art incorporates both visual and interactive experiences. Not only will the kids be fascinated by the intricate Buddha statues, they can also take photographs without anyone pointing to printed-out rules of policy. Even the cafe is an interactive experience, and has more choices than just egg rolls and chicken salad. There's miso soup, there's Tokyo Ramen with tree ear mushrooms, there's Korean spicy beef....and Sake Sliders. Two of the only items you could get anywhere else would be the hot dog and french fries option, but it pays to have something that everyone recognizes. Of course, there are teas, and the kids may want to try them just for the names: Three Flower Celebration, Dragon Eyes, Plum Blossom. If you forget your water bottles, there are free cups and water abounding. Really, the cafe choices could describe the rest of the museum experiences, which range from pottery and painted postures to pork belly food samples. There are some standard calligraphy and painting exhibits, scrolls and sculptures, and Ming vases. However, since Asian territory covers many countries, you can view the similarities and differences between displays on Korea, China, Japan, and India – to name a few. Also, the yoga and Mandala cosmic center exhibits also have interactive classes for a reasonable fee. You and the kids can go through the gallery at a leisurely pace, learn postures and stretching, hear storytelling, and make some take-home modern art. Between the three floors, it would be almost impossible to be bored in this place of cultural learning. Most people recommend starting at the top third floor, with many of the standard exhibits, and then going down to the interactive first floor. This is especially important when taking a family tour, because the kids will probably be even more keen on doing their own art after seeing so many great examples.

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Lindsay Wildlife Experience

1931 1st Ave.
Walnut Creek, CA 94597

Kids can learn anything animal-related here: nesting patterns of birds, how to do animal surgery, the experience of flight. Being able to view an operating room that restores damaged animals is a training ground in itself, but the more technologically-minded may have more fun with the flight simulator that lets their imagination soar with electronic wings. If the kids have been begging for a pet but don't know what's involved in caring for a rabbit or guinea pig, don't miss the Petting Circle and the feeding demonstrations. Once they master those techniques, kids might also want to know what it would be like to spend every day with animals – they should stick around until after 3 pm for Meet an Animal Keeper. The live birds of prey hands-on station is one of the most intriguing, but the handlers do allow for a closer look at other animals during the day. The Hive Alive exhibit would be the exception, but it'll probably be as close as you can get to a group of working honeybees without getting stung. The beekeeper equipment willl also show the honey can get 'farmed' while minimizing the risk of damage. The best and newest exhibit that's non-live is The Burrow, complete with animal models and puppets that show the importance of tunnels, and separation for the living space and bathrooms in the animal kingdom. If the toddlers get restless, there are animal exhibits and puzzles in the playroom, or you can take them to nearby Larkey Park. Lindsay Wildlife does help a range of animals to be patched up and re-released, from bats to raccoons to squirrels. However, some of the animals that are rescued can't be released back into the wild, like the 25-year-old bald eagle, on-site raptors, and a gray fox. If normal visiting hours aren't enough, consider signing up the kids or the whole family for an affordable four-week class on Animal Homes or Bugs ($36 - $45), a three-day mini-camp on Animal Habitats or Caretaking ($60 - $85), or a two-hour workshop on raptors or reptiles or owls ($14 - $45). Just as the volunteers frequently show new animals to the kids, new class and workshop options get added every few months.

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Children's Creativity Museum

221 4th St., San Francisco, CA 94560

The Children's Creativity Museum is like a multimedia studio left open for the directors' kids to explore. From the Animation studio with clay critters, to the Music studio with a green screen, children and young adults can put their energy and talents to good use here. What you'll really have to worry about is that the children will get spoiled for any other museum. Since they're not only allowed, but encouraged, to touch all of the art....well, use your imagination. In fact, the Imagination Lab, the Movie Studio and the Do It Yourself studio are all very popular. The Mystery Box challenge changes frequently, and requires the kids to think their way around design problems. For a minor fee, you can even take a DVD home with you instead of worrying about capturing a video via iPhone, since the kids' activities, songs, and storytelling can be recorded. Also, the children are no longer restricted to an older age group (6-12). Since the facility got renovated, the younger children (3-5) can play on the train table and busy themselves with crafts, from painting to playing dress-up. (Warning - bring ear plugs for the music room because the drums are popular.) A few parents have said that the toddler toys are rather generic and a little grubby. However, the Early Birdies program is popular, especially with the members who get to go free. (It's $15 for non-members.) If the kids have any energy left, there's a great and free playground outside the museum with grass, a labyrinth, and a sandpit.

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Children's Fairyland

699 Bellevue Ave., Oakland, CA 94610

Ever wish for an old-time magical kingdom to go with younger kids, that didn't cost as much as Disneyland? Welcome to Children's Fairyland, the place where the Bubble Man dwells and puppet masters rule. Anyone who remembers the story of the Three Little Pigs will want to go inside their house, and of course the short train ride is too short, so you'll have to go again. Some of the older fairytales aren't known to the kids, or even some of the younger parents, so it can be a good reason to break out a copy of Grimms' Fairy Stories on the next trip to the library. The rides are low-key, from the Ferris Wheel to the Jolly Trolley, which is perfect for kids under the age of seven. There's even a merry-go-round for the younger and older kids, because of height restrictions. The puppet show can bring to life Goldilocks and the Three Bears, or the City Mouse and the Country Mouse. The crooked house is just the place for pretending, especially after the Alice in Wonderland tunnel and maze, and kids have a blast sliding down Jack and Jill Hill. If the kids want to see and touch something more warm and personal, well, fairy tales always have animals in them. There are soft bunnies and guinea pigs, three little cackling hens, baby doll sheep, donkeys and goats, an alpaca – and a pony. Visitors during summer get to see something really unique: Children's Community Theatre. Kids get to dress up and put on shows for other kids, so it could be a Western about a cowgirl out to conquer the bull-riding circuit, it could be a fantasy about an orphan who meets a dragon princess disguised as a fish. Watch the calendar to see what the kids and directors thought up this year. Of course, fairy wonderlands can sometimes show warts. Some parents have commented on how the paint needs to be re-done in spots, and that some of the kids get disappointed when they don't meet the height or weight requirements. It's true that Fairyland has more gardens than new equipment, but that's what gives it an old-time feel – and the kids enjoy themselves anyway.

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Junior Center Art and Science

558 Bellevue Ave.
Oakland, CA 94610

The Junior Center may be an under-appreciated Oakland gem. It's located just next to Lake Merrit's bird sanctuary, the still-popular Children's Fairyland, and the Oakland East Bay Garden Center, less than a mile away. It can be hard to find educational places that are open for free during the week, also offer science and art classes, and act as a drop-in center or camp during the summer. You and the kids can overlook the lake while looking at frogs and lizards, in the Animal Discovery sessions on Tuesdays and Fridays (free), or bring a picnic basket so that you can really explore the area around the lake. It's also fun to look around the room at the display of artwork and posters about the various animals, done by all of the kids who have explored their way through the Center. There are baskets of crayons and helpful staff who can show you how to draw, explain how the lizard can regrow its tail – and of course this will inspire your kids to add their artwork to the walls. Gary the tortoise is a real hands-on highlight. He's middle-aged, and a little slow, but his rescue story is inspiring – especially as he is now quite hale and healthy. It's also allowed to hold Tyler the bearded dragon, and the toads, but you might want to just admire the Madagascar hissing roaches from afar. On Tuesdays and Thursday mornings, parents of preschoolers can come and help their 'Little Leapers' get ready for a learning environment, doing art and science and music classes in groups. The after-school and summer courses can be taken for a very affordable fee, whether your kids want to build a bookcase and a chicken coop for the backyard (Carpentry for Kids) or become the next Calvin and Hobbes creator (Cartooning for Teens) with a side interest in charm bracelets (Jewelry/Metal Arts for Teens). The Rockets and Robots class is also very popular.

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