School's out. The kids are bored, and you've already exhausted your usual list of activities. What can you do besides the obvious amusement parks? Here are 30 fresh ideas to inspire you to get out and explore with the family this summer.
Los Angeles County
1. Kayak the Los Angeles River. From June through September, the L.A. Conservation Corps and its Paddle the L.A. River program allows participants to kayak a 1.5-mile stretch of the bird-rich river near the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area in the San Fernando Valley. paddlethelariver.org.
2. Listen to mariachi music. El Mercadito Mariachi Restaurant, located in a three-story marketplace, is loud, festive, and thoroughly East L.A. Listen to the band while enjoying refreshing aguas frescas, made-from-scratch churros, and cheesy elote (Mexican street corn). 323-262-4507.
3. Watch a classic film in a movie palace. Every June, the Los Angeles Conservancy hosts movie screenings at some of downtown L.A.'s most opulent theaters, including the Orpheum Theatre and Million Dollar Theatre. 213-623-2489; tinyurl.com/classicfilmpalace.
4. Listen to a 2,600-pipe Wurlitzer organ. The 1925 wind-powered instrument accompanies silent films screened at El Segundo's Old Town Music Hall. 310-322-2592; oldtownmusichall.org.
5. Swing in the trees. Soar 300 feet above the forest floor in the San Gabriel Mountains with Ziplines at Pacific Crest in Wrightwood (near Mountain High Resort). Along with the exhilarating zips, the tree canopy tours include hiking, rappelling, sky bridges, and on one course, a free fall from a platform. The longest zip, at 1,500 feet long, propels riders up to 50 mph. 760-705-1003; ziplinespc.com.
6. Visit a quirky castle. One man's junk is another man's building materials. Rubel Castle, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, in Glendora is constructed from bottles, bicycle parts, household items, and other used materials. glendorahistoricalsociety.org/castle.
7. Slide down the side of a skyscraper. The 45-foot-long glass Skyslide protrudes from the U.S. Bank Tower, one of the tallest buildings in the West. From nearly 1,000 feet above downtown L.A., the slide offers one of the best views of the city. 213-894-9000; oue-skyspace.com.
8. Experience life on a California rancho. Living-history characters from the 1840s through the 1940s stroll the grounds at Rancho Los Cerritos Historic Site in Long Beach. Free tours Wednesday-Sunday. 562-206-2040; rancholoscerritos.org.
9. Catch a ball game at Dodger Stadium. When it comes to ballparks, Chavez Ravine has always been architecturally distinguished—no other team has a full-time arborist. Opened in 1962, the stadium is the third-oldest facility in the majors. dodgers.com.
10. See Mission Control. In addition to its annual open house, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge has weekly tours where space junkies can visit the control room that monitors interplanetary exploration. 818-354-9314; jpl.nasa.gov.
11. Marvel at Watts Towers. Simon Rodia's masterpiece of 17 interconnected steel-and-mortar structures took 33 years to complete. The self-taught artist built it with simple hand tools, using a window washer's belt to hang from the towers as he worked. Guided tours of the outside fenced area are available free of charge. 213-847-4646; wattstowers.org.
12. Enjoy a shake and a sunset at Crystal Cove Shake Shack. This Pacific Coast Highway roadside landmark in Newport Beach overlooking Crystal Cove cottages and the ocean has been serving hungry beachgoers and road-trippers since the early 1940s. Parking is limited; expect a line. 949-464-0100.
13. Get berry happy: Pick berries and watermelons at Tanaka Farms in Irvine. The kids will be charmed by Hello Kitty and other Sanrio characters. tanakafarms.com
14. Operate a real steam locomotive. The Orange Empire Railway Museum in Perris provides a day of instruction followed by the chance to climb into the cab and take the locomotive out on the track. 951-943-3020; oerm.org.
15. Watch a drive-in movie in a classic locale. The historic Van Buren Drive-In Theater in Riverside has presented alfresco movies since 1964. 951-688-2360; vanburendriveintheatre.com.
16. Go bananas. Located in Mecca near the Salton Sea, the International Banana Museum has more than 20,000 banana-related items and eats, including banana sodas and banana splits. 619-840-1429; internationalbananamuseum.com.
San Bernadino County
17. Visit the site of the original McDonald's. The unofficial McDonald's museum located on Route 66 in San Bernardino provides a nostalgic peek at Golden Arches memorabilia. 909-885-6324; tinyurl.com/y719c6mz.
18. Climb a rock. The Joshua Tree Rock Climbing School has day- and weekend-long classes that will have you hugging a boulder in no time amid the natural beauty of the national park. 760-366-4745; joshuatreerockclimbing.com.
19. Go off-roading on a wagon train trail. Stop at Calico Ghost Town for a 20-mile off-road tour that follows the 20-Mule Team Borax Wagon Train trail created in the 1800s. tinyurl.com/offroadwagontrail.