Kids’ turfs in California | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

NO. 1 FAN of Thomas the train
NO. 1 FAN of Thomas the train

Nope, I don’t have kids and I’m way over a child’s age.  But visiting my sister Tanya, who has a toddler, in the Bay Area in northern California during the summer was all about going to where kids shriek and jump with excitement.


First stop was the Monterey Bay Aquarium about two hours away from San Francisco. Monterey is an ideal weekend getaway from the city where you can enjoy the beach or bike along scenic trails. The aquarium, a popular spot in Monterey, is divided into different areas focusing on a certain sea animal. My top three favorites: Jellies Explosion, Secret Lives of Seahorses and Open Seas.


I enjoyed watching the moon jellyfish that looked like a glow-in-the-dark mushroom and the flower hat jellies that seemed to have ruffles and beads hanging from its body.


I couldn’t stop staring at the leafy sea dragon that seemed to have leaves on its body and the potbelly seahorse that looked like a pregnant seahorse but which turned out to be male. I learned that the bigger the belly of male seahorses, the more attractive they are to a female seahorse.


YOUNG elephants playing, locking tusks

Open Seas area welcomed visitors with a school of fish going around the aquarium, and it felt like diving into the sea.  Then, as we went deeper into the dark room, we began to be surrounded by all kinds of sea creatures in the floor-to-ceiling aquariums.   We could hear the kids shouting out the sea creatures they could spot—from sea turtles to sharks, bluefin tuna and jellyfish.  I was almost tempted to join in the shouting.


For the weekends of summer, Monterey  Aquarium had a special event, Evenings by the Bay. One visited the aquarium at night with live jazz musicians, be served wine, appetizers and desserts.


Quacking in San Francisco


It was not my first time in San Francisco so I didn’t need a city tour, but it was my first time to do the Ride the Ducks tour. I had seen this a couple of times in other cities but never dared join.  But now with a toddler, it was the perfect excuse to try this out.


FLAMINGOES at Zoo Safari

The difference with a duck tour over the other typical bus tours—aside from the fact that the bus turns into a boat—is the interaction inside and outside the duck bus. The tour guide-driver played some music that needed some quacking accompaniment from us with the help of the complimentary duck beak whistle given us. If the tour guide would see someone interesting outside, such as a family of tourists looking lost downtown, he would ask us to give them our loudest quack as a greeting. Our guide also saw a group of kids wearing the duck beak whistle around their necks so he gave them a big shout-out and asked us to give them a couple of hello quacks.


The duck beak whistle gave so much joy to the kids and even adults would go wild with excitement inside and outside the duck bus that you’d think there was some magic in the whistle.


My nephew Diego even brought his duck beak whistle to his daycare to show off to his classmates who all wanted to try it, to their teacher’s horror who was concerned about the hygiene. One quack just brought all of them to laughter.


Splash zone


FATHER and son quacking in duck tour

We flew to the more popular theme park, SeaWorld in San Diego. We were catching all the shows since my nephew was a bit young for the rides. First stop, Madagascar Live! Operation: Vacation. It was a musical show where a live band played memorable songs that my nephew kept on singing even if we were at a different theme park already.


Next, Sea Lions Live where sea lions spoofed some of America’s popular TV shows such as “Dancing with the Stars” and “CSI.”  The third show was Pet’s Rule, where dogs, cats, pigs, birds and even kangaroos did tricks such relays, catching Frisbees, jumping over objects and walking on a tightrope, all done  in a choreographed manner.


Definitely not to be missed is the Shamu show, One Ocean.  Shamu is probably one of the most popular whales on Earth. Shamu and the whales showed off their acrobatic skills midair.  But the most popular segment of the show was their splashing trick that drenched the people who did not mind as they chose to be in the soak zone. (Yes, I did think of animal rights through all these.)


With the toddler in our group, we couldn’t stay until 10 p.m. in the park for the fireworks show. So we went back to our nearby hotel first and then at night went to the park across SeaWorld for a picnic in the car.  With a lake before us, it was a perfect spot to watch the fireworks. Others had the same idea and even picnicked on the grounds. It seemed such a personalized, do-it-yourself experience.




WHALE show at San Diego’s SeaWorld

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is located about an hour away from San Diego. From the parking lot one would be greeted by African tribal music to put one in a safari mood. As one entered the grounds there were a live African band playing what sounded like Putumayo world music and an African gentleman giving safari hats to kids with a good luck wish written on the hat.


We went straight to the African Tram Safari.  In the tram ride, we drove around the African plains of the park where we saw herds of rhinos, giraffes, zebras, buffalos, gazelles and antelopes. And ostriches as well as other birds hanging out with all of them.


What was amazing was catching the animals in their playful mood as they had all the space to play.  A baby monkey playing around with the mom.  Two baby elephants locking tusks and playing.  And the most dramatic of all was the lion getting up and giving out a long and loud roar.


There were areas with no fences so a herd of deer could just run across the visitor, which was what happened to us.


THOMAS train at Roaring Camp in northern California

The souvenir shop had all safari-themed merchandise but what was most intriguing were the greeting cards made out of real elephant poo. Now that’s making good use of waste material.


Day out with Thomas


My final theme-park adventure brought me to Roaring Camp railroads at Felton about half an hour away from Santa Cruz beach in northern California. Highlight was a half-hour ride through the forest in a Thomas train with coaches and coaches of kids in their Thomas shirts, Thomas tattoos and face paint or just holding on to their dear Thomas train toy.


PENSIVE tiger at San Diego zoo

After the ride, the kids were  given a Jr. Engineer certificate by Sir Topham Hatt, the controller of Thomas’ railway. I was mildly disappointed that I wasn’t eligible for one.


This was Thomas paradise!  The souvenir shop sold all kinds of Thomas and friends merchandise you can think of, from trains to toothbrushes. My sister said the shop has the hard-to-find trains such as Emily and even commemorative Thomas trains. A discovery for me was seeing little girls who were Thomas fans, too.


I really didn’t expect that a millennial like me would have so much fun in these kids’ turfs.  Seeing flamingos made me smile, riding a train thrilled me and seahorses and jellyfish amused me. It made me become a curious kid all over again—and forget all about the outlet malls, at least for a couple of days.


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