As the most populous U.S. state and the third largest in size, California has thousands of attractions. Sometimes, we know, it can be difficult finding a good educational field trip destination especially when you have to consider grade level, subject, and distance from your home base. That's why we're here to help! Check out this list of attractions, sorted by grade levels on a variety of subjects over the entire state. Have fun and remember that an attraction is only as educational as you make it!
Children's Museums: Luckily, there are several children's museums located all over the Golden State. A few of the best include the Zimmer Children's Museum in Los Angeles and Kidspace Children's Museum in Pasadena. Both are built on interactive learning with hands-on exhibits, demonstrations, and multi-sensory displays. From learning about bugs and the science of life to exercising motor skills, both museums excel in inspiring children to learn, grow, and expand their minds in a fun environment.
Discovery Cube: Though the Discovery Cube centers in Orange County and Los Angeles can be described as children's museums, it deserves its own paragraph. Where the other museums were based on general learning, the Discovery Cube is all about science with interactive exhibits like 4D multi-sensory films, the Shake Shack where you can feel historic earthquakes, and DinoQuest - the world's first interactive dinosaur experience where you become a paleontologist!
Fitzgerald Marine Reserve at Half Moon Bay is a fabulous destination for any group to learn about the ecology and biology of the ocean. Kids can explore the area like marine biologists and find all manner of sea life in the tide pools from seaweed and sponges to crabs, mollusks, and even small octopi. Tours and programs are offered by the Reserve staff and naturalists regularly and upon request.
Sacramento Government Buildings: One topic that's pretty much studied nationwide in this age range is government operations and civics. This makes a trip to the Sacramento State Capitol and Governor's Mansion an educational, fun, and topic-worthy trip. Take a tour of the Capitol and see the Senate in session, explore the Capitol Museum, and walk through the marble corridors. At the Governor's Mansion, you can tour the historic park, learn about the history of the Victorian mansion, and explore the exhibits and period furnishings.
Kearney Historic Site - Fresno: Located in the San Joaquin Valley, this historic site explores the development of the area's agriculture industry, California immigration, and even the Civil War. Walk through a one-room school house, tour the Kearney Mansion that has stood for over 100 years, and walk down a street recreated to look as it did during the estate's heyday back in the late 19th century. Located at the historic site is also a fabulous Civil War reenactment that occurs every October complete with period demonstrations, cannons, and conversations with historic figures.
La Brea Tar Pits: While the La Brea Tar Pits can be a great destination for any age, even high school, it's pretty much perfect for upper-grade school and middle school students. In the heart of Los Angeles, you can see scientists actively excavating the world's most famous ice age dig site, look down into the Observation Pit, explore the Pleistocene Garden filled with prehistoric plants and recreated creature models, and tour the fossil collections that have been taken from the tar pits.
Alcatraz Island: It can be difficult to find a field trip destination for high school students but don't discount the educational encouragement and learning opportunities that can come from field trips. Alcatraz Island is a fabulous destination that's too mature and possibly frightening for younger students. Take a ferry from the Wharf and spend as long as you want exploring the abandoned prison, learning about the history of the Rock, look through cell exhibits and listen to lectures given by the Rangers who maintain the site.
Alta California Missions: 21 historic Catholic Missions are located along California's coastline from San Diego to San Francisco, the first built in 1769. Many of them are open for tours and include museum exhibits, some are even still operating as churches with weekly services. Visit historic churches, tour the reconstructed and refurbished outbuildings, and learn about the history that went into creating such an extensive mission in what was once wild frontier territory.
Walt Disney Concert Hall: Performing everything musical from classical composers to Jazz and modern music, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and various performers at the Walt Disney Concert Hall can be described as sublime. High school students may not regularly be exposed to such music but that makes it no less important or educational. Artistic expression has many forms and music is one of them. Expose your students to classical interpretation, the passionate confluence of the woodwinds and strings and brass, and allow them the opportunity to be amazed by the power of sound.
San Diego Zoo: The San Diego Zoo is one of the best in the country if not the world for its amazing array of endangered and rare animals. All ages can appreciate and be amazed by the beauty of exotic animals and educational subjects can range from biology to animal psychology, architecture, ecology, landscape design, and more.
Natural History Museum of LA County: With one of the largest natural history collections in the States, LA County's museum is home to over 35 million specimens over 4.5 billion years of history. Explore the dinosaur fossil halls, the nature gardens, insect zoo, and Discovery Center. Educational topics abound.
National/State Parks: As the third largest state, California has a massive number of parks. My recommendations include Redwood National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Death Valley National Park, and Yosemite. Of course, all of them are going to be marvelous and include a number of programs, educational tours, and hikes for natural learning. Search close to home or extend your gaze farther away for something completely new.