Winter activities for kids, grandkids in San Joaquin County

With an El Niño winter pelting San Joaquin County with rain and winds, you may wonder where to take the kids and/or grandkids on these blustery days. Here are several local destinations, kid-tested with our three grandchildren over this year and last. You and the kids will find them all compelling, relatively inexpensive (or free) and marvelous for making memories.

Grandson Jack, and huge toy soldiers, guard entrance to Children's Museum.

The Stockton Children’s Museum was founded as a memorial to the 1989 Cleveland School shootings offers scores of hands-on exhibits and activities that kids cannot resist.

On a recent visit, our first stop was a number of reptile exhibits, with grandson Jack locking onto the lizards and snakes and me trying not to imagine future nightmares (mine, not Jack).  Then onto the race car track, where Jack built race cars with Legos, then raced them down a long, four-abreast track.

After a quick stop at the face-painting station, we moved on to a climbing tour of a real fire engine, a police car (Jack quickly found delight in turning on the flashing lights), ambulance and Regional Transit bus; with Jack quickly acclimating himself to being a real bus driver.

Jack prepares to drive his Regional Transit bus at the Children's Museum.

The Children’s Museum is located at 402 W. Weber Avenue just off the downtown Stockton waterfront; it’s open Wednesday to Friday, 9 to 4, Saturday, 10 to 5 and Sunday, 12 to 5, general admission is $6.

The Mickey Grove Zoo just south of Lodi is a wonderland for kids.  The zoo offers Zoo Tots, offering toddlers a WILD adventure, learning through doing.  Tots are engaged in a variety of hands-on activities such as an art project; games; crafts; stories and possible live animal encounter depending on the topic.  This program is offered every Tuesday from 10:00AM-11:00AM.

A regular Kid’s Corner offers hands-on activities for older kids. The zoo is home to both exotic and native animal species, including the Black and White Ruffed Lemur and the Cotton Top Tamarin.

The zoo is located in Micke Grove Park, 11793 N. Micke Grove Rd., Lodi, CA 95240; open every day of the year from 10:00am-5:00pm except for Christmas Day. Admission is $5 for adults (ages 14 and up); $3 for children (ages 3-13) and free for children 2 years and under.

Giant clamshell dredge dwarfs grandkids Jessie and Hunter at SJ Historical Museum.

The San Joaquin Historical Museum is also located in Micke Grove Park. This sprawling museum offers lots of exhibits with appeal to youngsters, such as the old Calaveras School House, Blacksmith Shop and the Tractor Building full of huge and historic farm tractors. Recently expanded is the Native Peoples Gallery, offering insight into the Native Americans who have been living in San Joaquin County for more than 13,000 years.

The Gallery traces the Miwok- and Yokuts-speaking people with very rich cultures and lifestyles.  “The new exhibits work perfectly with the other exhibits,” notes Dave Stuart, Director. “Visitors can follow the Native peoples, to early trappers and founding of French Camp, the first non-Indian community. Continue on to the early American settlers, then to exhibits on the Gold Rush and the adjacent Weber Gallery.

The museum is located at 11793 N. Micke Grove Road, Lodi; open Wednesday-Sunday, 11 AM to 4 PM.  Admission is $2 for kids 6-12, $4, teens 13-17, $5 for adults, $4 for seniors 65+.

Jack builds a miniture city with magnetized building blocks at World of Wonders.

The World of Wonders Science Museum is a hands-on activities center for kids and adults. Located in historic downtown Lodi, the museum offers hands on, creative science exhibits to energize and amaze the minds of all ages.

Check the special events option on the museum’s website, including this Saturday’s Bug Event. Kids will get a chance to handle creepy and crawley critters and become a “bugologist”. The event runs 10 AM to 3 PM, Saturday; in addition to being able to touch and see bugs up-close, the museum will offer arts and crafts, face-painting and a bug-eating station! Other specials include Free Fridays (bring a friend on the last Friday each month, and your friend gifts in free).

Kids gather at vertical wind tunnel at World of Wonders Science Museum.

The museum is located at 2 N. Sacramento St., Lodi, open Wednesday to Monday, 10 to 5, closed Tuesday; admission is $4 for kids aged 2–17, $6 for adults, kids under 2, free.

When it’s raining in the valley, it’s usually snowing in the mid-elevations of the Sierra. Take the young ones up to the snow line for sledding, tubing, snowball fights or making a snowman. Two popular destinations only about an hour from Stockton include Calaveras Big Trees State Park on Hwy. 4 and the area known as Little Sweden on Highway 108 (about four miles east of Long Barn).

The state park charges $10 per carload entry, but offers hiking among the sequoias and other big trees, and several sledding and tubing areas. A cozy warming hut is available, with roaring fire and free hot chocolate or cider for kids and adults.

The Little Sweden area (until a few years ago, an old lodge by that name stood here, now removed) is free and you can park on both sides of this four-lane stretch of 108, though heed the “no parking” signs on a section of the highway – the Highway Patrol will ticket violators.

For hiking and exploration when the weather is nice, take in downtown Stockton’s waterfront (from the old Waterfront Warehouse at 445 W. Weber, then east around the Promenade through Weber Point, and west along the water out to the Stockton Arena and Ballpark), Lodi Lake Park, on Turner Road in Lodi or the Cosumnes River Preserve, two miles north of Thornton. Each destination offer miles of trails to explore, birds to see and critters to track (take the binoculars).

Where else can sledders and tubers slide in middle of Giant Sequoias; Calaveras Big Trees!

Pixie Woods Amusement Park in Stockton is also a great choice, opening for the season in early May.

To plan your visit: For the Children’s Museum, childrensmuseumstockton.org; Micke Grove Zoo, mgzoo.com; San Joaquin Historical Society, sanjoaquinhistory.org; Calaveras Big Trees State Park, parks.ca.gov.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in the west!

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