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10 family-friendly places to visit in the West

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Man does not live by bread alone, and families can't count on theme parks for all their adventures. Here are 10 relatively unthemed Western destinations, all best enjoyed in the company of a 10-year-old:

Cable cars, San Francisco: Of the three routes in operation, the classic Powell-Hyde Line begins at Powell and Market streets near Union Square, climbs Nob Hill, then descends dramatically to end at Aquatic Park, near Ghirardelli Square and Fisherman's Wharf. To top off the adventure, step into the Musée Mécanique, a great collection of antique pinball games and such, in Pier 45. The cable car is $5 one way per adult, or $13 for a day pass. Info: http://www.sfcablecar.com/index.html.

Coloma, Calif.: When it comes to rafting, this is where California gets its feet wet. The South Fork of the American River, scenic and kid-friendly, wriggles through here, attracting a boatload of outfitters (about 20) and beginning rafters every year from May through September. More than 20 named rapids crop up in the 20 miles of water between Chili Bar and Salmon Falls. The Gold Rush began nearby in 1848 at what is now Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. Highway 49 will take you through other old Gold towns such as Auburn and Placerville. An hour's drive west, there's Old Sacramento and the California State Railroad Museum. Info: (530) 622-3470, http://www.coloma.com; http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=484

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona: Every once in a while, feeling really small is a healthy thing. Seven-day admission: $25 a vehicle. First-timers, head for the South Rim, walk the Rim Trail near Mather Point, and remember to carry water. And if you're taller than 4 feet 7 and weigh less than 200 pounds, how about a mule ride down to the Colorado River, a night at Phantom Ranch and a ride back up? Reserve well ahead and expect to pay $420 to $480 an adult. Info: (928) 638-7888; http://www.nps.gov/grca.

Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles: To borrow from observatory director E.C. Krupp, this is the city's hood ornament, built in 1935. Beneath its three domes, it engages kids with a battery of exhibits, not to mention the beloved lawn and James Dean statue outside. Admission is free, but the planetarium shows cost $7 for adults. The parking lot fills fast, so come early or park below in the Fern Dell area of Griffith Park. From there it's a mile hike up to the observatory, and once you're back down, the Trails Café will be waiting with lunch. Info: (213) 473-0800; http://www.griffithobservatory.org.

Lake Tahoe, Calif. and Nev.: Swimming, boating, waterskiing in summer, snow skiing in winter, horseback riding, goofing off on the beach, hiking, mountain-biking, rafting on the Truckee River— all these things are possible at Lake Tahoe. (Also, for adults who live dangerously, there's gambling on the Nevada side.) For the Truckee River action, you'll want to head to Tahoe City, toward the north end of the lake. But for just about everything else, South Lake Tahoe does well, especially gorgeous Emerald Bay State Park. Info: http://www.visitinglaketahoe.com

Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, Calif.: This wet wonder opened in 1984, and a 1996 expansion nearly doubled its size. Amazing views of jellyfish, sea horses, otters, fish and a new flamingo exhibit. Expect to spend three hours (and remember that afternoons are less crowded than the mornings). Adult admission: $29.95. Info: (831) 648-4800, http://www.montereybayaquarium.org

Morro Bay, Calif. It's all about the rock, which looms more than 500 feet above the sea, luring shoppers to the boardwalk and adventurers to paddle a kayak in and around Morro Bay State Park. Just north, you find the sleepy beach town of Cayucos and, beyond that, the artsy, pine-studded town of Cambria. (And then, there's San Simeon and Hearst Castle.) Info: (805) 772-2560; http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=594

Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming: The water spout (which erupts about every 90 minutes) is just the beginning. Wild animals and weird hydrothermal effects are everywhere at Yellowstone, and from there you can head 75 miles south to Grand Teton or 60 miles east to Cody, Wyo., to catch the nightly rodeo and the hotel founded by Buffalo Bill. Info: (307) 344-7381, http://www.nps.gov/yell/

San Diego Zoo, San Diego: It's only about 100 acres, but it contains worlds, with about 4,000 animals and 700,000 plants in a setting that's been evolving since 1916. Plan on four hours. First-timer? Consider the 35-minute bus tour. Adult admission: $37. If you want another day of animal explorations, remember that the San Diego Zoo's Safari Park (formerly the Wild Animal Park) is about 30 miles north, near Escondido. Info: (619) 231-1515, http://www.sandiegozoo.org

Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii: Two words: erupting volcano. Mt. Kilauea has been going off continually since 1983, covering nine miles of highway and enlarging the national park by 568 acres. if you need more reasons to visit, consider that you can sleep in a bed-and-breakfast in the town of Volcano, hike the four-mile Kilauea Iki Trail loop through the jungle and across the crusty black caldera floor, tiptoe through the tunnel of the Thurston Lava Tube, see (from a safe distance) hot lava spilling into the ocean, then maybe take a dip in the warm waters along the Big Island's Kohala Coast. Info: (808) 985-6000, http://www.nps.gov/havo.

chris.reynolds@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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  • Top 10 family-friendly destinations in the West
    Top 10 family-friendly destinations in the West

    Man does not live by bread alone, and families can't count on theme parks for all their adventures. Here are 10 relatively unthemed Western destinations, all best enjoyed in the company of a 10-year-old. -- Christopher Reynolds, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer Click here to tell us about...

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