Summer heat and smog may be giving Valley parents second thoughts about taking kids on local outdoor excursions. But they don't have to drive down to to San Pedro or up to Frazier Park to find breathable air and space for the kids to work out the wigglies. There are some close-by, easy-to-get-to places where they can see exotic scenery without ending up wilted and wheezing.
And because one of the main attractions of getting out of the house is to give parents some respite from the task of supervising kids in close quarters, why not visit a place that offers child care along with cool breezes?
Several sites in the Valley, some accessible every day, others only by appointment, meet all these criteria. But be warned: One involves going into a junkyard, another calls for riding a commuter train, and then there is that visit to the scene of a recent space-alien invasion.
The easiest way to just plain "get away from the weather," as Discovery Zone spokeswoman Leslye Lewis-Page put it, is to stay indoors. Consider a visit to one of the Discovery Zone's "FunCenters" in Burbank, West Hills or Simi Valley.
These are just three of the more than 200 large, indoor play and sports sites nationwide that have been designed to provide a cure for youthful cabin fever. Last month, all three sites started a series of events called "DZ Games," which are something like an outdoor summer-camp program--but with air conditioning.
The Discovery Zone programs are conducted seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission all day is free to visitors over 13, those between 3 and 13 pay $5.99 and kids 1 to 3 pay $3.99. For directions call Burbank (818) 841-4386, West Hills (818) 883-3142 or Simi (805) 593-2030.
Near the Burbank Discovery Zone on San Fernando Road at Magnolia Avenue is the Media City shopping mall. On the third level is a mall-within-a mall just for kids, called "Cheerio." It's sort of an indoor theme park that provides day care in its "party rooms." There are activities for kids who are interested in the circus, space travel or the jungle (complete with a large jungle gym).
A "snacketeria food court" offers junior versions of Mexican, Italian, Asian and even pasta-and-salad cuisines. Admission to this indoor playground is $6 weekdays and $7 on weekends. It can be reserved for parties. Call (818) 238-2345.
The idea of organizing a party need not be tied to someone's birthday. Two indoor-outdoor escapades available in the Valley require that folks show up in a group after calling for reservations--but you won't be required to bring a birthday child.
You'll only need to be a group of four or more to visit a unique arboreal sight in Burbank. That's where the "junkeranda tree," a man-made creation of trash--metal bed frames, tin cans, shampoo and detergent bottles--has been constructed at the Burbank Recycling Center. It's in an inside, air-conditioned space.
It's not the only unusual evocation of nature at the location. There's also a giant "walk-in" composting bin featuring insects made of recycled plastic bottles and other detritus.
According to center spokesman Steve Maggi, these structures are "instructional tools and bring to life the whys and hows of reducing waste." Your kids might miss this important point and simply enjoy the fact that this is like visiting the world's biggest, craziest Lego set.
Inside the tree they'll find a computer, VCR, video monitor and library--all providing recycling information. Visiting hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call ahead for reservations: (818) 238-3900.
Another excursion requiring reservations involves much more territory--the whole Valley, in fact--and requires participants to make reservations in groups of 20 or more. That's the only way to get your day-care, scout troop or other group of children on a cut-rate, air conditioned MetroLink train ride between Oxnard and Union Station for $2 per person round-trip. Your group can also book the Union Station-San Bernardino run.
If you don't want to take everybody you know along on the trip, just your little family, there is a reduced-price period between 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. on any of the train's routes. Adults ride 25% off, youths 6-18 ride 50% off regular rates. At any time, one child under 6 rides free if accompanied by an adult. For information call 808-LINK (no area code needed.)
If you're still wondering about the scene of the alien space invasion, it's at the corner of Hollywood Way and Vanowen Street where Fry's, the electronics store, has outfitted a huge industrial building to look like it's just been hit by a fleet of extraterrestrials. Go in and look. It'll keep the family cool--and oddly quiet, for a while anyway. For information, call (818) 526-8100.