Whether you vied for one of those few parent chaperone spots on your kids’ school field trips or actively sought to dodge them, we are all in this together (again). Only now, we must take the reins of field trip coordination like cruise ship directors channeling Julie McCoy from the 1970s sitcom “The Love Boat.”
Rest easy, friends. I’ve put together a cheat sheet for you because informal learning is more important than ever. The National Science Teachers Association asserts that field trips “deepen and enhance” traditional studies, while Education Next research points to improved critical-thinking skills as one of many benefits.
Don’t know where to start? Ask the kids what their favorite subjects are and what they like to read. Take note of which teacher or class they talk about most. Whether your child is a budding ornithologist, architect or really interested in honing his or her olfactory senses, there’s a local excursion to suit – each with an educational component.
As you’re roving about, practice a life skill paramount for any properly educated Angeleno: orienteering. This takes different forms whether you’re reading a compass or following a map. Grab an old school Thomas Guide and let the kids tell you when to “turn right.”
A jaunt to Watts Towers can provide a lesson in engineering, art, local history and just plain wonder. The towers are closed during the pandemic, but a great deal is viewable from the street and merits a visit with a sketchbook in hand. Up in Hollywood, take that sketchbook to Yamashiro restaurant, which translates to “Mountain Palace” in Japanese, and then to the nearby Holy Transfiguration Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Little Armenia. In Downtown L.A., check out Frank Gehry’s infamous Walt Disney Concert Hall (can you see the ship in the structure?). Tours are canceled during the pandemic, but you can visit the outside of the building. These four distinctive forms of architecture constructed during four different decades in four different neighborhoods reflect just a sliver of the diversity we share.
If you’re looking for spooky architecture in the spirit of Halloween, FortLA has put together a “Witch Houses” trail to lead Angelenos through the hidden paths, secret byways and most fantastical homes curated by “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” star Amber Benson. Enter your email address on the organization’s website for free access to this and other trails, which you follow at your own pace. Architecture has never been so bewitching!
Street and garden art
Self-proclaimed Camp Mom Mariana Manela Flynn found inspiration on the empty UCLA campus this summer in the Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden, featuring more than 70 modern and contemporary works over five landscaped acres. It’s a great place to expose kids to university aspirations and find a shady spot to read.
Looking for public art installations? Drive by the Binoculars Building (also designed by Gehry) in Venice. In Venice you can also tour a wonderful selection of murals. Downtown L.A. hosts another of the best-known mural pockets, and you can book a guided tour through L.A. Art Tours. You can also find a self-guided tour of murals throughout the city. Click the “browse artworks” button and search out “Wrdsmth” at the Street Art Cities site for L.A. to find some with poetic words. To engage the sports enthusiast, find Dodger pitcher Joe Kelly, immortalized in Silverlake or take a tour of Kobe Bryant murals.
Botany, birds and beasts
The Huntington Library, Museum and Botanical Gardens in San Marino opens the expansion of its Chinese garden, the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, Oct. 9. Don’t miss the new Stargazing Tower with a view of Mount Wilson Observatory in the distance. Nearby Descanso Gardens is a likewise lovely jaunt boasting 150 acres of botanical gardens. South Coast Botanic Garden in Palos Verdes will also appeal to future horticulturists.
For a look at beasts of the past, you can explore the exterior park at La Brea Tar Pits and see paleontologists hard at work. If you are looking to get your own hands dirty, head out to The Ernst Quarries in Bakersfield to dig among one of the largest deposits of marine fossils in the world.
Ornithologists abound at Ballona Wetlands in Marina Del Rey, the Audubon Center at Debs Park near Montecito Heights (where the center is closed but the trails are open), Lower Arroyo Park in Pasadena and the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine. Use the guide on the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society website to learn about local species, and you’ll know which direction to head whether you’re searching out peregrine falcons, warblers or tiny tree swallows.
Ride the L.A. River on two wheels and marvel at the mix of natural ecology and manmade materials. The river runs 51 miles under historic bridges and through diverse landscapes to its mouth in Long Beach. The Baum Bicycle Bridge is an excellent starting point. Bike rentals, for those who need them, are available through Spokes ’N Stuff in Griffith Park.
During the pandemic, the outdoor exhibits at Aquarium of the Pacific are still open, including the Shark Lagoon, Lorikeet Forest, penguin habitat and touch tanks. Birch Aquarium in La Jolla has reopened with a new exhibition in Tidepool Plaza that explores the Marine Protected Areas right off our coast. A local gem is White Point/Royal Palms Beach in San Pedro, where you can bring a picnic and explore the tide pools to your heart’s content. This outing never gets old and the tactile experience is wondrous.
For a splash into physics, we’re suggesting paddleboard rentals in Marina del Rey or kayaking the surf along the shore. Pedal boat rentals are an excellent example of simple machines, science and engineering and they can be rented in Echo Park and Redondo Beach, or try a water bike in Long Beach.
We’ve only scratched the surface here. Southern California offers a bright mosaic of learning opportunities to explore. One day, those class field trips will resume. Until then, we wish you godspeed and good luck on your field-tripping adventures.
Amy Rush Conroy is an anthropologist, author, wife and mother of three. She is also the founder of Habla Blah Blah, dedicated to teaching children a second language.