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It’s a popular desert respite for snowbird retirees, but the Palm Springs area — about two hours from Los Angeles — also has loads for grandkids to do. Take the rotating tram car at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, for instance. At the 8,516-foot peak, the weather is decidedly cooler, so dress accordingly — even be prepared to throw snowballs! Preschoolers can spend hours watching the intricate network of model trains on 3,000 feet of track at The Living Desert. See if you can pull them away to visit the giraffes, zebras, bighorn sheep, and other animals on display. The Palm Springs Air Museum and the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert are other highlights.
With Shamu, the Zoo, and the Wild Animal Park, San Diego is the land of animal attractions. But you’ll also find interlocking fun at Legoland, miles of beaches (including Coronado Beach, ranked one of the nation’s best), and history in Old Town and the Gaslamp Quarter.
One of California’s most popular cities is also one of its least expensive places for a weekend getaway if you know how to do it. San Francisco is an oft-repeated backdrop for films of all kinds. Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope Studios are here (in the oddly-shaped building at Kearny and Columbus), as is Lucasfilm (in the Presidio). Unfortunately, neither give tours, but for any film lover with a good visual memory, walking around town is like one big movie tour, anyway. Japantown is a unique cultural opportunity, one of only a few Japantowns in the continental United States, along with Japantown in Los Angeles and San Jose. And you can be there all weekend without taking your car out of the garage.
Santa Barbara is sometimes called the American Riviera. It’s a pretty town, with white-washed, red-tile-roofed buildings draped over the hillsides, a protected bay and a south-facing beach that all conspire to give it some of the most pleasant weather on the California coast. Santa Barbara is known for: romantic getaways, beaches, outdoor recreation, biking and shopping.