Written by Bill Zavestoski
Sometimes all it takes is a little planning to have a great family outing. When routine exploits just aren’t cutting it anymore, shake things up by exploring new terrain, taking in an exhibition, or visiting a landmark and learning a little something about our local history. Here are awesome events to attend and places to visit around town before fall ends. Best part? All of them can be done on the cheap and on one tank of gas—or less!
707 W Hornet Ave
Alameda, CA 94501
Phone: (510) 521-8448
From decorated service during World War II to duty as the aircraft carrier that plucked the Apollo 11 astronauts and capsule from the sea after the first manned moon landing in 1969, the USS Hornet has a colorful history. The CV-8 version launched Jimmy Doolittle's raid on Tokyo but was later sunk in the South Pacific. The CV-12, now the museum at Alameda Point, helped win the war against Japan and later deployed to Vietnam before being decommissioned in 1970. It was designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service in 1991 and opened as a museum in October 1998 at the former Naval Air Station Alameda.
Why Go? To witness how sailors and pilots lived and worked on this “floating city” is truly remarkable. Walking the flight deck, maneuvering inside the narrow corridors of the carrier, and getting a look at the history of the ship should make young and old alike stop and think about those served on it, some of whom made the greatest sacrifice in the service of their country.
Insider Tip: Allow at least three hours to really get a feel for all the exhibits on the carrier, from the bridge and decks, to the displays of planes and helicopters, to the Apollo 11 (and Apollo 12) recovery exhibits. Grab a tour map at the admissions desk since the tour is mostly self-guided. Docents are stationed throughout the ship to answer questions and lead special tours. Wear comfortable shoes that provide good traction.
Must Do: The exhibits featuring jet aircraft of the 1950s, '60s and '70s, some of which never flew from the Hornet because of size and weight, may be the most photographed items on the ship. You can't hop in and take off, but there is a flight simulator that can seat 15 people if you feel the need for speed. A five-minute ride costs $6 and the simulator operates in half-hour increments starting at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. daily.
The Fine Print: Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, with the last admission at 4 p.m. You can explore many parts of the ship on your own or join a guided tour to areas such as the engine room, which requires a sign-up. Tour tickets are $16 for adults, $13 for seniors (65 and older), college students and military (both need IDs), and $7 for youth 5 to 17. Those under 5 are admitted free with a paying adult. There is free parking nearby. The pier is at the foot of West Hornet Avenue in Alameda. Call (510) 521-8448 for more information.
10000 Skyline Blvd Oakland, CA 94619
Take a scenic drive up into the Oakland Hills to enjoy a day (or night) expanding and learning more about your universe. Chabot Center is 1,500 feet above sea level, so the views to the bay are spectacular, even without a telescope, of which there are several large versions that visitors can look through. Admission includes hands-on exhibits that will keep the young set enthralled, plus two planetarium shows.
Why Go? The center offers all visitors, but especially children, an opportunity to learn about science and space in a fun and interesting manner. From its “Tyke Explorers” workshops for the little ones (2½ to 5 years) to the date nights, speakers, telescope viewings and astronomical events geared to adults, there's something for stargazers of all ages.
Insider Tip: Through Dec. 29, wear any item of clothing displaying the NFL logo of the Oakland Raiders and get $2 off an adult or youth regular admission on weekend visits. Just ask for the appropriately named “Black Hole Special.”
Must Do: Check out the three telescopes on Chabot's observatory deck: Nellie (the most powerful and housed in a rolling roof observatory), Rachel (at 20 inches, it’s the largest refractor in the western U.S. regularly open to the public) and Leah (the original 8-inch refractor dating back to 1883 and donated by founder Anthony Chabot).
The Fine Print: Admission is $15.95 for adults and $11.95 for youths 3 to 12. Seniors (65+) and students aged 13 to 18 or with a college ID receive a $3 discount off the adult price. Parking is free. The museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and hours are 10 a.m. To 5 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. On Fridays and Saturdays, hours expand from 10 to 10, with telescope viewing on the observatory deck from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m.
1 Jelly Belly Lane
Fairfield, CA 94534
You don't have to be a kid and it doesn't have to be Easter to enjoy jelly beans, as President Reagan proved with his love for the sweet treats, especially the Jelly Belly, which touts itself as “the original gourmet jelly bean.” Did you know that the headquarters for the company is just up the road in Fairfield, and that free tours that include scrumptious samples are available?
Why Go: During a 40-minute walking tour, you'll learn just how these multi-flavored candies are cooked and why it takes more than a week to make a single bean. You'll see how the centers and shells of the beans are made, how the Jelly Belly logo is imprinted, and how irregular-sized beans are culled out. You'll get to taste a few samples along the route and get a small bag of beans at the conclusion of the tour.
Insider Tip: Though with the kids in school it may be easier to get there on a weekend, try to go on a weekday, when actual production takes place. Though tours on Saturdays, Sundays and some holidays cover the same factory areas, video monitors are used to show what you would see live on work days.
Must Do: Spend some time in the Jelly Belly Candy Store. At the Sample Bar, you can try every flavor that Jelly Belly produces. Want to get a great deal on a Jelly Belly purchase? “Belly Flops” are just as tasty and come in all flavors but their shape and size didn't measure up.
The Fine Print: Tours are given daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the Visitor Center (1-800-953-5592) open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.. The tours depart every 10 or 15 minutes and the wait to get on one can vary from the usual 15 minutes to longer than an hour on busy days. Reservations are not required. The factory is close to the Anheuser-Busch factory, where complimentary tours are also offered should you need to wash down the Jelly Belly treats. Just don't bring the kids.