Shaking Up Summer

Summer blahs give way to “oohs” and “aahs” as we uncover some unique spots for you and your kids to revel in new adventures.

There’s nothing more frustrating than waiting all year for the long, lazy days of summer … only to hear your kids squawk, “There’s nothing to do” or “I’m so bored.” Not to mention, for parents who work, there’s the added job of coming up with a menu of entertaining activities. You’ve already hit the beach, pool, movies and mall, and that’s just the first 48 hours… This year, break out of the mold with cool, off-the-beaten-path day trips and inspiring camps. Kids stay engaged and you stay sane!

FOR THE FOODIE

Got an aspiring chef or well-seasoned foodie in the back seat? Check out Little Feet in the Kitchen. Cookbook writer Jennifer Gardner runs this culinary academy at her Studio City home for children from 6 to 14. Unlike most kiddie cooking schools, the recipes go beyond cookies and macaroni and cheese. Students here whip up dishes like crêpes and tart flambés.

Each day is devoted to exploring tasty themes like “Egg-stravaganza” and “The History of Chocolate.” Thursdays are “food-trips” to local eateries like Loteria Grill, where celebrated chef Jimmy Shaw offers a lesson in creating sweet corn tamales, or to the Artisan Cheese Gallery, where kids learn the art of making fresh mozzarella.       

“My philosophy is that young people love to be challenged, and they want to do something different that seems sophisticated,” says the Tulsa native. “Even the pickiest eaters who once balked at Brussels sprouts usually end up scarfing them down after learning to sauté them in balsamic, olive oil and fennel seeds.” 

MOVES LIKE JAGGER

Join the Band is not your average band camp. Geared toward emerging rockers ages 9 and older, it teaches students in a group setting. For those with experience, teachers assess musical ability and assign them to a “jam band.” Throughout summer, the groups develop skills inside a professional recording studio. Everyone’s working toward the finale: a live performance for family and friends at a happening local venue like The Federal in NoHo. For newbies, the camp offers day programs where kids can try out instruments to find out which one strikes a chord.  

Owner John Mizenko stresses that Join the Band isn’t just for limelight lovers. Some students fight performance jitters, and John takes great care to create a nonjudgmental environment. “The best lessons are learned by failing. We tell students not to be afraid to make a mistake, because they’ll learn more from that than by always doing something right,” he shares.

PUPPY LOVE

Twenty minutes from the Valley in Sylmar, you’ll find a fascinating world devoted entirely to preparing dogs for a life of service. Guide Dogs of America is a non-profit organization that breeds and trains mostly Labrador pups, offered free of charge to the blind and sight-impaired. A few days a week, the public gets a special peek into the seven-acre facility to learn what it takes to raise just one dog, which, for the record, is about two years and $42,000. You and your children will be spellbound during this hour-long tour best suited for fourth graders and up.   

One note: If you’re picturing your brood frolicking with a litter of pups, this isn’t the place. While there’s a puppy nursery onsite, it’s kept sterile and off-limits to visitors. Your tour guide will have a puppy in hand, so that’s your opportunity for a cuddle. 

On June 9, however, the organization offers a more hands-on experience at their annual open house. The public is invited to interact with 150 adorable pups, watch dogs run through obstacle courses and participate in a silent auction benefit.  

TALK TO THE HAND

“Kids and puppets go together like salt and pepper,” says four-time Emmy Award-winner Michael Earl. “There’s something about a puppet that is wondrous and magical.” Michael, the performer behind the classic Sesame Street character “Mr. Snuffleupagus,” teaches this hand-held art at the Puppet School in Sherman Oaks.

As a protégé of Muppets creator, Jim Henson, Michael (with a business partner) opened the school for both young and old. There are workshops for children from 4 to 16, with new sessions starting each summer. The younger set learns the basics of lip-syncing with a puppet, while the older crowd creates their own foam character and performs at the end of the 12-week session.   

Michael claims that shy students often lose inhibitions. “Puppets show kids that anything is possible, and they can explore their creativity through them,” he says.

TOT TOWN

Pint Size Kids is an indoor play space—with a twist. You won’t find any ball pits here. Instead, it’s a place that fosters the imagination. Co-owners and moms Tobiah Roosevelt and Mindy Mann spent years visiting local play areas and came up with their creative idea. 

“We consider Pint Size Kids halfway between a children’s museum and an indoor playground,” says former nanny Mindy. There’s a well-organized mini-town, complete with a general store, medical center and playhouse, which captivates toddlers to children around 6.  

“Everything here is developmental, and kids are learning through role-playing and socialization,” says Tobiah, whose background is in education.  

The entrance fee is $12 per child, and there are no “in-and-out” privileges, so it is a good idea to “brown bag” lunch.

ALL ABOARD

We all know little boys love trains, but there’s a group of choo-choos at Griffith Park that most girl visitors go wild over too. The Griffith Park & Southern Railroad (GPS) facility has operated miniature trains since the ‘40s. The $2.50 trip takes passengers on a mile-long ride around pony stables and an old town facade that’s getting revamped this summer. The railroad operates seven days a week; expect longer lines on weekends. 

WILD AT HEART

Sixteen years ago, Cal State Northridge students Paul Hahn and David Riherd acquired exotic pets from people who could no longer care for them. The resourceful biology students started bringing the animals to schools, which evolved into a science outreach program serving Los Angeles. Now, with their animals, they’ve opened the Wildlife Learning Center in Sylmar.  

“When people come here, they get closer to the animals. Since most of the creatures have been socialized to be in classrooms, they’re very friendly and will often come up to you to say hello in their own special way,” says Paul. Many creatures also have compelling rescue tales. You’ll meet Nanuk, the arctic fox who was saved from a fur farm, or the squirrel monkey Dr. Peepers, abandoned by his mom during Hurricane Katrina.

To feel like a VIP, check out one of the behind-the-scenes experiences. They start at $100 for a group of four. Biologists lead a private tour where you’ll touch a fennec fox and meet a two-toed sloth named Lola.  

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