Los Angeles has its fair share of traffic problems, smog, rude, stressed-out drivers and overcrowded attractions. But as a native, I can tell you that the amazing weather almost makes up for all of that.
We’ve had some cold and rainy days this winter, true enough. But more often than not, we’ve had sunny, clear skies with plenty of reason to be outside and enjoy it. Meanwhile much of the rest of the country continues to contend with cold spells and snow storms so severe they’re experiencing multiple rounds of cabin fever.
In spite of our great winter weather, people in Los Angeles are scared off by rain and temperatures that drop below 60 degrees. Which means that if you’re willing to brave some cool, wet weather (and I am, of course!), you stand a pretty good chance of enjoying some crowd-free nature play during the winter months.
I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite winter outdoor adventures, both close to home and far away. There’s still time left to partake, you know …
I’d love for my kids to be outside at least an hour a day, but that’s not always realistic, so I’ll take 15 minutes if I can get it. Our favorite backyard adventures this winter included:
Playing in the rain – I wrote an entire post about rainy day outdoor fun. My 5 year old loved the freedom to get wet, splash in puddles, try to get objects to float in the water and search for worms (and rainbows) after the rain.
Making s’mores – One night in December, we took a break from all the hustle and bustle of the pending holidays and roasted marshmallows over our portable fire pit.
Not quite camping, but a great way to slow down and reconnect with each other outdoors.
Bird watching – The trees in our backyard have been full of chirping birds since we moved in to our house three years ago. Don’t know why it took us so long to look up to see what’s there! Both of my kids have now begun to notice not just the birds in our yard, but those wherever else we go, too.
Making bird feeders – Our first bird feeder was a store-bought number that we painted together and hung proudly in our lemon tree. After reading a post about an eco-friendly feeder option by my friend Marghanita of the Little Humbugs, we created a pinecone bird feeder, too.
Your backyard is a great place to explore nature. But I love discovering new places, too. This winter, we found quite a few treasures hidden within just a short distance of home:
Beaches – California beaches seem almost forgotten during the winter (except maybe by the surfers). Our weeklong stay in Oxnard afforded us plenty of time for beach play with never a crowd to be found.
We also discovered El Matador State Beach in Malibu, which is a secluded spot with dramatic views and loads of opportunities for nature play. Plenty of beautiful beaches line the Pacific Coast and deserve exploring during the winter.
I learned the hard way to check the tide tables before heading out for a tide pooling adventure, lest the tide pools be under water! Spots I’d like to go tide pooling in the future include Leo Carillo State Park in Malibu and Fermin Marine Life Refuge-State Marine Park in San Pedro.
Parks – Within about a 15 minutes’ drive of the Santa Monica area, you can reach Temescal Gateway Park, Will Rogers State Historic Park and Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area. These gems will make you feel like you’ve been transported into a different world. Best part? They’re pretty much empty this time of year.
Some of the more popular summer destinations are far less crowded during winter, making them worth the trip:
Zoos – Cooler temperatures mean animals are more active than in the warm summer months. Plus many zoos have special events planned during the holidays.
We missed seeing them this year, but the Los Angeles Zoo brings in reindeer from November to January. And America’s Teaching Zoo in Moorpark hosts an Arctic Lights weekend and brings in snow to celebrate the season (which is kind of a big deal for kids here!).
Museums and aquariums – You’d think bad weather would translate into crowds at indoor attractions. But that’s not what I discovered one rainy week in December when we visited the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. We had the place practically to ourselves – on a Saturday no less!
Aquariums get their largest crowds during the summer, so winter is a great time to go. In the Los Angeles area, our favorite small aquarium is the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium; our favorite large facility is the Aquarium of the Pacific.
I’ve always got my eye out for an outdoor adventure that might be fun for our whole family – no matter how far away it might be. Here are a few California adventures that top my list:
Snow play – We’re hoping to make it to the local mountains next month, but winter is obviously a great time to enjoy the snow. Good spots for beginners (read: you can pull off to the side of the road and go play) can be found at Wrightwood or Mt. Pinos in Frazier Park. Snow Summit, Big Bear and Mountain High are also close by.
Whale watching – The gray whale migration along the California coast takes place during the winter months. I’ve found the toughest decision is choosing whether to head up the coast or down to see them! We’ve opted to head north to Oxnard to whale watch with Island Packers, but you can also check out Dana Point, Long Beach, even Malibu.
Monarch butterflies – The Monarch Grove Sanctuary in Pacific Grove is the spot to see Monarchs during the winter months (from October to February). In fact, its nickname is “Butterfly Town, U.S.A.” Each year, thousands of these winged creatures take refuge on the pines and eucalyptus of the Sanctuary. I’ve already added this adventure to our 2011 list.
Elephant seals – From mid-December through March, elephant seals make Año Nuevo State Reserve their mating headquarters. The Park offers guided hikes of their elephant seal rookeries during mating season. I’ve wanted to try this adventure for about as long as I remember and Meg’s post at Backpack to Buggy has convinced me the kids will love it, too.
So there you have it – my favorite winter nature adventures. Now it’s your turn: Leave a comment with your favorite nearby winter nature activity and let us in on the best spots to explore in your neck of the woods.