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A Student’s Guide to the Golden State: California

A Student’s Guide to the Golden State: California

Rooted in a deep history, California offers great hands-on experiences for school groups. From learning about the ecosystem on a hike to playing Ronald Reagan in an important military mission, California is a perfect student destination.

Go Back to the Gold Rush

When you think of California, what comes to mind? If the first thing you thought of was the ocean and surfing, then Rusty’s Surf Ranch in Santa Monica is the place for you. See the restaurant’s collection of surfboards demonstrating the importance of surfing in California’s history. Each surfboard has specific information showing how surfboards have evolved through the years.

With the nickname the Golden State, it is clear that gold mining is a large part of California’s history. Back in the mid-1800s, the Gold Rush spurred westward expansion. In El Dorado County students have numerous opportunities to learn about the history of gold mining and experience mining culture. Hangtown’s Gold Bug Park in Placerville provides students with a tour of a real gold mine, a hike along a two-mile interpretive trail and the opportunity to pan for gems. Take a trip back in time and walk down Placerville’s Historic Main Street, where tour guides dress in period costumes and explain the street’s historical significance during the Gold Rush.

Main Street. Credit: Visit Buena Park.

Placerville’s Historic Main Street. Credit: Visit Buena Park.

For an entertaining experience, join Old Coloma Theatre for a performance of a Gold Rush play. During the play students learn about important characters of the Gold Rush including James Marshall, Captain John Sutter and Sam Brannon. Groups can pan for gold at Marshall Gold State Historic Park, where gold was first discovered. At the park, students learn how to make a leather pouch to store their gems and how to pack a wagon for a journey west.

Kern County Museum in Bakersfield showcases the importance of the region in California history. The museum boasts a collection of artifacts that are displayed in more than 56 historic buildings on 16 acres. Included is a one-room school, general store, jail and railroad exhibit.

An Adventure Around Every Corner

In San Diego, SeaWorld’s Education & Conservation Department has a special mission:  to “inspire people to appreciate and care for our natural world by sharing stories about animals.” Assisted by the park’s team of educators, tour guides and camp counselors, student groups can partake in camps and tours where they go behind the scenes and interact with animals; they’ll have so much fun they won’t even realize they’re learning.

Sea World campers with penguins. Credit: Sea World San Diego

SeaWorld campers with penguins. Credit: SeaWorld San Diego

Huddart Park nature hikes in Northern California teach young people about the ecology in the Bay Area by discovering various plants and animals including sticky monkey flowers, giant redwood trees, banana slugs and turret spider nests.

Combining adventure with physics, iFly Indoor Skydiving in San Francisco Bay offers an interactive and educational experience. Students participate in experiments, attend a physics or physical science lecture, tour the facility and experience a flight in iFly’s $8.5-million wind tunnel.

Channel Islands National Park, often called the American Galapagos, is just 14 miles out of Ventura and offers kayaking, camping, hiking trails and scuba diving. The islands are full of wildlife including dolphins, whales, foxes and bald eagles.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is a perfect destination for an adventure seeker any time of year. During the winter the top of the tramway is covered with snow. Visitors can try cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. During the summer visitors can camp or hike along the mountain’s 54 miles of trails.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway with Salton Sea. Credit: Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway with Salton Sea. Credit: Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Performing with a View

In Santa Monica student groups can perform on the Santa Monica Pier with the ocean as their background. Santa Monica offers student groups the opportunity to participate in their Pier JAMS program.

Pier Jams. Credit: Rusty's Surf Ranch

Pier JAMS. Credit: Rusty’s Surf Ranch

Ventura offers the Historical Olivas Adobe as a performance venue for student groups. Locations for events include the rose garden and grand courtyard.

Students can participate in Disneyland performances programs at the Anaheim theme park’s competitions and festivals. These events offer professional critiques and are a rewarding experience.

Help Keep California Clean

Students can volunteer in Santa Monica with Heal the Bay, an environmental organization focused on protecting the water quality of the Santa Monica Bay. Once a month the organization hosts an event called “Nothin’ but Sand” to help clean up the beaches.

Another volunteer opportunity is with the organization Save San Francisco Bay, which engages students in wetland restoration to promote a healthy and diverse ecosystem.

Hands-on Experiences

Air Force One Discovery Center in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley gives students an immersive and educational experience aimed at developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills. The students are given the opportunity to role play as key members in the October 1983 scenario when military action was taken on the island of Grenada. Students play the role of members of the executive branch, military and media.

Students reenact in Discovery Center's Oval Office. Credit: Discovery Center

Students reenact in Discovery Center’s Oval Office. Credit: Air Force One’s Discovery Center

ChocXo Bean to Bar Chocolatier in Irvine is every chocolate lover’s dream. Here students learn how chocolate is made and can taste chocolate at every stage of production from eating a cocoa bean inside the pod to the end stage of liquid chocolate.

ChocXo Bean to Bar Chocolatier. Credit: Destination Irvine

ChocXo Bean to Bar Chocolatier. Credit: Destination Irvine

San Jose’s Tech Museum of Innovation offers hands-on interactive experiences in genetics, earth sciences, alternative energy, virtual design and microchips.

Buena Vista Museum of Natural History offers a fossil dig at a local quarry. The students get to keep all of their findings including teeth and fossils except for scientifically significant fossils.

This is just a short list of everything California has to offer for students since it would be impossible to list everything California has to offer.  If you’ve had been on a student trip to California tell us about it below!

By Danielle Pruger