Western Region Section
Castle Dome Mine Museum, Yuma AZ
Also known as a ghost town, the Castle Dome Mine Museum is worth the rough drive to its location. My recommendations are to go with a car that is equipped to travel on rougher terrain, and make sure to pack snacks. It does offer a food truck, but when we went, it was not open. Visiting this museum will take up the majority of your day. When you're at the museum, you will be offered the chance to explore the town and traverse into its mines to view the florescent minerals. A fan-favorite structure is the old church where you can still enter and sit on its pews.
Meteor Crater and Barringer Space Museum, Winslow AZ
Approximately 49,000 years ago, a meteor crater entered the earth's atmosphere and crashed into Winslow, AZ. At the Meteor Crater and Barringer Space Museum, you can view the crater and learn all about its impact on the still-affected environment to this day. I personally found this museum so impressive. It is one of my favorites. The meteor was merely 40 meters in diameter, but when it impacted, the force was huge. It caused millions of pounds of rock to be disrupted.
Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary, Prescott AZ
This wild animal sanctuary plays an important role in the education, rehabilitation, and preservation of animal wildlife. It is just the right size. Within one afternoon, you'll be able to comfortably walk to view and learn all about its occupants. With picnic areas and a splash pad, it's easy to pack a lunch and enjoy it with some unique 4-legged company.
Historical Tombstone, Tombstone AZ
If you're looking for an educational, family-friendly destination, Tombstone is a good place to visit. Its main goal is to immerse you into the Wild West lifestyle from back in the 1800's. With activities like mine tours, gun fights, horse and carriage rides, and museums, you can learn all about being a cowboy. In my opinion, it was a little too touristy, but I can see why this world-famous historical destination piques the interest of people globally.
Cloud Museum, Winterhaven CA
In 1989, collector Johnny Cloud began his accumulation of vehicles. From work equipment to vintage cars, Johnny amassed an impressive collection for you to view. There isn't much in terms of education, so I do wish there were plaques to provide some history. Though, you can get an up close and personal view of the vehicles and even sit in some. He even has one of the firsts RVs, and I gotta tell ya, we've come a long way from then. At the price of $10 for admission, this museum is great for a short afternoon adventure.
Center of the World, Felicity CA
This is at the top of my list for quirkier places. The Center of the World is known for its title without truly being the center of the world, simply because someone decided to dub it that. There is a pyramid that houses the actual spot that is the "center of the world." If you decide to enter and view it, you can make a wish before stepping on it. You'll also be given a certificate that states you've been there. Kinda cool. A small church also stands on the grounds that you'll have to climb some stairs to get to. There is also a maze-like structure that documents the history of humanity on-site. Overall, this is a great budget-friendly way to spend an afternoon.
California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco CA
I grew up visiting the California Academy of Sciences. This is one of my top places to visit if you're in San Francisco. They even offer a "Nightlife Night" solely for 21+ adults to roam its grounds with cocktails in hand. Needless to say, this place has it all. From an indoor rainforest, living roof-top, planetarium, aquarium, and earthquake simulator, it is a great place to enjoy learning about the environment you live in. If you decide to visit, go to the gift shop and say hi to my mom for me. Yes, she has one of the best jobs in San Francisco!
The Broad Museum, Los Angeles CA
This swanky, multi-level contemporary art museum is one of the best art museums I've ever visited. What initially attracted me to it was Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Room, the background of Adele's performance in her single, "When We Were Young." The museum sections off time slots so each individual or group can experience the room for a few minutes alone, fulling submerging you into its experience. The room itself was smaller than I anticipated, but boy, was it beautiful.
Balboa Park, San Diego CA
Historical Balboa Park is a place where you could spend several days roaming and still miss something. With plenty of museums, beautiful botanical gardens, to the world-famous San Diego Zoo, there's plenty of family-friendly activities to experience here. My recommendations? Enjoy a stroll through the Japanese Friendship Garden, tastings at the International Cottages, and learn about our aerospace at the San Diego Air and Space Museum. But if you're REALLY lucky and just so happen to find yourself at Balboa Park in the fall, around sunset, there will be a haunted trail that will give you the scare you're searching for during the spooky season.
Potato Chip Rock, Poway CA
The hike to Potato Chip Rock isn't for the faint of heart. Well, at least the way we adventured. I think at the end of the day we hiked 8 miles just to see this natural tourist attraction. This thin piece of sediment sits approximately 100 feet above the summit. Apparently, there are two different paths to hike. One is obviously shorter. Unknowingly, we opted for the longer route, but parking was free, and at the end of the day, I still look back at the trip fondly.
Lions, Tigers, and Bears, Alpine CA
This wildlife sanctuary houses exotic animals who cannot live the rest of their lives without proper protection and care, as they are often found abused and abandoned. The famous rapper, Tyga, has his illegal tiger, Maverick, residing in this sanctuary. This is a perfect example of why people shouldn't own exotic animals. When we visited, Maverick weighed over 400 pounds. It was easy to see why Tyga could not care for him.
Set on over 90 acres of land, they provide everything the animals need to live out the rest of their lives happily. That being said, you will only be able to roam so much. Take a guided tour of their grounds, and even safely feed a species of your choosing. This sanctuary provides a beautiful safe haven for its animals, clearly shown in the pride of their volunteers and employees.
Idaho Potato Museum, Blackfoot ID
This wonderful, budget-friendly museum is small but mighty. I found this befitting since the potato is exactly that. Admission will be paid for at the gift shop, but don't worry, you can return after you learn all about the history of America's finest potato. With a VR experience of the actual harvesting, this small museum offers everything you need, including a diner where you can taste Idaho's finest. In my opinion, I think this museum could expand with a Potato Vodka exhibit and experience. But for now, I recommend the tater tots, potato-infused chocolate milk, and chili.
EBR-1 (Experimental Breeder Reactor -1), Arco ID
This completely free historical landmark explores the production of electricity through nuclear energy. At absolutely no charge, you will be offered a guided tour that explains how this sustainable energy is stored, transformed, and utilized. You can choose a self-guided tour; my only recommendation is that you follow the numbers in the pamphlet and the arrows on the floor to receive the full education. Although it disappointingly doesn't have a gift shop, they do offer a passport stamp so you will have some record of visiting.
Horse Thief Reservoir, Cascade ID
I initially thought this was a state park, but it turns out that it is, in fact, owned by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. I'm not an avid fisherman, but I can see why this reservoir attracts them nationwide. Mostly known for its several species of trout, this first come, first served YMCA-managed ground offers no hook-ups but plenty of boat launch ramps and breathtaking views.
Libby Dam, Libby MT
This multi-functional dam helps maintain Montana's environment while also producing hydropower. Guided tours into the dam are available on certain days during specific times to teach you all about its inner workings. If you miss these times, you're still free to roam around its education center (at no cost) and gift shop, as well as traverse the beautiful grounds that surround it. The waters are so clear that it resembles Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park. And, if you choose to camp there, it's a first come, first served with no hook-ups type of park. But the views are so worth it.
Hungry Horse Dam, Hungry Horse MT
Located just outside of Glacier National Park is the lesser-known Hungry Horse Dam. There is a small educational center along with a free penny press. What I loved about this dam was that they give you the opportunity to walk, bike, or drive over it. On the side, you'll find plenty of outdoor activities. I think it's worth mentioning that along with guided tours, during the summer, they put on a laser light show that is projected on the low side of the dam.
C.M. Russell Museum, Great Falls MT
C.M. Russell is known as one of the greatest American Artists of all time. He captured the Wild West on canvas as his way of documenting this historical time period. I gotta give credit where credit is due. This Missouri cowboy traversed the US to settle in this small town in Montana and pursue his dream as an artist. When visiting this museum, I found his painting, "The Hold Up," to be most captivating.
Also interesting to note, you must drive through a residential area in order to reach this award-winning museum. But when you get there, you're given the opportunity to walk through his actual studio and residence, giving you a direct connection to the lifestyle he and his wife lived in the early 1900s.
Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art, Great Falls MT
This completely free contemporary art museum offers many different but practical functions. First and foremost, it showcases contemporary art. Journey from room to room and absorb a wide range of artists and their perspectives. Next, travel down into the basement where you can take art classes. I wish I knew about that opportunity sooner because I would've loved to participate in their "date night" pottery class. Lastly, it can serve as an event space, which I think is pretty cool. What a unique and interesting backdrop you could have here.
Hoover Dam, Boulder City NV
Originally known as "The Boulder Dam," this engineering feat was renamed the Hoover Dam to commemorate President Hoover's contributions to the project. Today, you can drive over it and tour its inner and outer workings. It is super easy to spend the day here. You will have to pay an entrance fee, parking fee, and ticket admission if you choose to take a tour. Also, be sure to remember where you parked! The main parking structure is a larger size, and it gets crowded fast.
Mob Museum, Las Vegas NV
This multi-level museum, settled in downtown Las Vegas, explores the mobster lifestyle during the prohibition era. In the basement, you'll find a speakeasy and distillery where you can learn about how moonshine was created and smuggled during the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920's. What I liked most about this museum was its exploration of the relationship between law enforcement and the organized crime members. If you can, opt for all of the extra experiences, so you can really immerse yourself into the full picture of what it was like during the 1920s.
Bonneville Hatchery, Cascade Locks, OR
This particular hatchery is beautiful, playful, and educational. I fell in love with its well-maintained grounds upon entering. You can take a short stroll through its garden where you'll see fish, like sturgeon and trout ponds. For a quarter, you can feed the trout, but you want to be quick because this fish food is also a favorite of its other occupants, the ducks. Either way, if you pack a lunch or snacks, it's a great way to spend an afternoon. Now, a facility on site shows how they are eventually harvested for consumption. If you're not interested in that, you can just skip the building and continue on throughout its lovely grounds.
Alpacas at Marquam Hill Ranch, Molalla OR
This family-run ranch is home to some of the best alpacas in the country. I'm usually reluctant to visit places like these, but you can tell these alpacas are cared for and loved. They offer a variety of events throughout the year, including yoga with alpacas. I'll have to catch that next time. If you're just stopping by to visit, you can buy a bag of feed to give them, a really fun and unique experience. Beware though, they do spit!
The Oregon Vortex and House of Mystery, Gold Hill OR
I wasn't sure what to expect on our tour of the Oregon Vortex and House of Mystery. It is a world famous, naturally occurring phenomenon that I had seen it on TV. I figured it was worth a stop. It's a good way to spend a few hours and tour the mysterious grounds. It is actually much smaller than what is shown on TV. I would recommend going at an off-peak time so your group is smaller. We had a group of 6, and even then, it grew a little tight. I can't imagine the experience when the group is at a maximum occupancy of 20.
Oregon Garden, Silverton OR
This award-winning botanical garden is an impressive 80 acres of well-maintained landscape. There are approximately 20 specialty gardens, my favorite being the Northwest Garden. What I found most interesting is that every year, they transform a portion of the garden into an authentic German Christmas-themed event. The Silverton Christmas Market is a ticketed event, but there, you'll get your fill of holiday lights (they hang an impressive one million each year), delectable food, and even find unique artisanal gifts from local vendors. If you're like me and enjoy the cold, this event is definitely something you should check out.
Wyoming Dinosaur Center and Dig Sites, Thermopolis WY
Located just minutes from its world-famous state park, this prehistoric museum will satisfy your dinosaur curiosities. It packs a lot of punch in its small footprint. All of the exhibits are clean and well-maintained. There are over 50 fully mounted skeletons that will amaze you just by their sheer size. And, if you don't get your dino fill, from May 26th to September 15th, you can actually dig for them yourself.
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