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Family Values Can't Get Much Better

Whether watching comets or Ducks, touring backstage or nature, it's all free. Read on and head out.


Spring break may be a welcome break from the school grind for countless students, but there's only so much rest and relaxation a kid can tolerate before boredom sets in, only so many episodes of "Saved by the Bell" one can watch. So if there's no Caribbean cruise on the horizon, no trailblazing to the slopes of Aspen, don't fear. There are dozens of fun things to do in our own backyard. Here are 50 that won't cost a dime.

1. Get your feet wet in the tide pools at the Orange County Marine Institute, 24200 Dana Point Harbor Drive, Dana Point, (714) 496-2274. Touch tanks, offering hands-on exposure to marine life, are open most Saturdays from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., and the brig Pilgrim, moored alongside OCMI, throws an open house most Sundays from 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. (donation requested).

2. Meet Becky the buffalo, Waylon the Clydesdale and a barnyard full of new baby animals at Centennial Farm, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa, (714) 708-1619, a replica of a working farm at the Orange County Fair and Exposition Center.

3. The play's the thing at South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, (714) 957-2602, Ext. 265. Orange County's Tony Award-winning professional resident theater hosts backstage tours on Wednesday and April 2 at 10 a.m., led by staff member Sylvia Berry. Open to guests ages 10 and up, by reservation only.

4. Get back to nature at the Oak Canyon Nature Center, 6700 E. Walnut Canyon Road, Anaheim Hills, (714) 998-8380. The 58-acre wilderness park and hands-on museum has spring wildflowers, hiking trails and, most Saturdays at 10 a.m., free naturalist-led family programs. This Saturday's topic: birds of prey. Or at the Fullerton Arboretum, 1900 Associated Road, Fullerton, (714) 773-3404. A docent-led nature walk for families taking in the highlights of this 26-acre botanical garden is offered April 5 at 10 a.m., or you can pick up a map for a self-guided tour. For a schedule of ranger-led nature walks, offered most weekends at the county's regional parks, call the O.C. Department of Harbors, Beaches and Parks hotline at (714) 834-2400.

5. Experience what life was like in the old rancho days at the renovated 1844 Monterey-style adobe, Rancho Los Cerritos, 4600 Virginia Road (off San Antonio Drive), Long Beach, Wednesday through Sunday 1-5 p.m., weekend tours. (310) 424-9423.

6. Feast your eyes on works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and other modern artists of the 20th century at the Long Beach Museum of Art, 2300 E. Ocean Blvd. (between Temple and Junipero avenues), Fridays 5-8 p.m., (310) 439-2119.

7. Learn about the history of firefighting at the 1884 Old Plaza Firehouse, Paseo de la Plaza, El Pueblo, Los Angeles, Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m.-3 p.m., (213) 625-3741. Don't miss the collection of old fire helmets.

8. Tour the offices of the Times Orange County, by reservation, Wednesdays 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Thursdays 2-5 p.m. this month, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, (714) 966-5960.

9. See one of the exhibits or selections from the permanent collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, free Thursdays

5-8 p.m., 250 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 626-6222.

10. Have fun with hands-on exhibits and stories from around the globe at the Kidspace Museum, 390 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, last Monday of each month, 5-8 p.m., free, (818) 449-9144.

11. "Brave Little Girls," an exhibition of children's books and original illustrations about girls and young women of courage, accomplishment and imagination, through March 31 in the Lodwrick M. Cook Rotunda, 2nd Floor, Main Building, Los Angeles Public Library Central Library, 630 W. 5th St., (213) 228-7000, Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Tuesday-Wednesday noon-8 p.m.; Sunday 1-5 p.m.

12. Selections from the "International Child Art Collection Junior Arts Center Barnsdall Art Park" will be on view through April 6 in the Children's Gallery, 2nd Floor, Main Building, Los Angeles Public Library Central Library, 630 W. 5th St., (213) 228-7000, see hours above.

13. Tour exhibits on topics as varied as volcanoes to insects to Hollywood at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, 900 Exposition Blvd. at Vermont, admission free first Tuesday of every month, (213) 744-3466.

14. Pretend you're an astronaut in the Gemini 11 space capsule, on view at the California Museum of Science and Industry, 700 State Drive, Los Angeles, daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m., (213) 744-7400.

15. Listen to the hubbub on the floor of the Pacific Stock Exchange, 233 S. Beaudry Ave., free viewing weekdays 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m., (213) 977-4500.

16. Explore the Japanese Pavilion at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., free on the second Wednesday of every month, (213) 857-6000.

17. Climb the rails at Travel Town, on the north side of Griffith Park. The low-key park opened in 1952, a vision of Charlie Atkins as a haven for old steam engines and railroad cars, 5200 Zoo Drive (near Forest Lawn exit off Ventura Freeway), Los Angeles, (213) 662-9678, open daily at 10 a.m.

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