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Putting on the Break

You too can navigate your way through spring vacation with these ideas for kids' outings.


In car-crazy California, it's sometimes hard to see beyond the latest freeway traffic jam. Sure, your freeway-savvy 6-year-old likes to listen for SigAlerts on the way to school, but she's too hip to be intrigued by any old thing with wheels, and kids in double digits have become way too cool for Sunday drives that don't promise something at the destination.

But what if you could sell them on one-day family field trips built around a transportation theme? Take in a stunning view of the largest breakwater in the world from a boat tour of San Pedro Harbor, or enjoy a low-key excursion on the pedal boats or kayaks at Newport Dunes? .

Take a short trip on the mini-trains at Adventure City, or ride an Amtrak train along the coast to Santa Barbara's storied depot. Expose your children to the wonders of the high-performance internal-combustion engine at the Marconi Automotive Museum, or let them leap into a simulated jet cockpit at the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino.

Wrap up your adventures by hopping on Angels Flight in downtown Los Angeles for a 60-second ride on the world's shortest railway.

OK, so they're not the Seven Wonders of the World. Think of them as seven ways to survive seven days--after all, spring break is just around the corner.

Day One: San Pedro Harbor Cruise

Can't interest them in boat tours? Try promising them something gothic, like an up-close look at Terminal Island Prison, one of the highlights of the excursions offered by Los Angeles Harbor Cruises.

Gene Meister, who runs the line, says he takes about 40,000 people on one-hour expeditions each year. "I never run out of things to point out to people," says Meister, who's run this route as a boat captain for 15 years. Besides a glimpse of the prison, "the kids love the fireboat," he said, "and they are most inquisitive about the boats in dry dock. They don't understand how you can get such huge boats out of the water to work on them."

Besides the world's largest breakwater, short-term voyagers also see the Coast Guard station and the world's second-largest container terminal (Long Beach ranks first) with foreign ships big enough to carry 5,000 containers, Meister says.

They travel under the Vincent Thomas Suspension Bridge, an L.A. landmark, and cruise the terminal, where ships from around the world are likely to be docked.

* Los Angeles Harbor Cruises, Village Boat House, Ports O' Call, San Pedro. Daily tours on the hour from noon to 4 p.m. Adults, $6; children 6 to 12, $3; under 6, free. No reservations necessary. (310) 831-0996.

Day 2: Pedal Boats at Newport Beach

Keep your eyes peeled for exotic birds while enjoying a scenic ride in a pedal boat around the lagoon of Newport Dunes Resort.

"There are tons of snowy egrets and great blue herons," says Andy Berry, president of Resort Watersports, which rents the boats. "Sometimes you might even see brown pelicans, which are endangered."

Berry said the pedal boats are really popular with kids, "probably because they have so much energy and don't get tired. Plus, I think they really enjoy the fact that they are making the boat go."

Berry said that kayaking is also popular, especially kayak tours of an ecological reserve.

The Back Bay kayak tour first introduces kayakers to the basics of kayaking, then takes them into the wildlife reserve, accompanied by a trained naturalist.

While hours for boat and kayak rentals are weekends only, Berr said the facility will open during other hours for any reservation, with a minimum of $25.

* Pedal boating at Newport Dunes Resort, 1131 Back Bay Drive, Newport Beach. Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. $12 an hour, $36 a half-day, $60 a day. (800) 585-0747.

Day 3: Air Museum

An interactive aviation exhibit for kids is the newest thing to land at the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino.

"It's a hands-on area where kids can climb into models of aircraft, touch the controls and do all sorts of fun things," says Deborah Manning, office manager of the museum. Manning said war buffs, aircraft aficionados, school groups and families find their way to the museum at the World War II facility at Chino Air Park.

The museum's current collection consists of 140 aircraft, 30 of which are flyable. The collection includes a P-51D Mustang and a P-38J Lightning.

"I think one of the biggest draws of the museum is that these are World War II fighter planes," Manning said. "There's a lot of history here."

Patrons can take self-guided tours of the museum and check out the various aircraft, each with an information fact sheet.

The museum also has a Web site:

* Planes of Fame Air Museum, 7000 Merrill Ave., Chino. Mondays through Sundays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Adults, $8.95; children 5-11, $1.95; under 5, free. (909) 597-3722.

Day 4: Amtrak to Santa Barbara

You'll feel like a veteran of the rails when you hop on the train to Santa Barbara without a ticket; cash or credit cards are accepted when you board a train at an unstaffed station, such as the one in San Clemente. .

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