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Imagine a funky mix of the Boy/Girl Scouts exploration and Pokémon trading and collecting. Welcome to the Junior Ranger program from the National Park Service.  At our National Parks, the world is literally a touch-tank of awesome nature and local history. And the best part is that wherever you live in Los Angeles, you’re probably no more than 30 minutes away from a site where you can get started, exploring and stamping and on your way to Ranger-hood.

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photo credit: DenaliNPS

How it Works
The National Park Service created this program to get kids aged 5-13 interested in visiting more than 200 of its parks, preserves and monuments nationwide.  As part of the program, kids talk to Rangers, play games, go on hikes, do scavenger hunts, attend workshops and learn about the parks’ rich histories. Each park is different and the activities vary by park and age. Once your child completes the site-specific activity, they check in with the on-site Ranger and are rewarded with an official National Park Service Junior Ranger badge and certificate.

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photo credit: Zach Rosenberg

There are also “cancellation stamps” available in all National Parks, as well as monuments, preserves and anywhere there’s a visitor center. These stamps are dated and have the name of the site on them – much like the passport you’d take for international traveling. You can purchase a Passport book at each visitor center and begin collecting your ink stamps right away. It’s a fun way for kids to “check in” and begin collecting stamps from places near and far. Getting an ink cancellation stamp is free and the Passport book usually runs less than $10. The Passport book also contains maps and has information on each region, so your kids can read up on the ride to the next park.

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photo credit: Zach Rosenberg

Did you know that Yosemite National Park, which spans 747,956 acres, was one of the country’s first National Parks? But the 125 year-old Yosemite isn’t the only National Park in California. The rich history of California’s natives and settlers can be found all over the state, with plenty close to home. Los Angeles-area day trips include sites like Channel Islands National Park, Joshua Tree National Park and Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.national-parks-service-junior-rangers

photo credit: National Park Service

Within each National Park, there are specific areas of interest. Make sure when planning your visit to do your research in advance – the easiest way is by checking out the websites listed above and going to the “Plan Your Visit” menu, paying special attention to the “Places to Go” section. There you’ll find visitor centers listed and can call them individually and ask if they participate in the Junior Ranger program. Also, check the days and hours: some are only open weekdays, others are only open weekends.

Family at Rancho Sierra Vista

photo credit: Zach Rosenberg

Next Stop, SMM
Where to get started this summer? The closest options are the Santa Monica Mountains sites. You can find three nearby that will earn you stamps: Franklin Canyon Park in Beverly Hills, the Anthony C. Beilenson Interagency Visitor Center in Calabasas, and the Satwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center in Newbury Park. All of these parks areas have great areas for walking and hiking.  (Insider tip: remember not to wear sandals or flip-flops. Some trails are shared by horses, humans and occasionally snakes, so put the family in closed-toe shoes!)

junior ranger

photo credit: National Park Service

Beyond the Border
If you have to drive to another state to visit family this summer (join the club!), take the exploring on the road. The Junior Ranger program is nationwide and a quick internet search will yield all of the local opportunities for Passport stamps and Junior Ranger program badges. If you’re off to visit your family in Kentucky, you can check out the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Park. If you hit Nebraska, visit the Agate Fossil Beds Monument. Florida? Big Cypress National Preserve or the Biscayne National Park. And Hawaii has Pearl Harbor. Even if you find yourself in Alaska, your kids can check out the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve and get themselves a Junior Ranger badge. Once your kids get their first badge, they might even take the reins and hunt down the next stop (near or far) in their Passport book’s maps.

NPS Junior Ranger Program

photo credit: Zach Rosenberg

Just because school is out, it doesn’t mean the learning stops.  This is a great way for kids to have fun, explore nature and learn more than they realize (sneaky, sneaky parents) as they collect badges, stamps, pictures and stories about our nation’s National Parks.

Get started online at: nationalparks.org/connect/npf-kids/junior-rangers

-Zach Rosenberg

Have you got a junior ranger at home?  What’s your favorite national park or monument?

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Moms have plenty of social outlets – from stroller walks to park play groups – but sometimes dads can feel a little alone in their journey through fatherhood. It’s too bad there’s not local Dads only group… wait – there is. It’s called the L.A. Dads Group, and this community of over 100 involved, local fathers are making friends, being supportive, getting the kids active and doing outings the only way dads know how: doused in awesomeness with a side of extra cool.

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Not So Long Ago, In a Galaxy, Well, Right Here
Stardate: July, 2013. Captains Log: A couple of local dads and bloggers realize they don’t really have a community to support them in being full-time, hands-on dads. They were feeling a little lost in a sea of moms in most parent groups. And sometimes, they were kind of craving time away from the lactation conversations to be around other men with similar interests (and similar plumbing!). So, with a little help from the organizers of the 900-member NYC Dads Group, they decided to form the L.A. Dads Group – a group focused on promote loving, involved fatherhood that is as healthy for the dads as it is fun for the kids. Since then, the Los Angeles dads have had over 45 meet-ups, and have members from all over – from Alhambra all the way to Thousand Oaks.

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What’s Your Fancy?
The group does everything from park playdates and Disneyland days to “dad’s night out” events for dads to socialize (and maybe have a beer or two) without the kids (or wives).

Need a weekly check-in? There are meet-ups at the Westwood Recreation Center every week. Or if you’re not the primary care giver, but you’d like to take the kids to an event or two with the guys (and your guy friends haven’t found fatherhood yet), you can drop in on an event or two – like a “Meet Nemo” at the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific, a TOMY-sponsored gaming night with Battroborg toys and a video game truck, or the upcoming Dad’s Rock trip to the Children’s GRAMMY Nominee Family Concert at the end of this month (this one even has free tickets for dads and kids).

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Dads…Dads Everywhere!
Events happen all over Los Angeles – and even up into Ventura County – since members come from all over. The L.A. Dads Group has had meet-ups from Anaheim to Calabasas, and members can suggest one in their own neighborhood if they can’t make it to others. And this isn’t just for full-time stay-at-home dads. Working dads are welcome too. There’s no minimum amount of meet-ups to attend, so busy dads can get in where they fit in.

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Know a dad that can use some time out with other fathers and doing group activities with (and without) the kids? Send them over to the L.A. Dads Group’s Meet-up page: www.meetup.com/LADadsGroup to get started.

– Zach Rosenberg

Photo credits: From Sand to Glass via Creative Commons, wickenden via Creative Commons and Zach Rosenberg

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We’ll let you in on a little secret we learned from our favorite dads: you don’t need to worry so much about what to get when Father’s Day rolls around. Because frankly, the dad is your life knows he has got it all. So forget the last-minute shopping and think about the simple pleasures he’d really enjoy. Here are our top 5 ideas for ways your family can celebrate Dad together, while enjoying the best of what Los Angeles has to offer.

Bludso's BBQ

1. Eat Someone Else’s BBQ

Dad probably enjoys firing up the grill, but for Father’s Day, let him sample some of the best BBQ in Los Angeles. Treat him to the L.A. standard (but Texas style), low and slow-smoked brisket at Bludso’s Bar & Que. Or you and Dad can head downtown and split a rack of spare ribs and some jicama cabbage slaw at Horse Thief. Or if that’s not wild enough, check out the Guinness beer-smoked pork from Baby Blue’s.

Dad will appreciate someone else doing the dirty work on the grill. And who doesn’t love a good ‘que?

Bludso’s Bar & Que
609 N La Brea Ave., Mid City

Horse Thief BBQ
324 S Hill St., Downtown

Baby Blue’s BBQ
444 Lincoln Blvd., Venice (& in West Hollywood, too)

 

Amoeba Music Hollywood

2. Pick Up A Record (Or Two)

Sure, you might be able to carry around 2,000 songs on your iPod or stream infinitely from Spotify. But back in the days Dad remembers fondly, music was served up in limited fashion – whether it was CDs, cassette tapes or records. Luckily, records are big these days, so why not take him down to a music store that hearkens back to a time before digital downloads.

Dig through the racks at Mono Records in L.A. for some ultra rare finds, or stop by Rockaway Records (less than a mile away) to see music memorabilia alongside your LPs. Or, if you’re just looking for the biggest collection of music in one place, try Amoeba Music in Hollywood. You’re sure to find that old Muddy Waters album he hasn’t heard in years, as well as that Black Keys album he hasn’t heard yet.

Mono Records
1805 Glendale Blvd., Silverlake

Rockaway Records
2395 Glendale Blvd., Silverlake

Ameoba Music
6400 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood

 

Playboy Jazz Festival

3. See A Concert

So, you picked up a couple of records. The next step is going to see a live show. From punk to Latin to jazz, there’s a lot of music going on to enjoy together on Father’s Day weekend.

The Gold Coast Wind Ensemble will be at The Thousand Oaks Civic Center, R&B singer Jake Simpson will be at The Grove, Barbara Morrison is having a free concert at the Levitt Pavilion in Pasadena, and there are free shows all weekend long at the Levitt Pavilion in MacArthur Park.  If you like a picnic with your music, you can catch the free jazz on Friday or Latin Sounds on Saturday at LACMA and the annual fun-fest, the Playboy Jazz Festival, will be at the Hollywood Bowl.

 

K1 Speed Go Karts

4. Go Karting

As we mentioned before, kart racing is one of the coolest activities that everyone in the family will love. And these aren’t bumper cars – these are legit karts which can reach speeds of up to 40mph. Imagine seeing Dad screaming around a turn as he sails into first place – that’s a great Father’s Day. Our local favorites are MB2 Raceway in Thousand Oaks and Sylmar, K1 Speed, with SoCal locations in Torrance, Irvine, and Ontario, and Racer’s Edge in Burbank.

Kids and adults usually can’t race together, but that’s okay because while one’s racing, the other can take pictures!

MB2 Raceway
1475 Lawrence Drive, Thousand Oaks

K1 Speed
19038 S Vermont Ave, Gardena

Racer’s Edge
960 Chestnut St, Burbank

play catch

5. Play A Game of Catch

One of the most timeless father-child activities is playing a game of catch. You don’t have to be “good” or know how to throw a baseball or football. You’ve just got to show up and enjoy some time in the sun. Plenty of parks across Los Angeles can provide you with a beautiful backdrop for your game of catch; try the giant and beautiful Pan Pacific Park across from The Grove. Or if you like people-watching, try Grand Park in Downtown L.A. You can even toss a ball around on the lawn in front of the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits before you check out the local fossils (and maybe crack a joke about Dad being old…).

Mitts are optional, but remember, this is L.A., so bring a hat to shade your face, some sunscreen and some water.

Pan Pacific Park
7600 Beverly Blvd., Mid-City

Grand Park
210 N Grand Ave., Downtown

Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits
5801 Wilshire Blvd., Mid-City

– Zach Rosenberg

You don’t need to rack your brain trying to find the perfect gift; just think about what the dad in your life enjoys, and treat him to it! How are your treating Dad this Father’s Day?  Let us know.

Photo credits: malkoff via Flickr, in_rainbows69 via Flickr, jazzmafia via Flickr, K1 Speed Facebook, and Quinn Dombrowski via flickr.

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