The Two Best Rainy Day Activities for Kids in Northern California

The problem with going away is that it’s hard to come back to your “real” life.

The free Jelly Belly factory tour in Fairfield, California (my cousin: “I can’t really imagine you guys doing that.”) was a smashing success with the kids. The tour includes free samples, historical videos, and lots of viewing of busy yellow robots and factory workers.

James and the older kids before the Jelly Belly tour

James and the older kids before the Jelly Belly tour

Silly hats are mandatory once the tour starts

Silly hats are mandatory once the tour starts

If you decide to go, arrive when they open. We got there at 9:15 a.m. and there were eight people ahead of us. We waited for twenty minutes for the tour to start. By the time our 45-minute tour was over, the line snaked all the way to the door and the wait must have been at least an hour. Highlights: there’s a jelly bean snack bar where you can sample one jelly bean of any flavor you wish for free (the coolest thing about that is the plastic spoon that lets staff just take one bean), a tucked away room with discontinued jelly beans that are a lot less expensive, and fun pinball type machines where you win jelly beans. The lowlights: The workers on the floor (many of whom were Hispanic) looked as disenfranchised as they must feel and be. For the most part, they were doing repetitive tasks that seemed boring. Rote work for, I’m assuming, little compensation. The factory is noisy, which 7-year-old Etani didn’t like (though he LOVED every other aspect of the tour). But the part that disturbed me the most was that the food coloring looks exactly like paint. It comes in huge plastic canisters and the colors are so vivid it’s sickening to think that children “ingest” that stuff. The Center for Science in Public Interest recently published a report about the harmful nature of edible dyes and I plan to write more about the toxic nature of food coloring soon. I appreciate that jelly belly uses some real ingredients (tangerine juice in the tangerine jelly beans, for example) but I’m saddened that they choose to add dyes to their candy that are known carcinogens.

Free samples abound at the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield, California

Free samples abound at the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield, California

We also went to the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento, a perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon (it was pouring.) It cost our family $30 to get in (adults: $9.00, kids: $4.00, the baby was free) and it was totally worth it.

Confession: When I think of a train museum, one word comes to mind: Yawn.

But this is not your typical museum. It’s more like the cadillac of train museums. The only other we’ve visited that rivals the California State Railroad Museum is the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden. The museum is 2.5 acres inside, housed in what was once a roundhouse. There are 20 locomotives and railroad cars, and you can climb aboard a bunch of them. The Pullman sleeping car, which you walk through as it “moves,” gives you a real feel for what it was like to sleep on a train. A dining car has place settings from different railroad lines across the country, and there is also a mail car set up to show how mail used to be delivered by locomotive.

A bird's-eye view of the toy trains at the railroad museum in California

A bird’s-eye view of the toy trains at the railroad museum in California

“Choo choo!” Baby Leone kept exclaiming. “Choo choo!” She and my first grader liked the second floor best, where there are four wooden train tracks set up and lots of trains to play with and run on them. There are also toy train collections (that you can’t touch) on display on the second floor, and a Thomas the Tank Engine train display that kids can view by crawling into the middle and poking their heads up through the plastic dome. We watched the 20-minute documentary at the end of our visit, which runs every hour, and was a nice way to finish our train museum experience.

We liked the hands-on train table fun at the California State Railroad Museum

We liked the hands-on train table fun at the California State Railroad Museum

Also up this week and next: a rant against school snacks, thoughts about credit card debt, and a review of a fantastic new memoir about hearing loss. So please check back soon!

What are your family’s must-do rainy day activities? What hidden indoor gem do you have in your town? Please use the comment section below to tell us about great indoor places for families to visit (like this amazing list compiled by readers of great family movies.)


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