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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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Tags: best indoor activities for kids, California, California train museum, jelly belly factory tour, London Transport Museum, rainy day activities with kids in California, Sacramento





Comments (22)

We went to the Jelly Belly tour when we were in CA. It was fun. However, since then, my kids say they overdosed on jelly beans and never want to see them again!
Hey, you were in my old neck of the woods! Love the train museum. LOVE. The Jelly Belly Factory used to be a really fun tour, when they first started offering them. The last time we went (we met a friend there) we were shocked at how over the top commercial it had gotten. These days, my eldest would pass it up entirely since the beans are made primarily of high fructose corn syrup. Here on the Big Island, I recommend ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center. It's a great, great place for kids.
We like to hang out at our local science center. It's Da Vinci Science Center: http://www.davinci-center.org/. There's also a car museum (America on Wheels: http://www.americaonwheels.org/) that we sometimes go to. And in a pinch, any bowling alley will do.
bad mom alert: live in bay area and have never taken son, despite his requests, to the jelly belly factory. other good indoor activities here (and elsewhere): bowling, if you can stand the sensory overload, the alley in pacifica is also near hiking trails and the beach, so a threefer. lovely ice skating rink in downtown oakland. also zeum and exploratorium in san francisco, great kid-oriented museums. and habitot in berkeley for really wee ones and, of course, the bay area discovery museum in sausalito, which has killer views on a good day (and lots of outdoor activities too). my kid is too old for these activities these days. he prefers to "hang out" but i remember the days of train museums too. choo, choo!
Tomi here for Jelly Belly. We're glad to learn you and the kids had fun. I wanted to point out that the workers in the factory all have various levels of skills and assignments. For example the workers in the area where the soft shells are created are actually master confectioners who must train for a year or longer to learn the skills in making a perfectly shaped Jelly Belly bean. Most of our factory workers have been with the company between 5 and 40 years. We have many candies made with colors derived from natural sources such as carrot juice and the like. Superfruit flavors of Jelly Belly, Sport Beans, Fruit Snacks. There are options and anyone in the center should be able to guide you to those candies. Sweet regards, Tomi
I did not know about the jelly bean factory when I took my kids to that area, but we did do the train museum. I remember quite clearly because my son, who must be about as old as yours now, kept hiding from us. A friend from Sacramento was leading our tour, so I felt very embarrassed. Funny what one remembers! As to the jelly beans, I bet my kids would have enjoyed that, too. I was thinking I would only let them have the tangerine, so am glad to hear Tomi say there are options. I would love organic jelly beans, if that existed. As a grandmother, I cringe at some of the things my son lets his daughter eat. I read about how toxic food dyes are and regret ever using them, although the main use was to color homemade play dough ....
Give the kids rainboots and an umbrella, and let them go nuts in the puddles. I remember playing in the rain, then coming inside to a warm drink and a snack. It was one of my favorite ways to spend the day. Unfortunately, living in Colorado, we don't get much rain. It's one of the (very few) things I miss about California. For us, the cold is usually the limiting factor. We either suck it up and get bundled up to play outside, or hit local indoor play establishments - the inflatable bounce house places are a fun, if pricey option. My kids' favorite day was when we went to Jumpin' in Loveland, CO. You can get your hands stamped and return anytime that day; we had breakfast at home, went bouncing, went home for lunch, went back to the bounce houses, picked up a pizza to eat at Jumpin' and let them bounce some more until bedtime. They had a blast - and they slept like rocks that night!! The Butterfly Pavillion in Denver is a fun way to spend an afternoon. It's especially nice on cold days, since the butterfly room is a steamy, heated, tropical rainforest.
Thanks for weighing in Tomi. Maybe it was an unusually bad day but I really noticed that a lot of the workers looked bored and out of sorts. My children waved at them several times and only one mustered the energy to wave back. Maybe they get tired of being in a fishbowl? I'd love to hear more about how many workers you employ and what percentage of those workers make above minimum wage? Some of the jobs--like being a confectioner--must be interesting (at least some of the time) and certainly require training and skill. But many of the jobs are pure assembly line: putting boxes together, stuffing plastic bags full of candy into those boxes. I don't blame any worker who feels bored. I just felt sorry for them. I am glad that some of the ingredients in your jelly beans are made from whole foods, but I was disheartened to see that even in the jelly beans (like tangerine) that have SOME whole food in them, you include dyes. If you click on the link to the new scientific report, A RAINBOW OF RISKS, you will see just how bad these dyes are for our children's bodies. Which jelly bean contains no artificial ingredients or flavorings of any kind? That is the one I would like to buy. Like Alexandra (whose comment is below), I would also be very interested in an organic jelly bean option. But perhaps that would be prohibitively expensive to develop? Something else that consumers don't realize: "natural" flavor, if that is listed as an ingredient, is actually a man-made product. According to Eric Schlosser: "The distinction between natural and artificial flavors can be somewhat arbitrary and absurd, based more on how the flavor has been made than on what it actually contains... Natural flavors and artificial flavors sometimes contain exactly the same chemicals, produced through different methods. Amyl acetate, for example, provides the dominant note of banana flavor. When you distill it from bananas with a solvent, amyl acetate is a natural flavor. When you produce it by mixing vinegar with amyl alcohol, adding sulfuric acid as a catalyst, amyl acetate is an artificial flavor. Either way it smells and tastes the same. The phrase 'natural flavor' is now listed among the ingredients of everything from Stonyfield Farm Organic Strawberry Yogurt to Taco Bell Hot Taco Sauce... "A natural flavor is not necessarily healthier or purer than an artificial flavor... Natural and artificial flavors are now manufactured at the same chemical plants, places that few people would associate with Mother Nature. Calling any of these flavors 'natural' requires a flexible attitude towards the English language and a fair amount of irony." (Fast Food Nation, pp. 126-127)
Sounds like a fun tour! My philosophy is "everything in moderation" (thank goodness, though, that my husband is the cook around here and diligent about buying local, organic food whenever possible). But it seems like a few things now and then aren't too detrimental (and I say this having ingested an entire (small-ish) bag of Jelly Bellys last night. If you don't hear from me, you'll know why!
We have yet to find good rainy-day activities in our own town. Somehow I find that going out of the house with so many children, especially when it is raining, is more challenging than cozying up at home or having them play outside (even in the rain).
I'm always interested in how things "work" and enjoyed the factory tour. The thing that was most incredible, however, were all those portraits of notables made out of ... Jelly Bellies!
Jelly beans kind of creep me out anyway, but I watched the TV show "Dirty Jobs," where they made a Jelly Belly jelly beans that tasted like the host's stinky feet smelled. Apparently, there are other really gross flavors (like vomit, etc.) of jelly beans ... and the only think I could think about was how much energy and raw materials went to waste making things people would TRY to eat and then spit out.
I love taking factory tours to see how things are made. I took one of the Bigelow Tea plant in Colorado w/my son last summer and we had a ball tasting all the different herb varieties. I have a huge dislike for jelly beans (don't know if it's the texture that bothers me or what), so this tour would not be a choice I'd make. It is too bad that something that most kids love to eat is full of artificial dyes; wish there was a healthier alternative.
You're making that train museum sound pretty darn interesting, even for a 30-something gal who has no interest in cars, trucks, and things that do on a regular basis. (although I did have one of those awesome Brio wooden train sets as a kid - maybe that's why it sounds fun).
Jennifer, I'm glad you got to see them in action. We went on a day they weren't producing candy - total bummer! Now after going on the factory tour, you might want to watch the movie Candy Man, about the man who invented the Jelly Belly. You probably saw some of his photos as you waited in line (he was the guy in the bathtub full of Jelly Bellies). I wrote a review of the documentary here, and if you want, I'll send you the DVD. Email me with your address. Or I can bring it to NYC if you're going to the conference. http://www.friscokids.net/2011/03/review-candyman-documentary-about-jelly.html Next time you're in the area, you must see Mrs. Grossman's Sticker Factory - a fabulous tour where you're allowed on the factory floor, and you get tons of stickers. They have a great recycling program and employ workers with developmental disabilities. Read more: http://www.friscokids.net/2009/02/day-trip-mrs-grossmans-sticker-factory.html
When I went on that tour, they said that they started making Jelly Belly jellybeans when a candy store owner in LA in the 70s asked them to make some naturally-flavored jellybeans. I just looked at their ingredient list (easier to find on their UK site: http://www.jellybelly-uk.com/faq/content/?id=13) and found that most of them do actually contain a puree of the real food, as well as natural or artificial flavors and colors. A few list no additional flavors, and a few don't list the puree of the real food. (And of course, being candy, they're about 98% sugar; but at least it is sugar and not corn syrup.) So containing the real flavor puree probably puts them ahead of most other jellybeans, and not so pure as the ones in the bulk bin in my local food coop. At least two companies, Sunridge Farms and Surf Sweets, make organic jellybeans with organic cane sugar (and OG corn syrup in the Sunridge Farms version, but not in Surf Sweets), OG fruit juice flavoring and vegetable dyes. They don't have many flavors and aren't as jewel-like in appearance, but my kids give them the thumbs-up. Ironically, while looking on the Jelly Belly UK site I also found that in the UK they sell "Beanaturals" in 20 flavors without the added natural or artificial flavors, just the purees and vegetable colors. Isn't this just what the guy in LA was asking for? That's a lot more flavors than the OG companies offer. Why not offer the Beanaturals in North America? Part of the answer, I imagine, is that enough consumers are asking for it in the UK, but not here? I've also tried Jelly Belly's Sport Beans, sold in the US, which have switched entirely to fruit juice flavors, natural colors and evaporated cane juice (these are their beans that serve the purpose of gels and cubes that runners use to replenish electrolytes, vitamins and glucose during endurance exercise). So these are all in the right direction. Jelly Bellys are not cheap; they're very luxurious jellybeans, and in my opinion, they should go all the way, and be able to boast that all their beans are what the 70s dude in LA asked for: all natural jellybeans.
I must admit, I'm still partial to those buttered popcorn jelly bellies. Those are so tasty. Interesting to hear about your tour.
If we are at home, we love to bake cookies, make play-dough, do art, put on records and dance crazy, invite friends for tea. For rainy day outings, we love our backyard best. There are often rainbows spotted in Ashland on rainy days. Recently, we were visting the Redwoods, and took a gondola ride through the canopy at "Trees of Mystery". It was rainy and fun!
We're lucky to live in an area (Frederick, MD) with tons of Civil War history, plus mountains, lots of parks, proximity to DC and Baltimore, and no shortage of libraries, bookstores, places to shop, etc. (I confess, though, that my favorite way to spend a rainy day would be doing something -- anything -- alone, sans the kiddos!) Last summer, my 9-year-old son and I spent a couple hours at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in downtown Frederick ($6 for me, free for him). It's the only museum of its kind, and it's really well done. There's a nice mix of hands-on things for kids and fact-filled displays for adults (plus very cool collections of artifacts; the exhibit of Civil War-era dental tools will put the fear of God into you). It wasn't raining when we went, but it was surface-of-the-sun hot, so it was a great day to be inside. Of course, anyone coming to this area needs to spend at least one day in downtown DC -- there's nothing better than being able to go from one incredible Smithsonian building to another and not having to pay a cent for the privilege. It makes me feel very fortunate -- even if I don't get down there very often!
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