Ever wonder who takes care of the seals, sea lions, and other marine mammals that end up stranded on California's coast? Marin's Marine Mammal Center has been on the scene rescuing and caring for sick, injured, malnourished, and abandoned marine mammals—including elephant seals, seal lions, harbor seals, sea otters, and even whales—since 1975.
Located at Fort Cronkhite in the Marin Headlands, the Marin Mammal Center's new $32 million facility opened in the summer of 2009, and offers daily tours and educational activities for the entire family. It's a great destination as an outing on its own, and as a not-to-miss part of a visit to the Headlands.
Admission and self-guided tours are free of charge. Pick up a guide card from the information desk (remember to return it on your way out) and take a look around. At the back of the center you'll find the pools and pens where the Center's patients stay while recovering. The best place to check out the pens and their residents is from the second floor observation area. There are often volunteer docents stationed here who can answer questions about what you're seeing down below in the pens, and who the current patients are. Remember to be quiet here—you're visiting a hospital for sensitive wild animals.
On our recent visit there were numerous marine mammals residing in the Center's hospital, most of which were sea lions. It's a fun place to visit at any time of year, but its busiest starting in the spring with the appearance of many seal and sea lion pups on the California coast.
What's a butterfly garden? It's a welcoming spot filled with plants and other features attractive to butterflies. If you do things right, butterflies will eventually find your little oasis and decide to stick around and both beautify and pollinate your garden. That's the idea, anyhow. Creating this sounded like a fun and educational project, and truthfully, our backyard needed a little sprucing up for the summer, so we decided to get to work!
The first step in creating a butterfly garden is select plants that butterflies find beneficial. There are two kinds of plants: nectar plants and host plants. Nectar plants are flowering plants that provide a food source for butterflies. Host plants provide a place for butterflies to lay their eggs, which means they'll be back for another season.
Earth Day is Monday, April 22. It’s a great time to celebrate and teach our children the importance of preserving our planet’s resources. There are plenty of ways to observe the occasion here in Marin and the Bay Area, and we've created a list of local events that either celebrate Earth Day or help families learn about nature and the planet.
Earth Day with the Insect Discovery Lab at the Mill Valley Library Friday, April 19, 3:30-4:30 pm
Celebrate Earth Day with amazing rainforest insects, millipedes, walking sticks, and more! Meet and touch live insects and find out why they are so important to our environment. For age 5 and up. No sign-up needed. For more info, call 415-389-4292 x4741.
Earth Day at Richardson Bay Audubon Center & Sanctuary Saturday, April 20, 9 am–1 pm Celebrate Earth Day by bringing your family and friends for a morning of naturalist led explorations, bird watching, restoration and clean-up. Learn about our bay and bird conservation and our importance in the Pacific Flyway. Even the wildflowers should be out in full force to brighten the day! Activities are appropriate for all ages, including young children. Children 10 and under must be accompanied by an adult.
Mrs. T's Mill Valley Beautification Day
Saturday, April 20, 9 am–noon All ages and ability levels are welcome to come and help with the beautification projects all over Mill Valley. You can help make Mill Valley both clean and green by participating in litter brigades and beautification projects at area parks, schools, and designated locations around town.
Novato Clean & Green Day 2013
Saturday, April 20, 9 am-1 pm
Bring the family and celebrate Earth Day by cleaning up our beautiful town. Help remove litter from streets, bike path, parks, creek banks and more. Some supplies will be provided. Location: Meet at Scottsdale Pond Gazebo
Earth Day at Bloomfield Farms U-Pick
Saturday and Sunday, April 20 and 21, 10 am–2 pm
It's a special Earth Day edition of U-Pick! Come to Bloomfield Farms in western Sonoma County where you and your family can pick your own certified organic produce, including dinosaur kale, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, artichokes, and more! This Eath Day weekend, kids can take part in bee-related arts and crafts, and plant their own veggie start to take home! $30 for large box of produce; cash only. RSVP to email@example.com.
This spring and summer, experience some of Marin's natural wonders at the spectacular Martin Griffin Preserve. Run by Audubon Canyon Ranch, Martin Griffin Preserve is a 1,000-acre preserve near Stinson Beach and Bolinas that's home to one of the West Coast's most important nesting sites for Great Egrets. These large and majestic wading birds nest in the redwood trees that surround the preserve, and can be observed every year from mid-March through mid-July.
While on our last visit the birds still hadn't arrived yet (they're due there any day now), there's still plenty for families to do. It's a fun place to spend a Saturday or Sunday, and you'll find hiking trails, scenic overlooks and observation points, ponds, a display hall, a bird hide, a picnic area, and plenty of enthusiastic and knowledgable volunteers who are happy to help children and parents and answer questions.
This time of year always has a way of making us long for the warm days of spring and summer. And of course with those thoughts of warm months come dreams of our spring and summer vegetable garden!
For the last couple of years, we've really made an effort to put in a substantial vegetable garden in our backyard. The children love to help pick out the seeds, plant them, water the plants, and pick the vegetables (and eat them, too), so it's a fun, educational, and tasty, experience for them. While last summer's cooler than normal weather made for mixed results, we had enough success to make us want to do it all over again this year.
Our first task of the season is always to go get our seeds. We always go the heirloom route—they're so much more fun than your plain old (ahem) garden variety vegetables—and we buy our seeds at the Petaluma Seed Bank, the West Coast outpost of the fantastic Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in Mansfield, Missouri. They stock a vast array of seeds for a wide variety of vegetables, many of which you probably didn't know existed.
In case you're not familiar with heirloom vegetables, they're the old-fashioned types, usually at least 50 years old, that have been handed down from generation to generation, and exist not because they are easy to grow or look perfect, but because they taste great! Baker Creek's seeds are also all natural, open-pollinated, and non-GMO, so they're good for your family and the environment.
At its next u-pick event, Bloomfield Farms is offering families more than just fresh certified organic veggies. This Sunday, September 23, the farm is partnering with Hardcore Farm To Face's Chef John Lyle for a Fun Farm Brunch from 10 am to 2 pm.
This gourmet brunch buffet features a delicious menu that will appeal to everyone in the family, and of course features Bloomfield Farm's fresh produce as well as items from other farmers in the area. The Fun Farm Brunch is a "pay what you can" brunch. No reservations are necessary, just come on over to the farm and enjoy!
This Sunday's Fun Farm Brunch menu includes mini pancakes with fruit toppings, homemade Gravenstein applesauce, fresh fruit, mini grilled cheese sandwiches, heirloom tomato soup, Bloomfield Farms veggie fritters, carrot bread, blackberry bread, apple bread, vegetable quiche, fresh fruit juice, lemonade, coffee, tea, and more.
Come to the farm and eat your veggies, then go pick some veggies to bring home. Bloomfield Farms offers families the opportunity to pick their own organic vegetables, including kale, squash, celery, lettuce, green beans, Swiss chard, potatoes, and more. Fill a box for only $25. U-pick at the farm takes place Sundays through November 4 from 10 am to 3 pm. Read more about the u-pick experience at Bloomfield Farms in our article here.
Families looking for an easy, fun, and educational hike in Marin need look no further than Turtle Back Nature Trail in San Rafael's China Camp State Park. This 3/4-mile hike along a well-maintained and accessible loop trail offers sweeping vistas of San Pablo Bay, wildlife viewing, and the opportunity to learn a little bit about the natural communities that you'll find here.
Turtle Back Nature Trail winds its way around a small hill that resembles a turtle shell (hence the name). The path takes hikers through a variety of different natural environments, including open grasslands, salt marsh, and through a shady oak and bay laurel forest.
Look for birds like herons and egrets and other wildlife as you make your way along the trail.
Over the last couple of years we've heard a lot of great things about Petaluma's Tara Firma Farms. This family-run farm produces humanely raised pastured chickens, pigs, turkeys, and cattle on 300 acres just across the Sonoma County line. In addition to raising and selling their products, they're committed to educating the public about life on the farm, healthy food, and environmentally sustainable agriculture.
Tara and Craig Smith were inspired to start the farm in 2009 after reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, and today you can purchase their products at local farmer's markets, their on-site farm store, and through their popular CSA delivery program, which includes their meats and eggs as well as produce and dairy products from other local organic producers.
Tara Firma farms also offers free farm tours on weekends at 10 am, noon, and 2 pm. We decided we had to visit and check it out, so we headed up to Petaluma for a farm tour last weekend. It was a fantastic experience for both parents and kids!
While Muir Woods National Monument is one of the San Francisco Bay Area's most visited tourist attractions, it also holds a lot of appeal for locals willing to brave the potential crowds. Popular with Marin residents and visitors alike for over 100 years, this spectacular stand of old growth coast redwoods offers some amazing views and a chance to see the wonders of nature up close. Muir Woods was declared a National Monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, and it's been a great spot for a fun and educational family outing ever since.
For locals, a visit here is still well worth the time, but you do have to keep in mind that it's one of the region's top tourist destinations. Parking at Muir Woods is limited, so get there as early as you can—it opens at 8 am most days so it'll be ready and waiting for you.
Also, try to go during the week if you can and avoid the weekend crowds. Needless to say, the summer months are also busier than other times of the year. While it's still an amazing place regardless of how many people are there, it's even more special when it's quiet and uncrowded. Even though the parking lot was full on our last visit, once we got into the park itself the crowds thinned out and it didn't seem nearly as busy as we had expected.