Archives For Beyond Orange County

Free Tour of JPL (NASA)

Maruska —  January 23, 2017

Visit to JPLDo you know you can take a private tour of JPL? If you don’t know what JPL is, just think NASA. In fact JPL is NASA’s center for the robotic exploration of the solar system! JPL’s engineers are the ones that helped Matt Damon to get back to earth in the movie “The Martian”. Well you get the point…JPL is a big deal! So being able to tour it is beyond exciting!

So how do you visit JPL? You can either wait for their yearly open house, but as some of you might know, this is not a great option since you will have to compete for your spot with other 15,000+ people. Option 2 is a free tour which is what I did! And it was amazing.

To be honest I am not sure if my kids understood the importance of being inside the JPL facility, but I definitely did, and I had butterflies in my stomach during most of the tour.

The tour included a presentation of JPL and their missions, a visit to their museum which shows the different rovers and satellites that are currently out in space or on different planets. Then we visited the “clean” room where everything gets assembled before being sent off into space, and finally the best part, a stop at the mission control room where all space communications happen.

So for me, it was absolutely worth the drive and, in fact, I wish I could go back without kids so I can learn even more! 🙂


  • Educational Group Tours designed for schools and educational groups of 20 people or more. Recommended for 3rd grade and older.
  • Public Group Tours designed for organizations and groups of 20 people or more.
  • Visitor Day Tour designed for individuals and families of 10 people or less.

How to reserve your tour:

You can easily reserve a free tour online. Click here to reserve your tour. 

Know before you go:

  • Quote from JPL website: “JPL requires that all U.S. citizens, 18 years of age or older, present official, government issued photo identification (driver’s license or passport) before being allowed entry. All non-U.S. Citizens 18 years of age or older must present a passport or resident visa (green card) before being allowed entry.”
  • Wear comfortable shoes since you will be walking a bit. The website says that the tour involves a considerable amount of walking and stair climbing, but I felt that we sat most of the time. Maybe I was just too excited to realize we were walking!
  • If you go during the summer months, wear a hat and sunscreen as you will be walking outside to go from one building to another.
  • You can take pictures with the exception of the clean room.
  • You can bring little ones but you have to be able to carry them. There are too many stairs to be able to use a stroller. 
  • The tour is approximately 2 hours.
  • It took me 1 hour and 10 minutes to go from Irvine to Pasadena, where JPL is. I left at around 8am. Depending on what time you leave it might take you longer, so plan accordingly. I left immediately after the tour was over at 3:10pm and it took me 1 hour and 20 minutes to get back. If you leave later, it will take you much longer, so either leave immediately or spend the rest of the day in Pasadena and wait for the traffic to die down.
  • There are several fun museums that you can visit while you are there. Some options are: Kidspace Children’s museum, Norton Simon Museum, storytime at the Pasadena Public Library, The Huntington Library.
  • Here is a list of restaurants in Pasadena. 


Jet Propulsion Laboratory 
4800 Oak Grove Drive 
Pasadena, CA 91109 

(818) 354-9314 

Snow DriftAfter doing lots of research about local snow sledding parks, we discovered this gem which allowed both babies and toddlers in for free. It’s also half the price of other parks we researched. Snowdrift Snow Tubing Park is the perfect spot for those of you that have both little and big kids!


  • Choose an inner-tube that’s just your size. They have big, medium, and small tubes to fit everyone’s needs.
  • Stay as long as you’d like and pay by the hour. You pay $15 per person for the first hour and if you choose to stay longer then you can pay the remaining balance when you leave. An hour was plenty of time for our family.
  • Younger kids can go down the hills with their parents and older kids can go on their own.
  • Go down small hills or steep hills… there are plenty of choices for the most cautious kids or those that are daring.
  • Take the opportunity to play in the snow. There’s an area at the end of the park that’s perfect for little ones that are tired of tubing to explore and play in the snow.

Know Before You Go:

  • Kids under 36″ are free with a paid adult. Keep in mind that they do need to ride on a tube with an adult.
  • It gets busy! We’ve gone within the first hour of opening for quite a few years and have gone right in without a line and it hasn’t been crowded. It does get crowded an hour or two after opening and this can become unsafe for children going down the hills on their own because they have to get off their tubes and move out of the way of other tubers quickly.
  • Wear snow boots and gloves. You use your feet to stop so your shoes do get wet. You may also want to spend time playing in the snow so gloves keep all of your hands warm. It can get icy on the stairs so boots with traction are helpful. Snow pants are highly recommended but not mandatory.
  • There are no “magic carpets” to get up the hills. That being said, the stairs are not all that bad and our kids were able to carry their tubes themselves the majority of the time. Little kids will need your help carrying their tubes up the stairs. Our 5-year-olds got tired of carrying their tubes after 45 minutes of tubing.
  • Get up immediately after going down the hill! We went with friends and our 5 year olds almost got taken out by other snow tubers. We needed to remind them to get up immediately and out of the way a bunch of times.
  • Start at the furthest hill and work your way back to the steeper ones as you all get used to the hills. Our 2- and 3-year-olds stayed on the little hills for the entire time and our 5-year-olds were brave and went to the biggest hills.
  • They only accept cash! Although Snowdrift has an ATM you’ll pay hefty fees. Be prepared to pay $5 for parking and $15 per person (or more if you choose to stay longer).

Important info:

  • The park is immediately before Snow Valley Mountain Resourt on Highway 18.
  • Website with directions (there is no address):
  • Cost: $15 per person per hour. Children 36″ tall or under are free if accompanied by a paid adult. Parking is $5.
  • Hours: Monday-Friday 10 am- 4 pm, Weekends and Holidays: 9 am-5 pm

Kelly Rafter
Blog Contributor

About the Author

Kelly and her husband have two little boys, ages 3 and 5. She loves taking her boys on adventures around Southern California that focus on learning, getting their wiggles out, and having fun! When she isn’t fulfilling her mommy duties she teaches at a local community college and is an educational consultant.

Snow Tubing at Mt. Baldy

Maruska —  January 12, 2017

Mt BaldyDid you know that you can go snow tubing by driving just an hour from Irvine?  Last week I went to check out Mt Baldy with my family, and we had a blast.  We drove for about 30 freeway minutes (with no traffic) and then drove about 30 minutes up the mountain.  Right now, there is a Groupon deal for Mt Baldy tubing that saves you a lot of money.  

Their website suggests that you arrive 30 minutes prior to the beginning of the session, but that was not enough.  We went on a Friday and arrived at 11:30am, with plans to go tubing at 12:30pm, but this session was already full. They only had a few spots left for the 2:30pm session, so some people who had made the drive up had to turn around and go home, and this was on a Friday!  If you go, I would recommend getting there early in the morning ensure that you actually get to go tubing.
We then enjoyed a beautiful chair lift ride up the mountain.  The top of the mountain is 5000 feet above sea level!  It’s beautiful, and from the top, you can enjoy the breath taking view and crisp clean air.  Since we had extra time, we enjoyed lunch at their mountain top restaurant, The Notch.  They served a casual lunch menu with a kids menu.  I got the burger and fries and I thought that it was pretty good.  If you do get the burger, consider splitting it.  It was $13 and it was a huge portion!  Perfect for sharing.   After eating, we just walked around and took pictures and played in the snow.  They entire top of the mountain is covered in snow, so it was a treat to have the extra time to play in in the snow before our tubing session.  
The actual tubing session was a blast. It’s amazing that in just a day trip, you can leave behind you the beaches, malls, and crowded freeways and enjoy the mountains.  Go soon before it’s too late!

Know Before You Go:

  • To get to the snow tubing area you need to ride a chairlift, so take this into account if you are afraid of heights.
  • Sessions are sold on a first come first served basis so get there early in the morning to ensure you will be able to snow tube.
  • Tubes are provided.
  • Wear appropriate snow clothes and boots so that you can stay dry in the snow. 
  • Mt. Baldy doesn’t have moving carpets, so after you go down the hill, you have to walk back up!  


Regular price for adults: $45 at Mt Baldy, starting at $29 online.

Regular price for kids over 42″: $35 at Mt. Baldy and starting at $27  online.

For kids 36″- 42″: $20 at Mt. Baldy and starting at $ 23 online (which doesn’t make sense, but that is what they show online).

Parking: $5 cash



Right now there is a Groupon deal, for only $25 a person. After purchasing the Groupon, you must activate the voucher ahead of time.  When you arrive, they will have your name on their list.  There is no internet service when you arrive, so you must do this from home.  The Groupon includes a 20 minute scenic ride to the top of the mountain, and 90 minutes of tubing. Tubing sessions are on a first come, first served basis!

Tubing sessions:

Tubing sessions are on a first come, first served basis for the following start times: 8:30am, 10:30am, 12:30pm, 2:30pm  

Height Restriction:

Must be 36″ to go tubing.  I didn’t see them measure anyone, and some kids looked shorter, but this is what they have posted.


Mt. Baldy, 8401 Mt Baldy Rd. Mt Baldy, CA 91759
~Michelle, Blog Contributor

About the Author
Michelle and her husband have one daughter, Juliette, 4.  Michelle serves at The Children’s pastor at The Crossing Church.  Michelle loves taking Juliette on adventures in Orange County!  When she has time, she loves to make videos to capture the memories that they create so that they can enjoy them for a lifetime.