So what else is there to do in Southern California if you want to do more than Disneyland and other theme parks?


In one week, we visited 3 theme parks, but we also visited a number of unique local attractions. I think there is time on every vacation to take in a little history and we managed to visit 3 great historical attractions.

The Queen Mary


Queen Mary

Maritime history, especially when it is so closely intertwined with the glamour of old Hollywood is very compelling so we paid a visit to the Queen Mary. Setting and holding multiple speed records throughout her tenure, the QM was converted to a troop ship during WWII and known as the Grey Ghost because of her great speed and drab war time paint job.  From her maiden voyage in 1936 until she reached her final port in Long Beach in 1967 the Queen Mary was a luxurious ocean liner that carried Hollywood stars, politicians and royalty across the Atlantic.

Queen Mary - Portrait

My husband has very fond memories of visiting the ship when he was a child, so he was pleased to take our children. You can easily spend a whole day exploring the ship and its exhibits and visiting the Scorpion Submarine that is alongside. Guided tours are available or your can grab a map and self-guide yourselves around the ship. A word of caution though; the Ghosts & Legends tour is very creepy and not suitable for smaller children. While the grownups enjoyed the first few moments of the tour that we managed to get through, it was simply too much for our children and we took them out. They spent the next 2 hours making sure we didn’t go anywhere near the ‘scary part’ of the ship! They did however, enjoy running along the decks, were awed by the sheer size of the anchors and loved all the ships gadgetry in the helm.

Queen Mary - At the Helm

Queen Mary Engine Order Telegraph

Exploring the ship, looking at the gorgeous Art Deco details, going down to the cramped engine compartment, and up to the bow, I felt transported back in time and was glad we made the time in our modern lives to visit this grand dame of the seas.

Queen Mary Engine Room

And then we went to another ship.

The Battleship USS Iowa

We paid a visit to the USS Iowa on the day before the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor which lent the occasion more gravity. Where does one start in describing what it is like to board a warship with your children? To stand in front of the massive guns that fought for democracy for 50 years and are still maintained at the ready in case of national emergency?  To walk down the halls, and look into the crew quarters to smell that musty diesel odor unique to old ships and most of all, to have multiple volunteers & tour guides thank you for bringing your children to see the ship that day, because it’s important.

USS Iowa-Pacific Battleship Center

Photo Credit: Jeremy Bonelle Pacific Battleship Centre

The USS Iowa was built in 1940, the first of the Iowa class battleships that served in WWII and beyond.  The self guided tour starts off with a bang, leading your to the front of the ship where six of the nine 16 inch guns are situated. The sheer size of the armaments is astounding.

 USS Iowa 16 inch Guns


USS Iowa Ordinance 3

From there we visited the wardroom where officers would dine and chatted with the tour guides while we looked at the memorabilia. The tour then takes you through the officers’ quarters, through the interior of the ship and on to the armored bridge. The armored bridge was imposing! In very tight quarters, encased in 18 inches/46 centimeters of steel meant to withstand bombardment is the entire command center of the ship. Walking across the decks we passed the Tomahawk missile and Harpoon missile boxes. There were a lot of them! The tour ends inside the ship once more after a view of the crew’s quarters, mess hall and gallery.

USS Iowa Uniforms

USS Iowa Roosevelt Room

This tour was not just another walk through history, it was an excellent learning experience for our children. Prior to stepping foot on the Iowa, soldiers and sailors and war were an abstract notion that they learned about leading up to Remembrance Day. Now, there is a physical connection and real meaning behind the poems and poppys.

Nixon Presidential Library & Museum

My husband and I are history buffs (I particularly like US political history) so when we realized that Nixon’s library was in Orange County we had to make time for a quick visit. Yes, that is an unusual choice on a family vacation.

The Nixon library is a classic and dignified looking building in Yorba Linda, California situated in the lemon groves once owned by Nixon’s parents where he was born. It was a surreal feeling wandering around in a building where so much political history is stored. The Nixon tapes are here! Watergate documents! Vietnam War correspondence!

Nixon Presidential Library Oval Office Desk

While my husband and I were speed reading our way through (because we figured the children would be bored) we noticed that our 8 year old daughter was taking time to really look at and read the exhibits. We were both surprised and pleased with the amount of attention and solemnity she displayed. Our 6 year old son had somewhat less decorum and is obviously too young to really understand.

Nixon Presidential Library POW Flag

One particular artifact that struck a chord with me and promoted some questions from our daughter was a handmade American flag, made by a Vietnam War POW who crafted it using scraps of clothing while in captivity. It was an amazing symbol of home from a very dark time in American history.

Nixon Presidential Library Kitchen Debate

There were a few exhibits that engaged the kids, particularly the replica of the kitchen from the Kitchen Debate and the 1967 Lincoln Continental which served as the Presidential limousine for Nixon, Johnson & Ford. Other highlights include the Lincoln Sitting Room replica, artifacts from the space program including a moon rock, space suit, the telephone used to call Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin after they took their first steps on the moon. At the end of our time there we briefly looked at the helicopter used to take Nixon away from the White House in 1974 and his birthplace which unfortunately we didn’t see in depth because of the pouring rain (isn’t it supposed to be sunny in SoCal?)

In all we were happy that we managed to find a few short hours to spend at the Nixon Library getting our history fix at the end of a great family vacation.

But this is not all! We also had adventures at the Aquarium of the Pacific, the Discovery Science Centre & A Pirates Adventure Dinner! More on that next time!

Thank you to the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor and Convention Bureau for helping arrange our visit to the Queen Mary & USS Iowa.

For more great ideas of family fun things to see and do in Southern California, be sure to visit