Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Sleeper Hit: Temecula Valley History Museum

Today's sleeper entertainment hit is the Temecula Valley History Museum in Old Town Temecula. Tucked away on Mercedes Street, next to the Fire Department, it's easy to miss--and I have missed it, despite the fact that I am in Old Town every Saturday for the Temecula Farmers Market.

Yet the Museum is a surprisingly vibrant force in Temecula's cultural life, offering tours of historic Old Town, workshops, gallery-style installations, and--most importantly for the purposes of this family-centric discussion--a Summer Explorers Camp for kids. (For a list of activities, see pages 26-27 of the activities brochure.)

The Summer Explorers Camp runs every Summer for four consecutive weeks. Each week (you can attend any one or all of them) features a different theme. This year's themes were Natural History, Native American History, New World Influences, and Exploring Pioneer Life.

My older daughter (the one complaint I have about the camps is that the age range only accommodates 8-10 year olds) attended sessions three and four this summer. Each day she got to participate in a different activity--weaving, dyeing yarn with onion skins, making adobe bricks, spinning on a drop-spindle, panning for fool's gold--and one day each week was a field trip.

The first field trip was to Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside. The TVHM docents were organized, efficient, and inspired confidence--impossible to overestimate the importance of these traits in parents' minds. One caveat: if your child is unaccustomed to old-school Catholic iconography, well, they will be afterwards.

"Mom!" My distraught 8-year-old informed me, "They had a big statue of Jesus and he was bleeding and had a crown of thorns on his head! And we had to walk through this cemetery where they had buried all these dead people!"

Thank goodness she didn't ask why Our Lady of Sorrow is so sorrowful. Next up: Vail Ranch and a walking tour of Old Town, Temecula. Let's hope they score a little lower on the creep-out scale.

Nightmares and sleeplessness aside, my favorite thing about the camp is that it is so wholesome. The activities are wholesome, the museum itself it wholesome, the field trips are mostly wholesome. There is no franchise here, no weird sporty-type inter-parental politics, no subtextual merchandising. There are no expensive dance costumes to be purchased, no junk-food-filled outings. It's just a bunch of good kids being adeptly managed by folks who genuinely care about passing on knowledge about the area's considerable history.

The camps run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day and--given the load of hands-on activities and the overall quality-per-dollar ratio--are a screaming deal at $45 per week.

Even if you've missed the camps, you should still check out the Temecula Valley History Museum. There are some genuinely fascinating displays documenting the various historical influences on Temecula.
Old World artifacts:

Original maps:

Replicas of Old Town:

Reminders of a more recently bygone era:

But the number one reason why you must not miss the Temecula Valley History Museum if you have children?

Stay tuned. That will have to wait until tomorrow.

No comments: