Have a little time but don’t have a lot of money? Want to take the kids (or yourself) to commune with nature, but you’re not ready for a full scale hike? The Environmental Nature Center in Newport Beach (right on the edge of Costa Mesa) is the perfect solution, whether you have thirty minutes or three hours.
The Environmental Nature Center is a 3.5 acre natural space amidst a sea of concrete. It has 15 native plant communities, wildlife habitats, and walking trails. It also offers education programs. The 8500 square foot “green” building houses a museum celebrating California’s biodiversity, and has exhibits of native cultures. The kids nook offers fun for the little guys- books, coloring pages, and a wall with a live reptile “zoo”. There are also naturalists on site and the docents are very informative.
I took my son there a couple of weeks ago. From the minute we walked in the door we were learning. In the hall of the facility, we learned about how it was built with sustainable materials and makes its own energy. Entering the museum portion, we found many displays of animals and wall boards with descriptions of California ecology. There was a light-up board of the food chain that my son particularly enjoyed. We smelled different types of pine, made animal tracks, felt the fur of local mammals, identified small creatures, learned about ecosystems, and explored Native American crafting and food preparation. We even ground our own acorns into meal with a mortar and pestle. Afterwards, we went on what was originally supposed to be a short walk outside, but we became so engrossed with the many things to see (like the butterfly house, mini-wetlands, and other areas) that we spent about two hours hiking the entirety of the trail system (going on some trails two or three times). Once we had finished our exploration, we returned to the center to color a picture and leave a donation (several, actually- each time you drop a donation in the box, an owl sitting above hoots. My son left about $5 in small coins, just to hear it…again…and again…and again.). We then stopped in the gift shop, which has a wide variety of items, and sales go to help fund the center and its projects. The docent shared with us that there will also be a nature-based preschool coming soon.
The center also offers other paid and free programs throughout the year, such as periodic camps for kids, school field trips, Scout programs, community events, birthday parties, and volunteer opportunities, just to name a few. It’s a great little place to stop off and enjoy some wildlife before getting back into the rush of the big city. The center is free for regular visits (well, minus the coins and bills your kids decide to make the owl hoot with). Happy hooting!