Dive into the deep at Ocean Institute

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It might be a brochure or a portable touch tank full of prickly anemones that's been set up in your hotel lobby, but at some point you're bound to hear about this remarkable organization in Orange County.

Headquartered in Dana Point Harbor, there are oceanside classrooms, labs, exhibit halls, shops, restaurants, kayaking and boat charters. Besides educating thousands of school children every year, the institute has a massive outreach program linking it to various hotels, parks and community centres where it conducts interactive sessions on the wonders of marine life.

If there's a budding marine biologist in your group who would like to dissect the digestive tract of a mackerel or play eye-spy with a hermit crab, this is the place to go. Try to time your visit with the Festival of Whales in March. It has been running annually since 1972.

During the summer, numerous day camps are also offered, as well as family-friendly programs like sleepovers, tall-ship excursions, whale watching and adventure cruises.

Age group: age 4 and up