Summer Hit List: Fun in and out of the sun in the Greater Modesto region

Ah, summer. Warm weather, leisurely vacations, kids out of school without a care in the world.

It starts out with such promise, right? Give it a month or so – then it will be scorching temperatures, vacation travel stress, bored kids complaining about nothing to do.

We’re only human, after all.

And while it’s still early in the summer process – so early that the season doesn’t officially kick off until Monday – it’s not too soon to start coming up with a list of fun activities to keep the stress and boredom at bay.

We’re here to help. We’ve come up with a few options to enjoy as a family or with a group of friends – you don’t have to have youngsters to enjoy warm-weather fun, after all.

And – surprise! – there really is plenty to do throughout the Greater Modesto region. Over the next few weeks, we’ll run down some of those places, events and ideas for making the most of the season in our Summer Hit List series.

In coming weeks, we’ll hit July Fourth celebrations, water fun, experiences in the Mother Lode, community events, as well as businesses, other places and summer ideas.

Today – with valley temperature forecasts for the coming week around the 100-degree mark – we’ll run down a few suggestions of where to go to escape the heat:

Great Valley Museum – This city treasure at Modesto Junior College holds a wealth of enjoyment for young and old. There are ongoing exhibits on Native Californians, Central Valley Habitats, plants and flowers, animals and more.

Live Animal and Bookworm Story Telling programs are held 10 to 11 a.m. and are free with museum admission. Upcoming Bookworm Story Telling for ages 3 to 5 programs include: July 1, Turtles, Ponds & Meadows; July 15, Frogs & Summer Fun; Aug. 5, Oceans – Shells & Small Sea Animals; Aug. 19, Oceans – Large Sea Animals. Live Animal presentations, geared for all ages, are planned for June 24, July 8, 22, 29 and Aug. 12, 26.

The William R. Luebke Planetarium offers shows to the public on Saturdays, geared to ages 5 and up (shows are not recommended for under age 4).

On the first Friday of the month from 7 to 10 p.m., visitors can discover the universe at the Planetarium where the MJC Astronomy Club offers free telescope viewings on top of the Science Community Center.

Regular museum hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays and admission is $3-$5, $15 for a family up to six. Planetarium shows are Saturdays, 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. for $3-$6.

Located on the MJC West Campus, 2201 Blue Gum Ave., Modesto. For more, see

Hilmar Cheese

Company – The Hilmar Cheese Company offers tours daily, with interactive, hands-on exhibits about cows, dairies and cheese making, a movie and viewing as employees make and package cheese.

Guided and self-guided tours are offered, both for free. Self-guided tours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays and 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays; guided tours are weekends beginning at 10 and 11 a.m. with summer weekday tours now through August at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

During summer, a Family Fun Ice Cream Activity is available through August, Mondays-Fridays immediately following the daily 11 a.m. tours-only. For $3, participants can create (and eat) their own homemade ice cream.

The visitor center is at 9001 N. Lander Ave., Hilmar. 209-656-1196 or

McHenry Mansion and Museum – For a history lesson on Modesto’s past, check out two more city treasures, downtown’s McHenry Mansion and the McHenry Museum.

McHenry Mansion was built by rancher and banker Robert McHenry and his wife Matilda in 1883 in the High Victorian Italianate style. Over the years the building has housed a sanitarium and apartments before it was purchased by Gallo family members in 1976 and given to the city.

The visitor center is the first stop for those who want to tour the restored mansion. They see a short video on the home’s history before docents lead them down the block to the mansion. Free tours are offered 12:30 to 4 p.m. daily except Saturdays. The center also houses a gift shop, 924 15th

Down I Street from the mansion sits the McHenry Museum, willed to house the city’s library by Robert McHenry’s son Oramil. After a new library was built in 1971, the building was converted to a museum that continues to offer historical exhibits.

Open noon to 4 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays, the museum is at 1402 I St.

Oakdale Cowboy Museum – Rodeos and ranching are on display at this museum in the “Cowboy Capital of the World,” with two galleries offering a glimpse at the history of each.

The Rodeo Gallery holds a collection of memorabilia from local rodeo champion cowboys, trophy saddles, buckles, photographs and more. The Ranching Gallery rests in the waiting room of the Old Southern Pacific Railroad Station and displays branding irons and other collections, as well as photo opportunities for children to dress up and hop on an old saddle.

Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays. Located at 355 E. F St.

Castle Air Museum – OK, so this one is actually an outdoor museum, but there’s also an indoor adjunct, so swing by earlier in the day to avoid the hottest of temperatures.

Once an Air Force Base, this museum in Atwater holds a large collection of historic World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War aircraft on display. The collection includes nearly 70 restored vintage military aircraft ranging from pre-WWII to the present.

The indoor museum houses a collection of wartime memorabilia such as aircraft engines, military uniforms, historic photos, and personal military artifacts from the past century including the once top-secret Norden Bomb Sight, used by aircraft to accurately drop bombs.

Visit Castle from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily at 5050 Santa Fe Drive, Atwater. Admission is $8 to $12, $35 for a family of four.

Summer films – For some inexpensive – and air conditioned – entertainment, local cineplexes offer family films during the summer for just $1 per person.

Movie times at Brenden Theaters in Modesto are at 10:30 a.m. on Mondays. Regal Theater films are on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10 a.m. in Modesto and Turlock.

Next week’s Summer Hit List: Fourth of July events across the greater Modesto and Mother Lode regions.