15 Must-Try Family Adventures in Your Own Backyard
Whether you want to soak in the natural environment, lose yourself in history, enjoy an outdoor festival, be transported to Africa or soar like a bird, our Bay Area “bucket list” is full of great outings that can turn any day into a vacation. A few may be on pricey side and worth planning for, but most of these gems are quite affordable – and some are even free! So get out and explore all the Bay Area has to offer.
1. Point Bonita Lighthouse. Still an active lighthouse, Point Bonita offers beautiful scenery, fascinating history and a wild landscape. Along the trail to the lighthouse there are ruins of an historic Coast Guard rescue station. Near the Point Bonita trailhead is one of the most scenic picnic spots in the Bay Area with tables and grills overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. Parking is limited. Check transit511.org for MUNI 76 service on Sundays and holidays. The tunnel halfway to the lighthouse is open only during visiting hours: Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays from 12:30-3:30 p.m. FREE. Bunker Road, Sausalito. 415-331-1540. Guided tours: www.parksconservancy.org. Other information: www.nps.gov/goga/pobo.htm.
2. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. Located north of Mavericks in the San Mateo County community of Moss Beach, this reserve is said to have one of the best tide-pool habitats in Northern California. It has been identified by the State of California as one of 34 coastal habitats having “special biological significance,” and if you walk around the tide pools you can find urchins, anemones, hermit crabs and many other intertidal species. The reserve is popular with school and community groups for its educational value. Reservations are required for groups of 10 or more. FREE. 200 Nevada Ave., Moss Beach. 650-728-3584. parks.smcgov.org/fitzgerald-marine-reserve
3. Harley Farms Goat Dairy. Pet the goats and sample dozens of different cheeses that are made on-site. The farm offers two-hour tours that follow the milk from goat to dairy. $20 per person, $10 children ages 5-10, 4 and under FREE. 205 North St., Pescadero. 650-879-0480. harleyfarms.com.
4. Angel Island State Park. Not only does Angel Island offer some of the best views of the surrounding Bay Area, it is also great for hiking and lessons on immigration and military history. From 1910 to 1940, the immigration station on the island processed hundreds of thousands of immigrants, and starting with the Civil War at Camp Reynolds, the island has more than 100 years of military history. A café, tram tours and bike rentals are available seasonally. Many visitors opt to travel to the island from the Tiburon Ferry station (www.angelislandferry.com), but there are also ferries running from San Francisco and Oakland/Alameda during peak seasons (www.blueandgoldfleet.com). Ferry prices of $5-18 include park entrance fee. Immigration station entrance is an additional $5 adults, $3 children, 5 and under free. parks.ca.gov/?page_id=468.&pagebreaking&5. Sail Aboard a Historic Ship. Take in dazzling views of the bay aboard the historic scow schooner ALMA as park rangers tell stories about California history including Native Americans, Spanish explorers, the Gold Rush, earthquakes and more. Before highways and bridges, hundreds of scow schooners like the 60-foot ALMA sailed around the San Francisco Bay, hauling supplies. Reservations are recommended since there are limited spots on the ship. ALMA’s sailing season is from June 4-Nov. 21. Boarding starts at 12:30 p.m. and the program is from 1-4 p.m. $40 adults, $30 seniors, $20 ages 6-15, under 6 FREE with an adult. Hyde Street Pier, Hyde and Jefferson streets, San Francisco. 415-447-5000. nps.gov/safr/planyourvisit/events.
6. Yerba Buena Gardens Festival. This festival is a gold mine of free outdoor entertainment. From May to October, you can enjoy everything from children’s entertainment to concerts to theater to cultural celebrations. One of the highlights for families is the Children’s Garden Series featuring such favorites as the Caterpillar Puppets, Red Panda Acrobats, Pi Clowns and The Unique Derique. May 3-Oct. 31. FREE. Mission Street between Third and Fourth streets, San Francisco. 415-543-1718. www.ybgfestival.org
7. Art+Soul Oakland. If you haven’t been to Downtown Oakland lately – or even if you hang out there all the time – the 15th annual Art+Soul festival promises to show off all things Oakland and the city’s renaissance with multiple stages of music and entertainment, art making and selling, a children’s carnival, great food including a barbeque competition and more. Aug. 1-2. 12-6pm. $10 adults, $7 ages 13-17, 12 and under free. Downtown Oakland. www.artandsouloakland.com.
8. Oakland Museum of California. At this museum featuring California history, art and natural sciences, children are often encouraged to touch and interact with the exhibits, whether unpacking the surprises early California settlers brought with them or adding their own digital self-portrait to a portrait wall. Current special exhibits feature bees and the relationship between California and the Pacific Islands. Drop-in programs for families are held monthly. $15 adults, $6 ages 9-17, 8 and under FREE. Visit on Friday nights from 5-9 p.m. for special programming, Off the Grid food trucks and half off adult admission (children FREE.) 1000 Oak St., Oakland. 510-625-6873. www.museumca.org.
9. iFly. Have you always dreamed of flying, but aren’t wild about jumping out of a plane? iFly, an “indoor skydiving” facility, will give you the sensation in its powerful wind tunnel. It’s safe enough for children as young as 3, and thrilling for the whole family. $59.95 per person and up; $262.85 for family package for up to 5 people. 31310 Alvarado-Niles Road, Union City. 510-489-4359. sfbay.iflyworld.com.
10. Rock City. Hang out in a wind-carved sandstone cave or follow the carved steps and safety cables to the panoramic view atop Sentinel Rock at Rock City in Mount Diablo State Park. Kids love scrambling over the rocks here, but be prepared for hot weather in summer months. $10 per vehicle. Located off South Gate Road, one mile north of South Gate Kiosk, 2675 Mt. Diablo Scenic Blvd., Danville. 925-837-2525. www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=517.
11. San Jose Giants. Why travel all the way to San Francisco when you can enjoy the game close to home for a fraction of the price? The players you see now may be taking an at-bat in the Big Leagues next year. Be sure to check for special social media promotions and deals. $7-16. Municipal Stadium, 588 E. Alma Ave., San Jose. 408-297-1435. www.milb.com/index.jsp?sid=t476.
12. Rosicrucian Museum & Planetarium. Explore an ancient tomb, learn about alchemy, build-your-own mummy or enjoy a picnic in the sunny gardens. The museum is home to the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in western North America. $5-9, children 5 and under FREE. 1660 Park Ave., San Jose. www.egyptianmuseum.org.&pagebreaking&Silicon Valley
13. Hakone Gardens. Nearly a century old, this is the oldest Japanese estate and retreat in the Western Hemisphere. You can stroll through 18 acres of hillside overlooking Silicon Valley, have tea overlooking a rock garden, or enjoy quiet time in front of the bamboo. 21000 Big Basin Way, Saratoga. 408-741-4994. hakone.us/main.html.
14. Filoli. Explore the magnificent grounds at this historic site for the National Trust for Historic Preservation and enjoy the feeling of being lost in a secret garden. Relax by the reflecting pools, saunter through gates carved from trees, and don’t forget to smell the roses! Don’t miss the self-guided tour of the house, which features a ballroom with Baccarat chandeliers. $8-20, children 4 and under FREE. 86 Cañada Road, Woodside. 650-364-8300. www.filoli.org.
15. Safari West. Escape to Africa without leaving the Bay Area at Safari West, a 400-acre wildlife preserve just 12 miles from Santa Rosa. Take a three-hour jeep and walking safari to see cheetahs, zebras, giraffes, wildebeests and more. To get the true safari experience, splurge on an overnight stay in an authentic, luxury tent cabin where you’ll wake to the sounds of birds and greet the giraffes on your way to breakfast. Safari and overnight prices vary by season and are higher on weekends. Children’s prices for the safari are always $36 (children must be at least 3 years old); adults $72-98. Overnight rates, based on double occupancy, range from $206-$340; additional guests $25 each. Lunch and dinner cost extra. 3115 Porter Creek Road, Santa Rosa. 707-579-2551. www.safariwest.com.
Janine DeFao and Teresa Mills-Faraudo are associate editors at Bay Area Parent. Amy Ettinger is the online/social media editor.