The Best of the Bay Area - Silicon Valley - Hidden Gems & Editor's Picks

Hidden Gems Wilder Ranch State Park

This park, just a couple miles north of Santa Cruz, is a beautifully preserved dairy farm that includes 34 miles of hill and coastal trails. 


On a lucky day, you may see hundreds of sea lions basking on the rocks below the coastal trail. The setting is always stunning. On one side, the ocean glistens; on the other, rows of broccoli and Brussels sprouts rise up in the adjoining fields.


Several restored buildings, including the Wilder family home, are open for tours, and the surrounding grounds include barns, gardens and an historic adobe. 


On weekends, wooden stilts lie on the grounds for kids to practice on, along with an old-fashioned bubble-blowing station with wood-and-rope bubble wands. Chickens, goats and horses all add to the magic. Bring a picnic and spend the day.


North of Santa Cruz, immediately west of Highway 1, just a mile or so past the Western Drive stoplight. 831-426-0505.


– Sara Solovitch


San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles

In addition to providing some of the most unusual exhibits in the Bay Area, this museum holds a monthly hands-on art program called Kids Create. Geared toward 5- to 10-year-olds, the program relates to the museum’s current exhibit and celebrates the world’s cultures and traditions. This summer, for example, the museum offered exhibits on Southwestern banded blankets and Tunisian crochet, while kids made braided bracelets and learned to knit with their fingers.


The program, held one Sunday a month, is run by two volunteers and was started to provide an educational element to the museum, according to volunteer coordinator Kristen Calvert. 


“We wanted something that would reflect all the different cultures here in San Jose,” Calvert said.


The museum regularly conducts programs in schools and offers passes to students.


For the price of the kids’ art program ($7.50), parents can check out the exhibits for free after the artwork is complete. 

“We like parents to stay with kids. They can bond over the activity, and there is usually a take-home project,” Calvert said. 


In September, Kids Create participants can make puppets from old socks, and in October, they’ll make a Laotian Legend Snippet Quilt. Advanced registration is recommended, but walk-ins are welcome depending on space.


520 S. First St., San Jose. 408-971-0323.


– Simar Khanna


Hidden Villa Farm

“This will be the best $5 you can spend for yourself and family and/or kids,” writes a reviewer, referring to the parking fee at this remote and unusual destination.


Hidden Villa is an organic farm. A wilderness area with beautiful trails. A nonprofit that teaches sustainable living and promotes social justice. It covers 1,600 acres and offers a wide range of programs to meet its mission: “To inspire a just and sustainable future through our programs, land and legacy.”


Those include an environmental education program, summer camp, community events such as workshops and concerts, intern program and hostel. Kids will love the actual working farm, complete with goats, pigs and chickens. The organization, which is funded entirely through donations and operates with roughly 1,000 volunteers, also offers school field trips and other ways for kids to participate. Individuals and families can visit on their own; they just pay a $5 parking fee. Groups of 10 or more need to make a reservation. Strollers and dogs (on leashes) are permitted.


One thing you won’t find: garbage cans. Hidden Villa is a trash-free site and visitors need to take garbage back with them. 


Open Tue.-Sun., 9 a.m.-dusk. Closed Mondays except holidays. Open on select weekends in summer. 26870 Moody Road, Los Altos Hills. 650-949-8641. Check website for details.


– Simar Khanna


Hakone Estate and Gardens

The oldest Japanese and Asian estate garden in America, Hakone is an authentic replica of a Japanese Samurai or Shogun’s garden. Established in 1915, it was designed by one of the descendents of the imperial gardening family members.


It features a bamboo park, a pond garden, a tea garden and three tea rooms. 


On 18 verdant acres in Saratoga, Hakone offers a unique window into Japanese culture – not to mention a tranquil relief to the hustle and bustle of Silicon Valley. 


Classes, mostly for adults, are offered in Japanese painting, gardening, exercise and tea ceremonies. It also serves as a venue for a wide variety of events, and will celebrate the 88th anniversary performance of Madame Butterfly, which was first performed at Hakone in 1923. 


Admission is $5 per person, children are FREE. 21000 Big Basin Way, Saratoga. 408-741-4994.


– Sara Solovitch



Editor's Picks The Best Playgrounds

Every kid (or parent) has his or her favorite playground. While it’s a subjective thing, these 10 playgrounds (in no particular order) have routinely come up as favorites among our readers. Convinced we’ve left one off? Let us know!


  • Plata Arroyo Park. This pleasant park offers a lighted softball field, exercise course, skate park, dog park, water feature for the kids, community garden and more! North King and McKee roads, San Jose.


  • Arena Green. A great mix of nature and entertaining amenities, such as a carousel, tot lots and skate park. Autumn and Santa Clara streets, San Jose.


  • Oak Meadow Park. This 12-acre park features wide-open grass fields, bocce ball courts, carousel, picnic tables and access to the Los Gatos Creek Trail. 200 Blossom Hill Road, Los Gatos.


  • Belgatos Park. The 17-acre park offers two miles of trails for hikers, bicyclists and equestrians, connecting them to the Santa Rosa Open Space and the Heintz Open Space. Off Blossom Hill Road at the end of Belgatos Road.


  • Fair Oaks Park. First opened in 1952, this 15.2-acre park manages to infuse an “Old English” theme along with amenities that include a water play area, skate park, sand volleyball court and more. Fair Oaks and Maude avenues.


  • Cuesta Park. Amenities include BBQ facilities, bocce ball, tennis and volleyball courts, playground and picnic areas. 615 Cuesta Dr., Mountain View.


  • Las Palmas Park. This 24-acre park enjoys a Polynesian theme as well as amenities that include playground, tennis courts, water play area and dog park. 850 Russet Dr., Sunnyvale.


  • McEnery Park. Dragonfly sculptures hover over a man-made river the trickles over the toes of kids and parents. South side of San Fernando Street, San Jose.


  • Monopoly in the Park. Located next to the Children’s Discovery Museum, this park is a enormous re-creation of the popular board game. Players use jumbo dice, wear big hats symbolizing the actual game pieces and even wear jailhouse uniforms when necessary. Woz Way, San Jose.


  • Dennis the Menace Playground. Named after that “adorable” (read: annoying) kid featured in the popular comic strip of the same name, this playground is large and highly popular with local kids and visiting families. Del Monte Avenue and Camino Aguajito, Monterey.


More Indoor Playspaces

Sure, you readers voted for your top three favorite indoor playspaces, but we thought we’d throw out a few others, just for kicks. Besides, you can never have too many options for entertaining your kids when it’s pouring outside!


  • Parents Place. Explore this entertaining playroom geared for ages 0-5 during free play time. 200 Channing Ave., Palo Alto.


  • The Sensation Nation. Offers recreational, athletic, therapeutic and educational opportunities for kids with special needs. Locations: San Jose, Fremont, Mountain View, Pleasanton and Sunnyvale (pool). 408-292-5290.


  • The Little Gym. Instructors guide kids through physical activities, music and fun, while mom and dad enjoy a night out on certain Friday and Saturday nights. Ages 3-12. 1375 Blossom Hill Road, #45, San Jose, 408-723-7222,; 309 S. Abbott Ave., Milpitas, 408-262-3333,; 781 E. El Camino Real, Sunnyvale, 408-739-7222,


  • California Sports Centers. These gymnastics and dance centers in San Jose welcome kids up to age 6 for an hour of open gymnastics and active exploration. California Kids Sports Center, 100 Great Oaks Blvd., 408-360-9400; 336 Race St., 408-280-5437; 832 Malone Rd., 408-269-5437; 1975 Cambrianna Dr., 408-377-1005.


Factory Tours

Do you have a kid who’s always curious about what’s behind the scenes? In the heart of Silicon Valley, why wouldn’t she be? Here are a few of the more interesting tours available. Just one of those things that makes you go, “Huh!”


  • Intel Museum. The 10,000-square-foot museum is located within Intel Corp. headquarters and offers visitors a chance to explore the company’s technology and manufacturing. 2200 Mission College Blvd., Santa Clara. 408-765-0503.


  • Corbin. Self-guided walking tours let visitors behind the scenes of a plant that manufactures a full line of motorcycle saddles and accessories. 2360 Technology Parkway, Hollister. 800-538-7035. 


Water Play

Wouldn’t you know? When it’s winter, you long for summer. And when it’s summer … well, you’re just thirsting for a way to cool off. Luckily, there are several places in Silicon Valley to offer relief. Here are some of our favorites.


  • Campbell Park. Play structures with water spouts run during warm months. Gilman and Campbell avenues, Campbell. 408-866-2105.


  • McEnery Park. Kids can play in this re-creation of the Guadalupe River, which starts in the “mountains” with mist and boulders, flows through sandy “foothills” and meanders on a broad plain before disappearing into the fields. San Fernando Street, east of the Guadalupe River, San Jose. 408-535-3570.



Plaza de Cesar Chavez. Cool off in this ground-level fountain in downtown San Jose. Market and San Carlos streets. 408-277-3900.





Serra Park. Offers a small brook where kids can float plastic boats and play in a large paddle boat. 730 The Dalles Ave., Sunnyvale. 408-730-7506.




  • Gilroy Gardens. This amusement park features Splash Garden with interactive water attractions during warm months. 3050 Hecker Pass Hwy., Gilroy. 408-840-7100.


Culture Club – for Kids

Sure, you’re all about exposing your kids to art, history and other museums designed to supplement their education. But it can be a delicate balance between keeping them engaged and losing their interest. Here are some of our favorite museums created with kids in mind.


  • Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo. Hands-on exhibits showcase more than 50 species of animals, including bobcats, raccoons, snakes, fish and birds. The Zoo offers a variety of science programs, classes, summer camps and a wild venue for birthday parties. 1451 Middlefield Road. 650-329-2111.


  • Edward Peterman Museum of Railroad History. The ultimate destination for the train fanatic in your family. Within the historic Santa Clara Depot are two operational HO- and N-scale model railroad layout displays. 1005 Railroad Ave., Santa Clara. 408-243-3969.


  • Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose. Kids explore, create and generally run amok in the museum’s 52,000 square feet of interactive exhibits designed for children. 180 Woz Way, San Jose. 408-298-5437.


Skate on, Skater

Whether you skate on wheels or blades, there’s nothing quite like the adrenaline rush of trying to keep it together while rapidly careening around a rink. Here are some favorite places to go wild.


  • Winter Lodge. General and family ice skating sessions and lessons outdoors from late September to mid-April. 3009 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. 650-493-4566.


  • Campbell Skate Park. Supervised facility requires skaters to wear safety gear. Classes offered. Campbell Community Center, 1 W. Campbell Ave. 408-871-5198.


  • Sharks Ice. One of the nation’s largest ice rink complexes, Sharks Ice San Jose offers 14 public skating sessions each week, as well as lessons and ice hockey. 1500 S. 10th St., San Jose. 408-279-6000.


  • San Jose Skate. Public roller skating sessions, lessons and parties at an indoor rink. 397 Blossom Hill Road, San Jose. 408-226-1155.


Our Favorite Fairs & Festivals

Don’t you just love a good fair or festival? Not only are they theme-oriented, but they usually have all kinds of ways to entertain your kids and keep them captivated – and well-fed. Just do yourself a favor and arrive early. In most cases, you won’t be the only one with the bright idea to attend one of these fabulous community events.


  • Italian Family Festa. Authentic Italian food, bocce ball contests, entertainment and a grape-stomping contest are among the highlights of this cultural festival. August. Guadalupe River Park & Gardens, between St. John and Julian streets, San Jose. 408-293-7122.


  • Cabrillo Music, Food, Art and Wine Festival. Local and ethnic music and dance on an outdoor stage, along with fine arts and craft vendors, food artisans, workshops and the Kids’ Creativity Tent. August. Church Street outside the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium.


  • Mountain View Art & Wine Festival. One of the South Bay’s largest fests with 600 artists and crafts makers, music and a children’s section. September. Castro Street between El Camino Real and Evelyn Avenue. 650-968-8378.


  • Santa Clara Art & Wine Festival. The picturesque 52-acre Central Park is the setting for this festival, offering 175 arts and crafts booths, food, four stages of entertainment and Kids Kingdom with carnival rides, craft booths and more. September. 909 Kiely Blvd. 408-615-3140.


  • San Jose Mariachi and Latin Music Festival. The largest mariachi festival in America, this event features children’s mariachi dancers, free concerts by young musicians, headline acts and an all-day family fiesta, the Feria del Mariachi. September.


  • Begonia Festival. A four-day beach party with a sand sculpture contest, rowboat race, chalk art, fishing derby, live music, movies at sundown and begonia-covered barges floating down Soquel Creek. September. Capitola Esplanade, Stockton and Riverview avenues. 831-476-3566.


  • Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival. Enormous pumpkins compete for the championship at this fair, which also features music, a parade, pumpkin-carving demos, pie-eating and costume contests and more. October. Main Street between Miramontes and Spruce streets. 650-726-9652.


  • Christmas in the Park. Features more than 60 musical and animated exhibits created by the community and a massive, lit Christmas tree. Late November to January. Plaza de Cesar Chavez, Market Street between San Carlos and San Fernando streets, San Jose. 408-995-6635.


  • Fantasy of Lights. Twinkling lights and animated displays take over Vasona Lake County Park for this annual holiday event. Late November to Dec. 31. $10-15 per car in 2010. 333 Blossom Hill Road, Los Gatos. 408-355-2201.


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