Top 20 Trips for Tots
Kids are curious. They love to explore the world, and the Bay Area is a great place for them to start. In addition to the region’s natural features – from mountains to the bay to the beach – the area offers great destinations that cater specifically to kids. These sites range from free-admission parks and farms to pricey amusement parks, but they all have one big thing in common – fun! Hours of operation often vary, so be sure to check ahead.
- California’s Great America – Features Kidzville, costumed characters and Boomerang Bay water park. Open May-October. $45.99 for 48 inches and up, $34.99 under 48 inches. Great America Parkway between highways 101 and 237, Santa Clara. 408-988-1776. cagreatamerica.com.
- Children’s Discovery Museum – A place for learning with 28,000 square-feet of traveling exhibits and permanent galleries, such as the Waterways play room and Wonder Cabinet exploration room for the age 5 and under set. Closed Monday. $10 ages 1 and up. 180 Woz Way, San Jose. 408-298-5437. cdm.org.
- Deer Hollow Farm – Families participate in a traditional homestead farm inside a 2,135-acre open space preserve. Closed Monday. FREE. Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve, Cristo Rey Drive, Los Altos. 650-903-6430. ci.mtnview.ca.us.
- Emma Prusch Farm Park – Features a barn with a variety of farm animals, including sheep, pigs, ducks, rabbits and chickens, as well as vintage farm equipment and a rare fruit orchard. Closed Monday. FREE. 647 S. King Road, San Jose. 408-749-6262. pruschfarmpark.org.
- Happy Hollow Park & Zoo – Newly remodeled zoo and petting zoo with 140 animals, as well as the Danny the Dragon ride, playgrounds, the maze, puppet theater and more. $12 ages 2-69. Kelley Park, 1300 Senter Road, San Jose. 408-794-6400. hhpz.org.
- Hidden Villa Farm – This 1,600-acre organic farm and wilderness preserve features weekend farm tours and many children’s programs, such as Groovy Goats and Cow Wow. Closed Monday. $5 parking. 26870 Moody Road, Los Altos Hills. 650-949-8650. hiddenvilla.org.
- The Jungle and Jungle Island – Indoor, jungle-themed play places with climbing tubes, ball pits, arcade games and café. Ages 0-12. Prices vary from $8.95 for ages 3-12 on weekends to $3.95 for toddlers. The Jungle, 950 El Paseo de Saratoga, San Jose. 408-866-4386. thejunglefun.com; Jungle Island, 5401 Camden Ave., San Jose. 408-448-4386. thejungleisland.com.
- Oak Meadow Park and Vasona Lake County Park – These adjacent parks provide two large separate playgrounds with unusual climbing structures, including trains and planes. Vasona Lake also offers a creek-side trail and a lake with rental paddle and rowboats and fishing spots. FREE. Oak Meadow Park has a miniature train and carousel rides for $2. Oak Meadow Park, 233 Blossom Hill Road, Los Gatos. 408-399-5570. losgatosca.gov; Vasona Lake, 333 Blossom Hill Road, Los Gatos. 408-356-2729. parkhere.org.
- Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo – Through 14 hands-on exhibits, visitors experiment with gravity, motion and forces of nature like wind and water. The zoo features bobcats, bats, reptiles and more. Closed Monday. FREE. 1 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. 650-329-2111. friendsjmz.org.
- Bay Area Discovery Museum – Hands-on, interactive science and art emporium for children and their families. Closed Monday. $10 adults, $8 ages 1-17. East Fort Baker, 557 McReynolds Road, Sausalito. 415-339-3900. baykidsmuseum.org.
- California Academy of Sciences – Walk through a rainforest, peer into the aquarium and run off energy at the Early Explorers Cove playground. $29.95 adults, $19.95 ages 4-11, under 4 FREE. 55 Music Concourse Dr., Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. 415-379-8000. calacademy.org.
- Children’s Fairyland – A 10-acre park where children age 8 and under can enjoy rides based on nursery rhymes. $8 ages 1 and up. Open Friday-Sunday. 699 Bellevue Ave., Oakland. 510-452-2259. fairyland.org.
- CuriOdyssey – Enjoy more than 100 animals, interactive exhibitions and a multi-sensory introduction to the Bay Area’s natural history. Closed Monday. $8 adults, $4 children. 1651 Coyote Point Dr., San Mateo. 650-342-7755. coyoteptmuseum.org.
- Randall Museum – Kids and adults explore the worlds of art and science through changing exhibits. Includes a caboose, native California animals and a Toddler Treehouse Exploration Zone. Closed Sunday and Monday. FREE. 99 Museum Way, San Francisco. 415-554-9600. randallmuseum.org.
- Tilden Park – Visiting and feeding the animals (lettuce and celery only) at Little Farm is FREE. 8:30am-4pm daily. Antique carousel and steam train rides are $2 each. Wildcat Canyon Road and Grizzly Peak Boulevard, Berkeley. 888-EBPARKS, option 3, x4562. ebparks.org/parks/tilden.
- Dennis the Menace Playground – Created by cartoonist Hank Ketcham in honor of his famous character, the playground has Dennis-themed structures, a suspension bridge, a stream train to climb on, a three-story climbing tower, a maze and climbing wall. Closed non-holiday Tuesdays, September-May. FREE. Del Monte Ave. and Camino Aguajito, Monterey. 831-646-3866. monterey.org/rec.
- Gilroy Gardens – The park offers 40 rides, six theme gardens and its main attraction of 19 uniquely shaped “circus” trees. Open May-December. $29.99 online special. 3050 Hecker Pass Hwy., Gilroy. 408-840-7100. gilroygardens.org.
- Monterey Bay Aquarium – The new “Splash Zone” and “Secret Lives of Seahorses” galleries feature numerous interactive exhibits for kids, along with the old favorite exhibits at this world famous aquarium. $29.95 adults, $19.95 ages 3-12. 886 Cannery Row, Monterey. 831-648-4800. mbayaq.org.
- MY Museum – This facility features seven galleries spread over 8,500 square feet that highlight Monterey County’s major points of interest, including Pebble Beach’s golf courses, Monterey beaches and the Big Sur woods. Closed Wednesday. $7. 425 Washington St., Monterey. 831-649-6444. mymuseum.org.
- Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk – This historic beachside theme park features rides, attractions and games, including a dozen for kids ages 2-6. All rides open Memorial Day to Labor Day; limited operation the rest of the year. $3-5 per ride, entrance FREE. 400 Beach St., Santa Cruz. 831-423-5590. beachboardwalk.com.
Angela Geiser is an associate editor at Bay Area Parent.
When we asked our readers for their favorite family field trips, we heard some great suggestions. When you want to go beyond the nearby playground and get off the beaten path, we suggest you explore these reader-tested destinations:
"My daughter absolutely loves the nature classes held at the Junior Nature Museum at McClellan Ranch Park in Cupertino. There are turtles, mice, insects, a bearded dragon, crayfish, snakes and more at this wonderful and quaint museum. The staff is very knowledgeable, and my daughter is learning so much! The museum holds open house hours on Fridays from 3 to 5 p.m. and on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. You can venture outside a short distance to hear the babbling creeks, hike amidst the myriad trees and see a 4-H barn with sheep, goats, ducks, miniature horses and chickens.”
Museum entrance is FREE. cupertino.org.
– Christina Salvatore, Cupertino, mom of Ashley, 6.
"Our circle of friends had a great time touring the Fresh Choice restaurant in Gilroy and learning from Jon Husting, the chain’s regional marketing manager. Our kids loved learning about eating different colors and how it keeps them healthy and strong. It was great to see them try foods they would have never eaten before and enjoy it. Jon’s ‘5-9 fruits and vegetables a day the color way’ has been an inspiration in developing healthy eating habits in our house.”
Tour is free with lunch purchase: $5 adults, $2.50 kids. freshchoice.com/jon-husting-being-healthy-just-got-fun.
– Lynn Will, Morgan Hill, mother of Sara Rose, 4 1/2.
"My girls love the Point Lobos tide pools near Carmel. Their little minds love the hermits, crabs and amazing life they find when they just sit at the water’s edge. They have learned to be still, look and listen while gazing into the pools filled with tiny life. They have honed their climbing skills at a young age traversing from pool to pool. This is truly our happiest place on earth.”
Parking is $10. ptlobos.org.
– Christine Maxwell, Gilroy, mom of Delainey, 2, and Mackenna, 5
"For a quick trip, we go to the Burger King near the San Carlos Airport and Hiller Aviation Museum. The BK there is decorated with model planes and historic photographs about aviation. You can go near the fence to watch the planes take off and play in the old helicopter outside the restaurant. Cassie gets so excited watching each plane.”
– Kate Waffle, Redwood City, mom of Cassie Pfaff, 3
"A visit to Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont is a great way to show your kids the area’s agricultural heyday. My kids love to watch the turn-of-century farming activities, see the farm animals and wander around the beautiful mansion and Victorian gardens. As a special treat, we always take a ride on the horse-drawn train.”
Entrance is $1-5 depending on age, day and season. ebparks.org/parks/arden.htm.
– Holly Gines, San Jose, mom of Jillian, 6, and Jase, 2.