I love Alameda – especially during the summer months. We usually go to Crown Memorial State Beach where the water is calm for swimming, and there’s usually a panoramic view of San Francisco. The beach also offers a paved bike path. Nearby, the Crab Cove Visitor Center and Aquarium has sea life and information about the local ocean. If you go to downtown Alameda, the historic Park Street is a great place to explore. Tucker’s Super Creamed Ice Cream is favorite for locals and tourists. The Pacific Pinball Museum shouldn’t be missed. Pay between $10-20 and get free play on five rooms of pinball machines from every decade.
When we want to go for a hike, Redwood Regional Park in the Oakland hills is a great place to set out. It features 1,830 acres of coastal redwoods, as well as rare species such as the golden eagle and Alameda striped racer snake. We love bringing our dog since there’s a lot of shade and he doesn’t get over-heated. Parking is $5 per vehicle and there is a $2 fee for dogs.
The Oakland Zoo is a locals’ favorite. It’s become more popular recently with the addition of its California Trail. This new section of the zoo features a gondola ride offering panoramic views of the Bay Area. My kids love it. When you arrive at the top, you’ll find animals that are native to California or were once native to the state. My favorite are the grizzly bears. If you visit at the right time which is usually morning for us, you can find them playing in their pool of water. The California Trail also has a bald eagle, California condor, black bears, mountain lions and more. The main part of the zoo also has great exhibits, including elephants, giraffes, lions, tigers, monkeys, zebras and more. I recommend going on a weekday in the morning because it gets really crowded on weekends and parking can be difficult.
Tilden Regional Park in Berkeley is a fun place to visit. You can hike, go for a ride on the carousel or steam train, tour a botanical garden, visit farm animals and more. Nearby is the Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkeley. With its hands-on approach, this museum is great for kids. When you’re done in the museum you can go outside and enjoy a spectacular 180-degree view of the Bay Area!
– Teresa Mills-Faraudo
Crown Memorial State Beach
Crab Cove Visitor Center and Aquarium
Tucker’s Super Creamed Ice Cream
Pacific Pinball Museum
Redwood Regional Park
Tilden Regional Park
Lawrence Hall of Science
The birthplace of the computer industry has plenty of family-friendly spots for techies and non-techies alike.
If you’re heading to Silicon Valley over the Dumbarton Bridge, play tourist and joins the throngs stopping for a selfie at Facebook’s iconic thumbs-up sign (though the rest of the sprawling campus is off-limits to the public.)
Then head to Stanford University, which claims as alumni such tech luminaries as William Hewlett, David Packard and the founders of Yahoo and Google. Plan ahead to catch one of Stanford’s championship-winning sports teams in action or see a performance, or drop by the free Anderson Museum or Cantor Arts Center, with a renowned collection of Rodin sculptures. You can wander the campus or take a free, student-led tour most days at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.
Skip the fancier eateries on University Avenue downtown and opt instead for a hearty lunch, milkshake or float at the Palo Alto Creamery, an old-fashioned soda fountain on Emerson Street.
Burn off the excess calories at the original Magical Bridge Playground in Mitchell Park, a wonderful spot designed to be accessible to kids of all abilities.
Computer buffs may want to make a quick stop at 367 Addison Ave. for a peek at the original HP Garage, known as the birthplace of Silicon Valley.
For a more thorough history lesson, visit Mountain View’s Computer History Museum, which has exhibits on the history of computing, autonomous vehicles and more.
For more hands-on tech and science fun, don’t miss the Tech Museum of Innovation in downtown San Jose. Tinker with biotech in the new BioDesign Studio, build a robot, learn about biology and healthcare or become a Cyber Detective in the nation’s first exhibit on Internet safety.
San Pedro Square Market, with an open-air plaza, sidewalk café, weekly entertainment and 20 vendors serving up food from pizza to sushi, is a great place to grab a bite to eat.
Those with younger kids can’t go wrong at either the Children’s Discovery Museum, with fantastic interactive exhibits indoors and out, or Happy Hollow Park & Zoo, which features both animals and small amusement rides.
Of course, not every family outing has to be educational. Silicon Valley is also home to the region’s largest amusement and water park, California’s Great America in Santa Clara, and another popular water park, Raging Waters in San Jose.
Or catch a baseball game on a smaller scale, and at a fraction of the price, at the San Jose Giants, a minor league farm team for San Francisco. The team offers a number of fireworks shows each season, including on July 4 this year.
Magical Bridge Playground
Computer History Museum
The Tech Museum of Innovation
San Pedro Square Market
Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose
Happy Hollow Park & Zoo
California’s Great America
San Jose Giants
There’s the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, of course. (Tip: if you plan to visit more than a few times, it pays to get the annual pass) and frolicking in the waves at Main Beach. But after that, when friends with kids visit us in Santa Cruz, I like to point them in a few other directions.
For ocean fun, our family is a fan of National Bridges State Beach at the far end of West Cliff Drive. It can get windy, but the beach is wide and often less crowded. There are bathrooms nearby and with a little walking, you can get to a picnic area, a gift shop and the winter home of Monarch butterflies.
Everyone knows about the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium down the coast, but here in Santa Cruz, we have the Seymour Marine Discovery Center, a smaller and friendly place where kids can touch sea stars, sea urchins, hermit crabs, sea anemones and more. The shark pool provides a close-up view of these fascinating and often misunderstood creatures, and you can even touch a friendly swell shark.
For playground action, you can’t beat Ocean View Park in the Seabright area with its slides, picnic tables, off-leash dog area and amazing views of the harbor and ocean.
Another really fun activity is to bring or rent bikes and then hop on the paved path from the westside of Santa Cruz out to Wilder Ranch. This historic ranch a few miles outside of town has an old-fashioned sensibility with a restored farm house to tour, chickens to feed, apples to pick, retired farm equipment to play on and a gift shop to explore. Kids can also get in the spirit by riding a hobby horse, rolling a hoop and playing with other toys from the era.
When the family gets hungry, Santa Cruz offers some tasty and affordable restaurants that appeal to kids. On the wharf, we like Riva Fish House, though it can get crowded in tourist season. Other popular local spots include Zachary’s Restaurant in the downtown area for breakfast and lunch (Try the sourdough pancakes) and Pizza My Heart (for the surfer vibe).
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Santa Cruz beaches
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Seymour Marine Discover Center
Ocean View Park
Pizza My Heart
Looking for more staycation ideas? Our website is your go-to source. Check out these articles on San Francisco, the East Bay, Santa Cruz and more.