Bay Area Day Trips for the Family

Some of our favorite family-friendly places to spend the day


We are so lucky to live in an area with so much around us. Just an hour or two and you’re in a completely different area and so many of these areas have tons of kid friendly activities!

Today we'll share our favorite day trips with the kids.



We love the aquarium, but haven’t been for a while since it’ so expensive. Another fun thing for the kids is the “.” It’s right by the main downtown area and it’s FREE!

It’s kind of a hodge-podge of lots of playgrounds built and added onto over the years. There are slides built into the hillside, a slide made of rollers, and lots of other fun features.


Well the obvious draw to this for us is the Aquarium. It really is a fantastic place to take the kids and it’s a good distance for car naps there and back. It is pretty expensive so look out for coupons or deals and plan on spending the whole day there to get your money’s worth! It is also so much fun to walk around the cannery and have lunch on the water. There is a great candy store in the cannery that my daughter had a blast in last time we went.

Carmel is also fantastic for kids (and pets too! Carmel is one of the most pet-friendly towns in California). Just taking a stroll down the main drag and checking out all of the cool little shops. At the very end of the road there is a great beach to take the kids for a picnic or just to play. We love this area!



My husband and I spent a lot of time in Napa and Sonoma before we had kids and we didn’t want to stop just because we had kids! The Sonoma Green is an amazing place to spend the day with kids. Take a walk around and check out all the shops, grab some lunch from one of the many restaurants in the area and have a picnic on the green. There are two playgrounds, a toddler one and a big kid one, plus a fantastic pond where you can feed the ducks!

We haven’t taken the kids to Napa yet, but I know Calistoga would be a great place to wander with kids. It’s a nice distance to drive back and forth in one day but you can always snag a cheap hotel room and spend the night!

Columbia/Gold Country


We haven’t taken our kids here yet but we’re dying to! We’ve been up to several times as a couple but there are SO many places to take kids here! Columbia is a little town that is set up as it was back during the Gold Rush. It is an amazing place for adults and children alike! There are also tons of places to go panning for gold, also a fun activity for grown ups and kids! We really love Gold Country, it’s so much fun and I really can’t wait to take our kids!

Santa Cruz/ Capitola


We love going to Santa Cruz and Capitola both. Our favorite beach in the area is New Brighton State Beach in Capitola. We go there every year and visit the beach for day trips all throughout the year. Downtown Capitola is a nice place to stroll around and there is a great little beach too. You can see lots of surfers and dolphins go by here too.

We also really like Natural Bridges Beach in Santa Cruz. Along with a great little beach, there is a park where you will find a picnic area, visitor center, and Monarch butterfly preserve. (The best time to see the butterflies is from mid October - mid February.) There thousands of them and it’s really amazing to see.

Another great place in Santa Cruz is the Seymour Marine Discovery Center at Long Marine Laboratory (part of UC Santa Cruz). They have a scaled-down aquarium that's not as fancy as the one in Monterey, but it's still pretty cool. Best of all it's only $6 for adults and $4 for children (ages 4-16) and seniors (64+), kids under 4 are FREE. They have lots of different fish tanks, small sharks, a touch pool, a blue whale and grey whale skeletons, and you can take a tour of the lab and resarch center that includes the dolphins. They also have an amazing view of the ocean from the back patio and walking trail.


While it’s not so far for us that live in Campbell, Santa Cruz is still a great place to take your kids on a day trip. There are many great beaches in Santa Cruz (Natural Bridges and New Brighton are our favorites!) and of course you have the Beach Boardwalk which has an abundance of activities for kids and grown ups. There are also stops along the way like Roaring Camp Railroads and the Mystery Spot. You really can always find something going on in Santa Cruz.

San Francisco


I grew up in San Francisco so I know there are a lot of activities for kids! I really couldn’t name all of them, but there are some that shouldn’t be missed! One is Golden Gate Park, the Childrens Playground was redone a few year ago and is fantastic.

The boats on Stow Lake are so much fun, you can get a paddle boat, a rowboat or a little power boat. And of course the newly remodeled Academy of Sciences is a must visit, althoughtit can be pricey and can be an all day activity to get your moneys worth.

East Beach at Crissy Field is a great beach, sunny even when the rest of the city is foggy and has a great view of the Golden Gate bridge. Beware that it is a leash free beach so there will be dogs off leash. There are also several museums to visit, the Randall Museum and the Exploratorium to name two. I could go on for days but there are plenty of lists out there to help you choose what to do!



I’ve never been to the Oakland Zoo but I hear it’s fantastic and definitely worth the trip and there is also Fairyland which is so much fun and small so it’s not too overwhelming.

Tilden Park in Berkeley is one of my favorite places of all time. They have a carousel, a steam train (it’s about a 10 minute ride and both the carousel and train are only $2 a person) and my favorite part is the Little Farm which houses cows, sheep, pigs, goats, chickens and other fowl. You can feed the animals if you bring your own food (celery and lettuce only, please!). If you’re in the mood for ice cream, visit Ici ice cream shop on College Avenue. They have the best handmade ice cream you’ve ever tasted in very unique flavors. There are also a lot of tasty restaurants on College Avenue as well!

Berry Picking - Watsonville Area


We haven’t done this yet, but our nieces love it. They like to go to Gizditch Ranch in Watsonville, but there are many places that offer berry picking. It can be a fun experience, and it’s a great way to teach kids about where our food actually comes from.

Gilroy Gardens


Honestly we haven’t been (yet!), but are looking forward to it next summer when Joey is a little bigger. They have many rides for the smaller kiddos to enjoy as well as a and other neat features.

Roaring Camp Railroad - Felton


They offer two different routes: a train goes to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, and another goes through the redwood forest. Once a year they even have a “Day Out With Thomas” event with the characters from “Thomas the Tank Engine.” Make sure to check their schedules and purchase tickets in advance for the the Thomas event.

Half Moon Bay


We like to go to get our Halloween pumpkins here. They also have the Art & Pumpkin Festival every fall (this year it will be October 13-14). We really liked Lemos Farms for all the great activities they had. There was pony rides, a train, bouncy houses, and even a band playing.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park


This is one of our favorite places to spend the day. It is so peaceful and beautiful here. We have been camping here too, but usually we just go for the day. There are many different trails to walk and some are even stroller friendly.

The “Redwood Loop” trail is probably the easiest one to take with little ones. It passes by both the “Mother of the Forest” and “Father of the Forest” trees, and then loops back to near the visitor center and park museum.



This is a great place for school-aged kids. You can tour the capitol building and bring those history and civics class lessons to life. They also have a great “Old Town” district with lots of shops and restaurants along the American River front.

Point Reyes


We’ve been camping up in this area and its absolutely beautiful. There are several trails you can take and there are many kid friendly trails. It’s close to the ocean and there are so many cute little towns to stop in along the way (Lagunitas, Olema, Bodega Bay, etc). It’s a great place to get outdoors on a gorgeous day!

You don’t have to get on a plane or take a long road trip to discover new and amazing things with your kids. We’re lucky enough to have them in our own backyard! Know of another great day trip idea? Share it with us!

MomSquad August 10, 2012 at 09:04 PM
Thank you South San Francisco Patch for picking up our story! (This is actually from the Campbell Patch Mom Squad.) We hope you enjoy it, and we'd love to hear from you all :) You can read more of our articles here: http://campbell.patch.com/columns/mom-squad-1ad459a9 or check out our Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Campbell-Patch-Mom-Squad/264361260272684
Austin Walsh August 10, 2012 at 09:29 PM
No problem, ladies. The story is great and it comes just in time to run going into a beautiful summer weekend across the Bay Area. Thank you and keep up the good work.
Vanessa Castañeda August 10, 2012 at 09:47 PM
Cheers to the MomSquad for helping us find healthy activities to do with the kids. If you find any in Menlo Park, Palo Alto or Atherton LMK.
MomSquad August 12, 2012 at 04:47 PM
Vanessa, one of our favorite places to take the kids in Palo Alto is the Palo Alto Jr. Museum and Zoo. (It is free, but they appreciate donations.) It's a great option rain or shine :) You can read more about it here: http://campbell.patch.com/articles/here-comes-the-rain-again-bb338e32


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