Great America in Santa Clara and Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo have thrilling coasters, fun shows, and “kid zones” with rides and character visits for younger children. Fairyland in Oakland and Pixieland in Concord have fun rides and special events for young children.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is world class – fun, educational and big! Highlights include otters, penquins, seahorses, jelly fish and a touch pool. The breathtaking setting makes a great weekend destination. Stay overnight and enjoy kayaking on the bay. Let your kids burn off some energy at the Dennis the Menace playground before the drive home.
Closer to home the Steinhart Aquarium at Cal Academy in San Francisco houses 900 species of marine life, including sharks, rays, piranhas, eels and anemones. Admission also includes access to the planetarium, natural history museum and four-story tall rainforest. Buy lunch or a snack at the Academy Cafe and enjoy dining on the outside patio.
Seymour Marine Discovery Center in Santa Cruz is a working marine science laboratory that provides tours, touch pools, and other exhibits. Visit nearby Natural Bridges State Beach to enjoy fun on the beach, explore tidepools, and admire Monarch butterflies during their winter stay from October to March.
Children’s Creativity Museum at Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco provides fun, hands-on activities for all ages. Learn and create in the museum’s design, animation, music and movie studios and explore the imagination and innovation labs. When you’re finished at the museum ride the carousel and enjoy the colorful playground area. Bowling and iceskating are also available nearby.
The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco offers Family Fun Days with storytelling, gallery activities and art making. First Sunday of each month is free!
The Museum of Children’s Art (MOCHA) in Oakland is unique in that it only displays artwork by children. Gallery admission is free and reasonable fees are charged for open studio participation.
The Cantor Arts Center at Stanford hosts Family Sundays each week with special tours and art projects. Admission is always free. Follow-up your museum visit with a stroll around this lovely campus.
Facilitated family tours of the de Young Museum in San Francisco are followed by studio workshops taught by professional artist-teachers on most Saturdays.
The San Francisco Children’s Art Center offers a variety of workshops and camps for budding artists.
Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos has interesting vintage and experimental aircraft exhibits. Special programs include open cockpit day, preschool reading and crafts, and holiday events.
Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz is scenic and has lively tide pools just a short hike from the main beach. Nearby natural trails lead through the winter habitat of monarch butterflies. The Seymour Marine Discovery Center is nearby and well worth a visit.
Canada Road in San Mateo is closed to motorized vechiles from Hwy 92 to Edgewood Rd. along Crystal Springs Reservoir on most Sundays. Tour the house and gardens at nearby Filoli Mansion.
Bicyclists can enjoy a wide swath of paved roadway in Golden Gate Park when a portion of JFK Drive is closed to cars on all Sundays and holidays and some Saturdays.
Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito is a great children’s museum in a beautiful location. The Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose is equally fun and conveniently located near the Tech Museum.
The Bay Area Children’s Theatre specializes in high quality theater adaptations of great children’s books. Performances are held in Berkeley, San Francisco and Sunnyvale.
Young actors with the Peninsula Youth Theatre in Mountain View perform both new and old favorites with impressive sets and costumes. Nearby, youth in Palo Alto Children’s Theatre perform several major shows, weekend playhouse shows for young children and hot dog suppertime shows during the summer.
The Young Performer’s Theatre performs fun and witty shows in San Francisco. San Francisco Children’s Musical Theater stages several shows each year at The Palace of Fine Arts Theater. San Jose Children’s Musical Theatre features experienced performers on their mainstage and youth performers in their rising star productions.
La Pena in Berkeley offers performances and classes in Latin American music, dance and other art forms. Special performances for children are offered most Saturday mornings.
The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco provides new perspectives on Jewish culture, history and art through exhibits, workshops and performances. Drop-in Art Making sessions are offered most Sundays.
Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont is a Victorian era working farm with a blacksmith shop and home tour. You’ll see sheep, pigs, turkeys, chickens, rabbits, goats, and cows. Ardenwood hosts fun events throughout the year, including a Harvest Festival in October and Christmas Faire in early December with house tours, train rides, food samples, farm activities, arts & crafts, and music.
See cows, sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens and pigs at Little Farm at Tilden Park in Berkeley. Visitors are welcome to bring lettuce or celery to feed the animals. Add to the fun with a rides on a steam train and carousel.
Sienna Ranch in Lafayette hosts monthly family days with horse and pony rides, sustainability education and projects, archery, hayrides, survival skills activities, and more.
Explore Hidden Villa in Los Altos Hills on your own or sign-up in advance for a farm tour or kids’ workshop.
Slide Ranch at Muir Beach offers an organic garden, walking trails with stunning ocean views and the opportunity to milk a goat or feed the chickens.
The UC Berkeley Botanical Garden has an amazing number and variety of plants. Plant “zones” range from alpine to desert to tropical and everything in between. Don’t miss the greenhouse that holds the carnivorous plants. The garden makes a great stop on your way to or from the nearby Lawrence Hall of Science.
The San Francisco Botanical Garden offers a variety of family-oriented activities, including garden tours and storytimes. Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy in this beautiful setting.
Historical Museums & Parks
The Museum of American Heritage in Palo Alto has well done, kid-oriented exhibits and special events.
Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont is a Victorian era working farm with a blacksmith shop and home tour. A steam train operates for special events, including harvest fairs and holiday celebrations.
The U.S.S. Hornet in Alameda is a World War II aircraft carrier that also supported the Apollo space missions. Family Overnights provide a fun opportunity to immerse yourself in history.
The Roaring Camp and Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad in Felton (near Santa Cruz) is fun any day, but especially during one of their many special events.
History Park at Kelley Park in San Jose is home to numerous historic buildings, including a one room school house, print shop, and blacksmith. Highlights are streetcar rides on the weekend and an old-fashioned candy store and ice cream parlor.
Black Diamond Mines Museum in Antioch offers mine tours seasonally on weekends where guests ages seven years and older view mining equipment, ore shutes, and geological features.
Natural History Museums
California Academy in San Francisco has dinosaurs and more, including insects, minerals, and an African experience. An aquarium, planetarium and rainforest are all included in the price of admission.
Visit mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians at CuriOdyssey at Coyote Point in San Mateo. Observe daily otter and bobcat feedings. Attend a monthly Community Day for a day of fun and learning.
Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek treats over 5000 wild animals every year. Join a petting circle with a rabbit, guinea pig or hamster. Watch feeding and training demonstrations and meet an eagle, hawk or owl.
The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito rescues and rehabilitates marine mammals that are ill, injured, orphaned or malnourished. Patients may include sea lions, harbor seals, elephant seals, sea otters and more.
You can actually borrow an animal, including cage, food, and care instructions, for a week from Sulphur Creek Nature Center in Hayward. View reptiles, amphibians, fish, and arthropods in the Discovery Center and birds and mammals in outside enclosures outside.
Randall Museum in San Francisco houses over 100 animals that can no longer live in the wild. Drop-in Science and Art activities are held on most Saturdays and special events include Bug Day, Halloween Fest, and Holiday Crafts Day.
The best park is probably the one that’s closest to you and has a fun play structure. However, when you’re looking for a special day try one of these 3 destination parks. Each has numerous fun activities.
Golden Gate Park in San Francisco has art museums, aquarium, planetarium, arboretum, tea garden, play grounds, boat rentals, and even buffaloes! Main roads closed to auto traffic on Sundays to accomodate bicycling and skating.
Tilden Park in Berkeley has picnic areas, pony rides, carousel, steam train, botanical garden, and swimming.
Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland has a great facility and lots of fun activities for exploring space and climatology. Fujitsu Planetarium in Cupertino offers family-oriented shows on most Saturdays.
Science & Technology
The Exploratorium in San Francisco has hundreds of hands-on “experiments” your children can perform. The Tech Museum in San Jose has several themed areas where your children can explore life sciences, energy, communications and more.
California Academy of Sciences offers a planetarium, aquarium, rainforest and natural history museum in a one of a kind facility.
Explore vintage and experimental aircraft at Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos. Special programs include open cockpit day, preschool reading days, and holiday events.
Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland has a great facility and fun activities related to climatology and space exploration. Fujitsu Planetarium at DeAnza College in Cupertino offers kid-friendly planetarium shows on most Saturdays.
Below are some favorite destinations for sports fans. Check your favorite team’s website for current schedules and special family events and promotions.
The San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s professional baseball teams continue the Bay Area sports rivalry. The San Jose Giants minor league baseball team offers an easy and affordable alternative to major league games.
UC Berkeley and Stanford offer the opportunity to watch top notch men’s and women’s athletes compete in over 20 sports. San Jose State and Saint Mary’s in Moraga also field numerous athletic teams and Santa Clara University’s women’s soccer team is consistently ranked as one of the best in the nation.
The Roaring Camp and Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad in Felton (near Santa Cruz) is fun any day, but especially during one of their many special events. Worth the drive for Thomas the Tank Engine days, a Harvest Festival, Halloween Ghost trains, and a Pioneer Christmas.
For a really special train adventure, ride the Amtrak Capitol Corridor train to Sacramento to visit the California State Railroad Museum. Stay in the nearby Delta King paddleboat hotel and explore Old Town Sacramento.
The San Francisco Zoo has several impressive animal habitat areas, a fun petting zoo, a steam train and a carousel. Special events include family bike-abouts and sleepovers. During the summer zoo camp teens display small animals for viewing and petting.
The Oakland Zoo is easy to get to, usually uncrowded, and just the right size – lots of space for the animals, but easy to walk around. Rides include a roller coaster, train, carousel and sky tram.
Happy Hollow Park & Zoo in San Jose doesn’t have the exotic animals one typically associates with zoos (no elephants, zebras, or tigers), but there are plenty of cute, furry animals to entertain your children. Plus, there are fun rides, a puppet show, and play areas. The nearby History Park has interesting refurbished buildings and an old-fashioned ice cream shop and candy store.