Nothing beats a weekend escape to Tahoe or a family getaway in Santa Barbara. But for the those days you want to get out of town without much planning turn to these 15 easy day trips that promise big time family fun. From a 2,000+ acre park with train rides and a petting zoo to hikes along the coast even your toddler will love, we’ve come up with stress-free mini-vacations that’ll help you rediscover the wonders and adventures right in your own backyard.
Destination: Wine Country
While you no longer take impromptu girls trips up to Sonoma or organized bus tours for barrel tasting, you can still visit (and enjoy!) a trip to Wine Country with your kids. A handful of wineries offer a family-friendly atmosphere with perks like bocce ball, picnic tables and even a barnyard petting zoo.
Drive from the City: over an hour
Don’t Forget: If you plan to head up to Wine Country more than once consider joining a wine club. You’ll get discounts on tastings and bottles, and some wineries, like Larson Family Winery, host special pick-up parties and events for their members.
Destination: Point Reyes
Located just a little over an hour from the city, Point Reyes has a little something for everyone. Foodie? Visit Cowgirl Creamery. Got an animal lover? You might spot whales or elephant seals in the water. Love to hike? You’re in luck–the area is brimming with family hiking trails. This coastal hamlet has enough sights and delights to pack your day with fun. In fact, you may never want to leave.
Drive from the City: at least 1 hour
Don’t Forget: Visit Cowgirl Creamery for artisan cheeses and Toby’s Feed Barn to entertain the kids. If it’s foggy out, bring light jackets and layer-able clothing.
photo: Don DeBold via flickr
Destination: Fort Ross
Give your day trippers a history lesson at Fort Ross, an impressive historic Russian fortress that was once a bustling base for Pacific trade. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time as you enter the Russian colony’s compound. While there explore the chapel, living quarters, barracks and even an authentic Russian cottage.
Drive from the City: About 2 hours
Don’t Forget: Bring comfortable walking shoes, layered clothing and a beach blanket for the sandy shores. Bring your own lunch as this spot is a picnic paradise.
photo: Vlad Butsky via flickr
Because there’s no Bart stop in Alameda, city dwellers often forget about this sunny island. Go here to soak up Vitamin D and get ready to play. Speed over to Homeroom Racing Café to race on a miniature Grand Prix track, hit a hole in one at Subpar Miniature Golf or show your kids old-school games at the Pacific Pinball Museum. Afterwards, take in some fresh air at Memorial State Beach and make sand castles.
Drive from the City: About 30 minutes
Don’t Forget: Every Saturday is Off the Grid, a food truck gathering that we love if you’re looking to get your kids to sample new cuisines. Also, consider taking the ferry across the Bay so your kids can get a glimpse of the massive cargo cranes in action.
Destination: Tilden Park
Travel into the Berkeley Hills to a 2,000+ urban jungle. Pack a picnic (there are 13 sites you can reserve for larger gatherings), visit the animals at Little Farm, hike the park’s many trails, go for a spin the carousel and hop on the Redwood Valley Railway for a memorable train ride.
Drive from the City: About 30 minutes
Don’t Forget: Tilden Park doesn’t have many full meal options, so packing your own healthy picnic lunch and snacks may be your best bet.
Enthusiastic pint-size aviators may be begging to hit up SFO, Oakland and San Jose terminals, but the view of the airplanes at those busy ports aren’t exactly ideal. For the truly dedicated plane lovers, head over to Concord’s Buchanan Field Airport, where there’s a family-friendly observation zone that even includes a playground.
Drive from the City: About 40 minutes
Don’t Forget: There’s a Trader Joe’s across the airport for any family that doesn’t want to pack a lunch, but want to stay on the lot.
Even if you live in the city, a day trip to Chinatown is a must. With colorful murals, lantern-strung streets and delectable eats, your little explorers are bound to go wild over this old neighborhood. Start at the Chinese Historical Society of America, where there’s a collection of Chinatown miniatures, then check out amazing murals that line the old buildings, and finish the day at the hidden playground off of St. Mary’s Square with a dan tat (or egg custard) from the Golden Gate Bakery.
Don’t Forget: Check the Facebook page Is The Golden Gate Bakery open today? to make sure your trip for the best egg tarts in the world isn’t for naught.
Photo: Jakub Kadlec via flickr
Destination: Little Italy
As the Beat Generation’s former stomping ground, North Beach is one bustling neighborhood that makes any day trip a blast. Play at Washington Square Park, shop ’til you drop at Carmel Blue and if you’re hungry, choose from the dozens of family-friendly cafes and restaurants. Our favorites include Victoria Pastry Company and Mo’s.
Don’t Forget: Pop into North Beach’s renovated library at Columbus and Lombard Streets. Stand outside and listen to the sound recordings of San Francisco city life, from sea gulls to church bells. Then head inside for story time and a fab kids corner brimming with children’s books.
Destination: The Haight
Take break from your usual routine of strolling Cole Valley or the Marina and explore the Haight. If you’ve lived in the Bay Area awhile, you’ll be surprised by the neighborhood’s transformation. Visit the fantastic toy store, Kids Only, pick up a sandwich at the Haight Street Market, stop for a snack and brew at Magnolia (sit outside if the weather is nice for good people watching) and monkey around at Buena Vista Park Playground. The ultimate must stop? Ben & Jerry’s, of course!
Don’t Forget: Be sure to visit one of the best independent bookstores in the city: The Booksmith. They have a great children’s section in the far back corner. If you insist on driving, bring coins for the meter as it can run up to $10 for your stay or find a spot along the Panhandle where there’s no residential parking enforcement.
photo: Kids Only via Facebook
Destination: Mount Sutro
Looking for a quiet escape within the City? Then Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve, an enchanted forest right in Cole Valley, is your answer. You and your fam can trek along dirt baths without being too far from home. Baby joggers can tackle the shorter trails, while longer non-stroller friendly paths might have tiny tots requesting a piggyback ride or two.
Don’t Forget: Stop by 9th and Irving St. for a pre-hike brunch or post-hike dinner. There’s a newly opened La Boulange, the ever so loved Arizmendi Bakery, Sunset Bakery (on Judah and 9th), which is known for it’s pineapple buns and strawberry cake, and Manna, an inexpensive and quick Korean food restaurant.
Head south to take in the natural beauty of Pescadero. Naturalists big and small can trail along flat, easy hikes and catch a glimpse of blue heroes, egrets and many other magnificent birds. After getting your day’s worth of exercise, head to Duarte’s Tavern or Arcangeli’s for some amazing food.
Drive from the City: About 1 hour
Don’t Forget: Bring a pair of binoculars so that you can see the birds up close and personal. Or if farm animals are more your style, visit Harley Goat Farm for a tour of a real working farm and dinner (must RSVP/sign-up in advance).
photo: Rebecca Shiraev via flickr
Destination: Menlo Park
Nestled between Redwood City and Palo Alto, this destination offers up unexpected delights. You’ll find a treasured book store founded by a peace activist, a park featuring a pond with turtles and koi fish and an eatery specializing in pancakes.
Drive from the City: about 45 minutes
Don’t Forget: If you find yourself in Menlo Park or nearby on Monday, head to The Willows Market 4:30-8 p.m. for a food truck gathering.
You know Burlingame as a tight-knit community and hot spot for families, but in recent years the town has undergone a transformation with hip eateries, shops and fitness studios putting down roots. Take the day to explore this booming borough that includes an indoor trampoline park, an organic cafe and a cool shop that sells sustainable women’s clothing (and a fab kids collection called Podots).
Drive from the City: about 20 minutes
Don’t Forget: Drop into Sky High Sports for some high flying fun. They have a special kids area just for those under eight years old. And, they have wi-fi if you need to hop online while the kids play.
Destination: Pacific Grove
Hikers are going to love Pacific Grove, aka “Butterfly town USA.” Hiking at Point Lobos State Reserve also means a chance to see adorable sea lions, otters and even deer. Tidepool with the little ones at Asilomar Beach, or visit the Point Pinos Lighthouse, the oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast.
Drive from the City: About 2 hours
Don’t Forget: The coast can get windy, so bring an extra jacket and comfortable shoes for the walk.
You don’t have to be a part of the tech industry to enjoy a day out in Sunnyvale. Here you can play on a pirate ship, putt a hole-in-one on a mini golf course and nosh on eats in the historic downtown district. Most of Sunnyvale’s family destinations are within a few miles of each other so expect to spend minimal time in the car (score!).
Drive from the City: about 50 minutes
Don’t Forget: It’s no surprise that Seven Seas Park with the new pirate ship playground is a popular attraction. If the parking lots are full, don’t hesitate to park on one of the neighborhood side streets.
What are your favorite day trips? Share the love in the comments below!
— Christal Yuen and Erin Lem