Got a day off as a family and wondering where to go that’s closer to the Bay than Apple Hill?
We have compiled our top recommendations for day trips near and around San Francisco Bay Area. These places are conveniently located and within 3 hours of drive from San Francisco, making them the perfect local destinations for families with kids. Find out more about each of them below and be sure to tag us on social media (IG: @sfbayarea.moms) to share your adventures!
Top day trip destinations for San Francisco Bay Area families:
1. LEGOLAND Discovery Center Bay Area
Jump into a world of creativity, color, and playful learning this summer at LEGOLAND Discovery Center Bay Area, the ultimate indoor LEGO® playground! Enjoy an interactive LEGO-themed ride and a 4D cinema where your favorite LEGO characters come to life. Explore MINILAND Bay Area, featuring local landmarks made from over a million bricks, and get hands-on in LEGO-themed build-and-play areas where kids’ imaginations can explore endless possibilities. Conveniently located inside the Great Mall in Milpitas, just minutes off I-680.
2. City of Gilroy
The city of Gilroy with my family in a completely different light. We visited Gilroy as tourists. I grew up just 20 minutes south of Gilroy, in Watsonville, CA. As kids, we did our Christmas shopping at the Gilroy Premium Outlets. Gradeschool field trips happened at Gilroy Gardens, and we attended Gilroy’s Garlic Festival every summer. Coming from Watsonville, we usually stopped to picnic or camp at Mount Madonna, the mountain that connects the neighboring towns. Gilroy, like Watsonville, will always feel like home to me. That is why this weekend was particularly unique. Seeing Gilroy as a tourist made it feel brand new. I highly recommend visiting this beautiful area (or re-visiting, like me) filled with wineries, shops, and fun.
3. Half Moon Bay
Half Moon Bay is famous for its sandy shorelines
One of my favorite destinations for a family day-trip from San Francisco is beautiful Half Moon Bay, where my husband and I have been taking our now ten and twelve-year-old daughters since they were babies. With its bucolic fields of flowers, artichokes and pumpkins, gorgeous beaches and charming Main Street, this small, coastal town feels a world away, despite being only twenty-five miles south of San Francisco.
So, what is there to do with kids in Half Moon Bay? Here are eleven things that my family has enjoyed over the years, some better for younger kids and others for older kids, some seasonal and some good year-round. You’ll need to visit more than once to tackle all of them, so start by picking one or two and head on down for a day-trip to Half Moon Bay.
4. Tilden Regional Park
Besides being a fantastic place for picnics, Tilden Park has a lot to offer families! There are hiking options for every age and fitness level, as well as destinations such as Lake Anza, Tilden Park Botanical Gardens, Little Farm, Merry-Go-Round, and more! Our favorite activity is a ride on the miniature Tilden Steam Train. Pro tip: the train is pet-friendly!
5. Coastal Marin
We love to discover Coastal Marin! There are plenty of kid-friendly hiking trails along the coastline, or you can easily fill a whole day exploring Point Reyes. There’s kayaking and whale watching as well for the older kids. If you stop by at the right season, bring your binoculars along and check out the majestic elephant seals. Alternatively, you may learn more about elephant seals and the rehablitation of marine creatures at the Marine Mammal Center.
6. Brentwood U-Pick Farms
There are a great variety of u-pick farms and orchards in Brentwood. From cherries to pumpkins to Christmas trees, there’s something for families during most of the year. We love that most of the Brentwood farms are family-run or women-owned!
7. Golden Gate Park
Located in the heart of San Francisco, Golden Gate Park is a large urban park that is often pegged up against New York’s Central Park. Our city park is full of treasures and is home to some of San Francisco’s most-visited attractions, including the Japanese Tea Garden, the San Francisco Botanical Garden, the de Young Museum, and the California Academy of Sciences. It will take at least a full day to enjoy all that this park has to offer!
8. Santa Cruz
We all know the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, but did you know that Santa Cruz county is full of other hidden gems? They have 14 state parks, wineries, museums, farmer’s markets, surfing, shopping, and plenty of family fun activities. Some of the stops to make during your day trip include the Santa Cruz Wharf, the Seymour Marine Discovery Center, the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, and the Big Foot Discovery Museum. Traveling with small children or grandparents? Hop aboard Roaring Camp Railroads and take an hour-long ride through a forest filled with century-old redwood trees.
9. Old Town Sacramento
Old Sacramento State Historic Park is a cluster of noteworthy, early Gold Rush commercial structures. If you’re a fan of old towns and old Western movies, you’ll enjoy a day of exploring this California Historical Landmark. Take an underground tour or check out the museums around town before going aboard the California State Railroad Museum’s excursion railroad for a 50-minute round trip ride along the scenic Sacramento!
10. Monterey Peninsula
Home of the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Monterey Peninsula is often at the top of the list for our family day trip destinations. Of course, this destination is perfect for a multi-day family vacation, but if you only have a day to fill, a drive down there is definitely doable! Take a trek down the Old Fisherman’s Wharf before stopping by Dennis the Menace Park, or visit the quaint seaside town of Carmel before taking in the breathtaking views at Big Sur.