The San Francisco Bay Area offers so many great family activities and unique spots to explore, why would anyone ever leave?
But maybe, just maybe, your family decides to get away for a change of scenery, perhaps to be in a different climate or just take a break from the daily routine. If so, we’ve got some recommendations for you: some of our favorite spots within a half-day’s drive from home.
Monterey: About two hours
You could easily spend a full day enjoying the many exhibits and animals at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It also provides an excellent foundation for future explorations along the California coast. After our son learned at the Aquarium about the sea otters’ habit of floating on their backs in kelp beds, he searched every visible one on the rest of our coastal drive, spotting hundreds of otters in the wild. “Edutainment” at its best!
Our son Baltazar kayaking in Morro Bay
Morro Bay: About four hours
Morro Bay is another coastal family favorite and a good home base for a visit to Hearst Castle. The beautiful bay is capped by giant Morro Rock rock that gets larger and more imposing as you approach it. We took our son for his first sea kayaking experience on the calm waters of the bay and were delighted when a seal swam along side us for a portion of the trip!
Sacramento: Less than two hours
Heading away from the water, Sacramento is much more than a fast-food stop on the way to Tahoe. Visiting the state capitol is a must-do right of passage for kids, and they’ll learn a bit of history at the California State Railroad History Museum. Plus, the Sacramento River offers opportunities for boating, fishing and swimming. You can also head towards the Sierra Nevada Mountains for a family rafting trip on the American River.
Lake Tahoe: Three to four hours
Of course, Lake Tahoe is a great all-season resort for families with skiing in the winter, hiking in the spring and fall, and swimming and boating in the summer. You can choose from different types of resort properties here—many with mid-week and off-season discounts—as well as a huge supply of comfortable vacation rental homes. We like to relax, read and play games for by the fireplace on chilly nights.
Yosemite: About three and a half hours
It’s hard to think of a more awe-inspiring place than Yosemite Valley. While this popular national park can be crowded during the summer, it’s a great place for a spring or fall visit. Enjoy a stay at the historic Ahwahnee Lodge or in one of the tent cabins at Curry Village. It’s hard not to notice and appreciate the many different ways the sunlight illuminates the canyon walls throughout the day. And even if it rains, you’ll be rewarded with brilliant waterfalls afterwards. If you visit in summer, take a day to explore the less-visited Tuolumne Meadows area (closed in the winter).
Sequoia: About four hours
While many visitors to Sequoia spend just a few hours seeing the highlights, we recommend spending at least a night or two there, either in the Lodgepole Village campground or in a cabin at General Grant Grove. Doing so will give you more time to walk and play among these gentle giants, and to explore some lesser-known sites in the park. We visited with our son and nephews on a summer weekend, and the Crystal Cave tour was a big highlight. The half-day adventure included a short hike into the cave, using flashlights to explore the dark parts, and walking on boardwalks above a running stream once inside.
Exploring Sequoia with Balta and his cousins
Costanoa: Less than two hours
Finally, closer to home, the Costanoa Resort north of Santa Cruz is an incredible family-friendly spot to get close to nature while enjoying a few vacation comforts, including a restaurant featuring organic local foods. There’s a wide range of accommodations, including lodge rooms, cabins with fireplaces, and comfortable tent cabins. There are no TVs at Costanoa—and the cabins have shared bathhouses—but really nice ones with fireplaces as well! The beach is a short hike away, and you’re far away from the crowds and noise of Santa Cruz’s boardwalk. Once on a spring visit a few years ago, we sat mesmerized for nearly 30 minutes watching a sea lion tend to her newborn cub while waves crashed around them on their rocky perch.
Former Californians now living in Austin, Texas, Steve and his husband Carmine have an adopted son Baltazar (18). The great family travel memories they’ve built together inspired Steve to start gayfamilytrips.com, a website devoted to the topic of gay family travel.