Five Best Day Trips from the Bay Area

Ana Picazo - San Francisco Bay Area
May 4, 2011

The sun is out and summer is approaching... it's time to hit the road!  If your little one has explored each and every blade of grass at your local park and you're looking for a bigger adventure, it's time to plan a day trip. Fortunately there are a myriad of kid-friendly day trips from the Bay Area, and we've gathered five of the best ones for you. Each one is no more than a ninety-minute drive from anywhere in the Bay Area, and each one is guaranteed to provide a fun day out for you and your little ones.  So pack a lunch, strap on your seat belts and get ready to spend the day at one of these five fun places:


Safari West
It may not be Africa, but it's close! With animals roaming and running free just feet away from you, Safari West in Santa Rosa is the closest you'll get without a passport. Their three-hour safari experience puts you among some of the world's most exotic creatures, such as giraffes, gazelles, and zebra. You'll start with a walk around the Safari West aviary and primate grounds, then board an authentic safari vehicle around a wildlife preserve. Safari West also has luxury tent accommodations for those who want to make a weekend adventure out of it. So grab your pith helmet and water bottle, and try to snag a seat at the top of the safari vehicle -- you could literally have giraffes eating out of your hand!

Roaring Camp Railroad
Train enthusiasts, young and old, will enjoy Roaring Camp Railroad. Located in Felton, they run train excursions up and down Bear Mountain as well as to and from Santa Cruz beach. Each train trip combines the thrill of riding an old-fashioned steam or diesel engine with the pleasure of riding through the redwood forests in the Santa Cruz mountain area. The railroad also hosts special themed trains for Easter, Halloween, the holidays and other occasions, as well as the popular Day Out With Thomas events. In addition to your train trip (one hour round-trip for the mountain journey or three hours round-trip for the beach journey), allow an extra hour or two to explore Base Camp. They've got an old-fashioned train depot, complete with attendants in vintage clothing, an antique photo shop, a nifty souvenir store with penny (okay, 50 cent) candy and plenty of space for the little ones to run around. You can take a picnic lunch and enjoy it on the grounds, or succumb to the sizzling sounds and heady smells of their barbecue lunch.

Jelly Belly Factory
The world's most famous jelly bean company holds free 40-minute factory tours at their Fairfield plant, just an hour's drive north of San Francisco.  Jelly Belly tour guides take you around a real working factory, where you'll see how they cook up all their sweet treats (factory workers do not come on weekends so they show videos instead). Little ones will love watching robot arms pick up boxes of jelly beans and place them on conveyor belts, where they'll roll along on their way. The aroma of real chocolate, peach, pineapple or whatever flavor they're making is mouth-watering, and so are the free samples you'll get along the tour.  Afterwards, have a jelly bean-shaped pizza or hamburger at the Jelly Belly Cafe. Don't forget to stop by the factory store on the way home where you can pick up Jelly Belly treats, including their famous "belly flops," a pack of not-quite-perfect Jelly Belly beans, at a great bargain.

Monterey Bay Aquarium
When parents plan a trip to Monterey, their thoughts usually turn to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and for good reason: with over 623 marine species featured in over 200 award-winning exhibits, almost two million people visit the aquarium every year, making it one of California's most popular attractions and the nation's No. 1 aquarium. There's so much to do and see at the aquarium, you'll need at least three hours to enjoy it. Some don't miss attractions are the mesmerizing jellyfish, the swaying kelp forest, the otter tanks (especially during feeding times!) and the deep sea fish tank with the giant sunfish. Get your hand stamped and take a lunch break just outside the aquarium at Cannery Row, where you can enjoy clam chowder or fish and chips. Then head back inside and let your little ones run around the aquarium's Splash Zone, where they can touch sea stars and splash around in the water play area.

Ano Nuevo State Park
You can't beat Ano Nuevo State Park for nature hiking and wildlife spotting.  Many animals call this area home, including pelicans, sandpipers, sea otters, bobcats, coyotes, mountain lions, foxes -- and elephant seals.  Ano Nuevo's beach is the location of the largest mainland breeding colony of seal elephants, and they can be viewed on the beach at Ano Nuevo almost year-round. Guided tours are offered from Dec 15 to Mar 31, when the elephant seals come to the shore to give birth to their pups and to mate.  During the rest of the year visitors can do the three mile round trip unaccompanied.  It's not a stroll in the park: pathways are rugged and bumpy and you should plan to spend a couple of hours walking and viewing, but little ones love it and it is possible to push a stroller most of the way.  After you've worked up an appetite walking through the bracing sea air, stop by Barbara's Fish Trap at Princeton-by-the-Sea for the best fish and chips on the West Coast.

From the Parents

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