Looking to go on a California road trip with kids? We’ve done two this year alone, our first a Southern California road trip done via an RV visiting Huntington Beach, Oceanside, and Anza Borrego park. Now we’ve completed a Northern California road trip, specifically the Family Learning Adventure from Visit California’s 50 Amazing Road Trips. This road trip was completed on Veteran’s Day weekend as my eldest daughter who is in Elementary School had a day off giving us a three-day weekend. Utilizing holiday’s is one way to travel frequently with full-time jobs and school.
California Road Trip with Kids: Our Family Learning Adventure Itinerary
We started our road trip by flying into San Jose and leaving from San Francisco but you can do the trip in reverse taking into account best flight times and costs. You can also fly round-trip into either airport instead of flying into one and departing from another as the airport are only an hour from each other. However, with our short weekend we decided it was best to maximize our time in our destinations versus driving to a farther airport. Traveling with kids means additional costs so we use these sites to find the best flight deals leaving more funds for the fun stuff.
Once we landed at San Jose International Airport we picked up our rental car and then made our way to Hotel Valencia where we’d be staying for the night. The hotel is on Santana Row, a lively area filled with shops and restaurants. This made it very convenient to find dinner after landing late at night. Check out more reviews of Hotel Valencia here and book here for the best rates.
California Road Trip with Kids: Day One of Our Family Learning Adventure
The Tech Interactive Museum
After having breakfast at the complimentary buffet at Hotel Valencia it was time to kick off the fun. We started the first day of our California road trip with kids at the Tech Interactive Museum. This museum is heaven for anyone interested in or who wants to be introduced to STEM education. My daughters were able to learn how to build their own robot, created to pick up trash from the ocean floor. They are true beach bums so it was amazing seeing them being educated on something so important.
Other highlights of the museum was the earthquake simulator and space exhibit. My daughters are still talking about how much fun they had at this museum, it was definitely the highlight of the trip for them and literal tears were shed when I said it was time to go! The museum is open from 10AM-5PM and tickets range from $20-$25 for general admission. It’s important to note that the museum is closed annually for maintenance, this year that was September 3-13th so be sure to check on this prior to solidifying your dates.
Lunch at Olla Cocina
Five minutes drive from the Tech Interactive is Olla Cocina, where we had lunch. The food was excellent and the portions were plentiful! Just a heads up your children can 100% percentage share a kids meal. The kids burrito was about the size of two Chipotle burritos put together and the quesadilla had 4-5 huge pieces. My salmon was cooked to perfection and seasoned so well, we had a great meal here.
The Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose
After stuffing our faces we headed to the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose. It’s a must on any Northern California road trip with kids. The museum is two floors of non-stop fun. My girls enjoyed learning about other cultures in the international food market, becoming an artist in the art studio and dressing up as firefighters and driving the fire truck the museum has. The museum is open anywhere from 10AM-5PM depending on the day of the week but closed every Monday. Adults and kids are $15 with infants under one being free.
After spending a few hours at the museum it was time to leave San Jose and drive to Monterey. Lucky for me the girls had a busy day so I didn’t have to worry much about entertaining them on the drive as they napped the entire way. When we arrived we headed to Fisherman’s Wharf where we had dinner. The wharf is lined with restaurants, chocolate shops, and whale watching tours!
California Road Trip with Kids: Day Two of Our Family Learning Adventure
We kicked off our morning in Monterey by cheering on the runners of the Monterey Half Marathon. We didn’t know anyone racing but it was so much fun watching them accomplish such an amazing feat. I highly recommend always checking out the local events going on in the cities you’re visiting. When we were in Oceanside we found out there was a surf competition during our time visiting, something we never get to see at home.
A Visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium
After watching people as young as 8 and as old as 80 complete a 13.1 mile run we headed to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It is by far the best aquarium I’ve ever been too and it was just as magical this visit as it was on my first. We immediately went to the Splash Zone on the second floor. You cannot skip this area when visiting the aquarium with kids. As soon as they walk into the Coral Reef Kingdom section they will be greeted by a tank filled with “Dory’s and Nemo’s. The excitement on my daughters faces and in their voice is a moment I’ll never forget.
The best part of this area are all of the interactive sections for kids. There are multiple touch tanks where they can feel the animals, play games, see penguins get fed and even a playground. They did not want to leave here at all, I had to drag them out so we could check out the jellyfish. The aquarium is open everyday except Christmas with adult admission costing $49.95, children 3-17 $29.95, and kids under three free. Most days the aquarium is open 10AM-5PM but on random weekends they open 9:30AM-6PM so check here before you go.
Even on a road trip with kids parents have to have some fun too. Watching the jellyfish has always been my favorite part of aquariums. I find staring at them so calming and peaceful. The variety of jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium is so large. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
Lunch at the Fish Hopper
After taking in all the beautiful underwater creatures we walked down Cannery Row to have lunch. We attempted to eat Bubba Gump Shrimp but the wait was an hour and just not doable with two toddlers. If you want to eat here I suggest making a reservation in advance if they take them. We ended up at the Fish Hopper and were happy with the gorgeous water view and great seafood.
Enjoying the Beach on Cannery Row
Before getting on the road to San Francisco, a two and a half to three hour drive the best thing to do on your California road trip with kids is to tire them out! So I did just that by letting them run around and play in the sand.
Dinner at Dumpling Time
When we arrived in San Francisco, it was time for dinner. Dumpling Time is where we were dining and while it opens at 5PM on Sunday there was already a line forming by 4:45. After we ate I knew exactly why, the food here is phenomenal. My favorite dish was the seafood gyoza.
Hotel Zephyr: Our San Francisco Hotel
After dinner we checked into our hotel Hotel Zephyr. It’s a super chic hotel 5 minutes walking distance from Pier 39. The rooms are modern and the lobby has so much to offer. There is a huge game room with a pool table, ping pong table, board games, and TVs. To top that off there is an amazing outdoor space with three fire pits, a life size connect four game and the cutest airstream coffee shop. Check out more reviews of Hotel Zephyr here and book here for the best rates.
California Road Trip with Kids: Day Three of Our Family Learning Adventure
It was our last day in California and we kicked off the day taking a Bay Cruise on the Red and White Fleet. The cruise leaves from Pier 43 ½ and lasts one hour. You’ll first cruise to the Golden Gate Bridge where you can admire it from up close and below. Then you’ll sail past Alcatraz all while getting the opportunity to see wildlife in the sea. Adults are $34pp, kids are $25 and kids under 5 are free.
Enjoying Pier 39
After a wonderful cruise we headed to Pier 39. The Pier is filled with shops, restaurants, an aquarium, carousel and even a free magic show! The girls favorite part was watching the sea lions from there pier. There have to be at least 100 of them sunbathing and they love listening to the noises they make and singing back at them in return.
Lunch at Pier Market
If you get hungry while at Pier 30 like we did and want a nice sit-down lunch I recommend dining at the Pier Market. The kids menu has healthy options like salmon as well as kids favorites like chicken nuggets.
California Academy of Sciences
After lunch we left Pier 39 to drive to the California Academy of Sciences. It has a rainforest, planetarium, aquarium and more. Our favorite was definitely the rainforest. You walk into a secure area which is about 4-5 stories high. You walk up a ramp and as you do you see animals at each level. There are butterflies flying around, yellow frogs, snakes, crickets, and various birds. It’s climate controlled and humid just like the rainforest so keep your jackets off while in here.
Unfortunately we missed the last planetarium show as we ended up staying in the rainforest for quite a while. We did get to roam through the aquarium though as well as walk through the open exhibit. The California Academy of Sciences is open Monday – Saturday: 9:30 am – 5 pm and Sunday: 11 am – 5 pm. They have variable pricing, meaning depending on the day/time of year admission rates vary so it’s best to check here directly to see the pice for the dates you plan to visit.
If the kids need a break after exploring there is a huge playground if you make a right coming out of the parking garage, about 3 minutes drive down.
Sunset at Baker Beach
If you want a nice place to watch the sunset Baker Beach is it. With amazing views of the ocean, the mountains of Sausalito, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Bring a blanket and some snacks and relax as the sun goes down!
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Unfortunately our California road trip with kids was coming to an end. We were catching a red-eye back to Miami so we did still have some time before we had to be at the airport. There are a few museums open late which was great for our late departure. Between Madam Tussauds and the Museum of 3D Illusions we chose the latter. The museum is open from 10am-10pm and costs $25 for adults, $12 for kids 6-12 and kids 5 and under are free. Look how cool the painting are, it looks like my daughter is actually sitting on the seat on a train but it’s a painting on the wall.
After the museum we headed to the airport to return our car rental and check in. We had the most amazing California road trip with kids exploring the Family Learning Adventure in the Bay Area. Since we only had a 3 day weekend for our trip we did the shortened version. However, if you have more time you can complete the entire 6 day itinerary, check it out here. If you’re interested in other California destinations check out my baecation itinerary from my Santa Barbara trip and my ski trip in Lake Tahoe. Did you find this article helpful? Please share it!