Fun things to do with Kids in Northern California

Hellooooooooo!!! I hope you all are having the best summer! It has been a bit since I have posted over here (which I warned you about in this post here). It has been a great break, and the kids and I have settled into a pretty solid 3 musketeers routine with the Mr. gone. I’d even say that my sanity is still relatively intact, which is a surprising bonus. I will admit on several occasions to trying to convince my kids that 6:00 pm is a reasonable bedtime for everyone (without success, ah the pitfalls of having older children who can tell time), and I also admit to watching more than my fair share of Bravo at night, but the end is in sight! The Mr. comes home soon, and we can’t wait to try to cram an entire summer with him into the 3 weeks left before school starts. Fun things to do with Kids in Northern California

We did make it on our big California trip a few weeks ago to visit him at Stanford’s graduate school of business, and thanks to all of your fabulous suggestions, we had the best time! I had lots of requests to share some of our favorite things in a blog post for you all since I wasn’t able to share much on Instagram stories. We spent a little time exploring a different city/place each day, so I’ll break it down for you (for reference my kiddos are 8 and 11), but I think most of the stuff we did would work for a slightly younger/older crew too.

Day 1 – Stanford/Palo Alto:  First up, we picked up the Mr. from class to explore Stanford’s campus and to get the grand tour of his dorm and the beautiful grounds. It’s truly such a beautiful historic campus our kids actually enjoyed exploring it.

A picture of Standford CampusA large tall tower with a clock on the side of Coit Tower

Well, in reality, our very first stop once we landed in California was actually In-N-Out Burger for cheeseburgers. I hadn’t had one in 10 years and I was excited to introduce my kids to the fine delicacy of a cheeseburger animal style. It did not disappoint! My daughter was trying to work thru the logistics of packing several take home burgers for the flight home. ;)

A couple of people sitting at a table eating a hamburger

We spent the afternoon in downtown Palo Alto and had the best pizza at Pizzeria Delfina in their adorable courtyard space. After, we walked around with ice cream cones from Salt & Straw (the Coffee Cashew Praline and Strawberries Tres Leches were my personal fave flavors). It’s just such a pretty town to explore.

A photo of ice cream cones

Day 2 – San Francisco:  The Exploratorium in San Francisco was our day two destination and it was so fun! It’s sort of a Science Museum/Children’s museum/really fun hands-on experience where you are encouraged to touch all the things and explore different concepts from music, energy, space, and human behavior. It was all super educational and packaged in a fun way. We had to drag our kids out of there after 4 hours because we were starving and wanted to see the rest of the city.

A group of people sitting at a desk

We headed to Pier 39 for lunch, which is a fun (kind of touristy) section of Fishermans Wharf with tons of restaurants and shops. I would have loved to explore more of the restaurant scene in SF with the Mr., but my kids tend to be picky eaters so this was a great place to take them. We ate at Pier Market Seafood and the clam chowder and shrimp and crab roll were great, plus they had a good kid’s menu.

A group of people standing in front of a building

After lunch, we went to the Presidio and hiked the Batteries to Bluffs Trail. This was a very cool area and our kids loved exploring on the rocks. The views were beautiful even with the fog.

Kids sitting on a rock near the ocean

Our kids were pretty beat after this long hike so we headed back to our Airbnb (I was not impressed with anywhere we stayed so I, unfortunately, don’t have any good recs here) with takeout. The 3 hour time difference was a little screwy for the kids with only a 5-day trip.

Day 3 – Big Basin:  Big Basin Redwoods State Park was a great beginner hike that was still challenging for our kids, but not too hard that they couldn’t keep up. We did the sequoia trail and loved the entire hike. Make sure you pack lots of water and snacks to keep your campers happy. This park was so beautiful and the trees were amazing to look at. We didn’t see one of the famed banana slugs, but the Mr. was a great navigator and my kids were in awe of nature and all of its beauty.

A large tree in a forest

A tree in a forest

A group of people sitting on a bench next to a tree

Day 4 – Santa Cruz:  Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Amusement Park may have been my kid’s favorite stop on the trip. My kids love rides, fairs, and amusement parks. The old school historic beach vibe of this place was so charming. It was built in 1907 and boasts one of the oldest roller coasters in the U.S. Not to mention while waiting in line, you can enjoy the ocean views and pretend you are having a relaxing day on the beach.

Amusement park ride in California

I liked that you could do the rides in the am and hit the beach in the afternoon, or vice versa.

A group of people on a beach

My thrill-seeking kids rode every ride in the park (I possibly sat out a few of the spinny ones – thanks to the Mr. for taking one for the team on that), we ate snowcones and deep-fried everything. It was such a fun day!

An amusement park ride

Day 5 – Monterey:  Monterey Bay Aquarium has a jellyfish exhibit that was hands down the favorite with my kids. I think my daughter took 4,000 photos of them since they were so beautiful. Unfortunately, the Mr. had to go back to class, but he got to re-live our excitement through all of our photos we took later that evening at the Airbnb.

Jellyfish in a tank

A jellyfish in a tank

The otters were fun to watch as well. My kids liked the aquarium a lot and it could not be in a more beautiful location. I do think we are a little spoiled as we have been to Shedd Aquarium in Chicago quite a few times.

Tropical fish in a tank

Being honest, they both prefer Shedd, but this was a fun day trip anyway. Plus the town is so cute to walk around that we did a little shopping and sightseeing.

A large bay of water

I wish we had had more time to explore and drive further down the coast to southern CA. Unfortunately, the Mr. only had one long weekend off of his program at Stanford, so we really crammed in a lot of fun into a few days!

Fun things to do with Kids in Northern California

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  1. What a wonderful trip! I am from NorCal but living in West Michigan (Holland) now, and your pics reminded me of so many good memories! It makes me want to take my kids home and show them more! I just found your blog as I was looking for window boxes-excited to try your tips! Thanks!!

  2. Ditto. As a native SF Bay Area gal, you made really good choices of places to visit As a child I spent many days at Santa Cruz Boardwalk. I can’t believe my parents gave my sister and I some money and off we went enjoy the rides on our own.

  3. How wonderful that you got to visit my backyard I love things that you got to see in California it’s such a picturesque state hope you didn’t get stuck into much traffic and hopefully the weather cooperated for you San Francisco can be very cold in July. I’m glad your family had a wonderful time and congratulations to your husband

  4. As a long time Californian (with family from Michigan), I am glad you got to experience a bit of California! You picked great spots to visit. There is so much to see, we feel we hardly need to leave the state for a vacation. And we all love in-and-out just as much. :-)

  5. So awesome to see you got to visit so much of Nor Cal! And very cool for me to see that you and the family experienced places I have gone & loved myself.
    Used to live in Santa Cruz, worked in Monterey, visited Big Basin as a kid.
    Hope all was fun!

  6. My daughter wants to take a trip to San Francisco. I’ve been hesitant because of what has been on the national news(poop maps, drug needles, etc). Did you have any similar experiences while out and about walking around?

    1. We were sort of in the touristy area most of the time so it was pretty clean. We did see some poo…We hadn’t been there in 12 years and it’s definitely changed a bit.

  7. Love all the sites you visited – its on my bucket list to see Northern California some day. Your pictures of the aquarium were so gorgeous! Great, fun experience for all of you to enjoy. I hope the Mr. gets back home soon!

  8. I’m so glad you had a wonderful time during your amazing adventures! Maybe a family scrapbook project is in order. :-) Thanks for sharing your photos and comments.

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