East Bay? OK! (Kid-friendly edition)
January 7, 2019 12:13 PM   Subscribe

Uncovering kid-friendly East Bay/Northern CA gems within ~2 hours of Benicia/Vallejo?

I'll be taking kids (7 and 9) to Benicia/Vallejo to visit grandparents over spring break first week of April. Grandparent mobility is highly limited, so I'm seeking unique and/or quirky day trips within one-to-two hour driving distance for the three of us. We'll be coming from Minnesota so whatever gets us outside and in natural world would be ideal, as would anything unique to CA history and/or topography.

Examples of what we've loved during past visits:

Stumbling upon the town of Locke en route to Sacramento

Jack London State Park and historic home

Point Reyes (where we had an unexpected encounter with an elephant seal)

Children's Fairyland in Oakland

Avatar's restaurant in Sausalito (recommendations for vegetarian-friendly Indian, Mexican, or Thai welcome!!)

What I'm not looking for:
San Francisco or city activities
Consumer-driven destinations / shopping malls
Six-Flags type amusement parks

We have visited Muir Woods, Mill Valley, and Sausalito before. Bonus points for anything en route to Sacramento so we might visit other family members.

NB: I'm a native Californian and am aware that it will not be "warm" that time of year, but by Jove it will be warmer than Minneapolis, so we want to spend as much time in fresh air as possible.
posted by thenewbrunette to Travel & Transportation around Northern California, CA (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Tolay Lake Regional Park just opened!
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:19 PM on January 7, 2019

Funcheap occasionally has child friendly events listed. it changes over time, so you need to track it yourself.
posted by blob at 12:31 PM on January 7, 2019

Best answer: Depending upon your kids interests, the Niles Silent Film Museum and the related area is nice. Niles is a sub-community of Fremont, separated by hills into its own village.
posted by blob at 12:34 PM on January 7, 2019

Best answer: I love the steam train that goes through Tilden Park--the route really feels like you're out exploring in the middle of nowhere. It's also near the Tilden Little Farm, a fun petting zoo.
posted by pinochiette at 12:34 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Albany Bulb is a former autonomous community that is now a sculpture park with trails and glorious views of the bay. There's a rope swing on the lower beach, lots of happy dogs being walked, and plenty of fun nooks and crannies to explore.
posted by ananci at 12:41 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Mt Diablo!! One of California's topography treasures! It claims to have the largest viewshed of the western US. It's also a pretty wild drive getting up there with sweeping views of the bay area, and there's a visitor center at the top.
posted by blueberrypuffin at 12:44 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are all amazing - thank you! Please keep 'em coming, MeFi!
posted by thenewbrunette at 12:46 PM on January 7, 2019

I was going to mention Niles as well, you can take a heritage train between Niles and Sunol.

Also on the train front, I enjoyed the train ride between Emeryville and Sacramento - it hugs the bay so you can see some parts of it that you can't see by car. You might be able to pick it up somewhere closer to you, but I can't recall which parts of the ride are the most scenic. The train museum in Sacramento is worthwhile.

I like the Oakland Museum.
posted by vunder at 12:46 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley. Combines nicely with nearby UCB Botanical Garden which is very beautiful and very pleasant; kids can run around pretty freely, so they like it too even if they don't specifically care about exotic trees etc.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:58 PM on January 7, 2019

Best answer: Tilden, not just the steam train and nearby merry-go-round, but also The Little Farm where you can feed cows lettuce and celery (bring your own) and then pet bunnies.

Lawrence Hall of Science (just down the hill from Tilden)

Muir Woods

Cereal Cinema 10:30am Saturdays at The New Parkway Theater in Oakland (parking can be a challenge, though)

BAM/PFA museum in downtown Berkeley

Downtown Petaluma, which is generally a nice walk around in a compact area, and features at its heart the amazing Petaluma Pie Company

Marin French Cheese. Pretty and not too long drive from Vallejo with great cheese and sandwiches and snacks and a nice picnic bench area where you can sit while the kids run around.
posted by zippy at 1:13 PM on January 7, 2019

The Adventure Playground in Berkeley is incredible. Self-directed play where kids can build forts with real tools! Wish we were still in the area so we could take our kids back there.
posted by zsazsa at 1:15 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The John Muir House in Martinez might give the kiddos some insights to the main for whom the Muir Woods are named. There's also a nearby hike on Mt Wanda.
posted by dbmcd at 1:20 PM on January 7, 2019

Berkeley Rose Garden is in the area of Tilden, and across the street from Cordonices Park if the kids get bored with looking at flowers.

Ragged Wing Ensemble is a theatre group that's putting on a show, Time Sensitive, starting April 6.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:44 PM on January 7, 2019

Best answer: The Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in Antioch is about a 40-minute drive from Vallejo. If you drive on Highway 4, you could make a day of it by going to the preserve in the morning and then hitting the John Muir House on your way back.

"From the mid-1920s to the mid-1940s, the Hazel-Atlas Mine produced silica sand to make jars, bottles, and other glass items. Today, tour participants can take a 1309-foot walk into the mine to see mine workings, ore chutes, the shifter's office, and ancient geological features. For safety reasons, you may tour the mine only as part of a guided tour and all participants must be at least seven years old."

(Mine tours usually sell out, according to the website; advanced reservations and early arrival are highly recommended.)

There is also the remnants of a historic cemetery that "serves as a monument to the lives of the former residents. Buried here are children who died in epidemics, women who died in childbirth, and men who died in mining disasters and of other things. Although over 10 nationalities resided in the mining area, Rose Hill Cemetery was a Protestant burial ground, and many of the people buried here were Welsh."

Have fun during your visit!
posted by Bella Donna at 1:58 PM on January 7, 2019

Stockton can be on the way to Sacramento, and it has a buttload of history.

Benicia itself is also a Gold Rush city and the last non-Sacramento capital of California.

Port Chicago is just east of Martinez, and was the site of a large non-nuclear explosion, and then a mutiny.

Less than an hour on the far side of Sacramento is Placerville, more Gold Rush and you could do Sutter's Mill while you're in the area. If you haven't done any Gold Rush yet, you might make a day of this part of the state.
posted by rhizome at 2:20 PM on January 7, 2019

Best answer: If the kids are even remotely into dinosaurs and you are in Berkeley, the Valley Life Sciences Building at UC Berkeley has a T-Rex skeleton, Triceratops skull, and other bones that kids go bonkers over.

You can also take the elevator to the top of the Campanile for a few bucks/person - it's pretty cool.

Lunch at Viks down on 4th street (not the shopping end, the other end) is veggie-friendly and as fun as can be.
posted by gyusan at 2:39 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Oakland Zoo is a gem among zoos in CA IMHO. The newer part at the top of the gondola in particular - wolves, black and grizzly bears, mountain lions, jaguar, bald eagles, cali condors, and a great view of SF from the cafe.
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:32 PM on January 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Benicia to San Jose as a 2hr trip is going to be tight, but the Rosicrucian Museum is kind of special, or at least unusual.
posted by rhizome at 5:50 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

For really good veggie-friendly Indian, check out the new brick and mortar Munch India (they also have an excellent food truck in Emeryville on Tuesdays)
posted by pombe at 8:00 PM on January 7, 2019

Cosumnes River Preserve and Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area close to Sacramento hosts large colonies of bats. It is a spectacular sight to see. Best if you can rent a watercraft and view this on the river. https://baynature.org/2013/07/25/yolo-bats/
posted by gloturtle at 1:51 PM on January 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

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