Located in central California, San Jose is a wonderful travel destination that can also serve as a base of operations for more travel. It's so centrally located that you'll be within two hours of countless other towns, cities, beaches, state parks, and more. Here are just a few hot spots located within easy traveling distance — check out these day trips from San Jose!
1. San Francisco
Alcatraz. The Golden Gate Bridge. Pier 39. San Francisco is filled with world-famous tourist attractions, and your family could definitely make some memories among them. From eating ice cream on the beach to making faces at the monkeys at the zoo, there's so much adventure to be found in San Fran that you'll never be able to fit it all into a single trip.
The good news is that San Francisco is located less than an hour from San Jose, and there's a direct route available for cars and buses alike. If the kids beg you to go back, you can visit over and over again without any trouble. Twin Peaks. Union Square. The Walt Disney Family Museum. Truly, the fun never stops in San Francisco, which is why it'll be such a great day trip for you and the fam!
With its mid-century architecture, Alameda looks like a town that time has forgotten. It has a quaint and charming vibe that's apparent everywhere from its mom-and-pop diners to its vintage movie theater marquees. It also has numerous museums that celebrate days gone by, including the Pacific Pinball Museum with more than 90 antique pinball machines!
Other fun destinations at Alameda include the monthly Alameda Point Antiques Faire, the largest of its kind in the state, as well as everyday attractions such as maritime USS Hornet Museum and the Crab Cove Visitor Center.
Ultimately, however, you don't go to Alameda for the attractions. You go for the vibe. If you've always wanted to show your kids what the world looked like before it was overtaken by smartphones, a stroll down Alameda's main street can paint a vivid picture.
3. Santa Cruz
If you love the sun and surf of San Jose, you won't want to miss Santa Cruz. It's just 30 minutes by car and 50 minutes by direct bus route, and the latter costs less than $5. You can hop aboard and be on your way in no time!
What awaits you in Santa Cruz? To be honest, it's quite like San Jose, especially in the beach department. It has miles of coastline, tons of water-based activities, and lots of fun, kitschy tourist shops and seafood shacks. It also has the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk teeming with games, rides, activities, food, drink, and music.
If you love San Jose and aren't ready to leave it just yet, stop by Santa Cruz for more of the same.
If you're looking for good day trips out of San Jose, consider putting Gilroy on your shortlist… as long as you aren't Dracula. Known as the “garlic capital of the world,” Gilroy is most famous for the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival. Thousands of visitors descend on the town each year to enjoy everything from garlic fries to garlic tacos to garlic ice cream.
If you're feeling vampirish, however, you don't have to eat any garlic. There are plenty of other fun things to do in Gilroy. You can shop at Gilroy Premium Outlet, a gigantic mall; you can go cherry-picking through U Pick Orchards; you can let the kids play games and hop on rides at the Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park. It's a very family-oriented destination, so visitors of all ages can enjoy themselves.
5. Ano Nuevo State Park
Nature lovers, this one is for you. Ano Nuevo State Park offers some of the most gorgeous natural scenery in California, in no small part because of its pure, unspoiled nature reserves dedicated to local wildlife.
Its most famous inhabitants are its elephant seals. Every year, more than 10,000 seals migrate to the rocky coastlines to molt, mate, and give birth; it's a sight right out of National Geographic. Other animals in the area include otters, lions, coyotes, red-legged frogs, garter snakes, and dozens of species of birds and fish.
If you're looking to make magical memories with your children, consider a once-in-a-lifetime experience like observing the elephant seals at Ano Nuevo State Park.
Though it's known primarily for its college, Berkeley is unlike many other college towns. It's something of an arts and culture hot spot, offering an enriching experience for foodies, art lovers, history buffs, and other people who enjoy the finer things in life.
Attractions at Berkeley include everything from the UC Botanical Garden to the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. You can wander art galleries; you can watch plays and theater performances; you can take expansive food and drink tours. There's even a planetarium inside the Lawrence Hall of Science if you want to leave your terrestrial body behind and fly among the stars.
You can tour the campus of UC Berkeley, too. Encourage your kids to study hard and come back as students one day!
All in all, Berkeley can be a wonderful place to visit for those who want to shake off the sand for awhile and experience a nicer atmosphere. Conveniently located near San Jose, it's road trip material for sure.
7. Napa Valley
It would be a crime to visit California without stopping by wine country. Fortunately, Napa Valley is just 1.5 hours from San Jose, so you can make it a day trip or weekend getaway while you're in the area.
You might be surprised to learn that there's more to do in Napa Valley than just drink. While it's true that there are hundreds of vineyards, including truly impressive ones on the grounds of castles and chateaus, there are plenty of kid-friendly attractions as well. You can visit ranches, orchards, state parks, historic homes, farmer's markets, and more. There are also sightseeing opportunities for the whole family like the Old Faithful Geyser.
Long story short, don't write off Napa Valley just because you're traveling with kids. Everyone can have fun at this bucket list destination.
8. Half Moon Bay
You've probably seen Half Moon Bay in pictures even if you've never been there. Its sandy beaches sit at the bottom of tall, smooth, and weather-beaten cliffs that rise dramatically from the sea in a semicircle shape. The cliffs are surrounded by redwood forests on three sides. It's a popular sight for photographers who want to show off the natural beauty of California.
It's also a popular site for travelers. Despite its fame, it's less crowded than places like San Jose, so it serves as a popular retreat for city dwellers who want to escape the masses for awhile. You can walk the picturesque Pebble Beach, poke around the tide pools of Pescadero Beach, or go sightseeing at stunning vistas like Gray Whale Cove. Best of all, you can have these adventures without constantly rubbing elbows with other tourists!
Day trips to Half Moon Bay can be a great choice if you're looking for peace and quiet while on vacation. California might be one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, but you can still enjoy alone time when you visit the right spots.
9. Silicon Valley
Silicon Valley is a region with nebulous borders that include San Jose, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, and Santa Clara. For the purposes of a day trip, however, all you need to know is that Silicon Valley is located just 15 minutes from downtown San Jose.
You know why Silicon Valley is famous. Everyone does. It's the tech capital of America, boasting headquarters for Apple, eBay, HP, Intel, Twitter, Netflix, and more. Its gleaming high-rises are technological innovations all by themselves; what goes on inside these digital powerhouses is even more mind blowing.
As for attractions, you'll have your pick of everything from the Computer History Museum to The Tech Interactive. There are non-STEM attractions as well, but since you're in Silicon Valley, why not stay on-brand?
Small children might not be impressed by Silicon Valley, but teens and adults will be hard-pressed not to stare in wonder. It's worth a side trip, especially since it's so conveniently close to San Jose.
10. West Cliff Drive
Curving more than three miles along the shores of the Pacific Ocean, West Cliff Drive isn't actually a drive. It's a walking and cycling path that will take you through some of the most scenic destinations in the area.
Notable attractions include the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, home of a historic lighthouse, and Natural Bridges State Park, home to wildlife observation that includes the annual migration of monarch butterflies. You can also stop at plenty of West Cliff beaches, coves, and parks to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature. If you're really lucky, you might spot some dolphins leaping through the tranquil waters of Monterey Bay!
Strap the babies in their strollers and go for a slow, winding walk along West Cliff Drive. It's the kind of destination that embodies the phrase “stop and smell the seawater.”
If you're looking for fun day trips out of San Jose, these are just a few possibilities for you and the kids. There are many more, and they unfold in every direction from the city. You can literally grab a map, point at a spot, and find something new. San Jose is a wonderful base for all kinds of day tripping, road tripping, and globetrotting!
Find more amazing family day trip destinations here.