Sure, there are dozens of “must see” lists out there that include things like Fisherman’s Wharf, the Golden Gate Bridge, Ghirardelli Square, Lombard Street, Coit Tower, Chinatown, Alcatraz, etc etc.. but there are dozens of lesser known places that are just as fun and interesting (plus you are a whole lot more likely to run into the “natives” and not throngs of tourists.)
So here are 15 places in the bay area that our family enjoys, but that you may never have heard of:
Mount Diablo State Park:
At nearly 4000 feet above sea level, Mount Diablo is the highest peak in the greater Bay Area. On a clear day you can easily see the Sierra Nevada, Central Valley, Santa Cruz Mountains and the Golden Gate Bridge. With many easy (or difficult) hikes, it is great day trip. The kids love to explore the beacon tower at the summit, which was built by the Civilian Conservation Core in 1939 and was originally lit by Charles Lindbergh to assist in commercial aviation.
Golden Gate Fields:
If you love the sport of kings, Golden Gate Fields, (“Where the Bay Comes to Play!”)is a great way to spend the afternoon. In the summer you can enjoy live entertainment and if you are looking for a budget friendly outing, check out their famous “Dollar Days” (typically Sundays) where hot dogs and beers are only $1.
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom:
Less than an hour from San Francisco (in Vallejo) this is one of my family’s favorite adventure parks. Featuring animal shows and plenty of rides and roller coasters, you can easily spend the day here and never get tired of it.
California’s Great America:
Featuring Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang, this theme park has become one of our favorite weekend excursions. From family friendly rides and entertainment to death-defying coasters and a giant water park, Great America which is located in the heart of Silicon Valley, offers something for everyone.
San Francisco Zoo:
Although there are a multitude of Zoos in the greater bay area, the San Francisco Zoo is the largest, with 1000 animals representing 250 species. Many of the exhibits feature animals in multi-species enclosures which are more representative of their natural environments. A quick bus ride from the center of the city, the San Francisco Zoo also boasts the largest outdoor lemur habitat in the country.
Located up in the Oakland Hills, with breathtaking views of the entire bay, the Oakland Zoo is focused on conservation and rehabilitation. On your visit you can learn about the California Condors re-release program or how they are working to save circus tigers. The Oakland zoo recently opened a 17,000 square foot state-of-the-art wildlife veterinary hospital, the largest in Northern California.
Happy Hollow Park and Zoo:
Half theme park, half zoo, this San Jose destination is perfect for the younger crowd. Focused on education though entertainment, this park has a great blend of activities that keeps children interested by making learning fun. My kids beg to go to Happy Hollow since they love the rides and the puppet shows, while I enjoy the hands on exhibits where they can directly interact with the animals.
Lindsay Wildlife Museum:
Located in Walnut Creek, in the heart of Contra Costa County, the staff at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum have been rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing local animal species since 1965. With dozens of un-releasable animals on display, there is a ton to see and experience. Our favorite part is the fully operational veterinary clinic observation room, where you can see actual procedures being performed on the rescued animals.
Exploratorium Learning Laboratory:
A tinkerers paradise, the Exploratorium recently relocated to Pier 15 on the Embarcadero. With exhibits mainly focused on science and engineering, a trip here offers kids and adults alike a multitude of hands on activities which allow you to explore and better understand the world around you.
Lawrence Hall of Science:
Associated with the University of California at Berkeley, the Lawrence Hall of Science is focused on science education with hands on experimentation, live demonstrations, planetarium and special traveling exhibits. My favorite part of the museum is the outdoor exhibits with panoramic views of the entire bay area, including the Golden Gate bridge.
Bay Area Discovery Museum:
Located at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge in beautiful Sausalito, the Bay Area Discovery Museum is a children’s museum focused on the arts and imagination. On sprawling grounds, the museum is broken into themed halls and outdoor spaces allowing play and education to blend seamlessly.
Just so you can say “I’ve Been There”
Officially composed of the towns of Campbell, Cupertino, Los Gatos, Los Altos, Milpitas and Mountain view, Silicon Valley isn’t really a valley at all. Officially not a tourist destination, it still is fun to visit the birthplace of computing and the see some of the hottest tech companies all in one place.
Rosie The Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historic Park:
A tribute to the contribution of American Civilians who kept America running during the second world war, the Rosie the Riveter Memorial, which started as an art installation in the 1990s is a fascinating walk filled with images and quotes from actual women who worked in the shipyards. Located in Richmond (about 30 minutes outside of San Francisco), it is a relatively new National Park, only established in 2000.
The only reason we have taken most of these adventures is because we LIVE here. Most of these places would never have been on our itinerary if we didn’t have the time to make weekend trips or just take time to explore places we heard about via word of mouth.
When we moved to California 3 years ago, we settled in a quaint little town in the East Bay (On the Eastern side of San Francisco Bay, close to Oakland) and purchased a house here. Even though the Bay Area is one of the most expensive real estate markets in the entire country, when we relocated we really wanted to OWN a home, not rent. Our REALTOR® helped make that possible.
The main reason we wanted to buy a house is because I wanted the ability to personalize our house and make it our own, but there are a lot of other huge benefits to buying house that you may not be aware of. According to the National Association of REALTORS®:
- One job is created for every two homes sold
- A single house purchase stimulates the economy by an average of $60,000
- A homeowner has a net worth 34 times greater than that of a renter.
This financial impact is even greater in California and the Bay Area where a huge segment of the economy revolves around real estate. That is why the California Association of REALTORS® are focused on being "Champions of Home” by encouraging home ownership and helping wannabe homeowners fulfill their dreams.
So if you decide to make California home, be sure to talk to a REALTOR® from the California Association of REALTORS®. There are a ton of things to do here.. even if you haven't ever heard of them before now!
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.