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Ready, Set, Go

Forget about plane tickets and luggage. With the whole world coming here to see our art, drink our wine, and eat our food, you and your family might just want to refuse to travel anywhere on vacation. So stand your ground, and check out these four perfect day trips.


© 2010 Marcos Weskamp


Put on your jeans, cowboy boots, and denim jacket, and hit the road for a day in Olema, the small West Marin County town known as the gateway to Point Reyes National Seashore.

10 a.m. Start at Five Brooks Ranch, where two- to six-year-olds get a hand-led pony ride; first-time riders and young children will prefer the one-hour ride; while experienced cowboys should book a private ride. During a two-hour jaunt on the Fir Top Trail, we spied three osprey nests. 8001 State Rte. 1, (415) 663-1570, fivebrooks.com

12:30 p.m. Visit the nearby Farm House Restaurant for local Hog Island, Humboldt Bay, or Drakes Bay Family oysters, or sample chef Scott Dammann’s venison and apple chili topped with organic Spring Hill cheddar and housemade crispy polenta croutons. Picky eaters can chow down on fish and chips. 10005 State Rte. 1, (415) 663-1264, pointreyesseashore.com.

2 p.m. Continue 40 miles north along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard into the park until you reach the sign for the Point Reyes Lighthouse, a great place for whale watching. On weekends during whale-watching season (New Year’s to Easter), the road to the lighthouse is closed to private vehicles. Visitors must board a shuttle that leaves from Drake’s Beach. They must also be able to walk the half-mile from the parking lot and descend the 308 steps down to the lighthouse. One Bear Valley Rd., Point Reyes Station, (4Courtesy of Point Reyes Seashore15) 464-5100, nps.gov.

[Tip] ›  Bring a jacket to whale watch at Point Reyes, the windiest place on the Pacific Coast.

2:30 p.m. Parents with napping children: Take a scenic drive to the Tule Elk Reserve. The best viewing of elk—one of the largest herds in California—is from Tomales Point, a 2,600-acre fenced reserve at the north end of the park. Pierce Point Road, nps.gov.

[Tip] › Leave Fido at home. Dogs are prohibited in areas around the elk.

7 p.m. Dine at Osteria Stellina, a kid-friendly Italian restaurant, with chef Christian Caiazzo at the helm. Opened in November 2008, Osteria serves simple, local, and organic food, and has plain pasta and cheese pizza on the menu for kids. 11285 Hwy. 1, Point Reyes Station, (415) 663-9988, osteriastellina.com.

8:30 p.m. If you’ve had enough car time, book a room at the Point Reyes Seashore Lodge next to the Farm House restaurant. You’ll find three acres of gardens, 22 rooms, and two cottages. Kids: Don’t miss the freshly baked cookies and tea downstairs. 10021 Hwy. 1, (415) 663-9000, pointreyesseashore.com.

—Nancy D. Brown


Courtesy of Sonoma Valley Bike ToursYou want to go to Wine Country. The kids are clamoring for Six Flags. The compromise? Sonoma. This town offers fun stuff for kids—plus wine tasting and a creative, rustic vibe that most adults find irresistible.

9 a.m. House-made Belgian waffles, omelets with fresh veggies and herb goat cheese, artisan bread—breakfast at Sunflower Caffé in Sonoma Plaza is a healthy, wholesome, delicious way to get started. 421 First St. W., (707) 996-6645, sonomasunflower.com.

[Tip] › The Sunflower Caffé is also a good place to see cool local art.

10 a.m. Grab rental bikes at Sonoma Valley Bike Tours, and head up to a trail that starts just north of the plaza and takes you smack into the country. 520 Broadway, (877) 308-2453, sonomavalleybiketours.com.

[Tip] › If you peddle east on the bike trail, you’ll hit several wineries.

Noon Grab a snack at the Sonoma Cheese Factory on the plaza. Depending on your kids’ energy level, head to the plaza’s playgrounds (one for little kids, one for big kids) or the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art. The museum provides hands-on displays, where kids can make their own art. From March 27 through April 18, check out an exhibition curated by high-school students of artwork by fourth- and fifth-graders. Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, 551 Broadway, (707) 939-7862, svma.org.

1:30 p.m. Kids can take an exciting romp through the fun, distinctive, and thought-provoking Cornerstore Sonoma gardens. ShopsCourtesy of Cornerstone Sonoma offering everything from statuary to silk scarves surround Sage Fine Food and Provisions, where a short menu is packed with fresh, healthy salads, sandwiches, and savory tarts. Gardens: 23570 Arnold Dr., (707) 933-3010, cornerstoneplace.com; Sage: 23584 Arnold Dr. (707) 935-1681, sageprovisions.com.

3:30 p.m. Taste Cline Cellars wines while the kids visit an onsite museum with scale models of California’s missions and a rare-bird aviary—intended as “someplace to send the kids while the parents are hooting it up in the tasting room.” 24737 Arnold Dr., (800) 546-2070, clinecellars.com.

6 p.m. Enjoy thin-crust pizza and big-enough-to-share salads at the Red Grape. 529 First St. W., (707) 996-4103, theredgrape.com.

7:30 p.m. If you’re planning on staying for two nights or more, and you have a large group, make a reservation at the Cline Guest House Villa. It offers a heavenly Wine Country experience, with its pool, hot tubs, sauna, steam room, professional kitchen, plenty of common space, and vineyard views. Call (707) 931-7551 for reservations.

—Michaela Jarvis

San Jose

San Jose isn’t just the capital of high tech, it’s a time portal. Visit the Land of the Pharoahs, tour the “haunted” Victorian built by one of America’s kookiest heiresses, and beam into the 23rd century’s U.S.S. Enterprise.

11 a.m. The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum houses the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in western North America, including a 2,000-year-old female mummy and delicate fragments of limestone reliefs. 1664 Park Ave., (408) 947-3636, egyptianmuseum.org.

Courtesy of Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum[Tip] › The Egyptian Museum’s Peace Garden copies the design of an 18th century dynasty garden.

1 p.m. Grab lunch at Santana Row. We like Sino, which serves fresh-tasting dim sum daily. 377 Santana Row, (408) 247-8880, sinorestaurant.com.

2 p.m. The death of her baby daughter and husband convinced Sarah Winchester that she was cursed. In a bid to appease evil spirits, this doyenne of 19th century American society used her husband’s fortune to embark on one of history’s most eccentric home-remodeling projects. She commissioned craftsmen to work 24/7 until her death, adding rooms and doors to nowhere and creating a labyrinthine 160-room “mystery house.” 525 S. Winchester Blvd., (408) 247-2101, winchestermysteryhouse.com.

3:30 p.m. Pop back across the street to Santana Row to refuel with Kara’s Cupcakes, luscious treats made with top-quality, fair-trade  ingredients. On the Piazza di Valencia, (408) 260-2222, karascupcakes.com.

4 p.m. On a planet somewhere in the galaxy stands the Guardian of Forever. This ring-shaped time portal figured prominently in the most famous episode from the original 1966–69 Star Trek TV series. See a replica of the time portal at the Tech Museum of Innovation, which features Star Trek: The Exhibition through April 11. This traveling show displays memorabilia from all five Star Trek TV series and 11 movies, and explains the science behind such concepts as warp speed. Walk through a model of the Enterprise’s bridge, and go for a simulated shuttle craft ride. 201 S. Market St., (408) 294-8324, thetech.org.

6 p.m. If you decide to stay the night, the elegantly updated 1926 Sainte Claire hotel hosted the likes of Clark Gable and Judy Garland, and offers another time travel experience. 302 S. Market St., (408) 295-2000, larkspurhotels.com/collection/sainte-claire.   

— Martha Ross

Golden Gate Park

From aquariums to museums to boat rides, this San Francisco park offers a family-friendly paradise, all in one walkable area. On Sundays, traffic is blocked, creating an oasis for people on foot, bikes, and blades.Pei-Pei Ketron

9:30 a.m. The California Academy of Sciences, reopened in 2008, is an extremely popular architectural marvel, featuring an aquarium (including penguins and Claude, the albino alligator), the world’s largest digital planetarium, and an indoor rain forest—not to mention the Academy’s  “living roof” covered with native plants. • The park’s recently renovated Children’s Playground has a towering rope pyramid, superlong concrete slides, and an old-fashioned carousel. 320 Bowling Green Dr., (415) 831-5500.

[Tip] › Buy an Academy membership to get in without the crowds, especially 10–11 a.m. Sundays, when it’s closed to the public.

Noon Grab lunch a short walk away at the de Young Museum Café, which offers tasty sandwiches, salads, and entrées, plus an outdoor patio and sculpture garden where kids can roam. 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr., (415) 750-3600, famsf.org/deyoung.

Kris Vera-Phillips[Tip] › A free elevator ride to the top of the de Young Museum offers panoramic park and Golden Gate Bridge views.

1 p.m. Take a step back in time at Stow Lake,  where you can rent rowboats or paddle-boats to float for a mile around the lake, circling a central island. Look out for carp, waterfowl, and the colorful Chinese pagoda. 50 Stow Lake Dr., (415) 752-7869.

3 p.m. Zen out with tea at the Japanese Tea Garden or a stroll around the grounds. 7 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr., (415) 752-1171, japaneseteagardensf.com.

4 p.m. The interior of the renovated Conservatory of Flowers offers a hothouse world of exotic plants and flowers. To lure in any skeptical boys, through April, the Conservatory will feature a model train set that chugs its way around a miniature replica of San Francisco. 100 John F. Kennedy Dr., (415) 831-2090, conservatoryofflowers.org.

6 p.m. Fine dining in a museum? Believe it or not, the Academy of Sciences’ Moss Room restaurant (with a living wall of moss, fern, and stone) has garnered rave reviews. 55 Music Concourse Dr., (415) 876-6121, themossroom.com

—Ethan Fletcher


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