When you think of San Jose, the business section of the newspaper comes to mind, but it’s actually a hidden gem for a weekend family road trip. Families who are road trip novices and newbies alike will appreciate the quick travel to and from home and hotel, with ample opportunities to stop along the way and let the little people get out to stretch their legs.
The hotels in San Jose are convenient to the convention center downtown, but also to many of the main attractions of the area — most within easy walking distance. The downtown hotels are surprisingly family friendly, so if your road trip coincides with a business trip to the area, the family is welcome to tag along. The Hilton San Jose and Marriott San Jose are both good options with family-friendly weekend rates. You can easily tailor your excursions to the schedule of your family, or run back to the room without driving and parking, etc.
Before your visit, check out the Downtown San Jose site for events, festivals, concerts and other activities downtown. The techies in the family will want to visit The Tech Museum, a hands-on science and technology museum with many family-friendly exhibits. Budding archeologists will love the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, a favorite for local school field trips. Be sure to check out their curriculum resources if your kids are studying Egypt in school. If you visit during the holidays, be sure to include time for Downtown Ice, Christmas in the Park and Winter Wonderland. The Children’s Discovery Museum is one of the best in the country, be prepared to visit at least a couple of times during your trip! The whole downtown area is picnic friendly, so enjoy some time outside and do some geocaching between museums and enjoy a concert outdoors in the evening.
When you’re ready to venture out of downtown San Jose, head off to Happy Hollow Park & Zoo. Since opening in 1961, the park has become a local institution, and is a unique combination of zoo, play area, amusement park and education center. It’s the first amusement park and zoo to be awarded LEED Gold by the US Green Building Council, and most families should plan to spend half the day.
Your kids will never forget a visit to the Winchester Mystery House. A California State Historical Landmark, the house was designed and built by Winchester rifle heiress, Sarah Winchester, heiress to the “Gun that Won the West” fortune. The tour guides you through 110 of the 160 rooms and lets you theorize about why a window was built into the floor, why staircases go nowhere and why doors open to blank walls — just for starters.
With over 40 rides, gardens and exhibits, Gilroy Gardens (about a half hour from downtown) has something for all ages. Don’t miss the Garlic Twirl, Mushroom Swing and Illions Supreme Carousel, or the Monarch Garden.
The Vasona Lake County Park is an excellent picnic spot, with 45 acres of park, paddle boats and row boats, fishing and family-friendly hiking.
Northern California’s largest waterpark, Raging Waters, is a short drive from downtown. Plan to spend the day and enjoy the latest in high-speed slides or hang out in the family play areas. Bring plenty of sunscreen and eat lunch at the park.
California’s Great America Theme Park, the biggest theme park in Northern California, is another all-day extravaganza. The water park inside is free with admission, so don’t forget your swimsuits. With high-adrenaline rides for big kids and plenty of kiddie rides for the smaller ones, the whole family will have hours of fun.
Operating since 1907, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is billed as the best beach boardwalk in the world. Two of their rides are National Historic Landmarks, and when you’re done with the rides, there’s an indoor arcade, bowling alley and mini-golf plus a lot more. Be sure to take a drive along the coast on the way back to your hotel.
Bijan Bakery – French cafe feel and pastry shop. Great place to grab a quick breakfast or a snack.
Henry’s World Famous Hi-Life – World famous steak in a family-friendly atmosphere, Henry’s has been featured on “Man Versus Food” and is the local’s favorite after a big game.
San Pedro Square Market – Housed at the Peralta Adobe, the oldest building in San Jose, you’ll find vendors selling everything from flowers to crafts, as well as lots and lots of food. Live, family-friendly entertainment and artisan exhibits.
Santana Row – Across the street from the Winchester Mystery House, Santana Row is home to fine dining, casual dining, shopping, a movie theater and nightlife.