Having a 5-year-old son, I am always looking for fun activities, outings, and family-friendly getaways for us to go on together.
San Francisco has so much to offer for family fun: walking across the Golden Gate Bridge, visiting the sea lions at Fisherman’s Wharf, exploring Golden Gate Park, taking a ferry to Alcatraz, and wandering around the Presidio. But sometimes you need to escape the city, get out of the Bay Area and go further afield for a real adventure.
One of the things that makes Northern California so special is the varying landscapes. From San Francisco, you can easily reach the seashore, mountains, forests, vineyards and waterfalls. Here are some of my favorite tried and true and five-year-old-approved family getaways from San Francisco.
Quick Answer Guide: 9 Family & Kid-Friendly Getaways From San Francisco
Kid-Friendly Day Trips From San Francisco
- Nature lovers without a lot of time for a getaway - Marin County
- Families and wine lovers - Sonoma County/Napa Valley
- Amusement park lovers - Santa Cruz/Monterey
Family Weekend Getaways From San Francisco
- Outdoor enthusiasts and kids of all ages - Lake Tahoe
- Hikers and campers - Yosemite National Park
- Families who love to explore - Mendocino
Best Getaways From San Francisco for Families
- Theme park and taco lovers - San Diego
- Disney lovers and foodies - Los Angeles
- Desert lovers - Joshua Tree National Park
Kid-Friendly Day Trips From San Francisco
While there is so much for families to do in San Francisco, there are also times when you want to escape the crowds and find some family weekend getaways from San Francisco. Below are destinations that can be visited in one day (fewer than two hours driving by car).
1. Marin County
- Perfect for: Nature lovers without a lot of time for a getaway
- Highlights of Marin County:
- Gazing up at the redwood trees in Muir Woods
- Hiking trails and beaches
- Bay Area Discovery Museum
What to Do in Marin County
Throughout my life I have always been drawn back to Marin. I grew up visiting as a child, went there for high school and my first job out of college was there as well. When I visit with my son, I know we will have a relaxing fun-filled day.
One of the top kid-friendly attractions in Marin is the Bay Area Discovery Museum, a 7.5-acre outdoor/indoor children’s museum with interactive exhibits for children ages 6 months to 8 years old. The museum is split up into different sections, each offering different learning experiences: Lookout Cove, Mud Kitchen, Art Studios, Try It Studios, and How It Works, among others.
Head to Sausalito, Tiburon, or Mill Valley for a delicious lunch. Some of my favorite kid-friendly restaurants are Pizza Antica (Mill Valley), Bar Bocce (Sausalito), Salitos Crab House (Sausalito), Fish (Sausalito), Sam’s Anchor Cafe (Tiburon), and Malibu Farm (Tiburon).
Another one of my favorite things to do in Marin is to walk amongst the giant redwood trees in Muir Woods National Monument. You must get tickets and make a parking/shuttle reservation ahead of time up to 90 days in advance. Go to GoMuirWoods.com or call 1-800-410-2419 to make your reservations.
A little further down the road you can reach Point Reyes National Seashore that offers unparalleled views of the Pacific Ocean, stunning hiking trails, beaches and plenty of family fun year-round. Visit Drake’s Beach, go whale watching at Point Reyes Lighthouse, dine and shop in the town of Point Reyes, hike along the Tomales Point Trail through the Tule Elk Reserve, drive through the Cypress Tree Tunnel, and take photos at the Tomales Bay Shipwreck.
How to Get to Marin County
To get to Marin County from San Francisco, I recommend taking a car and using Google Maps for the ultimate flexibility. Golden Gate Transit does offer busses and ferries to Marin but probably not to your exact location.
Where to Stay in Marin County
Cavallo Point Lodge is a four-star upscale hotel in Sausalito located on a former military base overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. Suites are available. Parking and a shuttle to the San Francisco and Sausalito Ferry Terminal are free. There is an beautiful spa, fine-dining restaurant, cocktail bar with live music, and a gym.
The Lodge at Tiburon is a three-star modern hotel located in downtown Tiburon. Suites have living rooms with pull-out sofas and kitchenettes. There is an outdoor pool, patio with a fire pit and restaurant.
The Inn Above Tide is a four-star hotel in Sausalito located near shopping, restaurants and the Sausalito Ferry Terminal. Some rooms come with fireplaces and whirlpool tubs and suites are available. Free continental breakfast, evening socials and bike rentals are available.
2. Sonoma County/Napa Valley
- Perfect for: Families and wine lovers
- Highlights of Sonoma County:
- Sonoma Traintown Railroad
- Family-friendly wineries
- Farm-to-table restaurants
What to Do in Sonoma County
You can’t visit wine country and not sample the goods. Visit a family-friendly winery such as the Francis Ford Coppola Winery (they have a pool to swim in), Cline Family Cellars (they have farm animals to entertain the kids), Larson Family Winery (cowboy themed, dog-friendly, bocce ball courts, and a picnic area), and Cornerstone Sonoma (restaurants, shops, gardens, and picnic tables).
One of my favorite things to do with my son is to visit the 10-acre amusement park Sonoma Traintown Railroad. Take a 20-minute train ride that goes through tunnels, over bridges, and stops at a petting zoo to feed llamas and sheep. Afterwards, enjoy the amusement park rides. Sonoma Traintown is about five minutes from downtown, Sonoma so when you are finished head there for lunch.
My favorite place to eat with my family is Sunflower Caffé (weekends can get crowded and you may need to wait on line). Other notable child-friendly restaurants in the area are Sweet Scoops Homemade Ice Cream, Hop Monk Tavern, Mary’s Pizza Shack, and Maya Restaurant.
How to Get to Sonoma County
From San Francisco, I would recommend driving to Sonoma County for ultimate flexibility. Rent a car or take an Lyft or Uber.
Where to Stay in Sonoma County
Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa is a five-star hotel 3 miles from Sonoma Plaza. Suites are available. The hotel has a fine-dining restaurant as well as a bistro and daily wine tastings. There is a spa with mineral baths and an outdoor pool.
Inn At Sonoma, A Four Sisters Inn is a three-star hotel located just a five-minute walking distance to Sonoma Plaza. This hotel includes free breakfast, afternoon happy hour, parking, bike rentals, outdoor hot tub, movies, books and games.
The Lodge at Sonoma Resort, Autograph Collection is a four-star hotel one mile from Sonoma Plaza. Suites are available. This hotel has a bistro and wine bar as well as an outdoor pool, hot tub, spa, fire fits, gym and shuttles to town.
3. Santa Cruz/Monterey
- Perfect for: Amusement park lovers
- Highlights of Santa Cruz/Monterey:
- Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
- Monterey Bay Aquarium
- Dennis the Menace Playground
What to Do in Santa Cruz/Monterey
Growing up in San Francisco, I always loved going on a day trip to Santa Cruz and/or Monterey. Before reaching Santa Cruz, make a pit stop in Half Moon Bay. Kids love the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve and visiting Lemos Farm. Once in Santa Cruz, make sure to stop at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, a classic amusement park offering rides, games, laser tag, mini-golf, bowling, and a giant arcade. In addition, visit Main Beach right next to the boardwalk area.
Another fun way to explore the Santa Cruz mountains is to hop on the Roaring Camp Railroad which stops at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. The train ride is one hour each way.
Next make your way down the 17-mile drive to the small town of Monterey. Stroll down the waterfront street Cannery Row and visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Enjoy the day watching sea otters and jellyfish, checking out the touch pools, and learning about sea creatures living in a variety of environments. Children of all ages also love the Dennis the Menace Playground.
If you are visiting from March-November, go whale watching to see humpback whales — the peak sightings generally occur between July and August. There are various tour operators with different cruises and prices available such as Princess Monterey Whale Watching, Monterey Bay Whale Watch, and Fast Raft.
How to Get to Santa Cruz/Monterey
From San Francisco, I would recommend renting a car and driving down the Pacific Coast Highway for ultimate flexibility. From San Francisco, this is a manageable hour-and-a-half road trip down Highway 1 on the Pacific Coast Highway.
Where to Stay in Santa Cruz/Monterey
Dream Inn Santa Cruz is a three-star hotel located on Cowell Beach and is a short walking distance from the restaurants on the Santa Cruz Wharf and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Most rooms have ocean views and suites are available. There is a seafood restaurant, outdoor pool, and hot tub.
Seascape Beach Resort is a four-star hotel overlooking Monterey Bay. This is an all-suite hotel, which is perfect for families, with a private beach located 12 miles from the Santa Cruz Wharf. There are three outdoor pools, hot tubs, tennis courts and a golf course. Bikes and boogie boards are also available.
Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa is a four-star hotel overlooking Monterey Bay one block from Cannery Row and a 10-minute walk from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Suites are available. This hotel has a spa, dining options, a lounge with live music, and loaner bikes.
Family Weekend Getaways From San Francisco
Luckily, kid-friendly getaways from San Francisco are almost unlimited, especially if you can give yourself more than one day to get there and back. These three destinations can be visited in fewer than five hours driving by car and each offer their own different mysteries to explore and adventures to experience.
4. Lake Tahoe
- Perfect for: Outdoor enthusiasts and kids of all ages
- Highlights of Lake Tahoe:
- Gorgeous views
- Great to visit year-round
- Amazing beaches
What to Do in Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is perfect to visit in any season. If you need to take a pitstop during the drive up, I recommend stopping at the Vacaville Premium Outlets, downtown Sacramento, or my personal favorite Ikeda’s (get some freshly baked pie and other goodies).
You can choose to stay in North or South Lake Tahoe. North Lake Tahoe is ideal for families and people who want a more laid-back feel, and South Lake Tahoe is ideal for people wanting more of an energetic vibe, fun bars, and restaurants and casinos.
Lake Tahoe offers a plethora of activities for the family to enjoy: take a skiing lesson; go snowshoeing; get a thrill on a snowmobile or relax on a sleigh ride; go tubing or ice skating; hang out at the beach (Sand Harbor is my favorite!); rent a boat; play mini golf or go bowling; visit the KidZone Museum, Ridge Rider Mountain Coaster, and Tahoe Treetop Adventure Park; admire the views from the Heavenly Scenic Gondola Ride; or go spend a day rafting down the Truckee River.
Most of the restaurants in Lake Tahoe are geared towards families. Some of my favorites include Sprouts (South Lake Tahoe), Driftwood Cafe (South Lake Tahoe), Basecamp Pizza Co. (South Lake Tahoe), Kalani’s (South Lake Tahoe), Austin’s Restaurant (North Lake Tahoe), Bite Restaurant (North Lake Tahoe), Alibi Ale Works (North Lake Tahoe), and Squeeze In (North Lake Tahoe).
How to Get to Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is positioned between California and Nevada and is three hours from San Francisco. I would recommend driving a car so you have the freedom to explore the entire lake. The closest airport is the Reno-Tahoe International Airport (45-minute drive to North Lake Tahoe).
Where to Stay in Lake Tahoe
When I go to Lake Tahoe with my family, I usually choose to stay in an Airbnb or Vrbo. There are many different kinds of condos, homes and cabins to choose from. But if a hotel is more your speed, check out these.
Edgewood Tahoe Resort is a five-star luxurious lakeside resort in South Lake Tahoe with two restaurants, a golf course, spa, and pool.
The Coachman Hotel is a three-star hotel that is a 6-minute walk to Lakeside Beach and a 10-minute walk to Heavenly Mountain Resort in South Lake Tahoe. Suites are available. Breakfast, evening snacks and access to a private beach, outdoor pool, and fire pit is included in your stay.
Mourelatos Lakeshore Resort is a three-star hotel in North Lake Tahoe. This is an all-suite beachfront resort. This hotel has a private beach, kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, and paddle boats. There is a ski shuttle and free breakfast during the winter and an ice cream shop in the summer.
5. Yosemite National Park
- Perfect for: Hikers and campers
- Highlights of Yosemite:
- Moderately priced hotels and campgrounds
- Jaw-dropping waterfalls, valleys, and granite cliffs
- Bodie Ghost Town
What to Do in Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, photographers, and families. Yosemite is a Unesco World Heritage Site and the country’s third-oldest national park.
Gaze up at Half Dome (or try and summit it if you dare!); see some of the best views of Yosemite from Glacier Point and Tunnel View; get lost in a forest of sequoia trees in Mariposa Grove; wade in the Merced River; hike in Tuolome Meadows; and see how close you can get up to lower Yosemite Falls without getting too wet.
If you have enough time to make your way out of Yosemite Valley, I highly recommend visiting Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve and continue on to Bodie State Historic Park and see an authentic, old, gold-mining ghost town.
How to Get to Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is located in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. From San Francisco, I would recommend renting a car and driving four-and-a-half hours to Yosemite. There are also various tour busses from San Francisco that can take you to Yosemite for a one day or multi-day trip as well.
While in Yosemite Valley, driving, walking, or using bicycles are the best ways to get around. There is also public transportation available, and visitors can take free shuttles around the park to 19 different locations.
Where to Stay in Yosemite
Tenaya at Yosemite is a three-star upscale mountain resort (my personal favorite place to stay with my family) with a lodge with suites, cabins, and cottages located 3 miles from the entrance to Yosemite National Park. The cabins and cottages are perfect for families, offering multiple bedrooms with fire pits for roasting s’mores right outside of your room. There is also a pool, game room, spa, and multiple dining options.
Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort is a 1-star campground-style resort 26 miles from Yosemite Valley. Don’t let the one-star rating deter you, I stayed at this resort and loved it. Accommodations include hostel rooms, tent cabins, and private rooms. Some rooms have shared bathrooms while others have them included inside the room. There is a restaurant (the food was delicious!), a spa, hot tub, and yoga classes.
- Perfect for: Families who love to explore
- Highlights of Mendocino:
- Whale watching
- Coastal views
What to Do in Mendocino
Mendocino is sure to be a memorable family getaway, as it has beautiful coastal views, hikes, beaches, and redwood forests. If you visit between November and April, be sure to go whale watching and see how many gray whales you can spot. If you are visiting in July, attend the Mendocino Music Festival.
Check out shops, restaurants, and art galleries in the quaint and charming downtown Mendocino. Visit the Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park, Mendocino Headlands State Park, and the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens (book tickets ahead of time).
Downtown Mendocino has plenty of family-friendly restaurants to choose from, such as Luna Trattoria, Patterson’s Pub, Goodlife Cafe and Bakery, and Frankie's. Grab some dessert at the Mendocino Chocolate Company or Cowlick’s Ice Cream.
A 15-minute drive north of Mendocino is Fort Bragg. Have brunch at the Wizard of Oz-themed Egghead's Restaurant, walk around downtown Fort Bragg, visit Glass Beach and comb the area for seaglass (don’t take any home with you), and take a ride on the famous Skunk Train through the redwoods.
Kids will love tidepooling at Laguna Point at MacKerricher State Park or Van Damme State Park at low tide. Some other family-friendly beaches to visit are Caspar Beach, Bowling Ball Beach, Big River Beach, Jug Handle State Natural Reserve, and Portuguese Beach.
How to Get to Mendocino
The quickest way to get to Mendocino from San Francisco is to drive three hours. The closest airport is the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport, which is still a two-hour drive from Mendocino.
Where to Stay in Mendocino
Stanford Inn and Resort is a four-star hotel overlooking Mendocino Bay. This pet-friendly hotel has 1-2 bedroom suites, complimentary breakfast, afternoon tea, bike rentals, a wellness center, outdoor pool, and hot tub.
MacCallum House Inn is a three-star historic Victorian inn in the center of town offering rooms in the main house and cottages with private yards. Complimentary breakfast, parking , a farm-to-table restaurant, and DVD rentals are available.
Sweetwater Inn and Spa is a three-star, pet-friendly hotel offering suites and cottages located in the village of Mendocino. Indulge in the redwood hot tubs and saunas.
Best Getaways From San Francisco for Families
When you are located in a large hub city with an international airport, weekend getaways from San Francisco for families are even easier to find! These destinations can be reached by a short flight of up to two or three hours, so you won't have to go too far or wait to long to begin creating new, wonderful memories.
7. San Diego
- Perfect for: Theme park and taco lovers
- Highlights of San Diego:
- San Diego Zoo/Legoland/SeaWorld
- Coronado Island
- Balboa Park
What to Do in San Diego
Once you have decided you are tired of foggy weather in Northern California, hop on a one-and-a-half-hour flight to sunny San Diego!
The Go City All Inclusive Pass gives you access to San Diego-area activities, attractions, and tours starting at $100 for one day.
Excite your children by taking them to the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, Legoland (they also have a water park), SeaWorld, or Sesame Place San Diego. I recommend buying a skip-the-line ticket so your little ones don’t have to wait impatiently to go on rides.
Take a stroll around Old Town San Diego to buy souvenirs, sample Mexican food, and drink some sarsaparilla. Explore the Embarcadero and walk along the waterfront and see the Maritime Museum and the USS Midway.
Make sure to visit Balboa Park, which is 1,200 acres and has over 15 museums in it, such as the Air and Space Museum, The Museum of Us, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum, and the Natural History Museum.
San Diego is home to some amazing restaurants as well. Some of my favorites include Snooze, an A.M. Eatery (try one of their creative benedicts, innovative pancakes, or the breakfast pot pie), CUCINA Urbana (try the grilled octopus and the short rib pappardelle), City Tacos, and Oscar’s Mexican Seafood (try the octopus taco and ceviche).
How to Get to San Diego
From San Francisco International Airport, it is a 1.5-hour flight to San Diego. Once in San Diego, I recommend renting a car to get from place to place. You can also use Lyft or Uber, but they may not have carseats or booster seats available.
Where to Stay in San Diego
Hotel Del Coronado is a four-star upscale Victorian hotel right on the beach and 5 miles from downtown San Diego. Suites are available and some have bunk beds. This hotel has a spa, two outdoor pools and a hot tub, and multiple dining options including an ice cream shop and pizzeria.
The Lodge at Torrey Pines is a five-star hotel located 4 miles from La Jolla. This upscale hotel includes two restaurants, an outdoor pool, hot tub, spa, and guests get a preferred tee time on the golf course.
Legoland California Hotel is a three-star, Lego-themed hotel offering a separate kid’s sleeping area in every room, free breakfast, and nightly entertainment for children, located right next door to the entrance of Legoland in Carlsbad.
8. Los Angeles
- Perfect for: Disney lovers and foodies
- Highlights of Los Angeles:
- Santa Monica Pier
- Venice or Manhattan Beach
What to Do in Los Angeles
The main Los Angeles bucket list item that all families want to do is go to Disneyland. Kids and adults of all ages love the nostalgia and magical feeling it evokes. Check out the website, because there are several different tickets you can purchase from a single to a multi-day ticket including an option to skip the line (which I recommend).
Other family-friendly attractions in Los Angeles include: people-watching at Venice Beach; for dinosaur lovers, go to the La Brea Tar Pits; for beautiful beaches, visit Manhattan Beach or Malibu; enjoy the small amusement part at the Santa Monica Pier; hike Runyon Canyon; admire at the views from Griffith Observatory Park; and sample different cuisines at Grand Central Market.
The dining scene in Los Angeles is top notch with delicious restaurants found on every street. Some of my favorites include Tar & Roses (more upscale, try the oxtail dumplings and strawberry crostata for dessert), Sol Mexican Cocina, Salt & Straw ice cream, Blue Star Donuts (try the lemon poppyseed), Cafe Gratitude (vegan, offering a kids menu), Lemonade (lots of options for little ones), The Rose (try a pastry or anything with bacon), Gjusta Bakery, Fishing With Dynamite (try the salmon and key lime pie), COD Seafood House & Raw Bar (try the spicy tuna crispy rice, crispy pork belly and the truffle uni pasta), and Jinya Ramen Bar (try the JINYA Tonkotsu Black).
A word of advice before you start planning your weekend: traffic in Los Angeles can be horrible, so make sure to leave plenty of time before going anywhere.
How to Get to Los Angeles
From San Francisco International Airport, it is a 1.5-hour flight to Los Angeles. Once in Los Angeles, I recommend renting a car to get from place to place. You can also use Lyft or Uber, but they may not have carseats or booster seats available.
Where to Stay in Los Angeles
The Garland Hotel is a three-star hotel 2.5 miles from Warner Bros. Studios. Suites are available, some even have bunk beds. Amenities include an outdoor pool, gym, tennis court, and a free shuttle to Universal Studios Hollywood. On weekends, the hotel has movie nights at the pool.
Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa is a four-star hotel with direct access to Disney California Adventure Park and Downtown Disney District. Suites with up to three bedrooms are available as well as multiple dining options, three outdoor pools, a waterslide, and spa.
Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows is a four-star upscale hotel with ocean views and is less than a mile from the Santa Monica Pier. Suites and cottages are available. This hotel has an outdoor pool, gym, and spa.
9. Joshua Tree National Park
- Perfect for: Desert lovers
- Highlights of Joshua Tree National Park:
- Wandering through the Joshua Trees
- Cholla Cactus Garden
- Exploring downtown Joshua Tree
What to Do in Joshua Tree National Park
Two years ago, my husband and I went to Joshua Tree for the first time. We kept noticing other small children also exploring the park. We didn’t even think bringing our son would be a viable option, but after seeing the other children we knew we could have taken him and one day we will.
The best time to visit Joshua Tree National Park is March-May and October-November when the weather is more mild. Some of the best child-friendly hikes are the Discovery Trail, Arch Rock Nature Trail, Cholla Cactus Gardens, Hall of Horrors, and Hidden Valley Nature Trail.
Joshua Tree offers a Junior Ranger program for children ages five and up. You can grab a booklet at the park entrance that has activities and things to look for while in the park. Once it is complet,e you can turn it in at the visitor center and get sworn in as a Junior Park Ranger.
At the end of your day in the park, take some time to explore quirky Joshua Tree town. Visit the Crochet Museum, the Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum, the Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum, Pioneertown, and grab some food and a beer at the Joshua Tree Saloon.
How to Get to Joshua Tree National Park
From San Francisco International Airport, fly 1.5 hours to Palm Springs International Airport, which is about an hour's drive to Joshua Tree National Park. Once there, rent a car to drive yourself around.
The main road in the park will lead to different viewpoints and hikes, but make sure to bring plenty of water and snacks in your car and know that cell service is extremely spotty. The drive around the park is absolutely beautiful.
Where to Stay in Joshua Tree National Park
There are various lodging options when visiting Joshua Tree National Park. You can stay in a hotel in Palm Springs/Palm Desert/Indian Wells and then drive into Joshua Tree during the day (about an hour's drive); you can camp inside the park and enjoy gazing up at the stars; or find an Airbnb close to Joshua Tree.
Jumbo Rocks Campground is a centrally located, family-friendly campsite surrounded by rock formations. This is the largest campground, with 124 campsites. Each campsite has a picnic table, fire pit, and toilets nearby (you must bring your own water and firewood). Make reservations in advance.
AutoCamp Joshua Tree is located only a few minutes from the park entrance. Go glamping, staying in a luxury airstream with a private outdoor area for a campfire. There is a general store and a heated pool.
Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort and Spa is a four-star hotel in Indian Wells (about an hour away from Joshua Tree National Park) and 4 miles from Palm Springs. Villas are available with their own butler service, gardens, BBQ, hot tub, or fire pits. This hotel has seven pools, waterslides and a lazy river, a spa, golf course, three restaurants, and an airport shuttle.
Traveling throughout Northern and Southern California offers families enough options to please everyone. Whether you are seeking mountains, lakes, desert, or cities, any of these family friendly getaways from San Francisco are sure to be a memorable bonding experience.