California Dreaming, Week Long Getaways

San Jose and Santa Cruz, California Family Travel Guide

san jose

Do you know the way to San Jose?? Woah woah woah…

I’m not going to lie, before my son Aidan and I arrived in the Silicon Valley city of San Jose, that brain worm of a song was all I knew about the California’s 3rd largest city. But I’m happy to report that the city is sooo much more interesting than the song. It is, in fact, a great West Coast road trip destination for families, with a great mix of outdoor activities and cultural outposts, such as the Tech Museum, a favorite with my tech-savvy kid.

Planning on a West Coast visit any time soon? Here’s a handy pocket guide to the “innovation” city.

Plan on spending at least two nights, and park yourself at the Fairmont San Jose, which has a pool and super reasonable rates when the tech folks head home (I’ve seen rooms as low as $179 this summer, with breakfast). The Art Museum is adjacent to the hotel, and myriad restaurants are in walking distance, as are the Tech Museum and Psycho Donuts, below.

The Top 7 Family Stops in San Jose and Santa Cruz

The Technology Museum
The Technology Museum

1) The Technology Museum: I would plan a return trip to San Jose for this innovative interactive museum alone. Google is nearby, and they sponsor interactive exhibits such as Google Earth on HD surround-screens that you can “drive” with a  joystick around, and above, the earth. Plus there’s rooms filled with hands-on technology, a history of the Silicon Valley area, and an Imax Theater.

2) Winchester Mystery HouseAidan and I are STILL talking about this crazy mansion that was built over 38 years (24-hours a day) by the heiress to the Winchester Rifle fortune. It’s said to be the most haunted house in America, which I can’t confirm, but it is the craziest place we’ve ever been: 160 rooms, with 40 stairways, 10,000 windows, and 2,000 doors with stairs that lead to nowhere, doors that open to brick walls, and even a windowless séance room– just to name a few quirks. You have to see it to believe it.

3) San Jose GiantsWe love minor league baseball and this stadium was one of the most fun we’ve ever visited. The great atmosphere is due in part to the families attracted by the fun kids area, great food (try the BBQ and the garlic fries!), and super sightlines of up-and-coming San Francisco Giants players.

The Gold Striker Wooden Coaster
The Gold Striker Wooden Coaster

4) Great America: Full disclosure: I’m not a “rides” person. But even I could not resist the pull of the Gold Striker, the largest wooden roller coaster on the West Coast, much to Aidan’s delight. It may have shaken my vertebrae loose, but it was great fun! This is an easy park to do in a day, and the Peanuts theming is just the right amount to be entertaining without cloying.

5) Roaring Camp Railroad: Another trip highlight: the open-air, 19th-century steam trains that chug through the redwoods from vintage Roaring Camp. The air was so cool and crisp among the trees it feels like air conditioning, and being able to look straight up at the towering giants was a memorably unique experience. Coolest of all, it dropped us right on the boardwalk in Santa Cruz.

6) Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk: We LOVED the old-time fun at the beach in Santa Cruz, especially the 1911 Looff Carousel where we caught rings to throw in a clown’s mouth. Salt water taffy, ice cream, arcade games, mini-golf, and a roller coaster round-out the family fun.

San Jose
Sun, food, and fun in San Jose

7) Psycho Donuts: If this were in town, I’d be there every day. This kitschy spot serves up gooey, delicious, deep-fried delights, big enough for two (although you’ll never want to share) in flavors such as Dead Elvis (banana, bacon and pb&J) and Nutella the Hun adjacent to an indie movie theater that shows cult classics (both Goonies and SpaceBalls were on the family-friendly options). Seriously, why didn’t I think of this?

For even more classic California beach fun, we spent a night at the Seascape Resort just outside Santa Cruz where we got to have a real California beach bonfire and made s’mores by moonlight – a great way to end our California roadtrip.

And now we can say, YES, we have found our way to San Jose.  And we’ll be back!

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