Point Reyes Station is the social and cultural hub of West Marin, and a fantastic destination for a day out with the family. While the railroad that gave this small town its name is long gone, Point Reyes Station has become something of a tourist mecca in recent years, with a focus on sustainable agriculture, locally produced artisanal and organic foods, outdoor activities, and art. On weekends, the main street of this quaint and charming gateway to Point Reyes National Seashore bustles with West Marin locals, Bay Area day trippers, bicyclists, motorcyclists, hikers, and visitors from around the world.
Even though many of Point Reyes Station's attractions are geared toward grownups, families will find plenty to do here, making it an attractive destination for an outing in and of itself, or a worthwhile stop on the way to or from the beaches and hiking trails of the Point Reyes National Seashore. Most of Point Reyes Station's businesses are clustered around Highway One (AKA A Street, Main Street, or Shoreline Highway). A walk down Main Street's sidewalks takes you past art galleries, boutiques, and gourmet restaurants, as well as businesses more traditionally associated with small rural towns, like a feed store, tack and saddle shop, hardware store, and saloon.
Who doesn't like Jelly Belly jelly beans? You probably knew that they come in practically every flavor imaginable, but did you know that they're made just up the road in the Solano County town of Fairfield? Did you know you can tour their factory for free? The Jelly Belly factory offers a fun, tasty, and informative tour daily that's a perfect outing for families and groups.
Don't miss the annual Lighting of the Snowmen Holiday Festival at Cornerstone Sonoma
One of the benefits of living in the North Bay is having the Wine Country of Sonoma and Napa right in our own backyard. It's a short trip from Marin but a world away, especially during the holidays, when the area does itself up in style.
Here are some selected family-friendly holiday events and happenings in Sonoma and Napa, as well as a few of our favorite places to visit in the Wine Country. There's nothing quite like taking in the Wine Country scenery (and maybe a glass of pinot noir) on a crisp and clear December day! Some of these events require tickets or advance reservations, so make sure you check for availability before you go.
Victorian Christmas Crafts Workshop
General Vallejo's Home, Sonoma
Sunday, November 20, 11 am–3 pm
Craft handmade, affordable historical gifts or stocking stuffers at General Vallejo’s Home. Meet a special holiday guest. Free admission for ages 12 and under (accompanied by an adult), $2 for ages 13–17, and $3 for adults. Rain or shine. More information
While there are plenty of awesome pumpkin patches to choose from in Marin and southern Sonoma counties (see our list of those here), you can find other great places to pick up pumpkins and other Halloween and autumn treats throughout the greater Bay Area. Maybe you're headed on a road trip to the south bay, or bound for the grandparents' house in Sacramento this October—there's probably a pumpkin patch on the way. Here are a few out-of-town pumpkin patches, in Solano, Contra Costa, and San Mateo counties, that we've visited at one time or another or had recommended to us.
Western Railway Museum Pumpkin Patch Festival
5848 Highway 12
(707) 374-2978 www.wrm.org
Saturdays and Sundays, October 8–23, 10 am–5 pm
The Western Railway Museum in rural Solano County holds its celebrated annual Pumpkin Festival every Saturday and Sunday from October 8–23. Ride a vintage electric express train to the pumpkin patch at Gum Grove Station for pumpkins, tractor rides, games, music, a hay fort, a pumpkin launcher, and pumpkins for sale, of course. Admission is $14 for adults, $12 for seniors 65+, and $10 for children 2–14. Admission includes museum entry, unlimited train rides, picnic area use, and parking. Reservations are not accepted.
Looking for a great family day trip this summer? Try heading to the Wine Country town of Glen Ellen for a day of swimming fun at Morton's Warm Springs Resort. Morton's Warm Springs is a family resort famous for its geothermally heated pools filled with natural mineral water. Long thought to have healing benefits, these spring waters have lent their name to numerous communities in the Sonoma area, including Boyes Hot Springs, Agua Caliente, and Fetters Hot Springs.
Is your child a Thomas the Tank Engine fanatic? If so, your chance to experience all things Thomas & Friends and even take a ride on a train drawn by Thomas the Tank Engine himself is coming this summer! Tickets are on sale now for Day Out With Thomas: The Ready, Set, Go Tour 2016, which takes place over two long weekends, July 29–31 and August 5–7, at Roaring Camp Railroads in the Santa Cruz Mountains town of Felton.
One of San Francisco Bay's most prominent landmarks, Angel Island has played a considerable role in the history of California and is now one of the Bay Area's favorite spots for hikers, tourists, history buffs, and anyone who just wants to get away from the busy life on the mainland. It's a great place for a family day trip, with plenty of opportunities to picnic, hike, ride a bike, learn, and just take in the surrounding natural beauty, plus there's a boat ride involved, too!
We took the Angel Island–Tiburon ferry over to the island this past weekend and had a great time. The ferry ride there is quick and efficient, and it's half the fun of the trip. After the short 12-minute trip, you disembark at Ayala Cove and get ready to explore the island.
One of our favorite destinations for a quick family getaway is California's Gold Country in the Sierra Foothills. It's a relatively short 3 hour drive from the Bay Area, and there are plenty of things for families to do. You can visit historic mining towns, pan for gold, explore caves, go wine tasting (for mom and dad, of course), take a ride on a 19th-century steam train, hike, fish, and more.
The highlight of our visits to the Gold Country always Columbia State Historic Park in the Tuolumne County town of Columbia. In fact, much of Columbia is the park itself. While most of the small Mother Lode towns along Highway 49 are filled with California history, Columbia takes this to an extreme—its downtown has been preserved to represent its mid 19th-century heyday, and in fact it's the best preserved Gold Rush town in California.
When we're in San Francisco, one of our favorite spots for an afternoon of shopping and dining is Japantown. A trip to Japantown, which is located in the city's Western Addition neighborhood, is a great way to take in Japanese culture, and it's certainly less effort than taking the family on a trip to Japan! San Francisco's Japantown is the largest and oldest Japanese neighborhood in the United States.
Japantown, or Nihonmachi, was established in its present location following the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, and flourished in the early years of the 20th century. After suffering a downtown during World War II and the internment of Japanese Americans, the area was rejuvenated in the 1950s and '60s. The centerpiece of this six-square-block enclave is the Japan Center Mall. It and the surrounding area are home to numerous Japanese restaurants, shops, and grocery stores.
The Japan Center Mall is a fun place for a family outing, especially if the weather is cold or rainy (not a rarity in San Francisco). The mall is anchored by the large concrete Peace Pagoda in an outdoor plaza, where it also hosts popular local events like the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival, held over two weekends in April, and the Nihonmachi Street Fair, which takes place in August.