- Henry Schmidt Park
This is a very unique railroad-themed playground. From the train bridge atop the swings, to a water tower slide, all the wooden play structures do a great job of letting a child's imagination run wild. The only down side is that some children will be anxious atop the high structures. Although they have slides, poles, and ladders like other standard unadorned metal play structures in most playgrounds, for some reason some of the youngest preschoolers may panic if the limited ingress/egress points are plugged by other children. Maybe these structures are slightly taller or more enclosed? Note that there are quite a number of places for the kids to hide, which makes it hard to track the kids.
- Swank Farms
Eye-popping aerial views of the huge corn mazes.
- Uesugi Farms
Highly professional operation with possibly everything a real pumpkin farm can offer. Note that the ponies
seem to be better cared for at this farm as they are better groomed and not tethered. Picnicking is generally not
permitted. Tons of photo opportunities.
- Pastorino Farms
This place is best for young toddlers who aren't socially aware yet. It's generally very quiet on the weekdays and all the activities are done on a small (size), and low budget scale. Some folks may appreciate the lack of polish. Note that the scary tunnel which runs only a few feet inside one of the nurseries can be disturbing to some children.
- Lemos Farm Pumpkin Patch
It's not the easiest pumpkin patch to drive to and back due to weekend traffic on 92. However, if you've got a very outgoing child, this popular spot will be much more attractive than the quieter Pastorino Farm across the street. On an unrelated note, for a couple dollars, a child can operate a fairly realistic digger!
- Arata's Pumpkin Patch
It's worth the struggle to find parking here on a busy weekend sometimes. The hay bale maze and other hay bale structures are just amazing and there is a good selection of pumpkins. I didn't notice any jump houses the last time I was here and nobody seemed to miss them. You can find better train rides elsewhere but that's not why people come here.
- Pizza on the Hill
Their thin crust pizzas, called "pies" aren't cheap but they are delicious and the toppings are perfectly
done. The interior is cozy with a few large solid wood tables with benches/chairs perfect for small groups or
There is also an outdoor lounge with sofas plus the usual picnic tables. For the kids, they'll love
playground and pristine creek.
- Dim Sum King
Healthier fast food! There's no food coloring in the BBQ pork buns; the steamed spare ribs are meaty, tender, and not all fat; and the steamed spinach and shrimp dumplings are delicious! Kids might also enjoy the velvety tofu (only the thin skin has evidence of being deep fried) and the steamed sticky rice in lotus leaf. The offerings are served tapas-style usually $2.25 for 3 dumplings or $1.10 for each of the larger BBQ pork buns. They have the usual Chinese take- out in their steam trays but I find the dim sum plenty filling. The hot items are all in warming cabinets so if you really want the best experience, just take it home and put it in a steamer for a few minutes. Ahh... decent food without the noise, the wait, and the tipping.
- Shoup Park
Tucked away behind homes, this park features a wide creek in the Spring and even a basic digger in the
playground! The tot swings are a bit high for moms 5' and under but manageable if the child helps out by pulling up
their feet. Parking in the small lots may be challenging during the busier summer season.
- Kings Beach State Recreation Area
Large fine-grain sandy beach with $8 parking and other amenities. Good for enjoying the sand, the views, and water sports. Lots of small and large rocks under the water make it somewhat undesirable for wading. For the smallest kids, the waves are only gentle in the early morning hours before (sometimes serious) winds pick up. The water is very clear because it is cold. The parking lot is full by noon but there is usually some street parking to find if you don't mind walking.
- Liang's Village Cuisine
Yummy authentic Taiwanese food but expect a crowded wait if you arrive after 11:30am on a weekday. The place is tiny but they offer takeout now. There's also nothing particularly kid-friendly about the restaurant except that many of the dishes are small so a variety can be ordered to suit picky tastes. They were also all smiles and brought over smaller plastic utensils for our toddler without prompting from us.
- West End Beach
Calm waves, a small beach and swim area, boat rentals, life guards, two playgrounds, and large picnic areas shaded by groves of tall trees make this a great place for little kids. There is ample free parking on weekday mornings. Entrance fees are nominal. The place seems pristine with gorgeous mountain views. No dogs are allowed during the summer season.
- Vasona Lake County Park
It's a pretty park with a couple playgrounds, paddle boats, a historic carousel, and a cute steam- driven train (also reference Oak Meadow Park). However, it is next to the freeway which means that there are pollutants in the air even if the noise is almost completely suppressed by the park's lower elevation. The large population of geese also present hygiene issues in many areas of the park. Parking is available for a fee and there is very limited street parking near the side entrance.
- Pichetti Ranch Open Space Preserve
3.7 miles of trails that allow for picnicking, superb views, and walks through lush ferns.
- Phipps Country Store and Farm
Visit the farm animals and pick olallieberries and strawberries and selected fruit when they are in season. Explore flower and herb gardens along the creek side.
- Peers Park
A fun park with some cool apparatus that I haven't seen elsewhere. It was very busy on a Sunday morning and this park seems to need/garner more parental supervision than most. For example, the big kid swings are set to adult heights (for swinging/pushing). Some of the inertia-driven spinners were hard for even the preschoolers to stop and climb off. There isn't any shade over the jungle gym for school-aged kids.
- Village Corner Mediterranean Bistro
Kids menu and heated patio for dining with dogs (and kids).
- Cooking Papa
Hong Kong Bistro food with fast service, quality ingredients, and a very clean and trendy restaurant. Yummy. It's so popular though that during peak hours the parking lot may be full and the restaurant so bustling that you won't be able to hear your toddler -- well, that may be a good thing for some folks. They really do pack in the tables and they're so busy that they even frown upon well-behaved kids who just happen to be underfoot.
- Young Chefs Academy
Classes, day camp, and birthday parties.
- Pump It Up Jr
Toddler-sized inflatable-filled indoor arena for children ages 1 to 5.
- Cubes & Crayons
Drop-in childcare (6 weeks to age 5) with the option of cubicle space for telecommuting parents. Reservations required.
- Squeeze In
Great place for eggs served up in dozens of awesome combinations/styles. Kids can get cute pancakes too. A casual alley-sized restaurant with lots of fun attitude. It's very busy by 10:30 am on Sundays. This can be quite a healthful restaurant if you choose wisely from the menu and pack half the meal home with you!
- Martis Peak Fire Lookout
Really spectacular views (with or without the hiking) and amiable fire spotters explaining their job, how to operate the fire finder (a cool compass and map combo), and what they do in the event of lightning storms and fires. Usually open by July. The fire road access is just north of Brockway Summit on Hwy 267. The GPS coordinates of the peak (just keep driving upwards or stay on the main fork if the road splits) is 39.291574,-120.032693.
- Truckee River Trail System
This paved bike trail (between Squaw Valley and Tahoe City) is fairly congested on summer weekends but otherwise it can be fairly pleasant despite the road noise. There's a bit of unrestricted parking just past Alpine Meadows when heading south on River Rd. A playground and more parking can be found at the Squaw Valley entrance. Although the trail system is closed in the off-season, it seems to be nicely plowed!
- Tahoe Donner Equestrian Center
Although the horseback rides require riders to be at least 7 years of age, they offer half hour pony rides for children ages 2-6.
- So Gong Dong Tofu House
There are a number of tofu houses on this strip of El Camino (which hosts many Korean businesses) but this one is our favorite. It is clean, brightly lit, and they offer a free small bowl of plain tofu with beef for little children. White rice is still available on request I think but they tend to default to something involving wild rice. Although they now transport the scalding hot bowls of tofu soup on carts, the only kids you'll see here are the ones who are willing to stay in their seats. This is a great alternative to fast food.
- Cupertino Library
This library features a huge full wall aquarium and an outdoor enclosed quad. In the summer, children can play out front among the fountains that shoot up from the ground. The full service cafe next door is also a nice bonus. Despite the large East Asian population in Cupertino, you'll have to check out the San Jose library system for story time sessions in Japanese, Vietnamese, or Chinese.
- Gilroy Gardens
This place is heaven on earth for young toddlers... especially the mature thrill-seeking kids who haven't
hit 36" yet! Even on a quiet day with almost no lines we were barely able to get to all the rides. Also, despite
Gilroy, there are so many shade trees, and so many water features, that you won't feel the 80F dry heat.
You can't bring
food into the park but maybe you can bring in empty water containers. They don't seem to search
With repeat visits, there's lots more to do, including many educational exhibits.
- Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo
This museum is a small exhibit "hall" with hands-on science-based activities for toddlers and younger
school-aged kids. The parking lot (free) was clogged in the morning (although nearby street parking is plentiful)
child's best bet is in the afternoon (or even better is immediately after lunch). The zoo portion can't
be much more
than a 1/4 acre. Despite its small size, it must've been designed by a toddler because everywhere
you look, there's
something to climb on and it can keep a curious toddler busy for a couple hours. Besides it's
FREE! Suggested donation
of $3 per person.
- Little Bear Creek Tree Farm
Below the snowline but still pretty darn cold! This rustic tree farm has brightly colored jeeps to take families up the hill. There's lots of space for the kids to explore and run but the youngest ones will need to be watched closely since there are steep embankments alongside the creek.
- Colfax max
This small diner wins over both young and old with a model rail line that winds its way around the ceiling of the dining room and kitchen. The food is excellent for folks who are open minded about extra calories and robustly seasoned food. Arriving during peak hours may mean very slow service -- so relax!
- KidZone Museum
It's an indoor play area for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Instead of bounce houses though, the large yurt-like structure is divided into a farm pretend-play area (the temporary exhibit), a craft room, and a separate indoor jungle gym; alongside building toys, a train set, books etc. This is a fun place to burn off some energy for a couple hours when the outdoor weather conditions are poor.
- Satsuma Sushi
This restaurant seems to attract young families. It's no bigger than the average sushi restaurant but the indirect company of other children makes the meal much more relaxed. The staff is very good about keeping hot liquids away from young children and they don't seem to mind the ensuing mess too much. It's not the most amazing Japanese food I've had in my life, and they cater to non-Asians of course, but it's pretty good and I've bumped into a Japanese friend there in the past so it's reasonably authentic.
- Hidden Villa
Hidden Villa is a production organic farm on lands donated by the Duveneck family. The land includes 1600 acres of open space which abuts Rancho San Antonio County Park. For just a $5 parking fee, the whole family can hike along cool streams on shaded trails, walk up to nice vista spots, visit the farm animals, and explore the kid-friendly vegetable garden -- complete with rabbit holes to crawl or waddle through! The farm itself also features an educational center and offers many programs for children down to age 1+. The program fees are not the cheapest around but they subsidize the farm operations in this lush and convenient location.
- Sulphur Creek Nature Center
The Sulphur Creek Nature Center in Hayward has programs for children down to age 1. The Toddler Time program specifically involves an introduction to various animals and a related craft. There is always some hands-on petting, close observation of the animal's free movement/behavior, and often the feeding of live worms, seeds, or flowers. After class we have a nice picnic in the company of coyotes, foxes, owls, falcons, hawks, or even a golden eagle after each class. It's also a steal at $7 even with an added convenience fee of $2 per transaction (where 1 transaction could involve purchasing multiple sessions). We've attended 4 of these Toddler Time sessions thus far. I've had a chinchilla run up my arm. We've played peek-a-boo with a duck. And we've petted a snake, chicken, hamster, dove, toad, desert tortoise etc. These are rescued animals with disabilities. They have been well-socialized so they can perform their unique skills on demand for the kids to witness.
- Warm Springs Park
We spend time at the playground here after class in the adjacent Warm Springs Community Center. The equipment is geared towards the preschool age where even 3 year olds can touch the ground on the big kid swings. There is lots of open grass, a basketball court, tennis courts, and a small rock climbing structure. Kids play on rubberized turf as opposed to sand, tire chunks, or mulch. The only downside is a lack of shade and a bit of graffiti in the otherwise pristine park.
- Ano Nuevo State Reserve
The tour involves a 3 mile hike but only the dune portion is guided/controlled. Thus, if you head out from the visitor center with the group one time slot ahead of yours, then your toddler will have plenty of time to do the 1-ish mile walk out. I've seen strollers in the uncontrolled portion of the hike but the trail conditions could be very poor. It's getting harder to book tours even on the weekdays but if you arrive in the mid-morning, they have a few tours available only to walk-ins. Anyways, enjoy your walk literally among the elephant seals and seal pups! It's amazing to watch them fight, mate, nurse, and move about.
- Monterey Bay Aquarium
This place is incredible. We could literally spend all day "swimming" with the sharks, tuna, barracuda etc. -- and occasionally a super cool sunfish -- without donning a wet suit but there is so much more. The touch exhibits, even the lowest ones, still expect a toddler of maybe 3' in stature. You can probably bring a small step stool or just be prepared to hoist a short toddler for awhile.
- Sanborn Park
The nature trails here are short enough for a toddler to do on their own which is good because these same trails are not stroller-friendly. The more energetic kids/parents can do the steep but wide main trails up the valley. Otherwise there is a large grassy field and level picnic sites. Shade at the picnic sites may be limited. Parking is available for a fee.
- Washington Park
This park is a favorite among playgroups because of its large enclosed toddler area. There's no shade in this part of the park but lots of sand and running water for the kids.
- Serra Park
This is one of our neighborhood parks but the demographics of the immediate area leaves a lot to be explained to a toddler. For example, why a parent would monopolize a toddler swing, why other kids can't wait their turn, why kids are displaying/shouting profanity, why unsupervised kids are playing in the colored non-potable water. The water play area (shut off around 3:30pm) is paved with concrete so any falls are painful. The playground also directly abuts busy Hollenbeck. There is a fence but the pollution.... Anyways, with all the other great parks out there, why bother coming here?
- Rinconada Park
There's nothing particularly special about the playground but it attracts a good age range of kids and attentive parents probably due to its proximity to the public pool and the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo. Lots of shaded parking can be found in the neighborhood streets.
- Bol Park
At first glance, this spot looks like a simple neighborhood park. However, it's the furry and feathery neighbors, plus the relatively natural and accessible creek that makes this park special. Your first hint will be the image of a donkey on the park sign. Two donkeys also provide inspiration for the rockers. Sometimes you'll see a donkey pair grazing in the large grassy field on weekend mornings. If they're not around, just take walk down the trail (formerly a railroad right of way) and visit them in their corral just on the other side of the creek. Also adjacent to the playground, on the other side of the trail are chickens and a goat. If you're driving to the park on a weekend, be sure to watch for hand-painted yellow railroad crossing signs that direct you to a Barron Park home which has a very elaborate model rail line and rail yard in front and back of the house. The owner loves sharing his knowledge of trains and of course donations are greatly appreciated.
- Sutton Swim School
This swim school is discreetly located in the back of a business park near the Apple campus. The medium- sized shallow pool is heated to a toasty 90-93F. Lessons are now offered 7 days a week and parents can look on through a wall of windows while enjoying wi-fi access in a spacious waiting area. This place is wonderful first swim experience for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers with its kid-friendly change rooms, decor, teaching toys, and cozy environs. The staff is very friendly and some know all the kids by name! Parking is never a problem and car traffic in the lot is almost non- existent.
- California Academy of Sciences
Every 3rd Wednesday of the month, entrance to the CA Academy of Sciences is FREE. On one such day, parking could be found on nearby JFK drive even around noon although the underground garage was full as usual. They are supposedly limited by capacity constraints but we saw them admitting people even as we left around 3pm. Tickets to the planetarium were all distributed by about 2pm. Note that the planetarium is not recommended for children under age 6 and not permitted for children under age 4.
I don't really feel qualified to review the place except to say that it is like a smallish jack-of-all-trades museum. It is fun but cannot match dedicated facilities such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium or the Museum of Natural History in NY for example. The info desk and other employees did not see terribly knowledgeable about their new exhibit (Extreme Mammals -- mostly fossils and bones so read picture books in advance).
We took a shortcut through the soon to be opened gorgeous park between the CAAS and JFK Drive.
- Alum Rock Park
Great view of San Jose from atop a hill at the end of a fairly short trail.
- Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Wow, this place is still surreal after repeat visits over the years. Parking can be frustrating by noon on a weekend or holiday, but if you arrive early, your experience won't be marred. Kids can climb around the soft redwood trees, find slugs, millipedes, and generally have a great time without any distractions from home. There's really no place for strollers here (i.e. fallen trees block trails) and if you want a shorter but equally vibrant loop for toddlers, your options may be very limited. Since this park is within 1+ hours of civilization, there's really no point camping at the crazy expensive sites unless the goal is to sleep among the redwoods with friends.
- Creekside Park
On a beautiful mid-Friday afternoon the playground was deserted for the full hour that we were there. Not so great for practicing social skills. Otherwise it is up to date and well-maintained. Multiple postal carriers seemed to like using the restrooms here. :) They also only have one set of apparatus for ages 5 to 12.
- Del Anza Park
This park has a lot of sand, a mock ship's hull, and an unusual assortment of simple ladder/beam/bars type apparatus. The standout feature for young toddlers (and their parents) though would be the spring-mounted teeter- totters. You can load up the kid and then saunter to the other side without worrying about the kid falling off. It seems like this large playground has been added to periodically over the years and so there is something in this oddball collection for everyone.
- Children's Discovery Museum
This is a great museum for children of all ages. They even have a 3100 sq ft museum within the museum for toddlers called the Wonder Cabinet. Within that space is a small room for infants. Although this is not the best science museum out there (try the huge Ontario Science Center in Toronto nestled in the lush Don Valley), the exhibits are really top notch and speak to the whole child. My only criticism would be its location. There are many places accessible by mass transit but its location in downtown San Jose makes parking a tax for brief regular member visits (unless you're lucky enough to score a parking meter or are willing to walk blocks with a tired toddler). The cafe is tiny and on a busy day food service can be very slow. This museum is also in need of a cash infusion for maintenance of its permanent exhibits. On the brighter side of things, if a family is cash-strapped, there is a somewhat obscure sign near the inner entrance doors that suggest admission fees can be waived on a needs-basis. Access to all... yay!
- Marymeade Park
3 tennis courts with user-enabled lights, an open field, some parking, and a couple play structures make for a nice self-contained small park. The timed water feature involves an impressive flow of water down terraced rocks into a sand pit that allow multiple kids to get wet without having to jostle for access. The water was observed flowing around 1pm. The shade trees are well-placed.
- Martin Murphy Junior Park
Admittedly I've only been here once. Aside from our playgroup and a small group of young men, the park was deserted in the late weekday afternoon. A police officer decided to check out the young men. It's a nice enough park in a decent neighborhood but I wouldn't recommend going alone for safety and social reasons.
- Oakland Zoo
This 45 acre zoo is small enough for toddlers to explore in its entirety on their own two legs -- assuming that they're willing. There is a train loop that skirts a small part of the zoo and takes the kids to within a few feet of Australian emus and wallaroos. The exhibits are generally close enough to one another that a young child could be watching one animal and then be beckoned further into the park by the call of another. A lot of care has definitely been put into the planning of open spaces for the kids and the planting of interesting vegetation. Be sure to save extra time at the end of the visit for the carousel and a few other 3'-and-taller rides. Pack a light lunch to take advantage of all the nicely -placed benches around the zoo too!
- Ortega Park
This is a full-featured park with a gated section for toddlers, an expansive climbing wall, and a water feature that can accommodate many kids safely. Parking at a distance may be required on busy weekends.
- Raynor Park
The enclosed infant area is cozy and well shaded at various times of the day. It is quickly outgrown by
toddlers though who can explore the rest of the dinosaur-themed park. The slides tend to get uncomfortably hot in
and the "sand" is more like pulverized rock, but it is a charming park that comes complete with a concrete
rotunda which is
perfect for trikes.