Written by Bill Zavestoski
Sometimes all it takes is a little planning to have a great family outing. When routine exploits just aren’t cutting it anymore, shake things up by exploring new terrain, taking in an exhibition, or visiting a landmark and learning a little something about our local history. Here are awesome events to attend and places to visit around town before fall ends. Best part? All of them can be done on the cheap and on one tank of gas—or less!
21600 Big Basin Way,
Boulder Creek, CA 95006
Unlike federal parklands, state facilities were not affected by the partial government shutdown, so you can be certain the trees and trails will be available. Big Basin, California's oldest state park, was established in 1902 and has more than 80 miles of trails. It boasts the largest continuous stand of ancient coast redwoods south of San Francisco.
Why Go? Among the many trails are some flat, simple ones that are perfect for families with smaller children and even seniors, if grandma and grandpa are tagging along. Even the 90-minute Redwood Loop Walk, a guided half-mile walk through an old-growth redwood forest offered at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. each Saturday and Sunday, is stroller and wheelchair accessible. If you have the time to stay overnight, there are four campgrounds that offer a total of 146 family campsites. It's the beauty of it all that draws hikers and campers.
Insider Tip: It goes without saying that you need to wear comfortable but sturdy footwear and bring plenty of water. Also, leave some extra time for the ride to the park itself. If you're approaching from the north, the drive up to the park is narrow and winding, so be cautious behind the wheel. On the trails, keep an eye out for banana slugs. You can't miss the yellow critters! “They look a lot like those peppers that come with all Papa John's pizzas,” noted one Yelp poster.
Must Do: Hike out to a waterfall, with the most accessible being Sempervirens Falls, along the easiest 3.5-mile leg (Route A) of Sequoia Trail. The other four waterfalls are along Berry Creek Trail, a 10.5-mile loop that likely is too strenuous for younger hikers. Make sure you get a trail map at park headquarters.
The Fine Print: The park is open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. For day use, the fee is $10 per vehicle, cash or check only, and if you arrive before 8 a.m. you'll want to carry that exact amount since you'll have to self-pay to enter. The fee for a family campsite is $35.
1651 Coyote Point Drive
San Mateo 94401
Want to get the kids turned on to science while they're having fun in the process? CuriOdyssey touts itself as “a family-friendly science and nature museum that features hands-on science exhibits that explore how nature's complex systems work together.” Also onsite are exhibits of mostly native reptiles, amphibians, mammals and birds in the museum's Animal Habitats.
Why Go? Kids of all ages will enjoy this combination museum/mini-zoo. “My three grandkids (ages 3, 6, and 9) thoroughly enjoyed our day there, and I learned a lot too,” a retired teacher commented. “Even given the age span of our grandkids, all three were involved and most attentive. Hands-on activities were well organized and creative. The volunteer docents were knowledgeable, enthusiastic and ever-so-patient with questioning kids and adults.” And after that learning experience, the kids can enjoy Magic Mountain Playground with its huge slide next door on Coyote Point.
Insider Tip: Though the museum building itself is not very large and can be toured in an hour or less, the outdoor animal display areas plus an acre-plus garden featuring natural plants make for a complete experience that will keep kids entertained all day. Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy it either on the museum grounds or watching planes approach SFO by the water at gorgeous Coyote Point.
Must Do: You'll want to be on hand for the midday feedings, particularly the river otters and bobcats. The knowledgeable wildlife staff will answer any questions you might have, and often have an animal or snake on hand that kids can view up close and touch.
The Fine Print: Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. It is closed on Mondays. Admission is $9 for adults, $7 for students (13-17) and seniors (62+) and $6 for children 2-12. Call the office at (650) 342-7755 to find out about reduced price tickets for military, AAA members, other zoo members. On Community Days, held on varying days, admission is free. There's also a $6 charge to enter and park at Coyote Point Park, though it is waived for CuriOdssey members.
601 Skyway Road
San Carlos 94070
The Hiller Aviation Institute & Museum at the northwest corner of San Carlos Airport was founded by helicopter pioneer Stanley Hiller Jr. in June 1998. The 53,000 square foot complex is “dedicated to the dreams of flight – looking back into aviation’s history while exploring its future.”
Why Go? You won't need a boarding pass or have to go through security lines at this place. Two large display areas house the majority of the exhibits, where vintage and futuristic aircraft, prototypes, photographic displays, and models can be viewed. An adjoining atrium displays more than a dozen large-scale aircraft models. Let the kids take control of a Boeing 747 from the cockpit while you enjoy a seat just to the rear in the first-class section.
Insider Tip: If you have a child who is enthralled by flight, you should consider signing up your kindergarten through fifth grader for a seven-hour “Aviation Adventure Day” (generally held on school holidays) that includes model aircraft construction, flight simulation, exploration of museum aircraft and other hands-on activities. Themes in November include “Rescue Aviators” on the 11th and “Airline Transport” on the 29th.
Must Do: Play pilot and co-pilot in the the Flight Sim Zone, where for an additional $3, two kids can get behind the controls of a multi-screen flight simulator and take a virtual flight around the bay, using yokes, throttles and rudder pedals. It's often a scramble to secure a seat since the Flight Sim Zone operates only on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The Fine Print: Normal hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, though some private events may lead to an early closing or an entire day or two when the museum is closed to the public. Check the online calendar (http://www.hiller.org/upcoming-events.shtml) or call the museum at (650) 654-0200 for the latest info. Admission is $14 for adults, $9 for youths (5-17) and seniors (65+), and children 4 and under are free with a paid adult. An online coupon offers a $1 discount.