Ask the kids whether they’d rather go to a museum or a theme park, and you might get a predictable response. But nothing about this collection of attractions is conventional. Start in San Francisco with a hands-on educational museum, then head into Silicon Valley to show the kids how their devices became so magical. Drive down the coast to explore two above-and-beyond wildlife institutions, and visit a theme park that will blow your mind with its creative flourishes. This family road trip covers about 300 miles and is equal parts fun and illuminating.
Stop one: Exploratorium
Start your educational odyssey at San Francisco’s Pier 15 in the Embarcadero, where this beloved museum invites visitors inside scientific discovery, like standing in a fog cloud, or walking into the totally dark Tactile Dome. Distance to next stop: 38 miles
Stop two: Computer History Museum
Head south of the city on U.S. 101 toward tech haven Silicon Valley. At this Mountain View museum, learn about the birth of the computer, driverless cars, and tech heroes like Ada Lovelace. Next stop: 13 miles
Stop three: The Tech Museum of Innovation
Before you leave Silicon Valley, stop in San Jose at The Tech to build your own robots or play cyber detective. For some outdoor-style learning, go to the nearby interactive Children’s Discovery Museum, where kids can blow giant bubbles, climb trees, and learn about rain catchment systems. Next stop: 34 miles
Stop four: Gilroy Gardens
Head down U.S. 101 to the garlic-loving town of Gilroy. Zoom and twirl on agriculture-themed rides like the Artichoke Dip, splash in the water park, and check out more than 20 incredible Circus Trees, grown in whimsical shapes. Next stop: 46 miles
Stop five: Monterey Bay Aquarium
Continue south on U.S. 101 to Monterey and this world-class bayside aquarium (book tickets online to avoid a wait). Check out tours where kids can try scuba and the family overnight option. Next stop: 152 miles
Stop six: Fresno Chaffee Zoo
Take highways 152 and 99 through farm country to Fresno. This recently revamped zoo has a seriously global community of wildlife, with red kangaroos and wildebeest, and kids can feed giraffes by hand.