California for Families

The classic Californian road trip doesn’t have to be a bunch of free-spirited twenty-somethings tearing up Route 66 in a flash red convertible. Although that is lot of fun. It can be a gentler, more relaxing tootle around the Golden State, taking in the very best in food, sights and entertainment on offer. Take a different view of California and you can find an old-fashioned family adventure, complete with amusement parks and stacks of outdoor fun.

First things first. If you’ve got kids in the back, the rules are different. A spot of research beforehand saves the family from falling out after the first hour. Shorter stops, plenty of supplies and a few lo-fi games can help too. In this ongoing series of road trip ideas, we present a three-day tour of California’s Central Valley.


Kick things off early in West Sacramento, California’s capital city and the perfect place to source any last minute provisions for your trip. If you have an hour or so free, head towards the river and take a look around Raley Field, home of The Sacramento River Cats.

Take the Interstate 80 east for about 12 miles until you reach Davis, the most ‘bicycle-friendly town in the world’. Flat terrain, warm climate and its network of cycle lanes make this city perfect for an afternoon spin, and hire companies are in plentiful supply. There’s a farmer’s market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and the UC Davis arboretum is an excellent place to picnic. From Davis, it’s 20 minutes on the CA-113 north to Woodland, where a pleasant evening can be had at the Woodland Opera House, currently showing Peter Pan. If you’re here in mid August, there is the annual Yolo Country Fair which includes demolition derbies and a Yolo Idol Search. In case you thought you’d left X-Factor behind.


The need for something sweet is probably kicking in about now. The front seats are probably being kicked too. Retrace yesterday’s route back to Davis, where you join the I80 south to Vacaville. At Fenton’s Creamery you can drop in for a delicious Black & Tan Sundae (made with toasted almonds).

If ice cream doesn’t take your collective fancy, continue another ten miles to Fairfield, where the famous Jelly Belly factory is based. Take the tour but leave enough time for the gift shop. From here continue along the I80 toward’s today’s main course: Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Vallejo, which is a sprawling, 135-acre animal theme park with ‘thrill-ride’ roller coasters, exotic land animals, marine life and a 4D cinema. Enough said.


After all the excitement of yesterday, it’s time to take things a little slower, to get outdoors and enjoy a bit of fresh air. Brannan Island State Recreation is a huge state park joined by a maze of waterways, which is great for boating, windsurfing and swimming. Keen (or budding) fishers can try their luck with bass, catfish and bluegill. The park is open sunrise to sunset, and is perfect for a family barbecue in the Seven Mile Slough picnic area.

Half an hour east of here is Lodi,  the ‘Zinfandel Capital of the World’ (attention: parents) and home of The Serpentarium (attention: reptile lovers). Admission is dirt cheap ($2 per person) with plenty of photo and feeding opportunities, if you or your loved ones dare. If slimy things don’t take your fancy, there’s the World of Wonders Science Musuem which is also very hands-on; interactive exhibits centred on energy, electricity and magnetism.

There we have it: a three-day whistle-stop tour of California’s beautiful Central Valley. Happy driving!