Dennis the Menace Park
Dennis the Menace creator, Hank Ketcham, helped design the original Dennis the Menace Playground. And this is no ordinary playground. With a climbing wall, suspension bridge, hedge maze and authentic Southern pacific steam engine, it’s a place where kids and adults can play and let their imaginations run rampant.
Jelly Belly Factory
Located about an hour north of San Francisco, the Jelly Belly Factory offers free 40-minute tours. There are over 150 sweet treats cooked up in this factory and you’ll get a behind the scenes look at just how it’s done. Bonus Tip: Buy a bag of Belly Flops at the Gift Shop. These beans took on an irregular shape going through production, but they still taste exactly the same and cost about 50% less.
U.S. Olympic Training Center
Chula Vista, CA
Take a free one-hour tour of this training center where top athletes go to train for Olympic sports like archery, beach volleyball, BMX, cycling, track & field, soccer, and more. Stop in at the Team USA Shop, all proceeds will directly support U.S. athletes.
Los Angeles and Pacific Palisades, CA
Admission is free to the Getty Center (Los Angeles) and the Getty Villa (Pacific Palisades). Keep in mind parking will cost you $10-$15. The Getty Center is the place to go for impressive art, architecture and gardens. At the Villa, you’ll find ancient art dating back to the Stone Age as well as a vast collection of Greek and Roman antiquities.
San Francisco, CA
The Exploratorium is one of the best museums this state has got to offer. It’s full of hands-on exhibits were kids and adults alike can learn and play. But it costs $19 – $25. While it’s worth taking a trip, there is one exhibit you can see for free, the wave organ. Located down on a jetty on the Bay in SF’s Marina district, this installation is composed of 25 organ pipes made of PVC and concrete, which make “music” when the waves come in. Go at high tide for the best experience.
National Children’s Forest
San Bernardino, CA
This 3,400 acres of forest in the San Bernardino Mountains is a place where children and adults alike will learn to respect nature and the forests around them. Check out the 4.5 mile Exploration Trail. The U.S. Forest Service enlisted the help of children to design this trail especially for kids.
Cal Sailing Open House
One weekend day a month, the Cal Sailing Club offers a free introductory sail in the San Francisco Bay. Anyone 5 years of age or older are welcome (though children must be accompanied by a parent or guardian). Bring a change of clothes and be prepared to get a little wet.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk<
Santa Cruz, CA
Anyone can cruise the boardwalk for free. An all day rides wristband is $31.95 (though you can usually find a special promotion). What’s great about admission free parks is if you only have a few ride-lovers in your family you’re not paying $50 or so just to get in the door. Plus, the beach is just a few steps away and that’s always free. Bonus Tip: June 25 – August 13, the boardwalk hosts free movies on the beach, Wednesday nights at 9pm. What better way to enjoy a movie then with the ocean to your left, a roller coaster to your right, and a big bag of kettle corn in your lap.
NASA Ames Visitor Center
Moffett Field, CA
Learn what’s going on at the NASA Ames Research Center, a key facility for NASA missions. Hands on exhibits and displays include a shuttle cockpit simulator and a real moon rock.
U-Pick farms are scattered throughout the farm-rich state of California. And while yes, you will have to pay for what you pick (and probably a nominal entrance fee), it’s a great family activity and you walk away with the freshest fruits and veggies. Check this directory of U-Pick farms throughout California. Be sure to call before you go. Crop availability and harvest schedule are subject to the year’s growing conditions. Berries are our favorite u-pick crop because they freeze well so it makes sense to stock up. Check out Phipps in Pescadero for strawberries and olallieberries.