SanJose1San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, even Sacramento… As a midwesterner, these are the cities that I generally think of when considering where to travel in California. But it’s not always the more well-known cities that have the best attractions, and some of the other communities can offer a lot – lower prices, fewer crowds, and a great family-friendly vibe. Even in the heart of Silicon Valley.

San Jose is known for being the ‘Capital of Silicon Valley’, but it’s also the 3rd largest city in California – and the 10th largest in the United States. Along with a booming technology industry, there is a lot to offer families as well – whether tagging along on a business or conference trip or looking for a vacation destination that almost guarantees perfect weather and a lot to do. With a newly renovated airport and lots of opportunities for shopping, dining and enjoying events and festivals, San Jose is a great family vacation destination.

I had never been to San Jose before last year but had the opportunity to fly there and spend a few days getting to know the city and what it can offer for family vacations. The first thing that I learned? Even though San Jose is close in proximity to San Francisco, it’s worlds away as far as weather is concerned. It very rarely rains in San Jose – they have an average of 300 days of sunshine per year, making the chances of having your fun called on account of rain slim to none.

Here are a few of the family-friendly options I discovered:

SanJose3California’s Great America amusement/water park

Great America offers two parks in one – whether you’re looking for rollercoasters and thrill rides or to splash around in the California sun on water slides or relaxing on the lazy river at Boomerang Bay. With a Peanuts gang theme, it’s kid-friendly fun that the whole family can enjoy. Kids under the age of 3 are free, and younger kids in general will love the rides and attractions at Planet Snoopy and KidZville.

For the older kids and teens, there’s Flight Deck – a suspended ‘jet’ coaster, The Grizzly – a classic wooden coaster and plenty more rides to get the adrenaline going, plus shows, food and seasonal events. Then cool off at Boomerang Bay’s Aussie-themed wave pool, lazy river, swimming lagoon, water slides and more. Admission is $55.99/day for adults or $35.99/day for kids 3+ and seniors. You can save $10 on the adult ticket price by purchasing in advance online. For more information, check out their website at, or find them on Facebook or Twitter.

The rides I’d love to try if I go back: Carousel Columbia – I’d love to take a spin on this double-decker carousel, and The Grizzly – I’ve always been partial to wooden roller coasters!


SanJose4Raging Waters

California’s largest water park has three locations – in San Jose, San Dimas and Sacramento. The San Jose water park is located inside Lake Cunningham Regional Park and has a beautiful lake view. There’s an assortment of tube and body slides, plus a wave pool, an activity pool, lazy river and an interactive water play structure.

Smaller kids can bring their adults into the Little Dipper or Wacky Water Works to enjoy fun in the sun and splash around together. There are cabanas available for rent or you can spread out and relax on the lawn.  The park is open for varying hours during May-September and season tickets are available – if you visit even just twice a year, the season ticket option actually can be a better value. For more information, check out their website at, or find them on Facebook or Twitter.

The ride I’d love to try if I go back: Bombs Away – watching people’s faces as they stepped out of the water after dropping “through an enclosed inverted looping flume for over 200 feet” was a blast!


SanJose6Children’s Discovery Museum

You can’t miss this purple building – which houses an interactive museum offering 150 exhibits where kids can “test, crank, prod, tinker” and more, including a city intersection with real, working stoplights. Kids can also learn about Lupe – a juvenille Columbian mammoth, some of whose bones were discovered near the San Jose airport and are on display at the museum. Kids can learn about the properties of water, explore what makes bubbles work, or make their own cornhusk doll. And they can learn how to eat healthier by ‘eating a rainbow’ in the Rainbow Pizza and Market. Admission is $10/person over age one. For more information, check out their website at

My favs here: Having a real city street in the middle of the museum (maintained by the city no less) is awesome. I also love the local tie-in with the mammoth exhibit and how kids can learn without even really realizing it as they play throughout this museum.

SanJose7Happy Hollow Park and Zoo

Happy Hollow recently re-opened after a large renovation and gives families a chance to explore, learn and have fun together. The zoo has a selection of mammals, reptiles and birds – including capybaras, lemurs, deer, meerkats, wallabies, monkeys, and more. Daily Meet & Greets are an opportunity for kids to get up close and learn more about particular species. The park includes playgrounds, rides and a restaurant and picnic area so families can make a day of it together.

Happy Hollow “combines innovative green architecture with whimsical fun” and is a LEED certified gold facility. Admission is $10/person for ages 2-69, and $8/person for seniors 70+. Kids under age 2 are free. For more information, check out their website at, or find them on Facebook or Twitter.

My favs here: I love the beautiful locale here and there’s so much to offer with the animal exhibits, play space and rides. There’s also a gorgeous bridge as you walk from the parking lot to the park entrance with a gorgeous view. 

For more information about planning a trip to San Jose, visit the Team San Jose website or follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

I was invited on a press event to San Jose, which included airfare, hotel, food, and admission to and tours of the attractions mentioned above. However, all opinions stated here are 100% my own and I look forward to hopefully visiting San Jose again with my family someday. You can see more of the photos from my trip on Flickr:

Deb is Traveling Mom’s Social Media Manager and writes as West Michigan TravelingMom, as well as at Just a mom’s take on things…. You can also find her on Twitter – she’s @DebMomOf3