Spring Break in California for Middle Schoolers - Part 1 of 2

Pop Quiz: Where do you take three boys in middle school for Spring Break where they’ll actually want to put down their devices and get out and be, well, boys?

How about the Bay Area? The land of Silicon Valley - the home of Google, Apple and many other companies they’re familiar with; NASA Ames Research Centre - I mean, it is NASA, after all; Alcatraz - where the worst of the bad boys go; Golden Gate Bridge - one of the world’s most recognizable icons... the list goes on and on. 

For ten days, that’s what we did as a family. We took our three boys on an epic trip through Northern California that they’ll remember for a long time. While we weren’t able to do everything we wanted to do - like NASA (due to scheduling issues) we did do enough of a variety of things to make it memorable. 


Day 1 - Arrival


We flew into San Jose International Airport (SJC) instead of San Francisco (SFO) because there are so often weather delays at SFO. SJC is a little further south and rarely experiences weather interruptions like SFO does. The only drawback is a fewer number of flight options but if you plan well enough in advance, you should be fine.

We had family who lived in Sunnyvale (which is in the heart of Silicon Valley) and so we were able to save on accommodations. If we can, we try and stay in houses (usually via sites like VRBO or AirBnB) so that we have kitchen access. When you’re going for 10 days and travelling with 3 kids, eating out all the time can be an expensive and unhealthy option. 

Upon arrival to the house, we picked up groceries from Trader Joe’s and Safeway so we could get both healthy food and treats. We spent the rest of the day relaxing and getting acquainted with the house.



Day 2 - Stanford & Golden State Warriors


As a 9th grader, Nathan is starting to think about college - not seriously yet, but beginning to build awareness. He knew that Stanford was in the area and so we went on a scheduled 1 hr 15 min walking tour across campus. 

The tour was hosted by three junior students and they did a great job introducing the campus and providing us a glimpse into Stanford’s rich history. The campus itself is beautiful and everywhere we walked you could imagine how lovely it would be to be a student there. Wherever Nathan chooses to go to university, I think Stanford left a significant impression and it was definitely a place to which he felt inspired. 

From there, we drove into Oakland to the Oracle Arena to attend a Golden State Warriors game versus the Sacramento Kings - a regional rivalry. My boys are big NBA fans and so watching one of the best basketball teams in the NBA on home turf was an absolute treat for them. Although the Warriors lost in the last few minutes of the game, the score was so close it was an incredibly exciting experience.



Day 3 - Rained Out - Movie

The weather was not cooperating on this trip and it was pouring rain on Day 3. Normally the Bay Area - in particular South Bay, where we were - doesn’t get much rain, let alone rain several days straight. We took the boys to a nearby movie theatre to see Black Panther and they had a “Marvel(ous)” time. Sorry, couldn’t resist. :-)



Day 4 - Trip up to Gualala

On Day 4, we headed up north to Gualala, a tiny town on the coast, near Sea Ranch - located a little over 2 hours north of San Francisco and about an hour north of Petaluma. 

Keith’s family also lives up there and we’re so thankful as it gave us a reason to make the trip to explore this beautiful and remote part of the California coastline. Rugged and unforgiving at times, the road up the coast - especially north of Jenner  - can be treacherous as you’re driving along the windy cliffs. If you’ve got the stomach - and courage - to drive it, it’s well worth it. You just might want to give the kids Gravol or Dramamine before you hit the road as the switchbacks and hairpins can definitely affect those who are prone to motion sickness.

Because there is little to no cell service along the coast there in Gualala and nearby, you’re often relying on WIFI. So as you can imagine the boys had to get used to it pretty fast. When we were out and about the boys wouldn’t touch their phones. So spending time with adults, talking, playing wooden spin tops and assembling puzzles were the activities of choice after a while.



Day 5 - Exploring Beaches, Whale Spotting, Mexican Food & a Giraffe Reserve

With the lack of technology at their fingertips, the boys started to explore other things around their environment, like the beautiful rustic beaches with soft sand and driftwood scattered about. 

We headed to Gualala Point Regional Park for the morning to beachcomb. Since Gualala is further north of San Francisco the weather is definitely chilly and so this was not your typical California beach. Nonetheless, the boys were climbing the large logs and running away from the waves as they lapped in. One word of caution - the waves in this area can be incredible dangerous as the beach has a steep drop at the tide level and the rip curl is strong and can pull young kids under. There is no life guard around so you do take the risk if you or your children are playing in the water.

While on the beach, we spotted an orca pod - with at last three of them swimming close to the shore. We figured these were baby orcas given their size and could only imagine where their mother was. For nearly an hour, the orcas frolicked and waved their fins at us, getting as close as 20 feet from shore. The boys had seen a number of animals on this trip, from cows to sheep and wild deer - but this orca sighting was quite special.

After the beach, we headed back into town to Antonio’s Tacos, a fantastic place for lunch only frequented by locals. The boys loved their beef (steak) tacos and I had baja fish tacos and one with chorizo. It was a very busy hot spot and absolutely delicious.


In the afternoon, we headed to B. Bryan Preserve in Point Arena, a 20 minute drive north of Gualala. The reserve is home to a number of endangered animals, from critically endangered to endangered including various species of zebra, giraffe and antelope. It’s not a zoo, but a private preserve across 110 acres that houses these majestic African animals in large open fields. You can go on a 1-hour tour of the preserve (by appointment only) by an open-air Land Rover that gets you as close as safely possible to the animals. The tour ends with a Giraffe feeding - the highlight of the hour - where the boys fought over who could feed more of the yams to the giraffe. It was so amazing to see these gorgeous animals up close and the kids will remember this for a long time.

It had only been five days but we had already done so much. Hope you enjoyed reading about our trip so far and browsing the photos. Maybe you’ll find something that inspires you for an upcoming family trip in the Bay Area. 

Next time, I’ll diarize the last half of the trip including an amazing visit to an amusement park that the boys totally loved!