35 things to see and do within 2 hours of San Joaquin County

Worth the Drive

Summer is here! And that means we are ready to get out there and explore. There are millions of fun things to do in San Joaquin County this season—and the rest of the year—but one of the big benefits to living in SJC is its proximity to other cool locales. So, this summer, in addition to hitting up local favorites, we’re proposing a few trips outside of county limits. We’ve rounded up some of the best experiences to have nearby, with 35 exciting summer adventures, all within a two-hour drive of cities in San Joaquin.

 

Get your carnival on at the Stanislaus County Fair. The 109th annual fair hits Turlock July 8-17, bringing carnival attractions, concerts, livestock events, and delicious food to the 10-day celebration. Check out the calendar so you don’t miss your favorite performers and other live entertainment including motorsports. StanCoFair.com

 

Hop on an antique carousel in Berkeley. One of few remaining in the country, the Tilden Park Merry-Go-Round is on the National Register of Historic Places and is more than 100 years old. While there, you can also hike the over 2,000-acre park and check out the Tilden Park Botanic Gardens. EBParks.org/Parks/Tilden

Ride the Stanislaus River rapids. River Journey Adventures in Knights Ferry, Calif. provides everything families need to enjoy water rafting in the Central Valley. You can plan to spenf 3-5 hours as you journey eight miles down the Stanislaus River, stopping to enjoy swimming holes and great scenery away from it all. RiverJourney.com

 

Tour Air Force One. The plane that served Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush is on display at Castle Air Museum. Hailed as one of the largest aviation museums on the West Coast, visitors can also see historic World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam Conflict military aircraft, and more. CastleAirMuseum.com

 

See Berkley from above at Sather Tower. The third highest bell and clock tower in the world, Sather Tower, also referred to as the Campanile, stands 307 feet tall and was built in 1914. At the top, you can take in views of the entire Bay Area.

 

Play life-size Monopoly in San Jose. A larger-than-life Monopoly board in Discovery Meadow put San Jose in the Guinness Book of World Records. With giant plush dice and huge game pieces that mimic the original Monopoly, kids and adults will have fun trading property under the sun. After a round, head inside to the Children’s Discovery Museum. MonopolyInThePark.com

 

Immerse yourself in cowboy culture.  Oakdale is hailed as the “cowboy capital of the world,” so it makes sense that one of the city’s biggest attractions is The Cowboy Museum. The museum includes high-energy photographs depicting rodeo and ranching life as well as other memorabilia that tips a hat to the cowboy, cowgirl, and rancher lifestyle that Oakdale was built on. TheCowboyMuseum.org

 

Reach high speeds on a concrete slide. Not made for tiny tots, the Seward Slides in San Francisco are a hidden city gem. Built in 1973, the main attraction of the larger mini-park are two concrete slides designed by a 14-year-old who won a competition put on by a famous sculptor. SFParksAlliance.org

 

Learn the entire history of California in one day. The Oakland Museum of California is an expansive destination fit for all ages with immersive and interactive experiences that let visitors become a lasting part of the museum, sharing their ideas, thoughts, experiences, and more throughout. MuseumCA.org

 

Get ready for a classic carnival experience at the Alameda County Fair. From June 17-July 10, guests are welcome to come down and enjoy speedy horse races, livestock competitions, live music, fireworks, and plenty of old-school carnival games and rides. Performers include Ginuwine, Neon Trees, and Purple Reign. Annual.AlamedaCountyFair.com

 

Attend the historic Livermore Rodeo. Celebrating its 104th year, little says country summer more than a small-town rodeo. This long-standing event draws crowds from around the world as cowboys and cowgirls show off their skills at the Livermore Valley Stadium June 11 and 12. LivermoreRodeo.com

 

Eat ice cream at the infamous Fenton’s Creamery. Will travel for ice cream—this retro ice cream parlor is a piece of history, an Oakland landmark serving the community for over 100 years. For younger patrons, the creamery’s connection to the Pixar movie Up will increase interest. And don’t forget the newer Vacaville location. FentonsCreamery.com

 

Stop and smell the roses at Crystal Hermitage. The compound has a storied history tied into an intricate spiritual belief system. What pulls most visitors in, however, is the gardens. Springtime is the busiest season, when the tulips are in full bloom, but summer still offers visiting hours and rows upon rows of forget me nots, snap dragons, peonies, camellias, pansies, and more. For those who want to immerse themselves in the experience, yoga, meditation, and self-improvement retreats are hosted. CrystalHermitage.org

 

See Brad Paisley (and other acts) at an outdoor winery. Ironstone Vineyards is well known for its summer concert series. More acts get added throughout summer but for now the main headliners include Brad Paisley and Slightly Stoopid. Don’t forget to grab your wine slushies inside before heading to the outdoor amphitheater! IronstoneVineyards.com

 

Shop ‘til you drop at Northern California’s best outlets. There’s more than one place to do some serious damage, including the San Francisco Premium Outlets in Livermore, the Vacaville Premium Outlets, the Napa Premium Outlets, and the Folsom Premium Outlets.

 

Cool down at a water park. Here, amusement rides all land in one place—a pool of refreshing water. Visit Raging Waters in Sacramento or San Jose where high-speed slides are the main attraction to beat the California heat. Or try Golfland Splash in Roseville.

 

Play putt-putt inside of a bar. An indoor miniature golf course makes drinks at Flatstick Pub even more fun. Serving up pints of local, craft beer, visitors can play unlimited rounds of mini-golf for as little as $12 per person—plus, DuffleboardTM, a tabletop miniature golf game. TipsyPutt.com

 

Embrace wine country without the wine. Healdsburg is typically a destination wine lovers rush to, but there’s a lot to explore in the vino-rich town without taking a sip of alcohol. See what the hype is all about as you kayak down the Russian River, hike the picturesque Montage hiking trail, cycle the backroads, and take a horseback ride through Lake Sonoma. When you’re ready for a little R&R, hit Spa Montage for a Lavender Peppermint Restorative Massage or shop in the 19th Century Plaza.

 

Celebrate the return of festival season. You don’t have to make your way to the Southern half of the state to partake. Instead, buy tickets for San Francisco’s Outside Lands Music Festival, a three-day event hosted in Golden Gate Park. This year’s lineup includes Lizzo, The Strokes, and Vampire Weekend. August 5-7. SFOutsideLands.com

 

Raise your club, and a drink, at Top Golf in Roseville. The entertainment venue is focused on golf but also includes a swanky lounge with food, drinks, and other games. Topgolf.com

 

Immerse yourself in the world of cheese. Hilmar Cheese Company in Turlock invites guests to come and explore how cheese is made and how it gets to your table with guided or self-guided tours. You can even dress up in a cheesemaker uniform and sample some of the bounty. While you’re there, dine at the café or take a summer ice cream making class, offered through August. HilmarCheese.com

 

Have date night at a dinner theatre. Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theatre has been a Fresno staple since 1978 with more than 180 productions under its belt. The 2022 season includes Sister Act, The Music Man, Young Frankenstein, Beauty & The Beast, and Guys & Dolls. Enjoy a buffet dinner and fun cocktails before—and during—the show. RogerRockas.com

 

Seek out underground gardens. Also located in Fresno, the Forestiere Underground Gardens are a can’t-miss attraction. One man, Baldasare Forestiere, built the 10-acre gardens after immigrating to California from Siciliy. His solo project took 40 years to complete from 1906-1946. Make the most of your visit with a one-hour guided tour. Sometimes you can even take a yoga class in the gardens. UndergroundGardens.com

 

Learn how Jelly Bellys are made at the Jelly Belly Factory. Millennials likely remember school fieldtrips here. And Monday through Friday you can still visit the factory, take a ¼-mile self-guided tour, enjoy the Jelly Belly art, and taste a variety of candy and treats (plus wine). JellyBelly.com/California-Factory-Tours

 

Become a vertical aerial dancer. BANDALOOP is a high-flying acrobatic act that features dancers on the side of an illuminated wall, completing choreography several stories in the air. Instead of just watching—join them. Workshops in Oakland teach the craft that uses climbing equipment to complete vertical dance routines. BandaloopStudio.com

 

Grab a collectible carousel ring at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. The first 100 riders on July 25 (National Carousel Day) get the limited-edition brass souvenir. Then, head to the rest of the attractions where an unlimited ride bracelet will go far and blacklight minigolf and beach views are just a brisk walk away. BeachBoardwalk.com

 

Spend a day with the dinosaurs. Prehistoric creatures meet modern entertainment at Livermore’s Lost Worlds Family Fun Center. The dino-themed indoor amusement park features a four-level play structure, arcade, blacklight mini golf, and laser tag. Kids of all ages can grab unlimited wristbands or pay as they play. Plus, it’s a great place to host summer birthday parties. LostWorlds.Rocks

 

Celebrate Korean Culture in Santa Clara. Not many are privy to the expansive Korean culture that permeates the Silicon Valley city of Santa Clara. Food and shopping activities take place along El Camino Real between Lawrence and San Tomas expressways. Here you can dine at seven different authentic Korean restaurants and shop goods at shopping centers and markets.

 

Ride Northern California’s fastest and tallest wooden coaster at Great America. The Gold Striker is just one of many attractions that will keep visitors of all ages entertained while visiting the Santa Clara amusement park. CAGreatAmerica.com

 

Test your skills on a railbike. The River Fox Train in Sacramento invites guests to hop on a railbike and journey from Woodland or West Sacramento. In all you’ll trek approximately 10 miles on out-of-service railroads. The company also offers excursions on passenger trains. Make it adult by taking a happy hour or beer train. RiverFoxTrain.com

View the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, and Richmond Bridge at once. Angel Island, a California State Park, offers a quick and moderate 3-3.5-mile hike to the top with a 788-foot elevation gain. If you want to be extra adventurous, book a campsite on the island and explore its diverse history as an immigration center from 1910-1940. Parks.CA.Gov/AngelIsland

 

Dine at seven restaurants in three hours. What’s not to love about a three-hour excursion featuring six to seven stops at both iconic restaurants and best-kept secrets? Along the way, a knowledgeable guide shares insider secrets and local history, plus tidbits on the culinary scene and the places you’ll try. Oh, and it all takes place in Carmel-by-the-sea. CarmelFoodTour.com

 

Zip you way through the Redwoods. Located near San Jose, Mount Hermon Adventures in Felton is famous for its Redwood Canopy Tours, multiple aerial adventures, and other adrenaline-pumping undertakings. MountHermonAdventures.com

Get spooked at the Winchester Mystery House. There are 160 rooms at the infamous mansion built by Sarah Winchester. A 65-minute mansion tour is the most popular event on the San Jose grounds, but a more extensive tour lets visitors also visit Houdini’s Spirited Escape (an escape room) or partake in axe throwing in the stables before adventuring into the mansion’s darker and more mysterious rooms, including the basement and the third floor, which are not part of the standard mansion tour. WinchesterMysteryHouse.com

 

Escape to the country in the city. San Francisco has taken a page out of New York’s book. The same firm responsible for the Chelsea High Line in NYC has developed a national park dubbed Presidio Tunnel Tops in San Francisco. The park includes meadows, picnic areas, food options, and extensive play spaces for families of all ages. Mark your calendars—the park officially opens July 17. PresidioTunnelTops.com