Even by Northern California standards, Mill Valley is a funky place. Partially hidden by wooded canyons and towering redwoods, Mill Valley has a reputation for being arty, affluent, and mellow. Yet the city still bears the mark of wild beat poetry house parties and hippie shenanigans. In a way, Mill Valley is a woodsy and reclusive playground for adults on the prowl for an alternative to San Francisco’s iconic charms. But it’s also a great location for families looking for diversions and amusements for the kids.
Naturally, hiking, backpacking, and day camping opportunities abound throughout Mill Valley. For amusement park thrill seekers, there is nary a rollercoaster or a waterslide anywhere near the cliffs of Mount Tamalpais but several amusement park options are just a short car ride away.
Your kids will be delighted to discover that there are a handful of well-known amusement parks within a one- or two-hour drive of Mill Valley. The best known of these include:
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
1001 Fairground Drive, Vallejo, (707) 644-4000
California’s Great America
4701 Great America Parkway, Santa Clara, (408) 986-5866
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Amusement Park
400 Beach Street, Santa Cruz, (831)-423-5590
Beyond these famous Northern California and Bay Area diversions, there is even more family-centric merriment in the Mill Valley area.
· Playland Corte Madera, 498 Tamalpais Drive, Corte Madera, (415) 927-5072
· Starbase Arcade, 1545 4th Street, San Rafael, (415) 459-7655)
· Gilroy Gardens, Gilroy, (408) 840-7100
· Happy Hollow Park & Zoo, 1300 Senter Road, San Jose, (408) 794-6400)
· Marine Mammal Center, 2000 Bunker Road, Sausalito (415) 289-7325
· Bay Area Discovery Museum, 557 McReynolds Road, Sausalito, (415) 339-3900
· Children’s Fairyland, 699 Bellevue Avenue, Oakland, (510) 452-2259
· Pixieland Amusement Park, 2740 E. Olivera Road, Concord, (925) 676-9612
· Waterworld California, 1950 Waterworld Parkway, Concord, (925) 609-1364
· Aqua Adventure Waterpark, 40500 Paseo Padre Parkway, Fremont, (510) 494-4426
· Raging Waters, 2333 S. White Road, San Jose, (480) 270-2022
· Emerald Hills Golfland, 976 Blossom Hill Road, San Jose, (408) 225-1533
One of the Bay Area’s most unusual attractions is the Winchester Mystery House, just 90 minutes down US 101 from Mill Valley. It’s not every day that you get a chance to tour an honest-to-goodness haunted house. And if your kids like spooky thrills mixed with Old West history, this is the place to visit. Fair warning: the mansion is a maze of 160 rooms. Don’t stray too far from your tour guide. You might never find your way out.
Winchester Mystery House, 525 S. Winchester Boulevard, San Jose, (408) 247-2101
The Bay Model Visitor Center is not an amusement park per se, but it houses a fascinating installation that is guaranteed to pique the interest of the entire family. In 1957 (and later updated in 1969), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a functional, hydraulic 1.5-acre model of the San Francisco and Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta system. It was an invaluable research tool at the time, and it survives today as an amazing, fully-realized working model of the Bay Area’s water channels.
Bay Model Visitor Center, 2100 Bridgeway, Sausalito, (415) 332-3870
In 2012, Smithsonian magazine called Mill Valley a “Bay Area enclave that put mellow on the map.” The city also has the distinction of being nominated as one of the 10 most interesting small towns in the U.S. Locals love the city’s secluded location and easy access to nearby wilderness. Visitors love its proximity to Mount Tamalpais, Point Reyes, and Northern California’s renowned Wine Country. And if things get too mellow, there are plenty of amusement parks, water parks, and haunted houses to liven things up.