Best Disneyland Snacks + Where To Find Them

For some, including our family(!), all of the yummy snacks are part of the reason to visit Disneyland time and time again! Today, we’re sharing all the best Disneyland snacks and where you can find each and every one. Sometimes, instead of eating full meals, we snack our way through the park and share a variety of sweet and savory treats – it’s one of my favorite ways to do Disney!

Best Disneyland Snacks from sweet to savory

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best disneyland snacks churros by Haunted Mansion

The original must-have treat, in our family at least, is the Disneyland Churro. Far superior to any of the churro offerings at Walt Disney World (we opt for these treats at WDW), Disneyland churros are a little bit of magic. These iconic treats are $5 each and can be found at churro carts throughout the park. My favorite is the French Quarter cart near the Haunted Mansion but my sister prefers the Space Mountain cart. Really, you can’t go wrong with a churro at Disneyland.


Matterhorn Macaroon top of list of what to eat Disneyland

Another classic Disneyland treat, the Matterhorn Macaroon is found at Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe. Not to be confused with a macaron (a meringue sandwich cookie made with almond flour), the macaroon is a shredded coconut cookie. And in the case of the Matterhorn Macaroon, it’s designed to look like the famous mountain, complete with white chocolate snow on top! This sweet treat is $3.49 and you can mobile order at Jolly Holiday.


smiling girl with Mickey Beignet at Disneyland

Mickey Beignets are another can’t miss treat at Disneyland. You used to be able to get them at Café Orleans, but they removed them from the menu post-covid. Now, the only place to get them is the Mint Julep Bar, also located in New Orleans Square. Like many other places on this list, you can, and absolutely should, mobile order at the Mint Julep Bar to avoid waiting in what is often a really long line. Mickey Beignets come in either a 3-pack for $4.99 or a 6-pack for $8.49. While we always opt for the traditional powdered sugar ones, there are often seasonal flavors – currently, the seasonal flavor is banana!


churro toffee one of the best snacks at Disneyland

Ohhhh, Churro Toffee, I’m still dreaming about you. Ever since I saw Jenny from Disney Hungry post about Churro Toffee a few years ago, it’s been on my list of things to try. It was worth the wait. Seriously, if you’ve never had the Disneyland Churro Toffee, this absolutely NEEDS to be on your snack list! You can get it at the Candy Palace in Disneyland (as well as Trolley Treats in California Adventure and Marceline’s Confectionery in Downtown Disney) for $6.49. And for whatever reason, this sweet treat is just a West Coast thing so don’t expect to find it at WDW!

Mobile order this one and you don’t even have to wait in line… You’ll be snackin’ on this cinnamon sugar deliciousness in no time. And don’t forget to order a few pieces to bring home!


Loaded Dole Whip Tropical Hideaway

Dope whips are another popular sweet treat at Disneyland. If you’re looking to change it up from the usual pineapple soft serve, try the Loaded Dole Whip from Tropical Hideaway. It’s pineapple and mango swirl dole whip, chamoy, mango, and chile-lime seasoning. The sweet and spicy flavor combo was a winner in our family, and at $7.99, it’s not super expensive.


Sweet Lumpia with banana and jackfruit at Tropical Hideaway Disneyland

Also found at Tropical Hideaway, the Sweet Lumpia is a mix of banana and jackfruit and has a caramel drizzle on top. It was a great flavor combination and a nice change of pace from the usual sweet offerings in the park. I know jackfruit is becoming increasingly popular in the parks, but this was the first time I’ve seen it in a sweet option. The sweet lumpia is $6.99.



Corn dog one of the best Disneyland snacks

I know, I’m sure you’re thinking, “Seriously, a corn dog?! At Disneyland?!”. But these are no ordinary corn dogs! The Disneyland hand-dipped Corn Dogs are dipped in sweet cornbread batter and fried to perfection. Don’t let the line at the Little Red Wagon deter you; these are most definitely worth the wait! Or better yet, mobile order and bypass the line! This savory snack is $9.79 but also comes with a clementine and a bag of chips – you could totally make a meal out of this one.


Disneyland chimichanga

Did you know that Disneyland has chimichangas?! Totally random, right?? Essentially a fried burrito, you can find this savory snack for $6.99 at Edelweiss Snacks near the Matterhorn. The Chimichanga is filled with ground beef, refried beans, and a traditional Mexican red sauce. They’re big enough to split, especially if you’re planning to snack your way through the park.

And, this is another place where mobile order comes in handy. We walked up to Edelweiss, placed a mobile order, and received our food in the time it took 2 out of about 17 people in line to be helped. You can also grab a chimichanga at most carts that sell turkey legs.


Disneyland breakfast chimichanga found near Big Thunder Mountain

And even better than the regular chimichanga, is the Breakfast Chimichanga. This one is ONLY available at the Ship to Shore cart by Big Thunder Mountain and they only have them as long as supplies last in the morning. It’s a burrito filled with eggs, sausage, potatoes, and cheese, and then fried to create a delicious and portable breakfast option. Grab one to eat while you wait in line for Big Thunder!


pickle top snack at Disneyland

So growing up, my parents never let me get the Disneyland pickles and I thought they were horrible parents because of it. Yeah I know, they took me to Disneyland, so they couldn’t have been that bad, but still, I really wanted to try the pickles!! Fast forward to being an adult and having my own kids, I let them order the pickle if that’s what they want for their snack… or breakfast. Disneyland pickles are some of the best pickles in the world – they have a regular option as well as a spicy one (both are $3.99) and you can find them at carts throughout the park.


Bao Buns from Tropical Hideaway best Disneyland snacks

In addition to dole whips, Tropical Hideaway has some savory options as well. We tried several of the bao bun choices including the Loco Moco Bao (top) and the Lime Chicken Bao (bottom). The Loco Moco has spiced ham, egg,  ground beef, and mushroom gravy, while the Lime Chicken is filled with butternut squash and fresh herbs. While both were tasty choices, the Lime Chicken Bao was the winner in our house. Each bao bun is $5.99 and there is also a Spiced Vegetable Bao option that sounds delicious.


Tropical Hideaway Pork Lumpia Disneyland

Disney is really going for it in the lumpia category with the Sweet Lumpia at Tropical Hideaway (above), the Pineapple Lumpia at Animal Kingdom, and the closely related Spring Rolls at Magic Kingdom. The Pork Lumpia at Tropical Hideaway is a solid option if you’re looking for a savory snack that won’t break the bank. For $6.99 you get two tasty rolls filled with pork and vegetables + a sweet-chili dipping sauce.


hot and spicy Banyan Beef Skewer best snack at Disneyland

Bengal Barbecue is one of our favorites for a high-protein snack that tastes great and is filling. We often get a couple of skewers and split them and it’s just what you need to keep going on a long Disney day. The Banyan Beef Skewer is the spicy version of the traditional Bengal Beef Skewer. Both options are $6.49. When we were mobile ordering I noticed that you could add an extra cup of sauce for $.50 – you really don’t need it since this thing is covered in sauce.


Safari Skewer from Bengal Barbecue

Also at Bengal Barbecue, the Safari Skewer is a must-do. It’s asparagus wrapped in bacon and is absolutely delightful – especially when dipped in some extra banyan sauce. The Safari Skewer is $5.99 and we like ordering a couple plus a couple of the meat skewers for a late afternoon snack.

With so many delicious snack options at Disneyland, where will you start? What’s your favorite Disneyland treat?? Is there something that we missed??

Point Bonita Lighthouse | California

The Point Bonita Lighthouse, just north of San Francisco in Marin County, is often referred to as a secret “Jewel of the Bay”.  While you probably won’t find it on many “Best Of San Francisco Bay Area” lists and in fact, many locals don’t even know it exists, it is one of the most interesting and beautiful places in the Bay Area and was one of the highlights of our trip. The third lighthouse built on the West Coast, the Point Bonita Lighthouse has been guiding ships through the Golden Gate Straits for over 150 years.

Point Bonita Lighthouse in Marin County California

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To get to Point Bonita from San Francisco, make your way north over the Golden Gate Bridge (it’s toll-free in this direction!) and then follow the signs for Fort Baker/Marin Headlands Tunnel Route. You’ll drive through the 1-way Baker-Barry Tunnel (there’s a five-minute light, so wait for it to turn green) and then follow the signs for the Visitor Center.

Point Bonita Marin Headlands

You can check out the Visitor Center (housed in a historic military chapel) or continue on to the Point Bonita parking lot in roughly 3/4 mile. If the small parking lot is full, park along the road or in the larger Battery Alexander parking lot.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Point Bonita

The foggy coastline with the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco behind it. The trail to the Point Bonita lighthouse offers great views of the coastline, the bay, and the city… assuming you can see through the fog.

Harbor seals at Point Bonita Marin Headlands

The kids loved watching the harbor seals resting on the rocks and swimming around in the water.

view of Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco skyline as fog lifts

As the fog lifted, we could finally see the beautiful San Francisco skyline behind the Golden Gate Bridge.

Point Bonita Lighthouse weather

There was a storm brewing out over the Pacific in the other direction, and the kids had fun making up weather stories as we walked along the trail.

Point Bonita weather

Summer weather in San Francisco can be quite chilly, especially when the wind kicks up. The kids were wishing they had jackets to wear even though the sun was so bright they could barely open their eyes which was definitely a mom fail on my part. Next time, we’ll wear layers! We love these Amazon Basics Packable Jackets when we’re traveling since they provide wind/rain protection and have their own carrying case.

kids on the Point Bonita Lighthouse trail

Another attempt at a group photo (minus Ellie) but the combination of sun and wind still made it difficult. At least they’re smiling!

Point Bonita Lighthouse trail

The half-mile hike to the Point Bonita lighthouse involves a partially steep and precarious trail, a tunnel, and a suspension bridge– so basically, it’s every kid’s dream trail!

Point Bonita Lighthouse tunnel exterior

The only way to get to the lighthouse is through this tunnel and currently, the tunnel is only open Sunday-Monday from 1230-330pm. The hours are so limited that we planned our entire San Francisco trip around them, so make sure to double-check that the tunnel will be open if you want to get all the way down to the lighthouse.

Point Bonita Lighthouse tunnel

In 1876, the Chinese workers that built the transcontinental railroad tunnels in the Sierra Nevadas were brought in to hand carve a tunnel leading to the lighthouse. Because of the proximity to the San Andreas fault line, dynamite couldn’t be used and it took 6 months to carve the 118-foot tunnel by hand.

Point Bonita tunnels

The kids absolutely loved going through the tunnel and it may have even been the highlight of the visit for a couple of them. They made their way through, dragging their hands along the rough, moss-covered walls, and we talked about how scary it must have been to build the tunnel.

Point Bonita Lighthouse near San Francisco

With the population explosion from the Gold Rush in the 1850s, another lighthouse was needed in order to mark the northern edge of the San Francisco Bay and reduce the number of shipwrecks on the cliffs. The Point Bonita Lighthouse was originally built in 1855, on the highest hill in the area but that proved to be a devastating mistake.

On the east coast (where the lighthouse designers were from), lighthouses needed to be as tall as possible so that they could be seen over the fog. But in the San Francisco area, the fog often starts thirty feet above the ground and extends upwards of three hundred feet, meaning that the tall lighthouse could not be seen in the dense fog, and the shipwrecks continued.

Point Bonita Lighthouse Sausalito

In the 1870s the lighthouse was moved to lower ground where it sits today and it still guides ships into San Francisco Bay. The US Coast Guard is responsible for maintaining the lighthouse and the National Parks Service is responsible for visitor access since the lighthouse is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Point Bonita lighthouse suspension bridge

The Point Bonita Lighthouse is the only lighthouse in America that can ONLY be reached by a suspension bridge (and one that’s designed after the Golden Gate Bridge, at that). It was also the last manned lighthouse on the California coast!

Point Bonita lighthouse San Francisco

The lighthouse still uses the original 1855 Fresnel lens in a three seconds on, one second off pattern so that it can be differentiated from other lighthouses in the area. An electric foghorn is now used, replacing the original warning cannon and steam siren, when the light is too difficult to see through the dense fog.

Rocky California coast Marin headlands

The Point Bonita Lighthouse helps to protect ships from crashing into the incredibly beautiful but incredibly dangerous cliffs of the Marin Headlands to the north of the lighthouse.

family on Point Bonita lighthouse suspension bridge

A redesigned bridge opened in 2012 and though it does sway and move a bit, it was designed to withstand the 100mph winds that commonly occur in the Bay area. The lighthouse itself can only accommodate 49 visitors at a time, so you may have to wait a bit on busy days. There’s always a ranger stationed at the entry that can answer any questions you have (our kids asked a ton!) and let you know when it’s safe to head across the bridge to explore the lighthouse.

Point Bonita lighthouse San Francisco Bay

The Point Bonita Lighthouse was one of our favorite Bay area stops and one that we’ll definitely repeat next time we’re in the San Francisco area. The hike to the lighthouse was fun and the lookouts were absolutely breathtaking- it definitely offers one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge in the area if you can make the trip on a clear afternoon.

Things to Remember For Point Bonita Lighthouse Visit

  • The tunnel to the lighthouse is ONLY open on Sunday and Monday from 1230-330pm.
  • Verify that the lighthouse is open in cases of inclement weather.
  • Bring your own water– there is nowhere to purchase food/drink at Point Bonita. We love these water bottles when we’re hiking.
  • Even if it’s warm in the city, it will be noticeably cooler in the Marin Headlands– wear layers!

What’s your favorite hidden gem in the Bay Area??

If you’re looking for more things to do in the San Francisco area, check out these posts:

Alcatraz Night Tour | San Francisco, CA

Alcatraz Island, located in the San Francisco Bay, a little over a mile off the coast of San Francisco, is home to one of the country’s most notorious prisons with a storied history. Did you know that you can explore America’s most infamous prison at night?! Tickets go quickly for the Alcatraz Night Tour, so make sure to plan ahead!

Alcatraz Night Tour San Francisco

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Alcatraz "The Rock" in San Francisco Bay

We booked our tickets wayyyyy in advance (90 days out!) so that we could ensure that the Alcatraz Night Tour would be available. While the National Park Service maintains Alcatraz itself, if you want to visit the island, you need to book tickets through Alcatraz City Cruises, the official concessioner of the NPS.

Tours depart throughout the day from Alcatraz Landing at Pier 33, conveniently located near Fisherman’s Wharf. In addition to the Day Tour, there is also the Alcatraz Night Tour with special activities and a guided tour, and the Behind the Scenes Tour (ages 12 and up only) goes even more in-depth.

The Alcatraz Tour Option Comparison Chart will help you determine which tour works best for your family. When you select a tour time, you don’t have to commit to a return time- you can return from the island on the next available boat, and they run hourly.

No matter what tour you’re interested in booking, the key thing to remember is that you need to book way ahead of time. It is nearly impossible to get a same-day tour as they usually sell out months in advance. Make sure to book your tour as soon as you know your travel plans to have the best availability.

kids on cruise to Alcatraz

Once you check-in at Alcatraz Landing, stop by the Alcatraz Landing Cafe if you need to pick up a quick snack. While you can buy food on the boat, there is no food for sale on the island. Picnics and food are only allowed at the dock area on the island, though you can take bottled water into the prison. Currently, there is no food & beverage service available at Pier 33, Alcatraz Landing, or on the boat. Additionally, picnics are not presently allowed at the dock. Bottled water is the only beverage permitted on the island. The kids love these water bottles and we take them with us pretty much everywhere we go!

As soon as we boarded, the kids all said they wanted to stand on the outside of the boat to have a better view which worked well for me since I was taking pictures. The downside to standing on the outside of the boat is that you can get pretty wet– the kids didn’t seem to mind at all, though, especially since it was a warm summer day!

first views of Alcatraz "The Rock"

We were treated to a gorgeous boat ride to the island and none of the typical San Francisco fog.

Alcatraz prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay

One of the perks of the Alcatraz Night Tour is the onboard narration as you sail around the island before docking. Alcatraz is home to the first lighthouse on the US West Coast, originally built in 1854 and replaced by a taller one in 1909 after the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 damaged the original.

Alcatraz on a sunny day

The first lighthouse was built to guide ships sailing into San Francisco Bay at the height of the Gold Rush. When they realized the strategic significance, the US Army built a fort on the island (completed in 1859) to ensure the harbor’s safety. Alcatraz was the largest US fort west of the Mississippi River during the Civil War era. Eventually, the fort was no longer as important strategically and Alcatraz officially became a Military Prison in 1907.

rocky shores of Alcatraz

In 1934, the Army transferred control of Alcatraz to the Bureau of Prisons. Then it was converted into the first maximum-security, minimum-privilege civilian penitentiary (the equivalent of a “supermax” prison) in the country. The rocky island offered a nearly escape-proof environment, and though there were 14 separate escape attempts, the reality is that no one ever made it off the island alive (probably!).


Alcatraz Penitentiary closed in 1963 because it was becoming overwhelmingly expensive to maintain and operate, and the island sat empty for six years.

Indians Welcome Alcatraz Sign

Many may not realize that Alcatraz became the site of an American Indian protest in 1969. The group, which called itself the United Indians of All Tribes, demanded reparation for the treaties broken by the government over the years leading to a substantial loss of land for Indian tribes. This group of American Indians seized the land and claimed it as Indian Land, and they lived with their families on the island. The protest lasted over 19 months and left Alcatraz with several damaged and destroyed buildings as well as a legacy of reawakening American Indian culture and identity.

Indian history at Alcatraz

Golden Gate National Recreation Area was established in 1972 with Alcatraz Island in its boundaries. In 1973, the National Park Service opened Alcatraz to the public for the very first time, and people flocked to the island to learn its legends and lore.

When we arrived at Alcatraz, we disembarked in small groups (30-50) for the guided walk to the entrance of the Main Prison. One of the biggest perks of the Night Tour is that the tickets are VERY limited (only a few hundred are available), so there are hardly any people on the island (and the daytime visitors are completely cleared out before the Night Tour begins).

steep staircases on Alcatraz

The walkways on Alcatraz are very steep, and while the distance from the dock to the Cellhouse is only about a quarter of a mile, the elevation change is 130 feet– the equivalent of walking up a 13-story building!! Comfortable walking shoes are absolutely a necessity. Those with mobility issues can catch a ride on the SEAT Tram though availability is first-come, first-served.

buildings on Alcatraz

As we walked towards the prison entrance, the kids all commented on how worn the buildings looked. The National Park Service works tirelessly to preserve the buildings on the island, even rebuilding them as necessary, but it is a never-ending job. Because one of the draws to the island is that the facilities are ruins, they take special care to match the concrete and paint to the rest of the building, preserving that battered look that Alcatraz is known for.

Break the prison rules and you go to Alcatraz

Alcatraz was often referred to as the “prison within the prison system”. Since the Courts could not sentence anyone there, the Bureau of Prisons sent troublesome convicts to Alcatraz until they could safely return to a lower-security prison.

group showers on Alcatraz

The Alcatraz Night Tour still includes the Award-winning Cellhouse audio tour offered during the day, giving an excellent overview of one of American history’s most notorious federal prisons. It brings that history to life with stories about its most famous prisoners like Al Capone and the “Birdman” of Alcatraz and interviews with former prisoners and correctional officers.

prison cells on Alcatraz

The 3-story prison housed four cell blocks: Cellblock A was not used during the federal penitentiary days, Cellblocks B and C housed the general population, and Cellblock D was reserved for those that couldn’t follow the rules and needed to be in isolation since it had segregated cells as well as solitary confinement.

kids listening to the Cellhouse audio tour Alcatraz

The kids loved the audio tour and were able to follow along independently, though we did make sure to stay together so that no one got lost. It’s easy to pause the tour to spend extra time looking at an exhibit or explain something to the kids, and then start it back up again when you’re ready. Christopher, the budding photographer, took photos as he listened to the chilling tales from the inmates themselves.

view of the mainland from the Alcatraz yard

Inmates could get outside and spend time playing baseball or have conversations at the Recreation Yard on the weekends. The prison yard had a great view of the mainland that the kids really seemed to envy.

kids in prison cells Alcatraz

However, once they saw the prison cells, they decided that living there wouldn’t be quite as much fun as they initially thought!

Alcatraz with kids

Ben and Lexie were too scared to go in “the Hole” by themselves so they dragged dad in, too! Isolation was reserved for the most dangerous and violent inmates, and they were confined to their cell 24 hours a day, for days, weeks, or even months at a time.

Alcatraz cell bathroom

Ben said he would be totally fine living in solitary because then he would have his own bathroom– I guess he really doesn’t like sharing a bathroom with all of his siblings!

example of a cell on Alcatraz

Inside a typical cell. Each cell was about 9 feet by 5 feet, and 7 feet high had a small sink and toilet, a cot, and a small table. Inmates were allowed to keep their personal belongings in their cells, and some were decorated with artwork.

Alcatraz library Cellhouse audio tour

The library at Alcatraz was home to around 15,000 books covering various topics, though anything with sex, crime or violence was banned. Well-behaved inmates were allowed to check out three books at a time from the library and some read upwards of 100 per year.

kids at Alcatraz

Ben and Lexie were excited to learn about visitation since they thought that life on “the Rock” sounded lonely. Inmates were allowed one 1.5 hour visit per month from an immediate family member or other approved visitor, and that’s it.

Broadway Alcatraz

The corridors in the prison were named after famous US streets and landmarks: Michigan Ave, Broadway, Park Ave, Sunset Strip, and Times Square.

Cellblock corridors Alcatraz

Broadway: The corridor running between Cellblocks B and C which housed most of the general population.

Golden Gate Bridge at sunset

One of the best things about going to Alcatraz is the view– we were able to watch as the sun went lower and lower towards the Marin Headlands to our west.

Oakland Bay Bridge under a nearly full moon

And we watched the moon rise over the Bay Bridge to the east.

Alcatraz hospital room during Alcatraz Night Tour

In addition to the lower crowds, the Night Tour of Alcatraz offers the chance to explore areas of the island that are not usually open to visitors. We were able to see the hospital and were VERY thankful that we have nicer hospital facilities if we ever need to use them.

Operating room Alcatraz at night

The operating room looked incredibly eerie– I could not imagine having surgery in a place like this!

Alcatraz with kids x-ray room

The hospital at Alcatraz provided medical and dental care to the inmates ensuring that they did not need to leave the island for any reason. The hospital also provided care for the prison employees and their civilian families that called the island home.

Sunset at Alcatraz

The sun was just starting to set when we boarded the boat for our ride back to San Francisco.

smiling girl on way back to San Francisco

It was quite a bit cooler on the ride back to the city but luckily, we were prepared with light jackets. Layers are so important when visiting Alcatraz because the weather changes very quickly and it can get chilly when you’re out on the water– even in the summer!

Alcatraz cruise back to San Francisco at sunset

Even with the cooler temperatures, the kids still wanted to ride outside and take in the sights as we traveled back to civilization.

San Francisco at sunset

We were treated to a glorious sunset and smooth sailing back to the city. There are two return times for the Night Tour (8:40pm and 9:25pm in the summer), and we opted to do the first one to watch the sunset. By the time the 9:25pm boat departed, it was definitely dark out, though the later departure would allow for more time to explore the island.

Sunset at the Golden Gate Bridge

Sunset and the San Francisco Bay

San Francisco skyline

As we approached the mainland, the city lights were just starting to come on. The Transamerica Pyramid and Coit Tower were easy to spot, even from a distance.

Alcatraz at Night Tour with kids

Goodnight, Alcatraz. We had a great time on the Night Tour of Alcatraz and would not hesitate to do it again the next time we’re in San Francisco. The kids were really interested in the content of the audio tour, and the entire experience seemed to hold their attention well, meaning that the adults were able to enjoy it as well.

Things to Remember for a Visit to Alcatraz

  • Book early– 60-90 days ahead of time if you’re traveling during peak season or want a specific tour or departure time.
  • There is no food allowed in the Cellhouse, but you’re welcome to have a snack before departure, on the boat to/from the island, or at the picnic tables by the dock on the island. Bottled water is allowed anywhere on the island and is sold at the gift shops as well as on the boats.
  • Wear layers as it can quickly go from warm to cool (or the other way!) during your visit. Also, comfortable walking shoes are a must given the steep walkways on the island.
  • While you are locked into your departure time heading to Alcatraz, you are not for the return to the city so you can spend as much time on the island as you would like. Most people should allow at least three hours for the round-trip cruise and time to explore the island.

Have you been to Alcatraz before?? Would you brave the Alcatraz Night Tour or prefer to visit during the day??

If you’re looking for more things to do in the San Francisco area, check out these posts:

The Walt Disney Family Museum | San Francisco, CA

Did you know that there’s a museum dedicated to the life and family of Walt Disney in San Francisco? The Walt Disney Family Museum is a must-do for any die-hard Disney fan! And even if you’re not a die-hard fan (yet!), it’s still an interesting way to spend a day in the city.

This post may contain affiliate links and we may earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you!) if you choose to purchase when you click on the links. Thank you for supporting Love Dwells Here!!

exterior of the Walt Disney Family Museum

The Walt Disney Family Museum is located in the heart of the Presidio, formerly the most important Army post on the Pacific Coast. The museum is a must-do for any Disney fan, and while we already knew a great deal of Disney history, we learned A LOT more during our visit!

walt disney ambulance driver

The kids were surprised to discover that Walt Disney tried to enlist in the Army during WWI but was too young. After altering his birthdate on his passport, he joined the American Ambulance Corps and was sent to France but arrived just as the war ended. He spent almost a year overseas, and rather than taking care of the injured and ill; he spent most of his time working as a tour guide for visiting officials.

steamboat willie still frames

They were also amazed at how many individual drawings were required to animate a 15-second scene of Steamboat Willie. While Steamboat Willie was not Disney’s first Mickey Mouse short (it was the third), it was the first successful one and the first one with sound. On November 18, 1928, Steamboat Willie premiered at the Colony Theather in New York City to rave reviews and launched the career of Mickey Mouse (and Walt Disney).

kids at walt disney family museum

The WDFM has great interactive exhibits, and the kids enjoyed trying their hand at creating Silly Symphonies. There are listening stations, movies, drums, and displays with lots of buttons all through the galleries, which help to keep the little ones engaged and entertained.

walt disney wwii propaganda

During WWII, the Disney company produced training films for the military as well as public service and morale-boosting shorts, and they did it all at cost (not for a huge profit like other companies).

kids on Disney bench from Griffith Park

Ben and Lexie thought it was pretty cool to sit on the actual bench from Griffith Park that Walt sat on many times while coming up with the idea for Disneyland. He watched his daughters play and laugh and imagined a place where families could go and have fun together.

kids looking at Disneyland model

The 13-foot model of the “Disneyland of Walt’s Imagination” was easily the highlight of the museum. We all enjoyed looking for our favorite attractions and seeing which ones changed or were added as well as the ones that never came to be.

model of Disneyland at Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francsico

We’ve been to Disneyland many times over the years, and it was so interesting to look at our usual routes through the park.

Disneyland of Walt's Imagination model

You can see the concept for the Rainbow Caverns Mine Train that became the Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland and eventually Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

model of Disneyland Walt Disney Family Museum

The Main Street Train Station and Main Street USA.

Disneyland of Walt's Imagination

Nick especially loved the original Space Mountain concept that was both an indoor and outdoor coaster.

Walt Disney political cartoon

At the end of the exhibits, the mood is a bit heavier. Cartoons cover the walls, praising Disney for the impact he had on the children of the world, but also cover the news of his death.

Walter Elias Disney 1901-1966

“You can dream, create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.” — Walt Disney

Walt Disney His Legacy

Even though the museum ends on a somewhat somber note with the death of Walt Disney, you are constantly reminded of the impact that he made. The legacy that he left behind is immeasurable; he changed the lives of so many people, as well as changed the industry. “I hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.” — Walt Disney

We had a phenomenal time at the WDFM and would definitely recommend it if you’re in the San Francisco area- or even if you’re doing a Disneyland trip and can spare a weekend to go north. Strollers are now allowed in the galleries (although you may be asked to store double or jogging strollers at the coat check in the lower lobby depending on crowds), making it easier to explore with the kids. Most people recommend at least two hours to go through all of the exhibits though hardcore Disney fans and those traveling without small children will likely need to allow more time.

Things to Remember if You’re Visiting the Walt Disney Family Museum

  • The museum is open Thursday – Sunday from 10am – 5:30pm, but the last entrance is at 4:30pm– go early to beat the crowds.
  • It’s closed every Monday – Wednesday, so plan accordingly (also closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day)
  • Active duty and retired military (and spouses and dependents!) are free with a valid ID.
  • Everyone is free on December 5 in observation of Walt’s birthday– tickets are only available in person, on the 5th.
  • Flash photography and professional camera equipment are not allowed in the museum.

If you’re looking for more things to do in San Francisco, check out these posts:

What’s on your Disney Bucket List??  If it’s not already on it, definitely add the Walt Disney Family Museum!

Muir Woods National Monument | California

Trips to the San Francisco Bay area are often filled with the hustle and bustle of city life. If you can free up some time, make sure to visit Muir Woods National Monument on the Marin County side of the San Francisco Bay. There’s so much to do in Muir Woods with kids and it’s a perfect day trip from the city!

Located just a short drive north from San Francisco (over the Golden Gate Bridge!), Muir Woods National Monument offers a welcome contrast from the business of the city and the old-growth coast redwoods contribute to the lush views that surround you.

Muir Woods with kids

The land for Muir Woods was donated by Congressman William Kent, and though President Roosevelt wanted to name the monument after him, Kent pushed to have it named after the great preservationist, John Muir, instead.

Muir Woods National Park Monument

Muir Woods officially became a National Monument on January 9, 1908, by a Presidential Proclamation of President Theodore Roosevelt– this was before the National Park Service even existed!! In 1916, Congressman Kent introduced the bill that created the National Park Service.

Things to do in Muir Woods National Park

We always make sure to arrive early in the day so that we can enjoy walking along the lush trails in peace– it definitely gets more crowded as the day goes on. We recommend stopping at the Visitor Center to get a park map, a passport stamp, and the most up-to-date information about things in the park. The Visitor Center is open daily from 8am-430pm, though the park stays open until 5pm.

What to do In Muir Woods National Monument

When we went a few years ago, it was recommended to arrive early because parking is extremely limited. Now, you’re required to book a $9 parking reservation online at Go Muir Woods. While you do need to select a 30-minute arrival window and arrive within the window, you are able to stay in the park until it closes so your time in the park is not limited in any way.

However, that leads me to believe that parking could still be an issue, especially later in the day, so personally, I would still aim for an earlier time if possible. There are shuttles into the park from Pohono Park & Ride (which offers free parking) for $3.50/person over 16. Reservations are required and the shuttle is currently only operating on weekends and holidays.

Muir Woods with kids flowers

Kids can become a Junior Ranger by completing a free activity book from the Visitor Center. There’s also a virtual Junior Ranger program online available for families that are choosing not to travel at this time.

Best muir woods hikes

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike” — John Muir, 1912.

Best hikes in Muir Woods

Muir Woods offers over 6 miles of trails with most visitors choosing to do the Main Trail Loop.  It features a 1/2 hour loop, a 1-hour loop, and a 1 1/2 hour loop depending on which bridge you choose to cross and head back.  The Main Trail Loop, departing from the Visitor Center, takes you through old-growth forests with coast redwoods towering 250 feet overhead.

What to see in Muir Woods with kids

The kids thought it was so cool that they could actually go inside the tree! And they were in constant awe over the size of these giant coast redwoods.

Muir Woods Bicentennial Tree

The kids were really intrigued by the bicentennial tree– and it was a great opportunity to talk about the word “bicentennial” since it isn’t used very often!

Things to do in Muir Woods National Park

While the Bicentennial Tree is nowhere near the oldest tree in the park (some are nearly 1000 years old), it does have the same birth year as the United States!

Muir Woods with kids

Ellie’s favorite part of our visit was the giant bear carving outside of the gift shop!  There are two separate gift shops at Muir Woods- one at the Visitor Center with a wide range of books and another, the Muir Woods Trading Company, with the usual touristy stuff.  Our kids definitely had more fun exploring the Trading Company and we had to drag them out when we were done looking.

Things to Remember for a Trip to Muir Woods With Kids

  • Parking is extremely limited– and needs to be reserved online ahead of time.
  • The park is open 365 days a year but hours vary depending on the season.
  • In addition to parking/shuttle costs, it is $15 per adult (16 and over) to get into the park.  Alternatively, you can get a Muir Woods annual pass for $45 or a National Parks Annual Pass for $80 and those cover your admission for a year. We highly recommend getting the America the Beautiful National Parks Annual Pass and crossing a few National Parks off your bucket list.
  • The Main Trail Loop is a stroller-friendly boardwalk and paved trails so bring the kids and experience the serenity that Muir Woods has to offer!

Have you ever been to Muir Woods National Monument??  What’s your favorite California National Park/Monument??

Looking for more things to do in the San Francisco area? Check out these posts:





Things to Do In San Francisco With Kids

My love affair with San Francisco began nearly thirty years ago, and it has been one of my favorite cities in the United States since.  I visited many times as a child and once with just my husband (as a surprise for his 25th birthday!), but I was super excited to introduce our kids to “the City by the Bay” on our cross-country road trip.  We had a whirlwind weekend in the city, nowhere near enough time to see and do everything, but here are some of our favorite things to do in San Francisco with kids.

San Francisco Pin Image

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Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge across the San Francisco Bay with the city blanketed in fog

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most iconic sights in San Francisco, connecting San Francisco with Marin County to the North.  It opened in May 1938 and boasted the longest main bridge span (that’s the part between the two main towers– and for the GGB, it’s 4200 feet) in the world at the time.  The Golden Gate Bridge utilizes a one-way tolling system, so you’re only assessed the toll when traveling towards San Francisco, and the whole thing is done electronically- there are no toll booths; you will receive an invoice in the mail a few weeks after you cross the bridge.

Golden Gate Bridge across the San Francisco Bay with the city blanketed in fog; yellow flowers

There are many vantage points on both the north and south side for viewing the Golden Gate Bridge. Many tout Crissy Field and Baker Beach as the best spots in the city, but we much prefer the view from the Marin Headlands as it allows you to see the city as well.  Battery Spencer, an old artillery battery from the late 1800s that was responsible for protecting the San Francisco Bay until World War II, offers one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco (depending on the fog).  Parking is free but extremely limited.

If you have more time: Check out Golden Gate Park, which has gardens (including the Japanese Tea Garden- the oldest of its kind in the US), playgrounds, picnic areas, lakes (yes, more than one!), and even a carousel.

Cable Cars

Cable Car Turnaround in San Francisco

You can’t go to San Francisco and not ride on one of the iconic cable cars! There are three cable car routes in operation- the Powell/Mason and Powell/Hyde lines run mostly North-South, while the California Street line runs East-West.  While you can board from any cable car stop along the line, as a party of 7, we decided it would be a safer bet to start at the end of the line in order to ensure we were all on the same car.  We opted to take the Powell/Hyde line from Aquatic Park near Ghiradelli Square, and after a half-hour wait, we boarded our cable car.

Smiling Kids on cable car in San Francisco

The kids were super excited for their first time on a cable car!  While they really wanted to stand and hold onto the poles (like they’d seen in many movies), we chose to sit so that it was easier to hold on to everyone– the cable cars really get moving on those San Francisco hills!  For the best views, you want to be on the eastern side of the car, so you’re on the side that faces the San Francisco Bay.  If you’re debating between the Powell/Mason and Powell/Hyde lines, Mason offers a view of Lombard Street (the Crookedest Street in the World) from the bottom, while Hyde has a great view of Alcatraz.

Cable Car on the streets of San Francisco at night

We got off at Powell and Market (the end of the line) and had fun watching the cable car turnaround before hopping back in line to take the cable car back to Aquatic Park (where our car was parked).  We didn’t use the cable car as a means of transportation between two places but rather a fun round-trip full of San Francisco sights and sounds.

If you have more time: Stop by the Cable Car Museum, convenient to both the Powell/Mason and Powell/Hyde lines.  This free museum houses antique cable cars, cable car history, and even offers a view of the cables in action.

Fisherman’s Wharf

Fish Alley Fisherman's Wharf

You cannot go to San Francisco and skip lunch (or shopping!) at Fisherman’s Wharf.  Fish Alley offers a great selection of vendors, and while they all have the standard seafood fare, including clam chowder, each has its own recipe and specialties, so check them all out before placing your order.

Smiling kids with clam chowder bread bowls in San Francisco

After you get your lunch, clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls in our case, find a table to enjoy your meal, or look for a bench by the water.  The crowd is an interesting mix of tourists, the business crowd, and homeless people who provided (totally obscene) humor for our table, inspiring a conversation on how to behave in public.

If you have more time: Check out Boudin Bakery At the Wharf for delicious sourdough bread as well as a bakery museum and tour.

Pier 39

Sea lion at Pier 39

Pier 39, technically part of Fisherman’s Wharf, is home to many restaurants and some of the best shopping on the wharf, but our favorite spot is the Sea Lion Center.  After the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, K-Dock on Pier 39 became the go-to place for sea lions, in part for the protection from predators and easy access to food in the bay.  Hundreds of sea lions call K-Dock home throughout the year, but their numbers rise and fall depending on food supply and migration habits (most migrate to Southern California for the summer).

If you have more time: The Aquarium of the Bay offers a unique look at the sea life that actually inhabits the San Francisco Bay.


Alcatraz in the middle of San Francisco Bay

First, a military prison in the late 1800s and then a federal penitentiary in the mid-1900s, Alcatraz Island is also home to the oldest working lighthouse on the West Coast.  While you can see Alcatraz from many locations throughout the city, the absolute best way to experience it is by going to “The Rock” itself.  Tours are offered through Alcatraz Cruises and need to be booked well in advance (ideally 60-90 days ahead of time during the peak season).

Cell in Alcatraz during the night tour

Once on the island, the Award-winning Cellhouse audio tour walks you through the halls of Alcatraz at your own pace.  On the 45-minute tour, you’re able to see the various cell blocks as well as hear stories from real prisoners– our kids really enjoyed the “Escape from Alcatraz” cell, especially since they watched the movie before our visit.

If you have more time: Do the Alcatraz Night Tour (head here for tickets!) with drastically lower crowds, a guided tour around the island before docking on the island, and the setting sun creating eerie shadows throughout the prison. Plus, if you time your return to the city just right, you can watch the sun setting over the San Francisco Bay.

Walt Disney Family Museum

Exterior of Walt Disney Family Museum at the Presidio

The Walt Disney Family Museum is located in the heart of the Presidio, a former US military fort.  This is definitely a must-do for any die-hard Disney fan, but even the casual fan will have a great time.  The museum walks you through the life and legacy of Walt Disney, including his creation of Mickey Mouse and Disneyland.  Check out the details of our visit here.

Disneyland of Walt's Imagination at Walt Disney Family Museum

The 13-foot model of the “Disneyland of Walt’s Imagination” was easily the highlight of the museum.  We loved looking for our favorite attractions and seeing the ones that had been changed or added as well as the ones that never came to be.

If you have more time: Walk around the Presidio, part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area.  There’s a life-sized Yoda statue at the Lucasfilms Headquarters entrance, a fun stop for any Star Wars fans.

Muir Woods

Towering trees at Muir Woods

Muir Woods National Monument, just north of San Francisco (you get to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge!), is a welcome respite from the city’s hustle and bustle.  The coastal redwoods that make up this old-growth forest are the tallest living things on earth, and some of the trees are nearly 1000 years old.

Peace and quiet at Muir Woods

Make sure to arrive early in the day to experience Muir Woods with lower crowds and the peacefulness that it’s known for.  Parking is extremely limited and must be booked online in advance– check out all the details here.

If you have more time: Head down to Muir Beach, three miles west of Muir Woods, a popular beach with locals (and sometimes the clothing-optional crowd).  In the winter, keep your eyes open for migrating humpback whales as they pass.

Point Bonita Lighthouse

Tunnel through the mountain to get to Point Bonita Lighthouse

It’s only open on Sundays and Mondays from 1230pm-330pm, and the half-mile path to Point Bonita Lighthouse includes a steep trail and a tunnel through the cliffs, but the reward is well worth it.  Check out the details of our visit here!

View of Point Bonita Lighthouse looking out over the Pacific

Originally built in 1855, the Point Bonita Lighthouse had to be moved to its current location in the 1870s. The original spot proved to be too high with the lighthouse often blanketed in the dense San Francisco fog, and it was unable to prevent shipwrecks.  By moving it to lower ground, the lighthouse remained visible under the fog layer and has effectively guided ships into the Bay for over 100 years.

Point Bonita Lighthouse suspension bridge

The Point Bonita Lighthouse is the only lighthouse in the United States that is only accessible by a suspension bridge.  The redesigned bridge opened in 2012, and though it sways in the wind, it was designed to withstand the 100mph winds that commonly occur.

If you have more time: Visit the quaint seaside town of Sausalito before heading back into the city.

San Francisco is a fantastic vacation destination, as there really is something for everyone.  History buffs can get their fix at Alcatraz or many other spots in the city, those that yearn for time with nature will love Muir Woods, foodies can eat their fill on Fisherman’s Wharf, and there are several major league sports teams for the athletes in your group. Whether you have a weekend, a week, or a lifetime, the City by the Bay has plenty of options to fill your days!

Have you been to San Francisco before??  Any tips for families looking to explore??


Death Valley National Park | California

Even though it took us a bit out of the way during the heat of summer, we purposely routed our west coast road trip through Death Valley National Park so that we could spend part of the day checking out the hottest place in the country and check it off of our National Parks Bucket List. Near the California-Nevada state line, Death Valley National Park is the largest National Park in the country (outside of Alaska), and one that we’ve been dying (ha ha ha!) to see, so it was an obvious choice to include on our west coast road trip.

Death Valley National Park with kids

First things first, when planning a trip to the hottest place on earth, make sure to come prepared– especially in the summer!  We filled our water bottles, had extra water in the trunk, and had a first aid kit on hand before we even made our way towards the park.

death valley national park

After a quick breakfast at our hotel in Bishop, we were back on the road driving through the mountains of California.  We went through a really nasty storm just outside of Death Valley National Park, and while it obscured some of our mountain views, it was a nice change of pace from driving in the sun.

death valley national park with kids

Owens Lake (the dry, tan area) used to be 25-50 feet deep and was an important feeding and resting stop for waterfowl each year.  However, when the Los Angeles Aqueduct was built in 1913, it effectively devastated the ecosystem of Owens Lake and left a dry lake bed in place of a beautiful blue lake.  As of 2013, this dry lake bed is the single largest contributor to dust pollution in the US.

death valley national park

Contrary to popular belief, less than 1% of the park is covered with sand.  The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, near Stovepipe Wells, are the most popular dunes in the park, and the only ones to allow sandboarding.  Because of the heat (and the fact that we were at White Sands National Monument a few weeks prior), we did not get out and explore the dunes but definitely would if we were there with cooler temps.

death valley with kids

We saw a coyote as we were driving into the park, near Panamint Springs and we were surprised at how docile it seemed (and how skinny it was!) as it cautiously approached the car, though we left before it crossed the road.

death valley national park with kids

At the Visitor Center, we talked to the Park Ranger about our experience and he said that the coyotes in the park are so used to getting food from visitors that they will often approach cars looking for a handout- unfortunately, all too often they get hit by cars and it has started to negatively impact their numbers within the park.

death valley national park

The kids all drew pictures of the wildlife they saw in the park and hung it on a bulletin board in the Visitors Center- the “ciote” was definitely the highlight.

death valley with kids

We hiked up a short trail to check out the Zabriskie Point viewpoint.  Now, this short trail was maybe 1/4 of a mile at most and I swear, we all felt like we were going to die from the heat and lack of humidity.  Death Valley in the summer is no joke!  Make sure you bring a water bottle and stay hydrated– even on the short walk out to Zabriskie Point.

death valley national park with kids

Death Valley was a first for all of us and we were all completely in awe of the views.  The park is so unlike anything we’d seen before and parts of it don’t even look real!

death valley national park

Manly Beacon, the high outcrop over the badlands, is a beautiful contrast to the cliffs of Red Cathedral and the surrounding mud hills.

death valley with kids

Manly Beacon was named after William L Manly, a member of the “Death Valley ’49ers”, that traveled to California during the Gold Rush and eventually ended up lost in Death Valley due to an inaccurate map.  Nearly out of food and on the verge of starvation, Manly and his friend Rogers hiked 250 miles across the Mojave Desert on foot in order to find a way out of Death Valley and then secured food and horses so that they could go back and rescue the rest of the ’49ers.

death valley national park

No matter where we tried to take a picture, the sun always seemed to be in the kids’ eyes but we still managed to get a few “good” ones!

death valley national park with kids

This area, like much of Death Valley, is the result of earthquakes and water from millions of years ago working together to create an almost unreal landscape.  The area was once level but seismic activity folded the valley floor allowing powerful rainstorms to travel through the gullies, eroding the rocks into the beautiful landscapes you see today.

death valley national park

The dark part at the top of the ridge is lava from a volcanic eruption that occurred 3-5 MILLION years ago!

death valley with kids

Death Valley is the hottest place on Earth, and we planned to explore it on a hot, July day.  We came prepared with plenty of water, cooled off in the a/c in the Visitor Center and in the car, and still, the kids wanted to quit after a couple of hours.  We only saw a couple of the highlights of the park- and didn’t even make it to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America!- before calling it a day and driving to Las Vegas. Even though we didn’t see everything that we planned to, it was still a fun stop and we’d like to go back (maybe with cooler weather!) and spend more time exploring.

Things to Remember When You Visit Death Valley National Park

  • Bring lots of water!!  It’s HOT in Death Valley!!
  • Stay on the paved roads and if your car breaks down, stay with it until help arrives– do not try to walk and find help.
  • Drink lots of water!!  If you feel dizzy, nauseous or have a headache, get out of the sun and drink water.  Heat stroke is a very real thing and it’s dangerous!
  • If you’re going to hike, especially in the summer, complete your hike before 10am.  Make sure that someone knows where you’re going and when you’ll be back and ALWAYS stay on the trail.
  • Death Valley is a great place for viewing the night sky– go during the new moon to see the most stars.
  • Bring AND drink lots of water!!  A gallon per person in your car (and even more in the summer) is the recommendation.  But don’t stop there, pack food and a first aid kit, just in case.

Have you ever braved the heat and been to Death Valley??












Channel Islands National Park | California

On our quest to visit all of the National Parks, we decided to take a boat tour around Channel Islands National Park.  While we didn’t technically get out and walk around in the park, realistically, this was the best that we could do given time and financial constraints.  It’s wayyy more expensive to do one of the tours that include time on the islands and we’re a family of seven, so practicality won out in this case.

We did an Island Wildlife Cruise through Island Packers that departed from the Oxnard Harbor (Ventura Harbor would have been closer for us, but the day that worked the best with our schedule left from Oxnard).

While our boat didn’t land on any of the islands, we did get to cruise along the coast of Anacapa Island.  On our way out there we even came across a shark(!) about fifteen feet away from the boat! The onboard photographer said he thought it was a mako shark– glad we were on a boat and not swimming!

It’s about an hour out to to the islands and it was CHOPPY!!  Jake and I got stuck on the lower level with Ellie for the ride out and we got a bit wet and bounced around for most of the ride.  Once it calmed down enough to climb up the ladder, we went upstairs to sit with the rest of the kids and Jake’s dad.

The park’s most recognizable landmark, Arch Rock, just off the coast of Anacapa Island.

On our way back to Oxnard we finally saw a couple of dolphins!

They seemed to have fun darting around next to the boat and put on quite the show!

After a couple of minutes, those couple of dolphins turned into a pod of about fifty dolphins!  The Santa Barbara Channel, the waterway between the mainland and the Channel Islands, has more marine mammals than any other place on earth!  While we saw sea lions and dolphins, Humpback, Gray, Blue, and Orca whales also call the Channel home during parts of the year.  Island Packers also offers whale watching cruises although those don’t always go to the Channel Islands as it’s dependent on where the whales are.

We had a great time on our trip out to the Channel Islands and would love to do it again when we have the time (and money!) to actually land and explore.

Things to Remember When You Visit Channel Islands National Park

  • The only way to get to Channel Islands National Park is by the park concessionaire boats (Island Packers) or planes (Channel Islands Aviation), or by private boat, so factor that cost into your visit.
  • Island Wildlife Cruises out of Ventura Harbor are available, just not as frequently as the ones out of Oxnard Harbor so make sure to check the schedule carefully depending on which harbor you’re interested in departing from.
  • Cruises out of Ventura Harbor are much more common for the Island trips where you can actually get off of the boat and explore for the day (or camp!).
  • There is no food or water available on the island, and limited selections available on the boat (though they do have beer, wine, and non-alcoholic beverages for purchase), so pack accordingly.


Yosemite National Park | California

Yosemite National Park, in the western Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, is visited by over 3.5 MILLION people a year and is consistently one of the most popular National Parks in the country. Jacob and I both visited Yosemite as kids, and we were excited to introduce our kids to the beauty and splendor of one of the most magnificent places in the country. Since we were short on time, we opted to just see the Yosemite National Park highlights.

girls on open-air tram for valley floor tour Yosemite

After a whirlwind weekend in San Francisco, we left bright and early in the morning, headed over the Bay Bridge, and made the drive to Yosemite National Park. Knowing that we wouldn’t have much time to explore on our own, we booked the Yosemite Valley Floor Tour before heading out on our trip.

We parked the car at the Yosemite Valley Lodge and went inside to pick up our tickets and check out the gift shop. At our scheduled time, we boarded the open-air tram and set off to learn about Yosemite National Park– Ellie was so excited to sit on the bench with Lexie.

open air tram valley floor tour yosemite

The two-hour tour covered the highlights of Yosemite (like Half Dome and El Capitan) and introduced us to many places we would like to explore in the future.

open air tram valley floor tour yosemite

I love guided tours because they provide all sorts of information and really help to keep the kids engaged. I know that when we’re driving around, we sometimes guess what we’re seeing, but these guides (at Yosemite National Park in particular!) really know their stuff and do a great job explaining the park’s history, geology, and ecology.

Yosemite National Park highlights

It was a HOT (like heatwave hot) July day, but we stayed pretty cool as the tram drove along, the breeze blowing in our hair while we were treated to an ever-changing display of beauty.

Yosemite National Park highlights

Yosemite Park is a place of rest, a refuge from the roar and dust and weary, nervous, wasting work of the lowlands, in which one gains the advantages of both solitude and society. Nowhere will you find more company of a soothing peace-be-still kind. Your animal fellow beings, so seldom regarded in civilization, and every rock-brow and mountain, stream, and lake, and every plant soon come to be regarded as brothers; even one learns to like the storms and clouds and tireless winds. This one noble park is big enough and rich enough for a whole life of study and aesthetic enjoyment. It is good for everybody, no matter how benumbed with care, encrusted with a mail of business habits like a tree with bark.  None can escape its charms.  Its natural beauty cleans and warms like a fire, and you will be willing to stay forever in one place like a tree. — John Muir, 1938

kid taking pictures at yosemite

Our kids love taking their own pictures when we’re traveling because they love having them as a reminder of our adventures even when we’re back home– I’m guessing that was a learned behavior.

View of Half Dome from Tunnel View

We stopped at the Tunnel View parking lot, and the kids were excited to glimpse Half Dome in the distance– they recognized it from OS X Yosemite. Even though Tunnel View is one of the most popular places in the park, it didn’t feel overly crowded when we were there, even in the middle of the peak summer season.

Bridalveil Falls Yosemite

We caught what was probably the last week of water for the season at the iconic Bridalveil Falls. The waterfall flow peaks in the spring and typically dries up by late summer unless it has been unseasonably rainy.

Yosemite National Park highlights

No synonym for God is so perfect as Beauty. Whether as seen carving the lines of the mountains with glaciers, or gathering matter into stars, or planning the movements of water, or gardening- still all is Beauty! — John Muir, 1938

Half Dome at Yosemite National Park

Perhaps the most familiar rock formation at Yosemite, Half Dome, stands almost a mile higher than the valley floor, at an almost 9000-foot elevation. With three rounded sides and a sheer granite face, it looks like a dome that was cut in half, leading to the name Half Dome.

Yosemite Valley Chapel

The Yosemite Valley Chapel, built in the late 1800s, stands at the base of these impressive peaks, offers worship services year-round, and is a popular wedding location.

Half Dome Yosemite National Park highlights

There were beautiful vistas to enjoy in every direction on the tour. While we could have taken the same route in our van and stopped at the same places, it was so much more enjoyable to have someone else worry about driving so that we could all take everything in and learn about one of our country’s greatest National Parks.

Yosemite National Park

It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter — John Muir, 1868 (about Yosemite)

Yosemite Falls almost dry

Like Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite Falls typically dries up in July. It’s actually made up of three separate falls and is one of the tallest waterfalls in North America. Every time the wind kicked up, it turned the falls into mist, making them look completely dry, but in the stillness, you could see the beauty of the waterfall.

meadow at Yosemite National Park

We had a fantastic time on our two-hour tour of Yosemite and would not hesitate to recommend it to someone who only had a short time to explore the park.  While we did see the Yosemite National Park highlights, we did not even come close to scratching the surface of what the park has to offer. It’s definitely somewhere we would love to return to and spend more time.

Things to Remember for a trip to Yosemite National Park

  • Like most National Parks, you do have to pay to enter Yosemite- it’s currently $35 for a noncommercial vehicle unless you have an annual pass. We highly recommend the America the Beautiful National Parks Annual Pass because it gets you into all of the national parks (as well as National Monuments, National Historical Parks, etc) for a full year!
  • Check to see if park reservations are required on the days you’re planning to visit. Most reservations were opened on January 5, 2024. Additional spots will open one week prior at 8am PDT.
  • Make sure to check for road closures before you go; many are closed during the winter, and there are often seasonal closures due to wildfires or construction. Tioga Pass is closed for the winter from sometime in November through late May/early June, so you can only access Yosemite National Park from the west during the snowy winter/spring.
  • Particularly in the summer, arrive early in order to beat the traffic, and be patient because Yosemite is an extremely popular destination and gets crowded.
  • Drink lots of water!! The combination of high altitude and low humidity (and summer heat!) means that you need to drink more water than you may be accustomed to drinking.

Have you experienced the beauty of Yosemite??  What’s your favorite National Park??

If you’re looking for more California National Parks, head to these posts:

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