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Vacations: Affordable Educational Family Fun

A fun filled family trip to Sacramento and San Francisco.
A fun filled family trip to Sacramento and San Francisco.
E. Prada

If you think you can't afford a family vacation, you might want to take a second look at what is available in this our great State of California. Many activities are absolutely free, and many more are very much affordable.

This has been a welcome summer for many families. The first in several years where the economy allows us to actually bypass the "staycation" and go out into the world for fun with our kids and grandkids.

This year we chose to visit our state capital, the great city of Sacramento. Now, if you are like many people, camping might mean a hotel where they didn't leave a mint on your pillow, but for this wonderful family adventure, I urge you to consider the option.

From the Inland Empire or San Bernardino it's a seven hour drive to Sacramento. Along Interstate 5 there are many beautiful rest stops. Yes! I said beautiful! Let me share with you that our tax dollars have not been wasted on this effort. I found them to be a welcome oasis. By far better than anything I experienced with my parents as a kid. These rest stops are clean, with park like settings, picnic tables, private shelters, trees, fresh water, vending machines, and lots and lots of shade!

The weather in Northern California can be significantly milder, and camping along the Sacramento River is a special treat your children will not soon forget. Go to the California Department of Parks and Recreation for information on the many beautiful campsites California offers. The Colusa-Sacramento campsites start at only $28 dollars a night.

The gasoline for your car might just be your greatest expense. In your average four to six cylinder automobile you can expect to spend about $180 roundtrip. That is not much for a 4 day vacation for a family of 5. If you pack your foods well, you can probably feed your family all 4 days for less than $100.

The great city of Sacramento offers more than just the beautiful Sacramento River. The drive up allows the children to see the wonderful agriculture California has. The many miles of trees of different types of fruit, and fields of vegetables and flowers. Additionally, we saw many cows, horses, wineries, and more. Now, that's just the drive!

Our first trip while in Sacramento was to the Jelly Belly Factory which offers a beautiful FREE tour, and free samples. The kids absolutely go wild! It is both educational and entertaining.

We also drove over to San Francisco to enjoy the majestic view of the Golden Gate Bridge, and once more had some time to enjoy watching the chocolate makers at the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory. We got free samples and sat outside in Ghirardelli Square enjoying the beautiful fountain and sunset view of the bay and Alcatraz.

We finished up our trip with a tour of the state capital building. This was not only free, but such an incredible homage to architecture, the democratic process, and history.

The legislative chambers are open to the public, and reflect architecture reminiscent of England's Parliament and Rome's Cathedrals. Both the Assembly and Senate Chambers are a marvel to behold. The grounds of the capital building are also beautifully landscaped. And, if you feel like splurging you can walk over to Old Town Sacramento where the Old West is alive and well, and for $10 take a horse and buggy ride along the Sacramento River. The buggy sits 4-5 and is well worth the $10. We went all out and took the full downtown tour for $50, but that's up to your budget.

Sacramento has lots of parking available, but if you head on over to San Francisco, you might want to park in the outskirts of the city and take public transportation downtown or to Pier 39 where all the fun shops are, and walk from there. Parking in Frisco can put you back $35 for the day.

There you have it. A beautiful, educational, and fun family vacation for five, that will put you back no more than $500.

Go out, enjoy life, share with your kids. They grow up way too fast!

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