Stretching between Seattle and San Diego, Interstate-5 has no shortage of exciting cities, beautiful scenery, and road-side attractions to keep your crew entertained on family road trips. The question is, which are worth stopping for and which are simply a waste of valuable travel time and travel cash? Making my home in an I-5 town, I’m well acquainted with this particular interstate, as are my kids. Below you’ll find our top five pit stops that won’t break the bank or ruin your carefully planned schedule. Best of all, they’re all directly off an I-5 exit!
English Village at the Enchanted Forest Theme Park
1. Enchanted Forest Theme Park – Salem, OR
This small-scale outdoor amusement park is a Northwest institution, and for good reason. Past the Enchanted Forest entrance, you’ll find winding paths amid lush scenery that instantly transport you to a fairytale world of cottages and castles, caves and treasure. Little ones will love Storybook Lane, and older kids could spend hours in the English Village and Indian Caves. We love the interactive and exploratory nature of these attractions; no long lines, no waiting! There are traditional rides as well, such as a log flume and mini roller coaster if that’s your thing. Families can explore the entire park within a few hours, and admission is a reasonable $10 per person (under age 2 free). Some attractions require an extra ticket to ride.
Climbing in Lithia Park
2. Lithia Park – Ashland, OR
If you’re not yet acquainted with Ashland, you’re about to fall in love. This small I-5 university town is home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and fabulous Lithia Park, which stretches over 93 acres just past the main downtown shopping district. Beautifully landscaped to create a true garden setting at any time of year, Lithia features several duck ponds, hiking trails, and an excellent playground amid its green open areas, oak and aspen groves, and river bridges. If you stop by in winter, check out Centennial Ice Rink, Lithia’s outdoor skating pavilion (on Wilburn right past the Plaza).
Sundial Bridge in Turtle Bay Exploration Park
3. Turtle Bay Exploration Park – Redding, CA
Turtle Bay is a sprawling center of river walks, outdoor exhibits, indoor museums, and stunning views – making it the perfect pit stop when everyone’s about to go crazy in the car. Run across the glass-bottomed Sundial Bridge, learn about local wildlife and forestation at Paul Bunyan’s Forest Camp, or head indoors for multiple exhibits and displays. Everything at Turtle Bay is interactive, and there’s a great café on-site. ($13 for adults, $9 for kids)
Train at the California State Railroad Museum
4. Old Sacramento and the California State Railroad Museum – Sacramento, CA
Before tackling the drive through California’s Central Valley, stop in Old Sacramento. As you exit I-5, you’ll suddenly find yourself in an Old West town complete with false store fronts, one-room schoolhouses, saloons, and the best railroad museum we’ve ever seen. The California State Railroad Museum is well worth two to three hours of your time. Kids can walk through trains as they replicate the movement of rumbling along the tracks, check out dining cars and sleeping cars, learn about the history of the California railroad through life-sized displays, and watch an IMAX film. (Admission: $9 for adults, $4 for kids)
Children “working” at a make believe restaurant at Pretend City
5. Pretend City – Irvine, CA
Southern California is bursting with kid-friendly attractions, but if you’re looking for a stop that will only cost you an hour or two out of your schedule and you have small children itching for a chance to get out of the car and play, Pretend City is for you. This huge indoor play space has been ingeniously laid out into a mock city for kids to explore and take part in. Everything from the city streets (with streetlamps and pedal cars) to the grocery store (where kids can take turns as clerk or shopper) to the post office (where they’ll be put to work sorting envelopes) is designed to teach children about how their communities run while they play. At first glance, it seems Pretend City is geared for the under eight set, but our older kids (10 and 12) enjoyed handling and exchanging pretend money, working pretend jobs, and making pretend telephone calls more than the preschoolers around them! (Admission: $10 per person, under 12 months free)
What is your favorite road trip pit stop? Please share your thoughts in the comments!
Amy Whitley is editor and administrator of Pit Stops for Kids, a family travel review site dedicated to finding the best resorts, attractions, restaurants, and experiences for traveling families. She also serves as a travel expert and content editor at Best Family Travel Advice and travels as much as she can with her husband and three kids.