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I-5 Road Trip Pit Stops to Cure Any Case of “Are We There Yet?!”

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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!

Enchanted Forest Salem Oregon
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.

Lithia Park Ashland Oregon
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 Turtle Bay Redding California
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)

California State Railroad Museum Redding California
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)

Pretend City Irvine California
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.

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Comments

  1. There are so many more things on the way that will cure that “are we there yet” syndrome. And when in San Diego- a tour of Anza Borrego Desert State part will delight kids from about age 5 up.

  2. Amy – Thank you for your I-5 pit stop picks! My kids LOVE Pretend City and the rest look like a lot of fun too!

  3. SantaFeTravelers – Can you believe I live in San Diego & haven’t yet been to Anza Borrego Desert State Park yet? *Averts eyes with shame!*

  4. Those all sound like really great stops. I know when I am traveling with my kids I bring along my Ipad so they can watch their favorite shows. As a DISH Network employee I purchased a sling adapter and installed the easy and free application to my Ipad. I have access to my TV and recordings anywhere I am at. The kids love it! So in between those stops they have that to keep them entertained.

  5. Nice list! The kids would love this especially playgrounds of Lithia Park=)

  6. We’ve driven I-5 lots of times since we moved from San Diego to Roseville 8 years ago. I can attest to the Old Sacramento Train Museum as a great stop!

  7. LA to SF transplant says:

    These are all great but there is a nice sized black hole from Sacramento to L.A. area. Absolutely nothing. No parks close to the road. Plus due to liability concerns, most fastfood places have no play structures anymore.

    On top of that two of the better rest stops traveling south have been closed for quite some time with no plans to open soon.

    We just pull into hotel parking lots to let the kids run around as there isn’t much else we can do. As most parents know a 2 year old won’t sit still for more than 2 hours with out starting to get cranky (if you are lucky). It’s pretty much 10-20 minute stops every 2 hours. Unfortunately, fewer good places to stop for a 2 year old to run around. Too much traffic around the fast food joints/sit-down places.

  8. LA to SF – Thanks for the heads-up on the black hole! I love that you still stop to let your kids run around regardless. Good idea!

  9. yesenia says:

    Hi Amy, My husband & I are planning a trip from San Diego to Seattle with our 3 year old son. We will be taking I-5 and stopping in Redding along the way. Is their any random pit stops that you would recommend? My hubby is leaving it up to me to figure it out since I ‘m the one wanting to drive. Please help us! Thank you.

  10. Sarah Garceau says:

    You should also take Exit 33, Central Point and visit Don Jones Memorial Park. It features the Oregon Fallen Hero’s War Memorial in addition to the Water Spray Park (open during Summer Hours and is free). It has a large playground so grab your lunch and head to the park to stretch your legs!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Sara – Thank you for the I-5 pit stop recommendation! Sound like a great place to stop during a family road trip.

  11. We love stopping just past Magic Mountain at the Dr Richard H. Rioux Memorial Park at
    26233 W Faulkner Dr, Stevenson Ranch, CA 91381

    It’s a beautiful park with everything you would want. I wrote a yelp review with lots of details. Wish there were more like it between Orange County and Sacramento.

  12. Try Bravo Farms at Kettleman City. We drove from SF to SD earlier this year, on i-5, and wanted to find a fun place to stop for the kids to have an hour or two break. Our research on the internet yielded a big empty nothingness between Sacramento and LA. But most of the posts were at least a couple of years old. Luckily, we happened across a new stopping point at Kettleman city, called Bravo Farms, which seems to be pretty new. It was perfect for us. They’ve got shops selling all kinds of stuff you don’t need, kind of like what you find at those Delta Queen car-washes. But their barbecue is really good – my husband wanted to drive all the way back there just for the brisket. And a nice little outdoors seating area with wild west themed “buildings” for the kids to play in. It’s a great addition to the i-5 corridor!

  13. My husband and I just went to Brownsville, Or. Its just a few miles off the I 5 in central Oregon. We went to a museum iin old train cars. This is a Historic town and the museum was free. Just a donation. That’s not required. There are parks & other things as well.
    I haven’t read all the post’s, but as we travel south, our next stop is the ‘it’s that ice cream place’ in Rice Hill/Oakland. I believe it’s k&r ice cream. You can Google both of these for more iinfo.

  14. Great write up, we’re heading here in five weeks time, thanks for the tips 🙂

  15. Forestierre Underground Gardens, in Fresno, is a nice stop. This underground house and garden is amazing for the time it was built. Even though it has been partially destroyed by the freeway it still is amazing considering that this person did it by hand and grew much of his food.

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