The Saturday Smiles Story

“What do you want to do this weekend?”

“I dunno, what do you want to do?”

“I dunno, what do you want to do?”

“Iiiiii dunnnnooooo, what do YOU want to do?”…

Sound familiar?


Some time ago, our family committed to “playing” every Saturday. For far too long, we bought into the lie that always being behind on work and the omnipresent to-do list was why we were stressed out, so using our weekends to catch up was a good way to reduce stress. It sounded good on the surface, but what that really meant was that we were both working 7-day weeks. Back-to-back-to-back 7-day weeks translated to continuous work and eventually deep burnout.

We realized that most cultures throughout history have had a concept of a sabbath or rest day once a week, so maybe they were onto something. We decided to defy the “go go go” atmosphere that’s so contagious in Silicon Valley and commit to taking one day out of the weekend to play — to explore local parks, malls, and museums, go see movies or local theater productions, attend local festivals, or even just stay home and pursue our favorite non-work-related hobbies. As much as possible, we would avoid “shop talk” (we’re both teachers) and just relax.


So the question became… what to do?

Having lived in San Jose all our lives, you’d think we would know all about the opportunities in this area, but we somehow keep coming back to the same couple parks and malls. We searched on existing directories such as TripAdvisor, but it still reminded me of pinning a thousand recipes on Pinterest, then just making mac-n-cheese for dinner again. None of the reviews felt personal enough to draw us in.

Among other things, we needed to know about the disability accessibility because my mom uses an electric wheelchair. Yes, public places are supposed to be accessible under the ADA, but in reality, some places are more cumbersome to navigate than others. We both have extensive personal and professional experience with children and adults with a variety of special needs — limited mobility, vision or hearing impairment, sensory processing disorder, food allergies, etc. — and experience traveling with family members from infants through seniors. None of the existing “things to do in San Jose” directories touched on these needs, so as we began exploring both the familiar and unfamiliar destinations in our area, we began seeing them through this lens, and the idea for Saturday Smiles was born.

It’s our hope that this information will be useful to your family. If you have suggestions for new places to visit (anywhere from San Francisco to Monterey is fair game) or new criteria we should consider, please email me. Enjoy your weekend, and as my dear friend Mark always reminds me, smile and be happy!  

Factors We Consider

We know that for many families, going somewhere on the weekend is not as simple as programming the GPS. There can be many factors to consider. How far away is it? Will there be food we can safely eat there? Will my child enjoy it or be overloaded by the sensory experience? Is it worth going for a few hours or do I need the whole day? Can I get around in a wheelchair? Will I have the energy to enjoy it? How much will the weather matter? Can we afford it? These are all very real factors to consider, so part of the mission of this website is to give you these answers ahead of time so you can find things that will fit your family’s needs. We try to look at:

  • Location
  • Indoors vs. outdoors, how much the weather will impact you
  • Cost
  • Target ages
  • Length of time (a couple hours vs. the full day)
  • Parking and public transit options
  • Physical accessibility for wheelchairs, strollers, walkers, and other mobility devices
  • Accessibility for guests with visual or hearing impairments
  • Sensory processing (crowds, volume, bright lights, visual busyness, smells, general energy of the place)
  • Food policies and availability, including sensitivity to food allergies and vegan or other specialized diets