- Family and Parenting
Places to Go with Small Kids in the San Francisco Bay Area
Fun Places to Take Little Ones
The Bay Area is a great place to live, especially with young kids. This lense describes the places me and my little ones like to go and the things we enjoy doing. Hope you find this useful.
Unless otherwise specifically stated, each one of the recommendations in this lense is based on my personal experience or on the recommendation of a personal friend.
Do you know of a fun place to go that I have missed? Do you and your kids have a favorite activity that others should know about? If so, please contact me!
Here are a few featured activities of the dozens that are listed on this lens:
- Star Wars Exhibit at the Tech Museum - the always awesome Tech Museum in downtown San Jose features a Star Wars exhibit from Oct 19, 2013 to Feb 23, 2014. If your kids love Star Wars as much as mine, check it out. Tickets range from $12 (kids) to $27 ("Jedi Package").
- Visit the New Exploratorium - The Exploratorium reopened in April in its new and superb home on Pier 15. This hands-on museum features over 600 science and technology exhibits, many of them brand new. Just as important, the Exploratorium now features a decent (if a little expensive) restaurant. If you can get there using public transportation you'll save a bundle on parking ($5 per hour across the street).
- Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach - It's summer, what better time to visit this fantastic attraction? This gorgeous beach offers tide pools full of sea urchins, anemones, starfish, crabs and many other creatures. When we visited, there was also a group of seals on the beach. Helpful volunteers show visitors around on weekends. My kids loved the place. Be sure to visit at or close to low tide. As of mid August 2012, there was a colony of Harbor Seals on the beach. This restricts access to part of the beach but is also an interesting viewing opportunity.
This is a list of fun things to do, and places to go that don't typically require buying tickets or paying a large entrance fee.
- Watch a Movie at the Drive-In - Did you know that there were still drive-in movie theaters in California? I sure didn't until a friend told me about it recently. We haven't been yet, but we're going to take the entire family there pretty soon. The cost also seems very affordable. One of my personal favorite things to do when I was a kid. What an adventure!
- Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach - This gorgeous beach offers tide pools full of sea urchins, anemones, starfish, crabs and many other creatures. When we visited, there was also a group of seals on the beach. Helpful volunteers show visitors around on weekends. My kids loved the place. Be sure to visit at or close to low tide.
- Flying a kite in Shoreline Park - there's a special kite flying area and on windy afternoons, when the weather is nice there are dozens of kites in the air. For you East Bay folks, the Berkeley Marina is also a great place to do some kite flying.
- A day at the beach in Half Moon Bay - a few weeks ago on a sunny winter day, we spent half a day at the beach in Half Moon Bay. It's amazing how much fun kids can have playing in the sand and chasing seagulls.
- An afternoon at Chuck E. Cheese - yeah, I know, it's cheesy, but my three year old loves it, it costs almost nothing and getting a prize at the end really makes it easy to go home when you're done. Before you go, get Chucky E. Cheese coupons and save a few more bucks.
- A visit to the library - going to the library with the little ones to hear some new stories is fun. Explaining that shouting in the library is a no-no is harder...
- Riding the train - my four year old loves the train and riding it, even for a couple of stops is a treat. Especially if he gets to ride in the top floor. We typically take Caltrain, but BART works just as well.
- Visiting the sea lions at Pier 39 - kids love them, just make sure it's the right time of the year. While you are there, Pier 39 also has a great old fashioned carousel, and some free shows for kids. It's way touristy though.
- A Stop at the Local Fire Station - every kid on the planet gets excited at the sight of a fire truck. Most fire stations have times when they are open to the public and many will let you visit even when there is no special event if you ask nicely.
- Ride a Cable-Car in San-Francisco - it's the most touristy thing to do in the city, but kids love it, especially if you get them a good spot to sit.
- Hidden Villa in Los Altos - all it take is a $5 parking permit and you can spend the day doing fun, non-strenuous hikes under shady trees, visit some farm animals and play around a really nice vegetable garden. Nice way to spend the afternoon.
- Explore Tide Pools at Bean Hollow State Beach - This one is a real gem, where your little ones can hunt for starfish, see hermit crabs and watch seals playing in the surf. Admission is free, and the beach is about 15 minutes south of Half Moon Bay. Make sure to visit when the tide is on its way out.
- Go Berry Picking - Located in mid peninsula, Webb Ranch let's you pick your own berries a few times a year. Obviously, this activity is seasonal, so check the website!
- The Jungle in San Jose - imagine a huge indoor play structure where your kids can run around and burn off energy, while you can sit and chat with your friends, now add an arcade, and that's what the Jungle offers. Similar to Chuck-E-Cheese with a few differences: unlike Chuck-E-Cheese, where admission is free, admission to The Jungle can cost up to $9 per child (depending on child age and day of the week), however, we found The Jungle to be cleaner, much better maintained, and much less crowded. If you want to pick one, I would go with The Jungle.
- Free Planetarium Shows at the College of San Mateo - on the second Friday of every month, you can catch a free planetarium show at the college of San Mateo. There are two shows each one seating 95 viewers and tickets are given on a first come, first served basis. Did I mention, "Free"? I've seen this show and it's a good one.
- Fort Point by the Golden Gate Bridge - located right underneath the Golden Gate, and allowing free entrance, Fort Point is an interesting place for the young ones to visit. Mine loved seeing the old cannons, visit the soldiers' barracks and climbing the roof to watch the ships go by and stand right under the Golden Gate Bridge.
Toys for Cold Winter Weekends
It's summer time... the perfect opportunity to get the little ones into the yard or the park to play. Below are some best selling outdoor Amazon toy ideas:
The zoo is always a fun place to go with little ones, and in the Bay Area we have some excellent zoos and parks.
- San Francisco Zoo
My family's favorite Bay Area zoo. The family membership is a steal at $70 per family per year. Parking can be a bit rough on sunny winter weekends. Make sure you catch the phenomenal lemur habitat.
- Oakland Zoo
Not as nice as the San Francisco Zoo, but still a lot of fun.
- Monterey Aquarium
OK, so it's not exactly in the Bay Area, but this is, after all, the world renowned Monterey Aquarium and no list of zoos would be complete without it. Kids love it, and - renewed in 2012 - the jellyfish exhibit is especially stunning. Highly recom
- Safari West
Located close to Santa Rosa, Safari West offers you and the little ones an opportunity to get a taste of Africa in the 4x4 safari tours, where you can see Giraffes, Cape Buffalo, Zebras and other animals up-close and personal. Tickets are not cheap b
- Happy Hollow
Happy Hollow . Located in San Jose, Happy Hollow has a small zoo and a small amusement park for the price of one ticket. The amusement park features all you can ride carouselles, as well as a train and a puppet show. Happy Hollow is perfect for kids
- Coyote Point Museum
The Coyote Point Museum is located pretty close to SFO. It contains a small zoo, where the sea otters are a big hit. The museum itself is pretty outdated, but my little ones really enjoy some of the exhibits.
- Tilden Park
In the East Bay, this park has a lake, a steam train for young'uns to ride, a merry-go-round and lots of other fun things. My oldest son loves this place.
- Children's Fairyland
Fairyland is a rather smallish amusement park for young kids. My 2 & 6 year olds had a blast, although I suspect that slightly older kids would find the place boring. Admission is $6 for all age groups, and attractions include farm animals, a sma
- Pixieland in Concord
An amusement park for your little ones that offers carousels, train ride, "Red Baron Airplane" rides and a bunch of other attractions. Ride tickets are sold individually (with discounts for volume). You may be able to find some coupons on the park's
- Old Faithful Geyser in Calistoga
Have you ever seen a geyser? Well - we've got one right in our back yard. It's not as impressive as the one in Yellow Stone National Park, but if the kids have never seen a geyser, this is a worthwhile attraction. The geyser shoots about 60 feet in t
Educational Fun at Home
Leapfrog has a range of high quality, educational toys for many age groups. Our house is full of them and all are highly recommended.
I love taking my little ones to the Museum. They love it, they learn and it's MUCH better than hanging out in front of the TV...
- California Academy of Sciences
Completely revamped, the new California Academy of Sciences Museum re-opened in 2009. It features an impressive aquarium, planetarium show, and a wonderful 4 story rain forest exhibit in which visitors can walked among butterflies, plants and birds.
- USS Hornet
The Hornet is a WWII era aircraft carrier, turned museum and permenantly docked in Alameda. You can spend hours exploring this amazing museum: roam the hanger deck where various aircraft are stored; walk the flight deck from which you can see the gre
- The Exploratorium
The Exploratorium reopened in April in its new and superb home on Pier 15. This hands-on museum features over 600 science and technology exhibits, many of them brand new. Just as important, the Exploratorium now features a decent (if a little expensi
- Chabot Space & Science Center
A really fun museum where kids can experiment and learn about space, the solar system and the stars. The planetarium show, in a state of the art 360 degree projection dome, is a real treat. Highly recommended.
- Children's Discovery Museum
A fun, hands-on learning experience for kids. My family's favorites include the water interactive exhibit (think waterfalls with flying balls); and the bubbles exhibit. A word of advice: do not try to visit the museum on rainy weekends - parking is a
- Hiller Aviation Museum
This fun museum, located in Redwood City, is filled with planes, planes and more planes. Once a year the museum holds its helicopter show. This is a big event and is highly recommended.
Zeum is a multimedia arts and technology museum, geared towards kids. Kids can make their own animation movies, appear in a movie, make a movie sound-track and more. My 4 year old enjoyed it, but older kids would probably enjoy it even more. The hist
- Bay Area Discovery Museum
Definitely skewed towards the younger crowd, kids between 2 and 4 will love this interactive museum. Admission is a bit on the pricy side, at $8.5 for adult and $7.5 per child, however the museum offers a AAA discount. A word of advice - the cafeteri
- The Tech Museum of Innovation
One of our favorite museums. Located in Downtown San Jose, the Tech Museum is a fun place for kids in many age groups. Older kids will enjoy the IMAX show and hands-on science experiments and younger kids will love the many interactive exhibits. Fun
- Computer History Museum
A very interesting museum for adults but kids will also find some cool things to do and see. Kids under 12 enter free. Kids under 5 or 6 would probably get bored. If you are coming with kids, my advice is to roam the halls on your own and point out i
More Things to Do with the Kids
These books offer some useful information on where to take the kids.
Here are some of the Bay Area amusement parks that have activities geared towards young kids
- Six Flags Marine World
Six Flags are famous for their coasters, but Six Flags Marine World is perfect for young kids as well. Our three year old loved the kiddie coaster, the aminal shows and the trains. In the park you can also feed giraffes, ride an elephant and pet the
- Paramount's Great America
Great America also has quite a few rides for young kids, plus it features the Nickelodeon characters and shows. We liked it less than Six Flags, but it was also fun.
- Gilroy Gardens
Geared specifically towards the younger crowd, this place has rides, gardens and exhibits. By the way, you can easily find a discount coupon to the park online. What they don't tell you is that if you use a coupon, your ticket will be for a single da
- Lemos Farm
Appropriate for really young kids, Lemos Farm offers pony rides, train rides and a petting zoo. Before Holloween the Farm also offers a haunted house and a large pumpkin patch. The lines can be very long and the drive from the Peninsula can be very s
- Malibu Grand Prix
This mini-golf / arcade / go cart facility is conveniently located in the mid-peninsula. Don't expect fancy facilities or superb food, but my 6 year old truly enjoyed an afternoon of mini-golf. Costs are reasonable at $7 per game and kids under 6 pla
- Laser Quest
For a birthday party or just for a fun afternoon, Laser Quest is a blast (no pun intended) for kids and adults alike. This attraction essentially involves running around a maze and shooting at each other with harmless laser guns. We held our son's 7t
- Raging Waters
For around $30 for an adult and around $20 for a child, your family can spend a day of water filled fun. The park has many types of water slides and pools, appropriate even for very young kids. Life jackets are available. My kids loved it. My family
- Aqua Adventure
My family and I haven't visited this attraction, but it was recommended to me by a reader of this site (thank you, Slal!). From the website, the park seems to be pretty small, but the admission price is much lower than that of Raging Waters.
- San Jose Skate
I went roller skating with one of my boys the other day and he had a blast. I also had a blast - it was like a time machine to the 80s. $8 per person is the price of entry. The place is a little run down, but filled with kids and families. Check out
Best Selling Amazon Toys
When I'm looking for neat new toys for the kids or gifts for birthday parties and such, the Amazon best seller list is a good place to start the search:
- Jelly Belly Factory Tour
This is an excellent 40 minute walking tour of the factory. It's free and it's extremely kid friendly. My four year old loved to see the robots stacking boxes of candy, and boxes of Jelly Beans zipping around on conveyor belts. The biggest success: a
- Whale Watching in Monterey
At a recent trip the family and I saw over 20 Humpbacks and Blue Whales, some of which got very close to the boat. Appropriate for kids over 3 years old. Kids under 6 wear a life jacket. About $35 for adults & $25 for kids. This is obviously a hi
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