Monday, August 19, 2013

{Sunshine Kids Blog Hop} Five Fabulous (and FREE!!) Things to Do with Kids in San Francisco

Image courtesy of Mark Stalnaker (thanks, Liz!) 
Recently, Wild Thing, Caterpillar and I joined my husband on his "work" trip to the San Francisco Bay Area. Our latest film, SMUGGLED, was being presented at three different events with a 2-day gap between two of the events, so it seemed like the perfect idea. It was and while San Francisco is definitely a pricey city, we found a way to make it a budget and family-friendly getaway. So, I'm sharing 5 of our favorite free San Francisco Bay Area experiences.

#1 - Golden Gate Park, where (thankfully) even the parking is free. Of course, Golden Gate Park is huge. We went twice and still only saw a small portion of it. We enjoyed a play date at Stow Lake. It's a great loop to walk with children that provides a Chinese Pagoda to explore, two lovely bridges, ducks and geese and waterfalls. Our playdate probably lasted about two hours and ended with some nice snacking at a picnic table near the Boat House of the lake. I definitely appreciate what a talented photographer my friend Liz is because she captured some truly beautiful and wonderful moments from our first Golden Gate experience. 
Caterpillar and I in the Chinese Pagoda at Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park
Photo courtesy of Liz Stalnaker. 
This crawfish definitely captured the kids' attention,
and he was on guard as they surrounded him. 
Photo courtesy of Liz Stalnaker.
Wild Thing with a new friend at Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park.
Photo courtesy of Liz Stalnaker.
The other lake wildlife that captivated the kids.
Photo courtesy of Liz Stalnaker
Finally a photo of all of the kids together before our playdate ended.
Photo courtesy of Liz Stalnaker.
Our second Golden Gate experience was running around outside the Conservatory of Flowers (the conservatory itself was already closed for the day when we got to the park). The boys enjoyed looking at all of the flowers, running amidst the open space and walking through the tunnel several times and experimenting with echoes while in the tunnel. We'll definitely go back next time we're in the Bay Area, as we haven't yet experienced many of the major Golden Gate attractions for kids, like the Koret Children's Corner and the Carousel. 

#2 - San Francisco Public Library (Main Branch): Our first evening in San Francisco included a screening of the latest film my husband and I made, SMUGGLED. The film screened at the San Francisco Public Library, so the boys and I went along. Often libraries get overlooked when sight-seeing, but the Children's Center (at the Main Branch of the San Francisco Public Library) is worth a visit, particularly if you have toddler and preschool-aged children. It has an interactive wall for children to explore, a fun book drop that makes reading and putting books away extra exciting and there were blocks and puzzles out the evening that we went. Plus, the staff was fabulous. If you find yourself near it, pop in and have some fun. We shared a bit about it and some photos in a recent Project 101: Weekly Library Challenge post.

#3 - Tilden Regional Park: This park is actually in Berkeley, but it is worth the trip over the Bay Bridge. (Plus, our boys loved going over the Bay Bridge, so that was another bonus). On Sunday, our film screened in Berkeley, so we set up another playdate with my friend Liz and her beautiful daughter. They suggested Tilden Regional Park, and I am so glad they did. This 740 acre regional park in Berkeley has a fabulous Merry-Go-Round/Carousel, cool playgrounds and a Little Farm. The farm is free and features pigs, chickens, rabbits, goats, and cows. Wild Thing thought it was absolutely too cool! I definitely would love to explore this park again. 
Wild Thing at The Little Farm in Tilden Regional Park
Photo courtesy of Liz Stalnaker
#4 - Yerba Buena Playground at the Children's Creativity Museum in Downtown, San Francisco. The playground is highly interactive and was so much fun that we spent almost an hour there and didn't have time to go into the museum. I love that the playground area is free. It features some very cool giant slides (for children ages 5 and up), as well as interesting climbing structures, a sandbox and a large xylophone. There was also a smaller sIide that Wild Thing and Caterpillar could enjoy and there were several hula hoops around the area that the boys loved exploring -- rolling them, throwing them and tossing balls through them. I didn't get any photos, but you'll definitely want to have a look at the amazing slides (for children 5 and up) so click over to the Golden Gate Mothers Group for some photos and more info

#5 - Pier 45 to 39. This walk was suggested in City Walks: San Francisco: 50 Adventures on Foot that the couple whose house we stayed in left on their dresser for us. It is a fabulous walk. We started at Pier 45, which features one of my favorite all-time San Francisco attractions: the Musee Mecanique, which is mostly free. I say mostly free because the museum is free to enter, but you will probably find yourself spending at least a dollar or two experiencing the very classic and unique arcade games. Many of the games and mechanically operated musical instruments, zoetropes and much more can probably only be found in this unique museum. We probably spent $2, maybe $3, but it was definitely worth it, and watching other people play the games can be equally engaging and fun. Please, don't overlook this spot the next time you are in San Francisco. 

Outside of the Musee Mecanique were two World War II ships and walking down to Pier 39 offered lots of free entertainment with great views and street performers. Pier 39 itself is very tourist-y, but was worth it for us. There are lots of things in the area that you can pay for, but you can always watch the Sea Lions that collect at the pier for free. Wild Thing and Caterpillar both loved it. They enjoyed running around the dock and watching all of the different boats in action on the Bay. 

Here's a bonus parking tip for doing a Pier 45 to Pier 39 walk - Look for parking along Bay Street near Taylor or Mason. Parking in general in San Francisco is pretty pricey -- often $3 (or more) per hour. It is not any cheaper here, but what we appreciated was the Trader Joe's located at Bay Street and Mason. We parked near it. This location allowed us to get some very affordable and healthy snacks for the boys, as well as an easy bathroom pit stop before and after our walk along the waterfront. 
Courtesy of Mark Stalnaker.
So lovely - had to share again, with no text.
We capped off our waterfront day with a drive over the Golden Gate Bridge (almost free, except for the $6 toll on the way back). We parked in Sausalito, took in the views and let the boys play for a bit at a playground before heading back across the bridge to call it a day. All in all, we truly enjoyed our San Francisco experience, and that's my top 5! 

Bonus Activity: Here's another place we enjoyed that wasn't free (if you wanted to go on the boats), but was quite affordable and worth price of admission: The San Francisco Maritime National Park. You can explore the "park" itself for free. The park is really a pier in the Fisherman's Wharf area, not far from Ghirardelli Square. If you want to go on the many restored, antique boats that are docked there, the cost if $5 per adult, children under 12 are free. Plus, you can show your receipt and re-enter for the next 7 days, so it is a great value. Eureka is a classic steam ferry docked there, which has several classic cars on it. There were several other boats that we could walk on and explore, each offering their own taste of history. Along the dock as well is an area where boats are restored and stations to try tying different nautical knots. If you have a boat-lover, you won't want to miss this spot. The area does close at 4 p.m., so go early. 

Sharing at: The Sunday ShowcaseTuesday Tots, Mom's Library and It's Playtime!

We love exploring California and are excited to be participating in the Sunshine Kids California Blog Hop. 
  Sunshine Kids California Blog Hop
The Sunshine Kids California Blog Hop celebrates all that is wonderful about raising kids in the Golden State. Join us and link up your kid-centered posts about California: places to visit, books to read, crafts to create, recipes to try, and so on. The blog hop will run August 19th-September 2nd.

Thanks to Akane of Juggling With Kids for the beautiful photo! You can also check out even more California posts on our collaborative Kid Friendly California Pinterest board! Be sure to check out our upcoming project, Exploring the California Missions!          

Participating Blogs:

All Done Monkey - Raising little global citizens.
Kids Yoga Stories The Silly Pearl
The Art Pantry 2KuriousKids
A Mom With a Lesson Plan
Adventure Bee
Juggling With Kids
Little Hiccups
Slow Family The Good Long Road Adventures in Wunderland
Link up your kid-centered California posts below!


  1. I am embarrassed to say that even though we live close to San Francisco, we haven't visited some of these places. It looks like you were really lucky with weather!

  2. Hi Jennifer! Thanks for finding me and letting me know about your blog and link up! Really cool stuff and am looking forward to reading more and sharing!

  3. Lovely post...chock full of info!
    Thanks for sharing, Jenni!

    Looks like you had a wonderful time! Congrats on the screening of your movie! Good for you...that sounds really exciting!

    Be well!

  4. Also, thank you hosting! I linked a few posts and grabbed your Sunshine Kids button.


  5. This is fabulous! We haven't been to SF that much since having kids, and it's amazing how different it is once you have little ones with you. Many of the places you list we either haven't visited. Can't wait to check them out! Love your tips as well. Thanks for participating in the Sunshine Kids Blog Hop!

  6. Looks like you've had a wonderful time! We went there for our honeymoon and would love to go again.

    Thanks for joining The Sunday Showcase this week. I've pinned.