San Francisco is an expensive place to live and having kids can be even more expensive, so who doesn’t love to save a dollar or two?! Here are my top 10 best FREE activities in San Francisco with Kids (that adults will actually like too).
It is the #1 tourist attraction for visitors (and the #1 reason why I love SF) and yet so many residents have never walked across our gorgeous golden gate bridge. Grab your stroller and go, kids love it! The entire bridge is over 2 miles, so you might not make it all the way across, but walk until you are about halfway tired and head back. With the trucks rumbling by shaking the bridge, sailboats and shipping containers floating below, there is no shortage of fun for the kids.
One of our favorite activities is to picnic lunch and let the kids run around. The Botanical gardens with its duck pond, mosaic fountain, and dinosaur footprints is a great place for kids to explore. San Francisco residents are free (nonresidents $8, $4 kids 5-11, 4 and under free).
A fine art museum does not always sound like the best place to take young kids, but the DeYoung is awesome for kids and has a lot of FREE space. First stop, check out the Hamon Observation Tower for its awesome views. After you are tired of looking at the view, grab a coffee or lunch in the cafe and let the kids explore the Barbro Osher Sculpture Garden on the west end of the museum. This is a parents’ dream space, the cafe has great line of sight for 95% of the garden, so you can relax and drink your coffee while it is actually hot and let the kids explore. They also hav ea kid’s menu for lunch, so if you don’t see it, just ask. Don’t miss James Turrell’s “Skyspace”, this is a true fan favorite of our kids. And finally, before you leave stop by Seven Yorkshire’s Landscape Videos (2011), on view just north of Wilsey Court inside; our kids could sit and watch for hours. Yes, this is screen time, but its art, so it doesn’t count, right?!
As Big D’s interest in space has increased (thanks to his friend W), we have started to seek out different opportunities to continue to learn more about space. One of the most fun things we have done is check out the Chabot Telescopes at night. They are open every Friday and Saturday night 7:30-10:30. They have 3 big telescopes and then on the nights we have been there have set up an additional smaller telescope outside. Each telescope looks at something different from planets to nebula to star clusters. Fall and winter are the best time to go as the sun sets earlier, so it is easy to see stuff before bedtime. Bring snacks and a jacket and really enjoy your evening out under the stars.
Who doesn’t love a picnic especially when someone else does the cooking? From late spring through October, visit one of the Off the Grid events for an easy outdoor food truck dining that kids love. We particularly love the Sunday picnics in the Presidio, picnicing on the lawn amidst bubbles and soccer balls. We often bring our own food for the kids so we don’t have to deal with the lines at the trucks and enjoy the atmosphere. We also love the nighttime Off the Grid for the live music and thus the dancing opportunities for the kids.
San Francisco is not a “beach town” the way many of the Southern California towns are. It is really easy to forget that we have beautiful, easily accessible beaches. Often the weather is not really “beach weather”; but at the same time, I’ve learned our kids don’t care, they love playing in the water and sand regardless of the temperature, so grab your sand toys, towels, and extra set of clothes and pick your favorite beach from Crissy Field (tends to have the mildest waves, so great for kids) to China Beach to Baker Beach, there are a ton to choose from.
On a jetty to the east of the St. Francis Yacht Club, the wave organ, built in 1986 by Peter Richards and George Gonzalez, is “a wave-activated acoustic sculpture”. With a stunning view of San Francisco, this is a great place for kids to wander and explore. Bring a watercolor set and draw pictures and when you are done, stop by the Dynamo Donuts hut for a donut and coffee snack.
My second favorite thing about San Francisco (2nd only to the GG Bridge) is how easily accessible the outdoors are right from the city. You can do a hike right in the city and feel a million miles away (check out my SF favorites here) or drive as little as 15 minute north or south and reach some really unbelievable hikes (like this one). No matter what kind of hike you choose, you can’t lose, they are plentiful and stunningly beautiful.
If you follow me on instagram, you know that I am a big fan of Discover and Go. Discover and Go is a program for San Francisco Public Library Members that provides free passes to SFPL members to local attractions. You can get free access to the SF Zoo, Coit Tower, all the SF Pools, The Exploratorium, and so much more. It is a great resource for San Francisco residents that gives me great new ideas of places to try with our kids that I might not otherwise go.
It’s easy to fall into the same routine and do the same things, which can often be great, but it can be even more rewarding to step out of the routine and try something new. There are so many diverse neighborhoods in San Francisco from Chinatown to the Wharf to the Ferry Building to the Mission, there is no end to the neighborhoods that you can explore. Kids love to go new places and see new things; check out the local tourist attractions, shops, grab a snack, and explore. Whether you walk, take muni/bart or even ferry, kids love transportation, so getting there is half the adventure. For inspiration on new neighborhoods to try, read Larry Gets Lost in San Francisco by Michael Mullin, it is a great book about a boy and his dog exploring San Francisco.
In addition to the above, many of the museums have days that are free to the public. Word to the Wise: because these days are free, they are often the busiest days to visit those museums. To find out what days are free, visit: http://freemuseumday.org/sf.html
What are some of your favorite freebie or cheapie activities? We would love to try them on our next adventure day.
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