Below are some of our favorite things to do with kids in the San Francisco Bay Area. Find more fun favorites in San Francisco, on the Peninsula, and in the North Bay, South Bay, and East Bay.
Or find fun based on your family's interests with our Best of the Bay for Animal Lovers, Outdoor Enthusiasts, History Buffs, Cultural Explorers, Art Appreciators, Music Fans, Theater Goers, Techies and Sports Fans.
Great America in Santa Clara and Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo have thrilling coasters, fun shows, and "kid zones" with rides and character visits for younger children. Fairyland in Oakland and Pixieland in Concord have fun rides and special events for young children.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is fun, educational and big! The breathtaking setting makes a great weekend destination, especially in fall when both the crowds and the fog are gone. Stay overnight and enjoy kayaking on the bay. Let your children burn off some energy at the Dennis the Menace playground before the drive home. Looking for aquariums closer to home? Check out Aquarium of the Bay and Steinhart Aquarium both in San Francisco.
Children's Creativity Museum at Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco provides fun hands-on art activities for all ages. Ride the nearby historic Playland carousel and enjoy the colorful playground area.
The Museum of Children's Art (MOCHA) in Oakland is unique in that it only displays artwork by children. Gallery admission is free and reasonable fees are charged for open studio participation.
Every Sunday is for families at SFMOMA. Each season brings a new theme to explore through museum-wide activities.
Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos has very interesting vintage and experimental aircraft exhibits. Special programs include open cockpit day, preschool reading and crafts, and holiday events.
Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz is scenic and has lively tide pools just a short hike from the main beach. Nearby natural trails lead through the winter habitat of monarch butterflies. The Seymour Marine Discovery Center is nearby and is a worthwhile side trip.
Canada Road in San Mateo is closed to motorized vechiles from Hwy 92 to Edgewood Rd. along Crystal Springs Reservior on most Sundays. Stop for a look at the Pulgas Water Temple. Tour the house and gardens at nearby Filoli Mansion.
Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito is a great children's museum in a beautiful location. The Children's Discovery Museum in San Jose is equally fun and conveniently located near the Tech Museum.
Bay Area Children's Theatre specializes in high quality theater adaptations of great children's books. Performances are held in Berkeley and San Ramon. At California Theatre Center in Sunnyvale adult actors perform classic fairy tales. Young actors with Peninsula Youth Theatre in Mountain View perform both new and old favorites with impressive sets and costumes.
Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont is a Victorian era working farm with a blacksmith shop and home tour. You'll see sheep, pigs, turkeys, chickens, rabbits, goats, and cows. Ardenwood hosts fun events throughout the year, including a Harvest Festival in October and Christmas Faire in early December with house tours, train rides, food samples, farm activities, arts & crafts, and music.
Slide Ranch at Muir Beach offers an organic garden, walking trails with stunning ocean views and the opportunity to milk a goat or feed the chickens. Sienna Ranch in Lafayette hosts monthly family days with horse and pony rides, sustainability education and projects, archery, hayrides, survival skills activities, and more.
The UC Berkeley Botantical Garden was an accidental find for us. We just happened upon it on our way back from the Lawrence Hall of Science and were amazed at the number and variety of plants. Plant "zones" range from alpine to desert to tropical and everything in between. Don't miss the greenhouse that holds the carnivorous plants.
Historical Museums & Parks
The Museum of American Heritage in Palo Alto has well done, kid-oriented exhibits and special events.
Natural History Museums
California Academy in San Francisco has dinosaurs and much more, including insects, minerals, and an african experience. An aquarium, planetarium and rainforest are all included in the price of admission.
CuriOdyssey at Coyote Point in San Mateo has daily otter and bobcat feedings and weekend animal talks. Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek treats over 5000 wild animals every year. Join a petting circle with a rabbit, guinea pig or hamster. Watch feeding and training demonstrations and meet an eagle, hawk or owl.
The best park is probably the one that's closest to you and has a fun play structure. However, when you're looking for a special day try one of these 3 destination parks. Each has numerous fun activities.
Golden Gate Park in San Francisco has art museums, aquarium, planetarium, arboretum, tea garden, play grounds, boat rentals, and even buffaloes! Main roads closed to auto traffic on Sundays to accomodate bicycling and skating.
Tilden Park in Berkeley has picnic areas, pony rides, carousel, steam train, botanical garden, and swimming.
Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland has a great facility and lots of fun activities for exploring space and climatology. Fujitsu Planetarium in Cupertino offers family-oriented shows on most Saturdays.
Science & Technology
The Exploratorium in San Francisco has hundreds of hands-on "experiments" your children can perform. The Tech Museum in San Jose has several themed areas where your children can explore life sciences, energy, communications and more.
The Roaring Camp and Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad in Felton (near Santa Cruz) is fun any day, but especially during one of their many special events. Worth the drive for Thomas the Tank Engine days, Moonlight rides, Harvest Festival, Halloween Ghost trains, and Pioneer Christmas.
For a really special train adventure, ride the Amtrak Capitol Corridor train to Sacramento to visit the California State Railroad Museum. Stay in the nearby Delta King paddleboat hotel and explore Old Town Sacramento.
The Oakland Zoo is easy to get to, usually uncrowded, and just the right size... lots of space for the animals, but easy to walk around. Relatively inexpensive admission fee. Rides are an additional fee, but reasonable.
The San Francisco Zoo has a modern entrance area, pretty landscaping, expanded petting zoo, and several new animal habitat areas. Especially fun in summer when zoo camp teens display small animals for viewing and petting.