When you think of the San Francisco Bay Area, family friendly activities may not be top of mind. People typically think of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, the long established technology powerhouses and visionaries and of course wine country, which whether you’re heading to Napa Valley or Sonoma, is only an hour away.
That said, the Bay Area offers a number of fun-filled family friendly attractions, many of which adults will love as well.
Family Friendly Fun in the SF Bay Area
House of Air
Truth be told, I had never heard of House of Air before I started my “what would be fun for kids” research. Located on Old Mason Street in San Francisco, it’s near the Presidio, so there’s a wide open playground outside as well with breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge. In other words, allow time for frisbee playing, a picnic along the beach or on the grass before or after trampoline time.
They consider trampolining as an action or extreme sport. That said, they have plenty of safeguards built in and they instruct you how to slow down and stop and tips to avoid falling.
And, it’s a boat load of fun. While there’s no doubt, this is a godsend for kids, we loved the experience as adults as well. Additionally, it’s worth noting its health benefits. Not only is it a lower-impact cardiovascular activity but it helps with balance and coordination and improves lymphatic function as well.
Jumping makes a fun family friendly activity as well as one for health conscious adults. More information can be found on their website.
Stowe Lake Boat House
Located inside beautiful Golden Gate Park, which is a must visit for any family, the Stow Lake Boat House has a fleet of American-made boats includes rowboats, electric boats, and pedal boats that seat from one to four boaters. All motorboats, including the support boat, are electric powered so there’s very little noise when you use them. In other words, it’s fun for kids but parents can also get a dose of serenity as they glide along Stow Lake.
You have a choice of two styles of boats for rent: row boats and pedal boats, with an option for electric pedal boats with a battery inside. The latter allows you to pedal or to use the electric motor to power the boat. Traveling with a group? They have a pedal boat that seats 4-6 people.
We loved the experience and recommend it as a family friendly activity during your San Francisco stay. More information can be found on their website.
Although I’ve known about the Exploratorium for years, I never made the time to visit, largely because I’ve been told you need a dedicated few hours to explore it and felt that it was supposed to be for kids. Not so. While it is most definitely a family friendly museum, adults will have fun too.
We managed our visit in 2.5 hours and felt that we got a pretty good sense of its offerings, however quite frankly, we could have easily spent an entire day here, including a break for food in their rear cafeteria.
The Exploratorium is all about self discovery — think of a museum focused on science, art, and human perception. Its mission is to create inquiry-based experiences that transform learning worldwide, which not only makes it a great family friendly place to visit, but a great resource for discovery enthusiasts as well.
There’s so much to keep your mind occupied that you’d be hard pressed to be bored, even if science isn’t your main interest. Located on Pier 15 along San Francisco’s Embarcadero, you’ll be tempted with a vast collection of experiences to feed your curiosity.
They have created tools and experiences that help you to become an active explorer: hundreds of explore-for-yourself exhibits, a website with over 35,000 pages of content, film screenings, evening art and science events for adults.
If you’re local to the area, they also offer memberships and professional development programs for educators, to help change the way science is taught. It’s a must visit with kids in tow regardless of their age. For more information, visit their website.
Winter Lodge for Ice Skating
Located in the heart of Palo Alto, this outdoor ice skating facility is fun for the entire family. Although we went during the holiday season, which is an epic time to visit since they have a beautiful Christmas tree up in the center of the ice, it is open other times of the year as well.
We had a blast during our two hour skate session and while it was a little nippy, it’s nothing like what we experienced ice skating as kids on the east coast. Often, we’d face below zero temperatures during the winter months.
Here, although you need a light jacket or warm sweatshirt, the weather in Palo Alto is almost always perfect. Given that it’s only about a half an hour drive south of San Francisco, it makes it easy to add to your San Francisco Bay Area travel schedule.
If you’re local to the area, they offer public skating sessions (and lessons) as well as classes for kids. There’s also what they refer to as mid-day sessions, which are held on HALF ICE due to the sun. Because of the smaller ice surface, these make great sessions for young skaters and families. For more information, visit their website.
A Hike Up Bernal Hill
We love Bernal Hill for kids because it’s a great place to run around and also walk a dog if you’re traveling with one. Known by some locals as “Dog Hill,” largely because so many dog walkers and owners retreat there every day, you won’t find a shortage of dogs running around….and in our experience, they’re always well behaved.
There’s also now a swing hanging from a tree which boasts amazing views of the city while you fly to and fro.
We took the kids here over the holiday break, however it’s a great time any time of year. The weather in San Francisco never really gets that cold, although it can be breezy up on the hill, so be sure to bring a sweatshirt and a jacket.
You’ll get breathtaking 360-degree panorama views from the top as well, and as long as it’s a clear day, you’ll see the San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, downtown, San Bruno Mountain, and the hills of the East Bay. Often, these windswept slopes are still sunny when Twin Peaks is shrouded in afternoon fog.
In addition to dogs, you may spot a red-tailed hawk overhead, and there are both dirt trails that run around the hill as well as a paved road, depending on how much you want to exert yourself.
A paved limited-access road and a network of well-defined dirt trails wind around the hill’s flanks and provide access to the summit. Find more information about this family friendly spot on Bernal Hill and Bernal Heights Park on this website.
Antique Show in Half Moon Bay
Held twice a year, the Half Moon Bay Antiques & Collectibles Show, is a fun event to go to with the family. The winter one took place right before the holidays (December 16 and 17) and the summer one is held in June. They had booths inside and outside the I.D.E.S. Hall, which is located at 735 Main Street in downtown Half Moon Bay.
This is one of the only antique shows that you’ll find on the coast, produced locally in Half Moon Bay by Lyonessa Collectibles. If you are a treasure hunter, decorator, collector or simply enjoy finding something special from your past, then this is a fun show. We think it’s a fun family friendly choice, because of the fact that it’s a great way to introduce kids to a bit of history through collectibles.
Dealers sell an assortment of decorative items, vintage clothing, estate jewelry, primitives, furniture, glassware, memorabilia, kitchenware, textiles, artwork, toys, costume jewelry and more. You will also find that most items are reasonably priced. For kids, you can also walk down memory lane with them, showing them some of the toys you once played with, your grandmother’s cookie jar, board games you enjoyed with family or friends, and keepsakes that always made you smile.
Admission is $5 for the event and a portion of proceeds from admission fees are donated to The Sweet Farm Foundation, an animal rescue organization set on a 12 acre farm in Half Moon Bay! They also offer wine and cheese tasting on site as well for an additional fee, and certainly for the December show, it was a great way to take in the festive holiday season.
For more information, head on over to their website.
What do you think of our family friendly travel suggestions for the San Francisco Bay Area? Let us know in the comments below and what you think we may have missed. And, be sure to check out our San Francisco page as well as our Family Travel Section and our California section.