People often ask me three questions about raising children in San Francisco.
1. Do you like raising children in city life?
2. What activities do you do/where do you go?
3. What do you miss the most about the suburbs?
I haven’t lived all over the country, but I have lived all over California, southern, central and northern. Of all the cities I’ve lived, and if I had to choose where I’d be at this moment with my children, it would most definitely be San Francisco. You might say, it’s the obvious choice, you live there. And, it could be that I was raised in the burbs of Northern California, less that two hours from Tahoe or San Francisco, so I may be biased, but I whole heartedly love this city and what is has to offer families. It’s likely that one day we will move to the burbs to enjoy its offerings, and like many other families, we may be chased out due to the high costs of living, but that’s an entirely different conversation. For now, let me share four kid spots that may not top the tourist list, but are great activities for any family visiting San Francisco.
Golden Gate Park is loaded with goods for just about anyone. The Academy of Science, Japanese Tea Gardens, or the De Young are all an obvious must see. But, if you are in the park with kids, two free or inexpensive options are the Koret’s Children Playground or the Conservatory of Flowers. Whenever my niece and nephew visit, the first place they want to go is Koret park. From a merry-go-round, a huge climbing structure to a famous concrete slide (bring your cardboard), it offer activities for younger and older kids. This park has more than just the traditional swings and slides, which is why it’s such a favorite for my nephew and niece who are eight and ten years of age. Also in Golden Gate Park, the Conservatory is beautiful year round, but the flowers are gorgeous in March/April. The vast staircase makes for great toddler climbing, and it’s only $8-$2 (depending on age) to walk through the Conservatory. More often than not someone is playing the guitar, probably Cat Stevens, the Dead, or the Beatles, classic favorites for this gal. Pack a lunch and enjoy! This also makes for an amazing photo op. One of my all time favorite pics of Audrey is posted above at the Conservatory of Flowers. I can remember chasing her around with my camera, while people laughed and enjoyed watching this little human giggle with determination as she climbed to the very top step. I wasn’t fast enough to capture her sweet face turn back with pride once she reached the top, but if I close my eyes, I can be in that moment, which makes me sooooo happy.
A more recent discovery, and while not really appealing to children under three, it is truly something to see for anyone over the age of three. Boasting over 20 Exhibits with live artifacts from the movies, original sketches of the first Mickey, and a 12 foot model of Disneyland, you have to check this out! There is a $20 ticket fee for Adults, but children under six are free. Every month they show a featured film and a short in their very own theatre, and the films are free with admission. Recently, I took my daughter to see Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, you know, the perfect in every way Mary Poppins. Audrey must have asked me a million questions during the movie. Thankfully, we were two of four in the theatre. Why does Winifred Banks hair look like that? Why did Mary Poppins come on a cloud? How did they all jump in that picture, because they are superheros? Of course I couldn’t give great answers, so I decided that the superhero option would suffice for the time, and that sometimes women have funny hair. What kid isn’t obsessed with Disney, my daughter has been for two years, and is still obsessed with Mickey, so she couldn’t get enough! After touring the museum, have lunch at Crissy Field with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. For older kids, pop into the House of Air at Crissy Field. Trampoline fun!
4. Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito
My friends and I have been taking our kids here since my first was six months. Technically just outside the city, the Discovery Museum is just over the Golden Gate Bridge in Sausalito. The grounds have indoor activities as well as outdoor activities, making it an option no matter what the weather has in store. Creativity is at the core of the museums philosophy. There are art studios (Audrey was painting/cleaning a window in the pic above), a stream with fish and frogs (rubber of course), imaginative playgrounds, book readings, and more. The museum also hosts holiday events, musical and theatrical performances, and special guest speakers. It’s based near the water, so you can eat lunch and have a gorgeous view of the bay, and Golden Gate Bridge. Side note for parents. The museum is located just below Cavallo Point Lodge which is fabulous. Grab a drink at Cavallo’s Farley Bar after your fun-filled day. If the kids allow of course!
Answering the last question, I miss what you would expect about the burbs. To list a few…nature, quiet moments, less traffic, a proper backyard for the family, and not dealing with San Francisco meter maids, who I recognize do not have a fun job, yet I still want to go all ninja on them every time I see their tiny cars circling a street like little robots, waiting for that last minute to expire on someone’s meter!! Phew… sorry, I’ve been burned too many times before discovering PayByPhone. Anyhow, that will all come one day, and I know as cliché as it sounds, I will have left a piece of my heart in San Francisco. It’s more than just the iconic spots, like Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghiradelli, and Golden Gate Park. It’s the less traveled spots that become family favorites, memories at the parks and beaches, and the local store owner who knows your family by name. City living has its pluses and minuses, but it’s a fantastic place for families full of creativity, culture, and exploration. I hope my children will have fond memories here.