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A bucket list of 20 don’t-miss adventures for Bay Area kids

A giant pink shoe with a doorway and multicolor roof tiles says "Fairyland."
Oakland's Fairyland is a storybook experience for young kids. | Courtesy Children's Fairyland

There aren’t too many kids who get to ride a cable car, find ladybugs on a cliff overlooking the Pacific or ride a toy train in the Wine Country—but kids around here sure do.

While the city is filled with traditional places to mini-golf, climb, bowl and play other games, youngsters raised near San Francisco enjoy a wide variety of only-in-the-Bay-Area experiences—from obvious activities like visiting the Discovery Museum or the Exploratorium to lesser-known day trips to Adventure Playground and the Little Farm at Tilden Park.

Check out the map and list below to be sure you don’t deprive your kids of these unique family adventures.

Unique Destinations for Bay Area Kids

Adventure Playground

Berkeley

Right on the bay, Adventure Playground is a free outdoor play space that allows children to build, cooperate and problem-solve while erecting forts, structures and towers using hammers, saws, paint and repurposed materials.

Bay Area Discovery Museum

Sausalito

With exhibits like "Mud Kitchen," "How It Works," "Paint My Ride" and "Try It Studio," the Bay Area Discovery Museum encourages children to learn by doing. Its location right on the bay in Fort Baker makes it a gorgeous spot to spend the day.

People milling around an outdoor kids' park with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.
The Bay Area Discovery Museum offers both outdoor and indoor play areas in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. | Maryann Jones Thompson/The Standard

Cable Car Ride/Museum

San Francisco

Get up close to a historical collection of cable cars and mechanical displays before hopping aboard a modern-day cable car to explore history in motion on the streets of SF on either the Powell-Mason or Powell-Hyde Cable Car lines—because there’s no better ride than standing on the footboard and heading up Nob Hill. (Note: Service on these two lines will be limited during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.)

People ride a cable car.
Cable cars are not just for tourists. | Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

Children's Fairyland

Oakland

The vibrant pint-size settings based on storybook favorites at Children's Fairyland help children walk right onto the pages of Jack and Jill, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Rabbit and more. Enjoy entertaining rides, farm animals, gardens and tasty food geared toward little ones at this classic venue on the shores of Lake Merritt. Open Fridays to Sundays in the fall, it is one of the oldest themed amusement parks in the country, built in 1950.

A giant pink shoe with a doorway and multicolor roof tiles says "Fairyland."
Oakland's Fairyland is a storybook experience for young kids. | Courtesy Children's Fairyland

Exploratorium

San Francisco

With more than 600 inquiry-based scientific experiences to explore in the areas of art, math, data, engineering, environmental science, biology, chemistry and more, The Exploratorium certainly lives up to its name. Its relatively new location along the Embarcadero sets families up for a trip to the Ferry Building or Pier 39, depending on your taste.

Fitzgerald Marine Reserve Tide Pools

Moss Beach

The tide pools at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve teem with life. Mind your step as you witness crabs, sponges, sea stars, mollusks and sea anemones aplenty thriving in the bustling intertidal zone at Moss Beach.

Hyde Street Pier

San Francisco

Wander down the pier into the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park and board an early 20th century car ferry, a three-masted square-rigger or a steam tug. There’s no shortage of hands-on, feet-on experiences to be had, all surrounded by gorgeous views of the bay.

A historic looking long sailboat is docked next to a classic riverboat with Alcatraz island in the background.
Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco lets kids walk around historic ships. | Maryann Jones Thompson/The Standard

Lawrence Hall of Science

Berkeley

A destination for science fun for over 50 years, Lawrence Hall of Science has exciting hands-on exhibits, a 3D theater and a planetarium to satisfy even the most curious budding scientists.

A man teaches kids before a scientific display on a large screen.
Kids have fun and engage in learning at the Lawrence Hall of Science. | Courtesy Lawrence Hall of Science

Marine Mammal Center

Sausalito

Passionate about global conservation and marine biology? The Marine Mammal Center focuses on rescue, rehabilitation, research and education. Its exhibits and tours give visitors a glimpse into how to make a difference. Spend the rest of the day in the sand at Rodeo Lagoon.

Seals bask in the sun on the edge of a concrete pool.
Patients recuperate in the sun at the Marine Mammal Center. | Courtesy Bill Hunnewell for Marine Mammal Center

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey

Take a full day to learn about the 10 habitats featured at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Into the Deep is the aquarium's newest exhibition that takes visitors down to where deep-sea dwellers thrive. Yes, there are other aquariums, but no, there are none as good as this one.

A man carrying a small child is silhouetted in front of a tank filled with bright orange jellyfish.
A family photo with jellyfish is a "must-get" at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. | Courtesy Monterey Bay Aquarium

Musée Mécanique

Fisherman's Wharf

Family-owned since 1933, Musée Mécanique is an authentic San Francisco treasure. Once part of Playland at the Beach, the vintage arcade now provides a worthy destination for locals and tourists at Fisherman’s Wharf that’s open 365 days a year and is always free to enter. Bring some cash for the change machine so you can try out the coin-operated devices and say “hi” to Laffing Sal for us.

A person plays a classic pinball game against a wall filled with old posters.
Bring your bills for the change machine at Musée Mécanique. | Courtesy Musée Mécanique | Source: Courtesy Musée Mécanique

Mystery Spot

Santa Cruz

Gravity Hill's tilt-induced optical illusion at Santa Cruz's Mystery Spot is not to be missed. It's a uniquely mind-boggling experience you have to see to believe. And its bumper sticker is also a must-get.

Randall Museum

San Francisco

The perfect combination of park, critters, local history and views awaits families atop Corona Heights in this favorite spot for younger city kids.

A woman and a little girl are sitting on a bench against a backdrop of the San Francisco skyline near a large tree.
A pair enjoy the view from Corona Heights Park near the Randall Museum. | Maryann Jones Thompson/The Standard

Safari West

Santa Rosa

Whether you're interested in a day trip, a camping adventure or dining in the wild, Safari West has what you're looking for. Experience a bit of Africa right here in the Bay Area. There, visitors can meet the first-ever white rhino born at the park.

A group of bright pink flamingoes walk in a pond.
Flamingos are just one of the types of exotic birds living at Safari West. | Maryann Jones Thompson/The Standard

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Santa Cruz

A beachside amusement park with old-school charm, the Beach Boardwalk lets you stroll along the boardwalk taking in the sights, sounds and smells of fresh sea air and savory carnival fare. Saltwater taffy gets made from scratch right before your eyes at Marini's at the Beach. Limited amusement park rides will be open this weekend. Experience the sweeping views of the Pacific atop the historic wooden roller coaster, the Giant Dipper.

People ride in suspended chairs over the beach in Santa Cruz.
There's nothing like a twirl above the sand at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. | Courtesy Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Slide Ranch

Muir Beach

With Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead as one of its first donors, Slide Ranch is like a hippie camp for modern kids. The unique outdoor educational setting is determined to plant children in nature by focusing on farm life and food sources. Stop by anytime for a visit to the farm animals that get to reside in Slide Ranch’s breathtaking oceanside setting.

A little girl walks on a trail near the Pacific Ocean.
Kids hiking to the tide pools at Slide Ranch are more interested in the bugs than the views. | Maryann Jones Thompson/The Standard

Tilden Park Little Farm

Berkeley

The Little Farm at Tilden Park gives young children the chance to visit with farm animals up close and for free. Visitors are welcome to bring lettuce and celery to share with the farm animals.

A group of kids with a woman petting cows behind a fence.
Kids meet animals at Little Farm in Berkeley's Tilden Park. | Courtesy East Bay Regional Park District

Tilden Park Merry-Go-Round

Berkeley

Spinning memories for over 100 years, the Tilden Park Merry-Go-Round's rich history and accompanying organ music will take its visitors back in time on a painted horse, zebra or giraffe.

A little girl rides a carousel giraffe.
A ride on the Tilden Park Merry-Go-Round is a must for Bay Area youngsters. | Courtesy Shelly Lewis for East Bay Regional Park District

TrainTown

Sonoma

All aboard Thomas fans! TrainTown's 11-acre park has free admission and parking, and is open Saturdays and Sundays in the fall. Ride the 60-year-old miniature train through the park to a petting zoo and hop on other carnival-type rides for extremely reasonable prices. Head on to Sonoma Plaza for a picnic and, oh, maybe a taste of wine.

An orange kids' train ride emblazoned with the words "Sonoma Traintown Railroad" is pictured with a carousel in the background.
Kids and adults can ride a miniature train around TrainTown in Sonoma. | Maryann Jones Thompson/The Standard

Winchester Mystery House

San Jose

If you’ve never been to Winchester Mystery House, this is your year. The legendarily spooky home is celebrating its 100-year anniversary! Sign up for a regular tour or dare try the new “Walk With Spirits” tour—it’s creepy but not scary. Regardless of which you choose, everyone leaves amazed.

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