Family Activities in the San Francisco Bay Area & North Coast



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Phipps Ranch: Pescadero
2700 Pescadero Rd, Pescadero, CA  94060
Phipps ranch is a working farm with a roadside stand, nursery, barnyard, gardens, and picnic areas.  Pick your own berries in season.  Olallieberries in June & July. Strawberries from mid-May to end of September. Open daily, 10-6 in winter; until 7 in summer.  Apr 1 - Sept 30 fees: free for kids under 5 and those over 60. Ages 5 - 59 are $3. Oct 1 - Mar 31 free to all.


Coastways: off Highway 1 near Año Nuevo
640 Cabrillo Hwy (Highway 1), Pescadero, CA  94060

Coastways is another pick-your-self farm with organic berry picking in the early summer and kiwi fruit picking in Oct/Nov.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse/Youth Hostel:  South of Pescadero
210 Pigeon Point Rd, Pescadero, CA  94060
Enjoy lunch on the picnic tables next to the lighthouse.  Take in the beautiful ocean views from trails near lighthouse.  Make a family outing (even more fun if you get two families together) and reserve a bunkroom or two.  

Fitzgerald Marine Reserve: Moss Beach
This state park is a great place to view tide pools.  Check the daily tide table to make sure you show up at low tide.  Free parking lot right before short walk down to beach. There are hiking trails on cliffs above beach. Go to nearby Pillar Point for crabs. For additional info, see SFGate website.

Pebble Beach: First state beach south of Pescadero
This isn’t the beach with the famous golf course. It gets it’s name because the beach is made of pebbles instead of sand, which is kind of nice for a change if you’re tired of getting the sand out of everything after a trip to the beach.  For your lunch at the beach call ahead to Duarte's Tavern in Pescadero (650-879-0464) and ordering food to go.  They recommend the cream of artichoke soup, cream of green chili soup (or mix them half and half) and the ollalieberry pie.

Duarte's Tavern: Pescadero
More info on Duarte’s website. 202 Stage Road, 1 mile east of Highway 1 in the town of Pescadero

Just north of Half Moon Bay, you’ll find a small, sheltered beach near this town.  It’s inside the breakwater and a safe place for the kids to play in the water.  You can also stop at the Pillar Point Harbor to buy fish “off the boat” seven days a week (call the fishfone at 650-726-8724 for more info).  

West Cliff:  Santa Cruz
This is a great place to take your kids to walk or bike. The path goes from the boardwalk past the lighthouse to Natural Bridges State Park (see below).  You can bird watch, go tide pooling and take the path to Natural Bridges.  

Natural Bridges: Santa Cruz
The main entrance is at the corner of Swanton and West Cliff Drive.
831-423-4609 To get there, take Swift Drive west from Highway 1 or follow West Cliff Drive north until it ends at the park.  See the Monarch butterflies from mid-October through the end of February.  There are also tide pools and a few sand dunes that the kids will enjoy.  It’s a good, fun beach.  Unless the tide is high, older kids can enjoy going through the opening that used to be a “natural bridge” to the small adjacent beach.  For free parking and easier access to the butterflies, you can park on Delaware Street at the back of the park and walk in the back entrance.  

Friendly Acres: Half Moon Bay
Located 1 mile north of Highway 92 on Highway 1 in Half Moon Bay
Pony rides.

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Hidden Villa: Los Altos Hills
2 miles west of I-280 on Moody Road
650-949-8650 The working farm is only a short walk from the parking lot.  Or go farther and enjoy the hiking trails that connect to trail from Rancho San Antonio and parks along Skyline Blvd.  Also check out their summer programs and camps.  

Bayfront Park: Menlo Park at end of Marsh Road
Hike, ride bikes, or fly kites or toy planes on the hills. Interesting rock sculpture art throughout the park. Good place for bird watchers.

Winter Lodge: Palo Alto on Middlefield Road (Midtown)
Winter Lodge is the first permanent outdoor ice rink west of the Sierra's.

Bayshore Marshlands: Palo Alto 
The Interpretive center is at the end of Embarcadero Road past the airport and duck pond.  Bike, walk, or run on the extensive network of trails by the bay.  Many consider this to be one of the best bird watching areas on the West Coast.  It’s also a great place to watch small planes take off and land.  You can park and enter from Shoreline Park, the end of San Antonio Road or the end of Embarcadero Road.  There is a bike bridge that crosses San Francisquito Creek to connect with trails in East Palo Alto.  

Stanford University Quad and Cantor Art Museum (free)
On weekends most parking around campus is free, otherwise look for parking meters near the art museum or near the student union (Tressider Union off Mayfield Drive).  The whole campus is great for walking, bikes or scooters - very flat.  The art museum is free (donation optional) and the kids love it.  Outside the museum is the fabulous Rodin sculpture garden.  The Cool Café is not your average cafeteria.

West Bay Model Railroad Association, Menlo Park
1090 Merrill St., Menlo Park, CA 94025 Miniature trains, towns, bridges and painted scenery to view.  The limited hours are 7-10 pm the fourth Wednesday of each month.  There is a special Christmas show the second weekend in December. Free.  

Sausal Pond, in the Windy Hill Open Space Preserve, Portola Valley
Hundreds of bullfrogs.  The pond is near the Portola Valley town entrance off Portola Road, not the Skyline Blvd entrance you might be used to.  The park web page suggests parking at the Portola Valley Town Hall and walking from there.  

Gamble Gardens: Palo Alto
Off Embarcadero Road at Waverley Vegetable patch.  Gardens to explore.  The first floor of the house is open weekday mornings.  The annual children’s puppet show is in December.  There is a willow hut/playhouse for kids outdoors.  

Filoli House and Gardens: Woodside
Off Cañada Road just north of Edgewood Road
Many hiking trails to explore nearby, but visitors are expected to take care around the house and gardens.  “Stay off the grass.”  None of the events are free but the grounds are beautiful and worth a look. There are daffodils and tulips to see in the beginning of spring.  They have a wonderful Easter program including a puppet show and egg hunt (buy tickets in advance). “Autumn at Filoli” is also worth a try with a tasting of dozens of different apple and pear varieties and fresh pressed cider ($15/adults, $1/kids).  

Palo Alto Airport: Palo Alto
At the end of Embarcadero Road by the Baylands. There is a little bench right by the control tower to view the planes at the airport in Palo Alto. You can walk right onto the tarmac between the parked planes. You also get a great view of the planes from the Palo Alto Baylands trails.

San Carlos Airport: San Carlos
Holly Street exit off US101. There is the Sky Kitchen Diner at the San Carlos Airport.

Hiller Aviation Museum: San Carlos
Just off US101. You can see the museum as you drive down 101.

Crystal Springs Reservoir
Walking trails, Sawyer Camp Trail (at Crystal Springs Rd and Skyline Blvd near I-280 and Hwy 92) is very popular.  

De Anza College Planetarium: Cupertino
Good children’s program. “Magic Sky” is aimed at preschool-kindergarten kids.  

Mountain View Library: near the Civic Center in downtown
It has a great kids section.  Every Saturday morning (except when there is a special program) at 10:15am there is a story time and craft afterwards.  Eagle Park is a small nearby park with play structures.

Caltrain outings - Schedule

Trip Ideas:

Note: due to track construction the trains aren’t operating on the weekends until mid-2004.  

Pizza and Pipes: Redwood City
821 Winslow (near Broadway), Redwood City, CA 94063
An old-fashioned pizza parlor.  Loud, boisterous and kid-friendly.

Betty Wright Swim Center: Palo Alto
This is a fun place for children to swim with senior citizens.  The pool is kept very warm.  Not many children go there, so their presence is greatly appreciated.  

NASA Visitor Center at Moffett Field
Not fancy, but fun for kids interested in space.  Call ahead to see the Zeppelin hanger.  

California Theatre Center: Sunnyvale
Box Office: 408-733-6611
Saturday performances.  Plays acted by adults for children.

Obon Festival: Palo Alto
At the Buddhist Temple on Louis Road in Palo Alto The first weekend in August.  Food and Music. Tiko drums. Bonsai show. Carnival games. Very affordable.    

Kite Fair at Shoreline Park: Mountain View
March or April: Incredible, huge and beautiful kites.  Tents set up with crafts for kids.  The line can be quite long so get there early.  (Kite flying idea: Tie a string to a helium balloon and let it fly high.  Especially good on days when the wind won’t lift a regular kite.)  

Hiking on the Peninsula

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Crissy Field
Dunes, rocks to stack, kite flying and you can play in the water. There is a warming hut with hot chocolate.  Helicopters are on bridge patrol.    

Corner of Fourth and Mission “Where the Wild Things Are”  Monday-Friday most of the year, more days in the summer.  You can eat at the Wild Things cafeteria.  It’s across the street from Zeum, a playground with cool, fast slides and a merry-go-round.  Nearby are a virtual bowling alley and a real one, Mo’s Diner and a moving sculpture of a guy near a bench that is “freaky” and fun.  

At the Palace of Fine Arts. Closed Mondays, except holiday Mondays.  Museum of science, art and human perception.  Geared toward older kids, but fun for small children also.  

Golden Gate Park

California Academy of Sciences: also in Golden Gate Park
Exhibits on earth, ocean and space.  This is a good place to get your fill of fossils.  Also includes the Steinhart Aquarium and the Morrison Planetarium.  

The marina and park behind PacBell Park
Look at the boats.  Play on the playground. Between 11 am and 5 pm when there is a night game, the stadium is open to the public.  You can play with the bats and balls.  

Angel Island
Ride the ferry from S.F. or Sausalito.  There are bike trails all over the island, but they are hilly.  A stroller-friendly paved path circles the island.  There is a lawn area with picnic tables and barbecue pits.  The Visitors Center has interpretive nature, history displays and a gift shop.  Tram tours take visitors to the other side of the island.  There are ruined buildings (from past wars and an immigration station).  

Basic Brown Bear Factory
444 DeHaro St., at Mariposa on Potrero Hill
Learn the history of the teddy bear, watch teddy bears being cut and stuffed, and stuff your own bear to take home.  

Fleet Week
In October each year. See dozens of boats of all different sizes.  A parade of ships comes in. The Blue Angels do a show. There are ship tours and refurbished old-fashioned boats.  

Cable Cars
The tourists all do it, but it’s easy to overlook.
Read the book Maybelle: The Cable Car by Virginia Lee Burton a few times then go do it.  Maybelle, the cable car in the book, travels the Powell-Hyde line from Fisherman’s Wharf to Powell and Market.  Stop off at the Cable Car Museum at Mason and Washington.

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The whole coast-side of the town is beach.  There are wind surfers, kite boarders and people can play in the water.  The waves are gentle on the bay side.  The town is cute.  note: ask Miriam for name of diner.  

Oakland Zoo-Knowland Park
Only 40 minutes away from the peninsula, the zoo has 525 acres of rolling green parkland, a children’s petting zoo, picnic, barbecue and playground facilities throughout the park, skyfari tram ride, train ride and other carnival-style rides.  

Coyote Hills
8000 Patterson Ranch Rd., Fremont, CA 94555
Off Hwy 84 on the east side of the Dumbarton Bridge Miwok exhibit.  Great interpretive center.  Hikes with beautiful view of the bay.  Go in spring; it’s really dry in the summer.

Ardenwood Farm: Fremont
Ardenwood Blvd. at Hwy 84 (east side of the Dumbarton Bridge) 205-acre farm.  Restored 1857 farmhouse.  Farm produce and flowers can be purchased.  Deer Park train.  Animals to see in the farm yard.  Picnic areas.  Pick walnuts.  Activities for kids include making corn husk dolls and ornaments.  There is a challenging human maze made of corn husks from September to October.  

Tilden Regional Park: Berkeley
Pony ride, historic merry-go-round, train ride.  Native California botanical gardens.  Wooded hiking trails.  Farm with barnyard animals. After working up an appetite at the park, Zachary’s Pizza in both Albany and on College Ave. in Oakland is excellent.  

Children’s Fairyland: Oakland
See also:
Fairyland is at Lake Merritt. Nursery rhyme and fairytale inspired rides and play structures. Puppet shows. Petting zoo and other animals.

Jelly Belly Factory: Fairfield
There are tours of the factory 7 days/week, but the factory is idle on the weekends.  The cafeteria is a cut above fast food and makes a good pit stop on the way to Lake Tahoe.  

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Happy Hollow Park and Zoo: San Jose
1300 Senter Road, Kelley Park in San Jose Nursery rhyme and fairytale inspired rides and play structures.  Puppet shows.  Petting zoo and exotic animals from all over the world.  With Happy Hollow membership ($60/family) you’ll get free or discounted admission at 300 other zoos and aquariums around the country.  

The Tech Museum of Innovation: San Jose
Hands-on interactive exhibits all about high-technology. Very kid friendly.  

Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum and Planetarium: San Jose
1342 Naglee at Park Ave
Mummies and other Egyptian art and artifacts. Recommended for school-age children.  Planetarium has programs exploring the myths, mysteries and facts of the sky.  

San Jose Airport Observation Deck
There’s an observation deck in the old terminal (Terminal C) near the Kid Port where you can go outside and watch (and hear!) the planes.

Oak Meadow and Vasona Parks: Los Gatos
Near Blossom Hill Rd and University Ave in Los Gatos Oak Meadow has a fun playground with an old fighter jet, water faucets in the sand, large play structures and the Billy Jones Wildcat Roadroad ($1/person for a fun ride).  Vasona has large lawns, playgrounds and a lake with paddle and row boats available for rent.  

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Earthbound Farms Farm Stand: Carmel Valley
3.5 miles east of Hwy 1
Organic farm with many events for children and adults. There are bug walks (free), flower walks (hint:bring kid-sized scissors if doing this walk with your child), kids’ art workshops and gardening workshops among others.  The best times to go are from June through October.  

Bonfante Gardens: Gilroy
An amusement park oriented to small children. It’s fairly expensive. Go to Nob Hill Grocery stores for coupons. VIP Season passes for Paramount Great America also include Bonfante Gardens.  

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The Sea Ranch: South of Gualala

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Train Town: Sonoma
Open daily 10am - 5pm June 1 through Labor Day; Fridays, weekends and holidays the rest of the year (except Thanksgiving & Christmas). Take a 20-minute ride on a miniature train through a forested railroad park and past miniature buildings and waterfalls. The train is pulled by a diesel during the week and by a steam locomotive on weekends and holidays. A petting zoo and carnival rides are also on the grounds. Located in the heart of the beautiful Wine Country of Northern California.

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