10 Free Things For Families To Do In
about how the family can vacation together without breaking the piggy bank? San
Francisco abounds with things to do, places to go and sights to see, many at no
1. Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park is an oasis for outdoor enthusiasts and one full day rarely
suffices to exhaust all the opportunities the park offers. Its 1,017 acres
encompass free-to-the-public meadows, lakes, rose gardens, an arboretum, a
rhododendron dell, an open-air music concourse, a children's playground, a
buffalo paddock and the tallest artificial waterfall in the West. Nominal admission
fees are charged at the horseback riding stables, Japanese Tea Garden and the
beautifully restored carousel in the children's playground. One day each month
admission charges are banished at the California Academy of Sciences, M.H. de
Young Memorial Museum (closed until 2005 for renovation) and the Asian Art
Museum. Friends of Recreation and Parks lead free walking tours, weekends
from May through October. Call ahead for tour times and departure points,
415-263-0991. On weekends and holidays, the park is free of cars on Kennedy
Drive from 19th Avenue to Stanyan, when bicyclists and in-line skaters bring their
own "vehicles" or rent from a nearby shop or stand.
San Francisco's family-oriented museums are free at least one day each month.
Located in Golden Gate Park, The California Academy of Sciences is three
museums in one including the Natural History Museum, one of the world's ten
largest museums of its kind. The Morrison Planetarium allows you to view the
heavenly constellations during the day. The Steinhart Aquarium, the oldest and
most diversely-populated North American aquarium, features a living coral reef
tank and a Fish Roundabout that surrounds viewers with schools of ocean fish.
Admission is free the first Wednesday of the month.
The Cartoon Art Museum, the only one of its kind on the West Coast, displays
rotating exhibitions of art from comic books, animated movies, magazines,
advertisements and newspapers as well as sculpture and video, with works
dating from the 1730s to the present. The museum exhibits range from a
children's gallery and caricatures to editorial cartoons, the avant-garde and
underground comics. The first Wednesday of every month is "pay what you wish
At the Exploratorium, under the exquisite dome of the Palace of Fine Arts, folks of
all ages can tinker with more than 600 hands-on exhibits designed to foster the
understanding of science with fun in mind. Admission is free the first Wednesday
of every month.
The San Francisco National Historical Park Maritime Museum has a collection of
ship models and relics that will inspire sailors and landlubbers alike. Always free.
The Wells Fargo History Museum takes visitors back to the Gold Rush era with its
displays of gold nuggets and a stagecoach that visitors can hop aboard. Always
The one-of-a-kind San Francisco Cable Car Museum deserves special attention.
In the historic Cable Car Barn & Powerhouse, the site where the cable system
has operated since 1907, visitors can view the actual cable winding machinery as
it reels 11 miles of steel at a steady pace of nine and a half miles per hour.
Antique cable cars are also on display, including the first one dating from 1873.
Always free. It only takes $2 to ride a cable car, the only moving national historic
landmark in America, to the museum via the Powell-Hyde or Powell-Mason lines.
The San Francisco Fire Department Museum displays a collection of equipment,
photographs and memorabilia from The City's fire department. Always free.
3. The Presidio
The Presidio of San Francisco, one of America's newest national parks, was
once the most important military post on the West Coast. Over the span of 200
years, three flags flew over the base--Spanish, Mexican and American.
The Presidio's 1,480 acres of prime real estate next to the Golden Gate Bridge
and Bay have some of the best views in town. And there's so much more to
experience, including 11 miles of hiking trails; 14 miles of bike routes; hidden
picnic sites with lavish backdrops of the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands
and Pacific Ocean; eucalyptus and cypress groves; cannons dating from the late
1700s; a pet cemetery; abandoned barracks where Indian fighters once slept;
and guided walking tours through historic military ruins, artillery batteries and the
National Cemetery. Rangers also lead free tours at Fort Point, a four-tiered brick
and granite fortress built between 1853 and 1861, tucked under the south end of
the Golden Gate Bridge.
The Presidio Museum (free admission) focuses on the role of the military in the
history and development of The City from 1776, through the earthquake and fire
of 1906 to the present. For more information call 415-561-4323 or write the
visitor information center, Presidio of San Francisco, National Park Service,
Building 102, Montgomery Street, Presidio of San Francisco, CA 94129.
4. Historic Abandoned Fortifications
Across the Golden Gate Bridge to the north, a series of fortifications, some
dating to the Civil War era, can be found at Fort Baker and the Marin Headlands.
Dating back to the 1870s, the brick-built Battery Cavallo is a protected refuge for
the endangered Mission Blue Butterfly. Other gun batteries built to replace the old
brick-made fortifications, include Battery Spencer, constructed in the 1890s with
concrete. Both can be explored without restrictions.
The top of Battery construction Number 129, located on Conzelman Road, is the
best place for unobstructed 360 degree views of the San Francisco Bay, The City
and the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as excellent bird-watching. Its tunnels and
walls, designed to house cannons measuring 16 inches in diameter, are just the
right size for children to crawl through.
A flashlight and serious play clothes are strongly recommended for exploring the
tunnels and walkways of these fortifications.
Visitors expecting bikinis and suntan oil will rarely find them at Northern California
beaches. The weather and water here are usually cooler than in Southern
California. They are, nevertheless, blessed with San Francisco's views and the
Pacific's rolling waves.
Ocean Beach along the western edge of The City features four miles of sandy
shoreline waiting to be explored. At the north end of the beach, the historic Cliff
House sits high above the shore and is a spectacular viewpoint for observing the
powerful Pacific. Nearby is the Golden Gate National Recreation Area's Visitor
Center, stocked with informational pamphlets and maps. A four-mile walk down
the Ocean Beach Esplanade or a short drive south on the scenic Great Highway
leads to Fort Funston. From the wooden observation deck built into the hillside,
daring hang-gliders can be seen soaring over the cliffs and sea.
Tucked away behind the million-dollar homes of the Seacliff district is China
Beach, one of San Francisco's few beaches safe for swimming. Lifeguards are
on duty during the summer, and there are changing rooms, barbecue pits, and an
enclosed sun deck. The beach is accessible from Seacliff and 28th Avenue, near
El Camino del Mar. After a chilly swim (water temperatures hover in the 60s in
summer), a game of frisbee, volleyball or smash-ball is a great way to warm up on
this sandy playground.
Baker Beach stretches along the western shore of the Presidio below Lincoln
Boulevard. Although swimming is dangerous, hikers and sunbathers here are
treated to beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands from
the ocean side of the peninsula. A word of advance to parents --nude sunbathing
is popular at the northern end of the beach.
6. The Zoo
The San Francisco Zoo is home to more than 800 animals and birds, including a
rare white tiger and black rhinoceros. The Primate Discovery Center, one of the
zoo's highlights, uses computers and interactive exhibits to teach about the
various monkeys and apes. The Children's Zoo gives young folks the thrill of
feeding and petting their favorite barnyard animals. Other special habitats include
the Feline Conservation Center, Otter River, Gorilla World, Penguin Island,
Sumatran tigers, African wart hog exhibit and Koala Crossing. The zoo is free on
the first Wednesday of every month.
Learn juggling, stilt walking and clowning, and put on a zany show during
Make*A*Circus' free Summer Festival Days. Each three-part festival starts with
the Make*A*Circus company professional theater show, followed by a free Circus
Skills Workshop for audience members. Then, the amateur clowns join company
members in the circus ring to present a hilarious Community Show. The entire
event is free to the public and lasts about three hours. Summer Festival Days
take place in parks throughout California from June through August with several
dates in San Francisco. Call 415-242-1414 for dates and locations.
8. Guided City Walking Tours
Locals know the best way to discover the heart of San Francisco is to take a stroll
through her unique neighborhoods. While self-guided walking tours are easy
(information is available from the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau),
ambling with the experts can be even more fun. San Francisco's historical and
architectural highlights, tall tales, and gold rush lore unfold at your feet thanks to
narrated City Guide Walking Tours, presented free by the San Francisco Friends
of the Library. Most walks take one to two hours and reservations are not needed,
except for groups.
Stroll through the haunts of the original 49ers -- the 1849ers -- on the "Gold Rush
City" tour. Learn the story of the Golden Gate Bridge or meander among the
murals of the Mission to experience vivid artwork-covered walls. Kids will enjoy
the Fire Department Museum Tour, where they can take a look at San
Francisco's first fire truck and other relics as well as listen to stories of fires gone
by. Tours are also offered through North Beach, Chinatown, Market Street, the
Palace of Fine Arts and more. Call City Guides, 415-557-4266, to discuss which
tours are most appropriate for toddlers, school-age kids or teens.
9. 49-Mile Scenic Drive
The famous 49-Mile Scenic Drive through San Francisco is dotted with 49
renowned places, such as Chinatown, the Cable Car Barn, Aquatic Park,
Fisherman's Wharf and the Maritime Museum. For a break from the road, savor a
picnic lunch at Marina Green and watch the weekend yacht races, windsurfers
and sailboaters. When summer comes around, Sigmund Stern Grove is the place
to go for free concerts and performances of such classics as opera and
Shakespeare. Maps outlining the drive are available at the SFCVB Visitor
Information Center (lower level, Hallidie Plaza, at Market and Powell streets,
where the Powell Street cable cars turn around).
Even on vacation, kids sometimes just want to play. So why not take a play break
in one of San Francisco's playgrounds?
Golden Gate Park's Children's Playground offers a diverse collection of climbing
equipment, slides, swings and sandboxes. There is a small fee to ride on the
restored Herschel- Spillman Carousel with its 62 beautifully painted animals
Other playgrounds in The City's colorful neighborhoods include the Chinese
Recreation Center located at Washington and Mason Streets, North Beach
Playground at Lombard and Mason Streets and Nob Hill's Huntington Park at
California and Taylor Streets.
on SF at www.sfvisitor.org.
on San Francisco: Family Adventure Destination
....... last updated August 29, 2001.......