fun to do kids golden gate park san francisco california   Travel for Kids
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San Francisco - Golden Gate Park

In the late 19th century, what is now Golden Gate Park was just a bunch of sand-dunes. Starting in 1870, and over next 50 years, this unpromising landscape was transformed into one of the most beautiful parks. At the eastern edge of the park are museums and a Japanese tea garden. Throughout Golden Gate Park are playgrounds, lakes for boating, biking and riding trails, where kids can enjoy the outdoors. The western edge of Golden Gate Park ends at Ocean Beach, with windswept views of the Pacific.
Golden Gate Park Photo Album
 

California Academy of Sciences – One of our favorite places in Golden Gate Park is the California Academy of Sciences. A museum that celebrates the natural world, it includes a superb aquarium, planetarium, natural history exhibits, and live rainforest, and living roof. Plan on spending your whole day with kids here.

     

Before you start exploring the museum, take the elevator to the Living Roof. The roof is planted with native plants that don't need water or fertilizing, and the plants help keep the museum at a comfortable temperature. Plus, there are views of Golden Gate Park.

Rainforest California Academy of Sciences
   

Inside the museum, two big globes enclose the planetarium and a living rainforest. (The planetarium is included in your museum admission, but stop over to get a pass for the 30 minute planetarium show - shows typically appeal to older kids.)

   

In Rainforests of the World, step inside a living rainforest, where you can see Borneo fruit bats, leaf cutter ants growing a fungus farm, Madagascar geckos and chameleons, fish of the Amazon. At the top level, there are free-flying butterflies - don't be surprised if a large owl butterfly lands on your hand (and doesn't want to leave).

video cal academy sciences san francisco
   

From Rainforests of the World, the elevator goes directly into the Steinhart Aquarium. The walk through tank of Amazon fish is mesmerizing, with ancient-looking fish, such as ripsaw catfish or apapaima. Check out the tanks with marine life of the Northern California Coast, plus a tidepool touch pool where kids can touch the plump little sea stars and spiny sea urchins. The aquarium is a unique opportunity for kids to see amazing marine life, inches from your face.

   

Don't miss the feedings of the South African penguins in the mornings and afternoons (penguins are in the African Hall). For toddlers, there's the Explorer Cove play area, where little ones can curl up in a schooner, burrow under a tree or dress up in sea animal costumes, or play with puzzles.

      On the second floor is the Forum Theater, where you'll see 3-D movies on different topics, e.g. bugs of the rainforest or dinosaur animations of real fossils (the movies change).
      Another super feature of the museum, is a first rate self-service restaurant with a wide variety of real (not fast) food, all kid-friendly, and an outdoor grassy area where kids can run around and play.
     

Tip: Use your San Francisco CityPass.

   

De Young Museum – What's great about the de Young Museum, in its brand-new building, is it has an American art collection, as well as arts from Africa and Oceania. There's stuff here you won't see in other museums, and it's beautifully exhibited, so you can really enjoy the artworks.

    First stop, after you've sat on all the nice Andy Goldsworthy stone boulders at the main entrance, is the observation tower. From the observation tower, there's an expansive view of Golden Gate park, San Francisco neighborhoods, the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin headlands in the distance.
      Some of our favorite pieces in the museum – Three Machines (that's three gumball machines) by Wayne Thiebaud, the New Guinea clan wood carvings, African masks, exquisite Maya goodies, and a costume collection in the textiles gallery.
     

When you buy your tickets, rent the children's family audio tour, (audio tours are available at both the main entrance and lower level entrance).

  Japanese Tea Garden – This Japanese-style garden was created for the 1894 Exposition. It was designed by Makoto Hagiwara, who is also credited with the invention of the fortune cookie. Today, explore this exquisite landscape with a beautiful red pagoda and temple gate, statue of the Buddha, Lantern of Peace, ponds, waterfalls and sunken gardens.
    Kids will want to go over the Moon Bridge several times. Look for a deer, two wading birds, and four frogs (bronze statues) in the garden. Stop in the tea house for Japanese snacks, sweets, green tea and soft drinks.
  Koret's Children's Playground and Carousel (Keezar Drive) – This large playground is a favorite place for local kids. Swing on the toddler swings, crawl through big tubes, climb on the multi-colored structures, whoosh down the long slide, splash water and play in the sand. Little kids will also enjoy the old-fashioned carousel.
  Picnics Golden Gate Park is the perfect place for a picnic. You can spread a picnic out wherever there is a grassy spot. There are picnic tables near the Children's Playground, Rose Garden, Pioneer Cabin, and tables and bar-b-que grills in Lindley Meadow, Marx Meadow (along John F. Kenney Drive, west of Crossover Drive.)
  Stow Lake – Stow Lake is a large artificial lake with an island, Strawberry Hill, in the middle. Rents boats at the boathouse – pedal boats and row boats are available. As you boat around Stow Lake, you'll pass by the Golden Gate Pavilion, a Chinese-style gazebo with green-tiled roof, and man-made Huntington Falls (the water may be running.)
      Rent bikes Next the boathouse, you can rent bikes, scooters, skates, and pedal surreys for two, four, or six people. Surreys (carriages you pedal) are ideal if you have little kids. There are miles of bike paths in Golden Gate Park, and John F. Kennedy Dr. is closed to traffic on Sundays.
      Climb up Strawberry Hill – Cross over the rustic bridge, and climb up the path to the top of Strawberry Hill. At the top, there are fine views of the Golden Gate Bridge through the cypress trees.
    Pioneer Log Cabin – This old log cabin is made of redwood logs, floated down the river from Northern California (nothing to see inside). Close by the cabin is a 1914 statue of "Pioneer Mother," a sculpture of a mother dressed in typical pioneer clothing, serenely standing over two itchy-looking kids.
 
  Spreckels Lake – This shallow lake is where people sail their model boats. Many of them are radio controlled, but you could also bring a toy boat, and launch it on the lake.
Bison Paddock – Bison, or buffalo as they are more popularly called, are long gone from the American prairies, but you can see them in Golden Gate Park. Bison have been grazing in Golden Gate Park for over a 100 years. Very homey. Tip: Often the bison are not very visible, grazing far up the field.
Beach Chalet and Dutch Windmill – Stop in the Beach Chalet, now a Vistor's Center and restaurant. In the visitor's center, there is a wonderful diorama of Golden Gate Park (complete with gobs of miniature trees.) The murals on the walls depict scenes from San Francisco in the 1930's.
  Next to Beach Chalet is the "Dutch Windmill." This 75 ft. windmill was originally built to pump water for use in Golden Gate Park. The windmill has been restored and the arms move, although it no longer pumps water. Around the windmill is a garden, planted with thousands of tulips.
Ocean Beach – The western edge of Golden Gate park ends at Ocean Beach, a long expanse of beach that extends for miles south. Ocean Beach is a place to enjoy the beach, not the water. There are rip currents, rough surf; even people wading have been caught by big waves and drowned. It's a beautiful spot to run on the beach, or dig in the sand, just don't wade or swim in the water.
Cliff House – In the 19th century, the Cliff House was spectacular Victorian restaurant for elegant dining and dancing, perched on the cliffs. The original Cliff House is long gone, but the coastline and ocean view is still stunning. Bring your binoculars or use the telescopes to look for sea lions on "Seal Rock." The New Cliff House has stellar views from inside, stop in for lunch or an afternoon snack.

Coastal Trail – One of the most beautiful hikes in San Francisco starts at Cliff House and goes around Lands End to Eagles Point Overlook. Here are the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge and large ships coming and going, look for seals and sea lions in the deep blue sea. The first half of the trail is wide and level (okay for strollers), the second part has steps, is narrower, and there are few fence rails.

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