After a long winter, many families are eager to get outside and start enjoying the beautiful San Francisco sunshine. Fortunately, the San Francisco Peninsula is jam-packed with amazing outdoor activities that are educational, exciting, and lots of fun for the whole family. Head into the great outdoors with the kids and plan an adventure with this guide of fantastic activities!
Explore Pier 39
San Francisco’s famed Pier 39 is an exciting place to visit, even if you live locally! If you’re looking to get the kids out of the house and away from screens, this exciting waterfront destination is the perfect place—especially if you’re visiting in the off-season or on a weekday.
You can easily get a full day’s worth of entertainment accomplished at Pier 39. Take to the water on a Blue & Gold Fleet
cruise, where you can explore the San Francisco Bay and learn about the city’s storied history. The Escape from the Rock Cruise
is another fun one that makes the mysteries and intrigue of Alcatraz come to life!
Animal lovers in the family will love paying a visit to the Bay’s famous sea lions
. These iconic Pier 39 celebrities arrived sometime after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake; today, they love sunning themselves on the dock and hopping into the water to cool down—you’re sure to hear them before you see them! The kids will get a kick out of watching the sea lions play and interact. You’ll also want to take a ride on the iconic San Francisco Carousel
, which was hand-painted in Italy to feature SF landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge and Lombard Street.
Pier 39 frequently offers fun and exciting events for the whole family to enjoy. From outdoor movie nights to holiday celebrations like the Fourth of July fireworks display, there’s always something cool going on at the pier. Check the calendar
to find out what’s coming up.
Play Tourist for a Day
Just because you live in the Bay Area doesn’t mean you should skip out on the iconic San Francisco landmarks! Maybe you’ve grown accustomed to the sight of the towering Golden Gate Bridge
, but the kids will love learning more about its history and feeling connected to their home city. Visitors can learn about the bridge at a fascinating outdoor museum or take a stroll or bike ride across the bridge. You can also spend the day exploring the famous Fisherman’s Wharf
, a beautiful and festive waterfront area with tons of restaurants, shopping, and fun things to do.
These are the prominent San Francisco landmarks, but if you branch out further throughout the peninsula, there are plenty of fun things to do that you may have dismissed as tourist attractions. Visit the spectacular Filoli
Estate, also known as the Bourn-Roth Estate, over in Woodside. This beautiful country home is set among sixteen acres of colorful gardens surrounded by an enormous 654-acre estate. The grounds are meticulously maintained, and the included nature preserve filled with blooming flowers and a walkable estate trail makes for a great day out.
Have a Blast at a Theme Park
Take the kids to a thrilling theme park for an exciting day of fun! California’s Great America
is a 112-acre amusement park located in Santa Clara and features over 40 rides and attractions, including the famous Gold Striker, which was ranked by Amusement Today as one of the best wooden roller coasters. Visitors can enjoy nine different roller coasters of varying thrill levels, such as the RailBlazer, a steel coaster featuring a 90-degree drop and an off-roading theme that opened in June 2018. The park is divided into several themed lands such as Planet Snoopy, County Fair, and Orleans Place, all featuring fun thrill rides.
Soak up the sun at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk
, where the whole family will have a blast on thrill rides like the Cliff Hanger, Crazy Surf, Double Shot, and, of course, the Giant Dipper, one of America’s best wooden coasters. If you’re looking for something a little more low-key, go for a spin on the Twirlin’ Teacups ride, explore the spooky Haunted Castle, and cool off on Logger’s Revenge, a flume ride with an exhilarating drop at the end. There are plenty more rides to enjoy, but make sure to take your littlest family members to the Kiddie Cruzers ride, where they can get behind the wheel of their own car, or the Sea Dragons, a magical carousel ride that can be enjoyed with parents.
Over in Milpitas, families can enjoy a fun day at Golfland
, a popular miniature golf spot. Play on three elaborate mini-golf courses, check out the arcade games and ride the bumper cars. Golfland also hosts a Lazer Maze and an action-packed laser tag arena. After a fun-filled day, enjoy homemade pizza and some delicious treats like mozzarella sticks, nachos, fries, and hot dogs. You’ll definitely want to try one of Golfland’s famous milkshakes, available in over 50 flavors.
Adventure Through Nature
Tired of the hustle and bustle of city life? Take a day trip out into the country to reconnect with the beauty of Northern California. Andy’s Orchard
, an 80-acre farm in Morgan Hill, has been in operation since 1931 and is the perfect place to pick up some fresh produce and enjoy a change of scenery. This family-run farm is known for its sweet cherries, peaches, nectarines, and many more. Plenty of fun events are held throughout the year, including a holiday open house each December.
Take to the water at Lake Merritt
, a saltwater tidal lagoon located in the heart of Oakland. While perhaps an unexpected location for the country’s oldest wildlife refuge, this oasis in the middle of an urban landscape is a great place to explore. Walk along three beautiful miles of shoreline, picnicking and enjoying local wildlife with the family. Biking is a popular activity here
, and it’s also a great place to run, play a game of croquet or lawn bowling, or try acro-yoga.
Visit San Mateo to take advantage of the stunning San Mateo Japanese Garden
, a calm and beautiful park that features a koi pond, pagoda, and teahouse, all contained within a 16-acre city park. Your family will love taking photos or strolling through the unique garden designed by famous Japanese architect Nagao Sakurai. The best time of year to visit? Spring, when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. Kids will love feeding the koi, riding the mini-train, or enjoying a picnic in the grass.
If you’re looking for some good old-fashioned outdoor recreation in the heart of San Francisco, Golden Gate Park
should be your first stop. This unique urban green space is packed with fascinating things to do that will keep your family busy. Thanks to the sheer size of the park, you might consider a 2.5-hour segway tour, which will get you zipping through over a thousand acres of green space with a helpful guide narrating along the way. Animal lovers will be delighted by the bison that amble through an enclosed meadow by Spreckels Lake, and nature enthusiasts will have a field day at the Conservatory of Flowers
, home to a vast array of exotic and colorful flowers.
Hike in the Great Outdoors
The San Francisco Peninsula is home to an array of amazing hikes for individuals of every skill level. The Mission Peak Loop
is a local favorite, consisting of 5.8 miles that provide stunning views of beautiful wildflowers. This hike is steep, so make sure to bring your hiking boots—the scenic views are well worth the climb.
Not quite ready to tackle such an ambitious hike with the kids? No worries—there are plenty of scenic and enjoyable trails in the San Francisco Peninsula area with more of a relaxing atmosphere. Explore part of the beautiful California Coastal Trail by tackling the 3.4-mile Cowell-Purisima Trail
, located just south of Half Moon Bay. The kids will love keeping an eye out for wildlife—pelicans, hawks, and harbor seals are all possibilities—and the beautiful wildflowers create a lovely, bucolic setting. As an added bonus, you can access the Cowell Ranch State Beach
from this trail, where harbor seals love to bask on the rocks.
Birdwatching enthusiasts will have a great time hiking at Bair Island
, the South Bay’s largest island and part of the country’s biggest urban wildlife refuge. The family will also love taking in the sights from Pillar Point Bluff
, where you can bring your four-legged friend to splash in the waves—this trail is popular with dog walkers. Finally, Sanborn County Park
offers the height of relaxation in the form of a fully-shaded trail, perfect for the hottest days of summer.
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