Fun and cheap in San Francisco
July 17, 2009 5:18 PM   Subscribe

What's fun for me and my 3.5 year old daughter to do in San Francisco and San Jose from July 22 to July 27 for cheap?

Me and my lil one will be in San Francisco, as well as San Jose, starting next Wednesday. We'll be back and forth between cities visiting friends and family. We'll have about 4 little kids running amok amongst the crew. So two requests for the knowledgeable:

a) I'd love to know about timely things, like festivals, events, etc., but also we are totally ignorant of the area - so please let me know the standard fare. This is how ignorant I am - I know there are sea lions in SF, the Golden Gate bridge, and its hilly. So fill me in.

b) Please specify the cost - we are terrible misers and love a discount, super cheap, preferably free experience.

Thanks so much in advance.
posted by RajahKing to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There's a great children's playground in Golden Gate Park.
posted by ldenneau at 5:38 PM on July 17, 2009

You can go to the beach.

You can go to the SFMoma $15 for adults, kids 12 and under: free.

You can go to the Computer History Museum (though it's a bit out of the way) - free.

Here is a bike-and-walk map of the city. There are some really nice ones. You can start in the Marina, go up the stairs by the Presidio, over Pacific Heights and down into wherever. Free.
posted by jeffamaphone at 5:46 PM on July 17, 2009

Best answer: San Jose:

Children's Discovery Museum, in downtown San Jose. It's no Exploratorium but great for sub-8 year olds. Admission is $10 but you can negotiate a greatly reduced ticket at the door if you're so inclined. Finding nearby free street parking is close to impossible but if you drive around the pay parking lot on Woz Way, you can usually convince a departing family to give you their all-day parking receipt (also check the ticket machines, lots of people just leave their receipts there). Adjacent to CDM is Discovery Meadow, which has lots of bronze animal sculptures for climbing and a huge grassy area for scampering about.

A few blocks north and east, in front of the Fairmont Hotel on South Market is a park that has one of those outdoor fountains that shoot out of the ground. It's always crawling with young children, access is free, lots of shaded park benches nearby the fountain.

Into the suburbs there's Almaden Lake Park. It has a sandy beach with shallow swimmable water, paddle boat rentals, play ground equipment, picnic areas, etc. Parking lot is $6 but there's ample free street parking if you don't mind walking a block or so.

Unfortunately, Happy Hollow Zoo & Park is still closed for expansion but the nearby Japanese Friendship Gardens and History San Jose in adjacent Kelley Park are open. Admission is free, parking is $6 (you can use the same parking pass you used at Almaden Lake if you visit both the same day); there's free street parking on Story although it's a bit of a schelp w/o a stroller. The Gardens have lots of neat bridges, waterfalls and koi ponds (sadly the koi population recently suffered a huge die-back) and History San Jose has historical exhibits and buildings, a working trolley and an period ice-cream shop + lots of space to run around in.
posted by jamaro at 6:02 PM on July 17, 2009 is all about cheap and fun events in San Francisco and the Bay Area.
posted by zsazsa at 6:10 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Go to Fairyland.
posted by mollymayhem at 6:24 PM on July 17, 2009

There are places that rent go carts to drive up and down the hills in SF. If you think she's old enough.
posted by water bear at 6:31 PM on July 17, 2009

The Randall Museum is a nice (though small), free museum which my kids used to enjoy when they were small. Corona Heights Park behind the Randall is good for a picnic.

And very much ditto ldenneau -- the huge childrens' playground in Golden Gate Park is good for hours of free fun, and has a carousel too.

Don't forget that it's cold (sometimes miserably cold) in San Francisco in the morning until maybe 11 then again after 4., so take windcheaters.
posted by anadem at 6:41 PM on July 17, 2009

You would probably both enjoy a ride on a cable car in San Francisco, though they cost about $5 per person now. I think the easiest place to get a ride is at the waterfront end of Market Street; the stop at Powell and Market often has long lines.
posted by anadem at 6:45 PM on July 17, 2009

The Musee Mechanique (warning: music!!!) is free (but operating the machines costs a quarter or so each). Not sure if the little ones would be too young to appreciate it, but I know slightly older kids who enjoyed it.
posted by chez shoes at 7:03 PM on July 17, 2009

If you can get to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk on a weekday that'd be a fun half-day. It's quite a high-impact place for a 3 year old.

Weekends are kinda a zoo during the summer.

There are some really nice ones. You can start in the Marina, go up the stairs by the Presidio, over Pacific Heights and down into wherever. Free.

while I dearly love that route if you don't appreciate old-money mansion architecture or the occasional drop-dead views of the bay it's quite a long and arduous hike!
posted by @troy at 8:36 PM on July 17, 2009

I have never been, but there are apparently ... concrete slides in San Francisco. You take some card board or something apparently. It seems fantastic. Why haven't I been?!
posted by R343L at 10:18 PM on July 17, 2009

R343L: "I have never been, but there are apparently ... concrete slides in San Francisco. You take some card board or something apparently. It seems fantastic. Why haven't I been?!"

Yes yes yes so fun! There is usually cardboard there, left by other scoop up some sand with the cardboard, walk up the steps, toss the sand down and then sit on your cardboard and...wheeeeeeee!!!!!

The Exploratorium is also awesome.

Just north of SF is the Bay Area Discovery Museum which has neat stuff for all ages of kids.
posted by radioamy at 10:33 AM on July 18, 2009

Best answer: Seconding Fairyland, especially for kids under 8 or so. It's small and funky and was an inspiration for Disneyland. You're not allowed in without a child, so I've only been once, but it is very cool and small scale, and only seven bucks.. From San Jose, it takes about the same time or less to get to Oakland as San Francisco.

I think the concrete slide at Codornices park in Berkeley is a little nicer for small kids than the ones at Seward Street which are much faster (and even then, they might want to ride with an older person). It's also got a big kid and a little kid playground, and a tunnel to the Berkeley Rose Garden. Nice lawns for picnicking too.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:39 PM on July 18, 2009

Along the same lines as the Children's Discovery Museum is The Tech, also in downtown San Jose, $10 per ticket.

As for festivals, the Gilroy Garlic Festival 30 minutes south of San Jose is running July 24-26. (Ah, the infamous garlic ice cream...)
posted by kerfuffles at 12:45 AM on July 19, 2009

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