Bay Area Kids' Activities

Sea Swing ride on Santa Cruz boardwalk

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If you're looking for some San Francisco Bay Area kids' activities - things for the whole family to do outside the city but in the Bay Area - try some of these suggestions. 

Things to Do With Kids North of San Francisco

These activities are all north of the City of San Francisco, as far as 75 miles away:

  • Bay Area Discovery Museum: Located in Sausalito, this award-winning museum was created for children ages 1-10 and their families. Things to do at the museum include interacting with hands-on exhibits, and taking friendly challenges designed to — in their words: "ignite creativity."
  • Six Flags Discovery Kingdom: There's a big theme park with lots of thrill rides that you can go to in Santa Clara (Great America), but if you're north of San Francisco, try this one. It's in Vallejo, about halfway to Napa. However, Great America gets better reviews from its visitors.
  • Jelly Belly Factory Tour: Few kids (or adults, for that matter) can resist learning how these flavorful candies are made. Take the tour, get a few samples, and buy some "belly flops" (slightly imperfect but totally edible Jelly Bellies) on the way out.
  • Safari West: If your kids are 3 years old or older, you can take a day trip that's almost like being on safari for a few hours. Guests of any age can also spend the night in one of their safari-style tent cabins.

Things to Do With Kids South of San Francisco

South of San Francisco, most of these are on the peninsula between the city and San Jose. The furthest one is about 120 miles from the center of the city.

  • San Jose Children's Discovery Museum: This place is a favorite of local moms and kids alike. It has lots of exhibits and activities that encourage them to play, be curious and learn.
  • Winchester Mystery House: This odd house is a monument to what someone can do if they have too much money. Doors lead to nowhere, windows have walls behind them, and on and on and on. It's best for curious kids who are old enough the enjoy walking around in a big, old, weird house for a couple of hours listening to a tour guide. The tour may be boring for smaller children and you can't take a stroller on it because of the stairs. 
  • Great America: This theme park is in Santa Clara and has lots of those crazy rollercoasters that kids like so much. If you have a choice between it and Discovery Kingdom, Great America gets somewhat better reviews.
  • Mystery Spot: Worth a stop if you're in the Santa Cruz area, this weird attraction will keep you thinking. It's a bit old-fashioned, full of optical illusions and probably more fun for kids over 6 years old than for little ones.
  • Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk: With a famous antique 1924 wooden roller coaster, the boardwalk is one of the few remaining California oceanside amusement parks. You can buy an all-day pass for unlimited rides or a card that allows you to pick just a few things to do - which is a great way to keep costs under control.
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium: The aquarium makes a special effort to have kids' activities associated with their exhibits. The touch pools are really fun (for everyone) and the little ones love hugging their mascot, a human-in-an-otter-suit. 
  • Gilroy Gardens: This a small theme park that's best for younger children, but also a good place to take multi-generational families. The adults can enjoy the gardens while the kids enjoy the rides.
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