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Outdoors

Bay Area Discovery Museum

557 McReynolds Rd
Sausalito, CA 94965

This Museum is more of a hands-on center for imagination and creative development, with a lot of Bay Area props, than a more classic outlay like the Asian Art Museum. It's like a huge playground for kids, but it would be hard to find a free playground with this mixture of inside amenities (puppets, full train station) and creative outside features (gravel pit with tow trucks, Golden Gate Bridge replica, toddler water zone with plastic fish). Children are offered objects outside to play with, from the natural elements of sand and water to larger versions of toys that already fascinates them (foam versions of Tinkertoys). The idea is that parents can ask their kids open-ended questions to get the kids involved in play, so that the kids are dreaming and creating things from their imagination rather than coming to a place to be entertained with digested information and ideas from multimedia. Inside at the Art Table, the kids are offered the ability to get more messy with paint and sand than at home – bring extra clothes or a smock. The simulated Bay Hall and Wave Workshop has representations of what they'd see at Fisherman's Wharf and in Oakland, along with trains and tunnels, so that they can start thinking about what they're seeing and how the ocean works. If kids get inspired and want to go outside again, no problem – take them to Lookout Cove where they can get on the Bonnie boat and pretend to be pirates on the sea. The shipwreck hull, the trail, and the sea cave can spark all sorts of survival questions, especially if you start reading Robinson Crusoe to them at night. Other reviewers have commented just as often on the stunning views of the actual Golden Gate Bridge, the number of activities and classes available, and the garden. Since the Discovery Museum is both indoors and outdoors, toddlers may love the streams of water, or they may want to go in and out of the reed maze, giant tree trunk, and climb all over the giant spider web. Themes and activities are geared toward the younger set, so you might not want to push the age limit of 8 years old.

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1 reviews

City Clues Adventures

1111 Gough St.
San Francisco, CA 94164

If you need a reason to go wandering through San Francisco's historic districts on a treasure hunt, City Clues Adventures would be it. Maybe you'll want to bring the kids on a Family Adventure, maybe not. Some groups have decided to explore the city as bachelorettes, which may mean pub crawls and coctails. Others have used City Clues Adventures as a means of company team-building, without having to do a lot of prep work. The customizable group tours can add in other locations, like Union Square and the Financial District, which also has some amazing places to eat. Schools often book tours as a field trip, since skits and poetry can be worked in along with the treasure hunt problem-solving skills. It really just depends on what you want to do. There's a healthy mix of educational, historical, and competition-driven places to visit. If you want to find out about the Chinese Temple, tea shops, and also see the sights at Fisherman's Wharf, this tour can't be beat. If you'd like to visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory but are afraid that you won't be able to find it in the maze of Chinatown alleys, this is one of the first stops along the tour. Also, the tour guides are very knowledgeable about restroom locations, which is a definite plus. If you have any energy left as the tour ends, check out some of the freebie areas of Pier 39. There are the walkable Musical Stairs, the street performers, and views of the Marina. You can even make notes for future trips, to the Aquarium of the Bay or the Magowan's Infinite Mirror Maze (these are fascinating but not free). If you just can't stand any more walking, there's always the options of plopping into comfortable Bay Theatre seats for $5 each, though you can save some money by buying tickets online.

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Coyote Point Recreation Area

1701 Coyote Point Dr.
San Mateo, CA 94560

Slides and swings, green grass and picnic tables, you can get at almost any park area. Not every park has a castle playground with a dragon theme, unless it's an amusement park, which often charges much more than $6 per person. The five-year-olds and pre-teens have one area for their use, while the toddlers and preschoolers have their own area, so there's less reason to be worried about age conflicts. With over 20 swings and slides, a tire swing, a balance beam, monkey bars, and a 40-foot castle on a hill, there shouldn't be too many reasons to suppose that the kids won't have anything to do. Although there isn't a sandbox or a water zone, parents will be happy to know that there are showers available for a small fee, and that the kids will be cushioned on a recycled rubber coating that keeps bumps and scrapes to a minimum. If you bring a soccer ball and a Frisbee, there are a lot of ways to entertain yourself and the kids on one of the many fields, from freezetag to Flag Football. Beside the playground is a paved bike trail where you can exercise your bikes, or you can go watch the golfers chip at their shots for a while. Also bring sturdy closed-toed shoes, because the ducks and geese are very active and leave frequent signs. There are no food vendors, so it's a good idea to pack along a picnic with some water bottles, or even a board game if it's a sunny day. The airport is nearby, so you can watch the planes fly in and out for free at the lookout point. Most people know about the Marina with the Beer Can races and summer sailing programs. There's even a small gravel beach on the north side where you can bring drinks and sunbathe. What many people may not know is that there's a pistol and rifle range at the heart of the park. It's open on Mondays and Wednesdays and Fridays, between 7 to 10 pm, and the admission cost is $5 and under. This is a great place to go for target practice, and maybe meet some law enforcement officers in plain clothing.

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CuriOdyssey

1651 Coyote Point Dr.
San Mateo, CA 94401

If you've explored the great open grasslands, magical Marina, and the dragon and castle playground of Coyote Point, you definitely have to take a peek at CuriOdyssey. This is what used to be Coyote Point Museum, just with a facelift, though parents with fond childhood memories will be relieved to know that there are still personable otters here – ready to entertain through the glass. On Saturdays at noon, the otters are even more entertaining at feeding time, and stick around for some facts and fun with the bobcat at 1 pm. The Animal Connections shows rotate every weekend. You could get introduced to a skunk one week, a hissing cockroach the next, and get lucky with the falcon getting fed on the third weekend. With 100 animals here, from the warm-blooded bobcat to the cold-blooded boa, there should be enough to get the kids excited about going to a zoo in the future. That's if you can tear them away from the butterflies and hummingbirds in the gardens, or the aviary with the majestic golden eagle and ugly turkey vulture. The hands-on exhibits can show the forces of nature, like the Riverbed Experiment that shows water flow and erosion, or backyard science experiments that expand your vision and hearing. Anyone who hasn't yet seen the Exploratorium will want to, after being able to blow the fog to and fro, and playing with the spinning gears. While there aren't a huge number of exhibits here, besides the rain panel and the echo chamber, it'll be enough to whet the kids' appetites for more. There are the same choices here for snacks as at the Marina, mainly chips and string cheese and granola bars. You may want to take along a picnic basket and eat in the general park area before coming to see the animals, especially if the kids need some real food. Just watch out for the gulls and geese, who can get very bold when begging.

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Gilroy Gardens

3050 Hecker Pass Hwy.
Gilroy, CA 95020

When the Gilroy Garden Park reopens on March 30th, the child world and plant world will again collide for good. The Garden Park is a good mix of education and fun, and can help kids think through conservation issues – especially if they're looking at the living Circus Trees that look like sculptures. During the summer, you can even go down a water slide through one of the trees, and pretend you're on a Jungle Book adventure with Mowgli. The rock maze is also a cool retreat from the sun, and there are shady trees all around the complex. Bring your bathing suit for walking behind the waterfalls, and tipping buckets onto the kids' heads at the Splash Garden. This is one of the best features of the park, not just because of the huge treehouse and twisty slide, but also because the kids can either shoot water at each other with super soakers, or use a water pump as a see-saw. The spinning water wheel may be as close as a city kid can get to seeing wheels and water other than in a movie. However, if you and the kids prefer to observe the beauty of water rather than interact with it, watching ducks while imitating them on paddle boats can be a lot of fun. The second great feature is not the rides, which are definitely mild to moderate on the thrill scale. The teacups, flying mushrooms, and little fire engines will probably thrill the toddler to four-year-old crowd. It's the gardens that are truly amazing. One of the really worthwhile rides is when you get to meander down a backroads area on a motorized antique car, going past a barn and a small pond with a tiny dock. You can see the Rainbow Gardens on a boat ride that goes around a small lazy river, and chase butterflies through the Monarch Garden greenhouse. Claudia's Carousel is especially good for toddlers, because then you get to slowly look at the amazing trees in all their twisty shapes – this could be a horticulture session for the older kids.

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Happy Hollow Park and Zoo

1300 Senter Rd.
San Jose, CA 95112

Happy Hollow is definitely the sort of place that kids love, and parents love that it's quite affordable. Many of the rides are quite young, and quite tame when compared to the thrills of Magic Mountain, but they are definitely suitable to the seven-year-olds and younger set. Parents may be underwhelmed by the Danny the Dragon ride featuring fairytale statues and a small dark tunnel, but small children seem fascinated and will probably insist on 'Danny again'. Since Danny is currently under a construction makeover, they may have to wait a while until he's ready to thrill them all over again. The carousel and Pacific Fruit Express roller coaster are also a quiet sort of fun, but the bumper cars and Frog Hopper may satisfy the boys' needs for a little adrenaline. The animals in the petting zoo can actually be petted, from the large cow to the ponies and donkeys, which is a step above some ultra-safety conscious facilities. You can brush them as well as feeding them, which is a definite plus, although the goats may have to be deterred from anything flapping that may look like food. No need to bring hand sanitizer, because there's a real hand-washing station with soap. If these activities aren't enough, try the puppet shows and the play areas. These are scattered across the grounds, so if at any time one of the kids has a desperate need to climb and slide and spin around, they can do so. If you pack along some yogurt bars and fruit cups, you can spread out at the picnic tables also scattered across the grounds, and then visit one of the many bathrooms. You may even be visited by face painters, if the season is right. In keeping with the rides, the zoo doesn't provide the larger impressive animals like elephants or giraffes, but the meerkats and birds are always good to see – especially if you make it during feeding time so the trainer can answer questions. Also, sometimes the jaguar lets himself be seen up close.

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