San Francisco Bay Area with Littles

Read story
Sarah Fischer
read story

We spent 10 days in the San Francisco Bay area with our kids at the beginning of October 2018. We stayed in Oakland for the first few days, ventured into San Francisco over the weekend and realized there were several events going on in the city making it especially crowded, so we spent the remainder of our time in San Mateo, Half Moon Bay, and Santa Cruz. Here’s a breakdown of what we did, how we would rate it out of 5 stars, quick highlights on what we liked or didn’t like and whether we would go again.

Watch some highlights here.


Tilden regional Park ⭐⭐⭐

The Nitty-Gritty: Gorgeous Park. A bit tricky to navigate and contact. Website needs updating. Read about our adventure getting lost there here

Would we visit again: yes

Montclair Rec. Center Park ⭐⭐⭐

The Nitty-Gritty: Fun older park with a duck pond, multiple playgrounds and some unique features (saloon-type play building and carriage).

Would we visit again: yes

Oakland Temple Visitor Center ⭐⭐⭐

The Nitty-Gritty: Beautiful city views and fun, informative activities for all ages in the visitor center. The temple was under construction when we went, obstructing some views.

Would we visit again: probably

Lake Merritt ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Nitty-Gritty: Gorgeous lake with awesome views, wildlife & trails for walking. Charming lights along some parts of the path. Scooters available for rent all over. A few parks located around it and several restaurants & cafes nearby.

Would we visit again: definitely.

Eastshore Park ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Nitty-Gritty: A fun newer playground across from the library. A true melting pot of ethnicity. Also has a splash pad.

Would we visit again: yes.

Fairyland ⭐⭐⭐

The Nitty-Gritty: A fun, very old storybook themish-park with 4 basic rides. This was fun for a one-time visit. I wouldn’t recommend it for kids older than 6 or 7. If your kids have done a lot of amusement parks they may be pretty underwhelmed. Our kids were charmed by the storybook feel. It is fun and charming but VERY old.

Would we visit again: probably not.

Oakland Food:

O Smoothie ⭐⭐⭐⭐

delicious selection of juice and smoothies

JJ Burger ⭐⭐⭐

Whole Foods ⭐⭐⭐

very crowded when we went

Mod Pizza ⭐⭐⭐

Grand Lake Kitchen ⭐⭐

we weren’t impressed by the food and not kid friendly


San Mateo:

Coyote point recreation area ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Coyote Point Recreation Area | Parks Department
Coyote Point is a regional recreation area that provides a wide variety of opportunities: picnicking, swimming…

The Nitty-Gritty: A true gem you could spend an entire day at. A really fun playground for kids, beach access with great views of planes landing and taking off and kite-boarders. We barely touched the surface and I wished we had more time to explore.

Would we visit again: definitely.

Central Park ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Central Park (San Mateo) - 2018 All You Need to Know BEFORE You Go (with Photos) - TripAdvisor
During the week they are not. However, they typically are busy on weekends, particularly on Sundays. You may want to…

The Nitty-Gritty: A fun older park in the heart of San Mateo. SUPER long, high-flying swings. Also has a japanese garden and mini train ride.

Would we visit again: definitely.

Flint stone House ⭐⭐⭐

The Nitty-Gritty: A unique architectural sight on the road from San Mateo to Half Moon Bay. We didn’t stop, just saw it and did some research while passing by.

Would we visit again: we wouldn’t make a trip for it.

San Mateo Food:

Cobani Gyro & Kebob ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

so delicious! And great to accomodate my gluten and dairy allergies.

Jamba Juice ⭐⭐⭐

Vault 164 ⭐⭐⭐⭐

A bit fancier than we expected. Kids eat free on Sundays.


Half Moon Bay:

Lemos Farms Pumpkin Patch ⭐⭐⭐

Lemos Farm in Half Moon Bay is your coastside place for children parties, train & pony rides…
Lemos Farm in Half Moon Bay for year around Kids Fun, Birthday Parties, Petting Zoo, Pony and Train Rides, Halloween…

The Nitty-Gritty: A fun, family-owned farm. There are several in the area but this one seemed most advertised, but we weren’t sold on it being the best. The employees seemed grumpy and likely underpaid. Our kids had a lot of fun, but we felt like it was overpriced.

Would we visit again: probably not.Poplar Beach ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Poplar Beach ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Poplar Beach (Half Moon Bay) - 2018 All You Need to Know BEFORE You Go (with Photos) - TripAdvisor
Hotels near (OAK) Metropolitan Oakland Intl

The Nitty-Gritty: A fun, easy access beach, just a tiny walk to get down to it.

Would we visit again: maybe.

San Francisco:

Marshall Beach Hike ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Nitty-Gritty: A BEAUTIFUL hike down the cliffs, lots of steps for kids, but ours handled it fine with some prepping. Once we arrived at the beach we were warned that this beach is a popular spot for promiscuous homosexual activity and not to venture past the rocks with our kids. So…unless you want an eyeful be advised. :) Stellar backdrop views of the golden gate bridge.

Would we visit again: definitely.

Battery Godfrey ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Fort Scott: Battery Godfrey (1895-1943) - Presidio of San Francisco (U.S. National Park Service)
Completed in 1895, this Endicott-era battery was armed with three 12-inch guns mounted on barbette carriages. The first…

The Nitty-Gritty: An old coastal concrete battery fort our kids loved climbing and exploring all over. Neat views of the golden gate bridge too.

Would we visit again: yes.

Maritime National Historic Park/Fishermans Wharf/Pier 39 ⭐⭐⭐

The Nitty-Gritty: I’m not a city person and quickly overwhelmed by crowds so I feel like I couldn’t fully appreciate these. Fun, lots of restaurants and shopping, beautiful bay views, but crowded.

Would we visit again: maybe.

Great Meadow Park at Fort Mason ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Nitty-Gritty: We spent an afternoon here with friends during Fleet Week to watch the Blue Angels fly over. It was a great time. TONS of people and lots of alcohol, but fun to watch the jets fly.

Would we visit again: To see the jets fly, probably.

Santa Cruz:

Henry Cowell Redwoods ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Nitty-Gritty: Our afternoon spent amongst the redwoods was the highlight of our whole trip. The kids loved the visitor center and exploring through the trees. We did the self-guided brochure tour — highly recommend it — so informative about these remarkable trees. Read more about our day there here. Also has a 1-hour train ride through the trees, but we felt like the $29/person admission was a bit steep.

Would we visit again: yes. yes. yes.

Cowell Beach ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Nitty-Gritty: We caught sunset here. The pier made for a gorgeous backdrop. A fun beach and lots of fun things to do just down the road at the boardwalk. It was closed when we arrived.

Would we visit again: probably

Woodstock pizza ⭐⭐⭐

gluten friendly crust

Story tags: