Though I spend countless days wandering around the streets of San Francisco on the hunt for concrete mixers and tractors, when my son Kai needs some focus (or, let me be honest here: when I need a break) here are some of my favorite places to take him.
Golden Gate Park: So the Koret Playground (you know that monster playground next to hippie hill) is great and all, but usually going to a playground makes me want to start drinking Bloody Marys in the corner. My friend Leigh calls playgrounds a "Petri dish of parenting", while my friend Julie notes the "mean girl" mentality that takes me back to 7th grade and rude group letters from the "cool girls" telling me how much they hate me. So I tend to avoid playgrounds unless my husband is with me. Sure, these are my issues, but isn't all of parenting about passing on our issues to our children? Anyway, I love taking Kai to Golden Gate Park's Botanical Garden (it's free!), Stow Lake (you never imagine how interesting pigeons and turtles can be) and of course the Academy of Sciences.
Berkeley's Tilden Park: Last weekend, my friend Ali inspired me to finally take Kai to Tilden, and what a treat. By far the most entertaining free place in the Bay Area is the Tilden Little Farm (past the carousel). Here you can feed the sheep, pig, cows, and goats and see chickens, mammoth sized turkeys, and geese. Afterward, a trip on the steam train (the best 2 bucks you'll spend all day) is an ample reward for mom and toddler.
Crissy Field: A beach with no waves, what more can you ask for? Well, 75 degree weather and no wind might not come every day, but when it graces San Francisco, this is where we go to play in the water. Plus the views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the ships remind me why I live in this gorgeous city.
Fort Funston: The other day we were on our way to the zoo, when we spotted the hang gliders soaring over Fort Funston. Of course, I made a U-turn to head to Fort Funston instead. Now, this steep beach path is known for wind, but the magic of watching these daredevils surf the air kept Kai entertained, while also teaching him a new word: hang gliders; imagine this mom's delight at that one for his arsenal.
Pacifica Beach: OK, so Northern California doesn't often have the weather for beachcombing, but who cares? Kai takes after his name and loves the water, so we head here at the first sign of sun to frolic in waves and sand. Bring an extra pair of clothes and a blanket.
Tennessee Valley: For this one, moms and dads, lessen your ambition. While we used to take epic hikes to Muir Beach and back from here, now we take Kai to see how far he can walk. The last time we came, he made it to the first trailhead (about 100 feet) before he started splashing in puddles that reached his waist and we had to strip him and take him back to the car. But he LOVED it.