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Kid-Friendly (And Cheap!) Weekend Adventures in the Bay Area

Pack up the kids and get ready for an awesome, affordable adventure

Credit: Cablecarmuseum.org
Credit: Cablecarmuseum.org

Written by Bill Zavestoski

Sometimes all it takes is a little planning to have a great family outing. When routine exploits just aren’t cutting it anymore, shake things up by exploring new terrain, taking in an exhibition, or visiting a landmark and learning a little something about our local history. Here are awesome events to attend and places to visit around town before fall ends. Best part? All of them can be done on the cheap and on one tank of gas—or less!

The Cable Car Museum

201 Mason Street

San Francisco, CA 94108

(415) 474-1887

What says San Francisco more than a clanging cable car heading up or down a city hill? Don't believe the line you hear from the folks who produce that grain-in-a-box side dish – this is the real San Francisco treat, for tourists and residents alike. And the Cable Car Museum is the place to go to find out all about this treasured mode of transportation.

Why Go? Learn the history of a city landmark that was born when Andrew Smith Hallidie tested the first cable car on Clay Street more than 140 years ago, in August 1873. Located in the Washington-Mason powerhouse and car barn on Nob Hill, the museum houses three antique cable cars and such mechanical devices as grips, track, cable, brake mechanisms and tools. Historic photographs help tell the story.

Insider Tip: Take a cable car to the Cable Car Museum. Let the kids take in the whole experience, and who wants to look for parking in the city anyway? The Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason lines stop at the museum, and the California Street line gets you within three blocks.

Must Do: The stars of the show are the massive engines and winding wheels that pull the cables. Kids are often mesmerized and may not want to leave the viewing deck, but you'll also want to head downstairs to see the large sheaves and cable line that enters the building through the channel under the street.

The Fine Print: Who doesn't like free, the ultimate cheap adventure? Donations are gladly accepted, but the nonprofit organization that operates the museum depends mostly on proceeds from the in-house and online store. The museum's fall and winter hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For further information, call (415) 474-1887.

Exploratorium

Pier 15, at Green Street and Embarcadero

San Francisco, CA 94111

(415) 528-4444  

Since moving into its new and expanded home at Pier 15 earlier this year, the Exploratorium has received rave reviews. Parents cheer the fact that many of the exhibits they remember experiencing as kids at the old Palace of Fine Arts location have been retained. And with so much more room to operate and a scenic waterfront locale, the hands-on scientific playhouse founded by physicist Frank Oppenheimer in 1969 is more popular than ever.

Why Go? Yes, it's geared toward kids, but adults won't get bored here. The Exploratorium has six main galleries, each focused on a particular area of exploration, such as Human Phenomena, Tinkering, Seeing and Listening, and Living Systems. An observable Exhibit Workshop is sort of the research and development arm of the place. The interactivity makes learning science pure fun.

Insider Tip: With all that hands-on action, you'll want to bring along some hand sanitizer. Also, the gourmet food at the restaurant-cafe on site is delectable but can get expensive if the entire family wants to chow down. East Bay visitors can arrive by boat and stroll over from the Ferry Building. Ticket lines can be bypassed by paying admission fees online.

Must Do: This exhibit goes back years, and may not be for the squeamish, but the dissection of cow eyes to reveal how an eye functions and its parts always seems to draw a crowd. Kids tend to especially enjoy the South Gallery, with its “Tinkering: Think With Your Hands” theme.

The Fine Print: The Exploratorium is closed Mondays except for certain holidays, and open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. There's an adults-only session on Thursday evenings from 6 to 10. Admission for Bay Area residents in a nine-county area is $20 for adults and $15 for school-age kids, teachers, students and seniors. There are a handful of free admission days scattered throughout the year.

AT&T Park Tour

24 Willie Mays Plaza

San Francisco, CA 94107

415-972-2400

Giants fans are used to having the park filled through the end of October, what with World Series titles for San Francisco in 2010 and 2012. But an off-year this season means no baseball to interfere with scheduled tours of the facility. It may be difficult to secure game tickets with all the sell-outs, but you can get an inside look at the China Basin home of the Giants for no more than the price of a nosebleed seat.

Why Go? The thrill of seeing a Major League ballpark up close and personal is a treat all baseball fans, young and old, will treasure. Even if you may feel the game is too boring for your tastes, you won't have to sit through a three-hour game to enjoys the park perks.

Insider Tip: Make sure you bring your camera and start clicking as soon as you approach. Surrounding the park are bronze statues honoring Giants greats Willie Mays, Willie McCovey (and check out the view from McCovey Cove beyond right field), Juan Marichal and Orlando Cepeda, plus a Giants Wall of Fame, History Walk and a Mays Tribute Wall.

Must Do: Whatever your tour guide allows, within reason. Sit in the a big-league dugout, leap against the outfield wall while strolling on the warning track, and imagine you're a star as you enter the clubhouse (unfortunately for Giants fans, it's normally the visitors' clubhouse). The tours also stop by a luxury suite, the press box and an indoor batting cage.

The Fine Print: Tours are available daily at 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., rain or shine. The only exceptions the rest of this year are on Oct. 26, Nov. 2, 9 and 10, plus Thanksgiving and Christmas days. Prices are $20 for teens and adults, $15 for seniors 55 and older, and $10 for kids 3 through 12. Active military with ID and kids 2 and under are free. Tours depart and tickets may be purchased from the Giants Dugout Store on the 3rd Street side of AT&T Park. The tours take about 90 minutes.

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