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Best Free Bay Area Activities



Living in the Bay Area is expensive. But you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg to keep the kids entertained all summer long. From outdoor adventures to festivals and free performances, there’s plenty to do to stave off summer boredom without breaking the bank.

Free Activities

Explore tide pools. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is one of our favorites. parks.smcgov.org/fitzgerald-marine-reserve.

Take a hike. With so many amazing state and county parks in the area, there are endless options for all levels of hiking. For ideas, visit www.bayareaparent.com/Article/Bay-Area-Hikes-with-Kids/.

Explore a new park. Try out the Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto, the Adventure Playground in Berkeley or the Lafayette Park Playground in San Francisco if you haven’t been to them. See more great playgrounds at www.bayareaparent.com/Article/Best-Bay-Area-Playgrounds/.

Visit a museum with your library card. Sign up for a library card and explore the Discover and Go program where you can request free and discounted passes to many Bay Area museums. discoverandgo.org/. Or check out the free days at many museums. freemuseumday.org/sf.html.

See the sea lions. Pier 39 and the Santa Cruz Wharf are great spots for spotting these iconic animals. www.pier39.com.

Have fun on the farm. Tilden Park’s Little Farm in Berkeley is a great way to get up close to a goat and other animals. www.ebparks.org/parks/tilden.htm.

Slide down a giant Coca-Cola bottle. On select days when the Giants are out of town, you can get into the Fan Lot at AT&T Park for free. sanfrancisco.giants.mlb.com/sf/ballpark/.

See the stars twinkle. Amateur astronomers can join one of the many stargazing parties throughout the Bay Area to see what sparkles in the great beyond. www.bayareaparent.com/Article/Best-Places-to-See-the-Night-Sky.

Experience some art. Most local art museums offer family-friendly tours or art-making activities. For instance, the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford hosts hands-on art making and gallery adventures for families on the second Sunday of the month. museum.stanford.edu/participate/family_focus.html.

Play in Golden Gate Park. Playgrounds, a carousel, gardens, lakes and even bison make their home there. goldengatepark.com.

Go bowling. Bowling alleys throughout the Bay Area and beyond will offer Kids Bowl Free for the tenth summer this year. Parents sign up online and receive an email each Sunday with vouchers for two free games per child per day. www.kidsbowlfree.com.

Favorite Fairs & Festivals

May

Art and Wind Festival. Hot air balloons, kites, food, art, entertainment and more. Enjoy more than 150 arts and crafts booths, entertainment on four stages, kids’ activities, kite flying and making, and more.  May 28-29. San Ramon Central Park, 12501 Alcosta Blvd., San Ramon. artandwind.com.

Bay Area Kid Fest. Inflatables, rides, craft activities and more. May 27-29. Concord. www.kidfestconcord.com.

Carnaval. Features a colorful parade with dancers and other entertainment. May 27-28.Harrison Street between 16th and 24th streets. San Francisco. www.carnavalsanfrancisco.org.

Contra Costa County Fair. Enjoy live entertainment, livestock, food, exhibits and more. May18-21. 1201 W. 10th St., Antioch. contracostafair.com.

May Fête Children’s Parade. Northern California’s oldest and largest children’s parade features local high school and junior high marching bands, hand-pulled floats and thousands of kids marching on University Avenue in downtown Palo Alto. www.cityofpaloalto.org.

June

Alameda County Fair. This annual fair offers more than three weeks of entertainment, carnival rides, exhibits, animals and more. June 16-July 9. 4501 Pleasanton Ave., Pleasanton. alamedacountyfair.com.

Marin County Fair. Features carnival rides, farm animals, entertainment, exhibits and more. June 30-July 4. 10 Avenue of the Flags, San Rafael. www.marinfair.org.

Northern California Pirate Festival. Costume contests, kids’ performers and treasure hunts. Vallejo. norcalpiratefestival.com.

San Mateo County Fair. This county celebration boasts entertainment, carnival rides and games, fair food, farm animals and exhibits. June 10-18. San Mateo County Event Center, 1346 Saratoga Drive, San Mateo. sanmateocountyfair.com.

July

Berkeley Kite Festival. High-flying fun with kites of all shapes and sizes. July 29-30. www.highlinekites.com.

Gilroy Garlic Festival. Garlic ice cream, kids’ activities and food demonstrations. July 28-30. gilroygarlicfestival.com.

Pedalfest.  A celebration of cycling including a kids’ bike rodeo and stunt shows. Oakland. pedalfestjacklondon.com.

August

Art and Soul Oakland. Music, dance, food, art and family fun. August 19-20.  Downtown Oakland. artandsouloakland.com.

Bricks by the Bay. LEGO displays and discussions for all ages. August 3-17. Santa Clara. bricksbythebay.com.

Chocolate and Chalk Art Festival. See the work of chalk artists and enjoy chocolate tastings, live music and more. Aug. 27. Gourmet Ghetto on North Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley. anotherbullwinkelshow.com.

Santa Clara County Fair. This year’s fair promises S.T.E.A.M.-powered family fun, as well as livestock, arts and crafts, and more. Aug. 3-6. Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, 344 Tully Road, San Jose. 408-494-3100. thefair.org.

Watsonville Strawberry Festival. Indulge in strawberry delights while enjoying live music, arts and crafts and carnival rides. Aug. 5-6. Downtown Watsonville. cityofwatsonville.org/visitors/strawberry-festival.

Free Live Performances 

Charity & the JAMband concert series. Charity & the JAMband performs a free concert series at the Park Chalet in San Francisco. www.jamjamjam.com.

Courthouse Square Events. Redwood City’s Courthouse Square is the place to be in summer for free live music, weekly movies and more. Check website for dates and times. www.redwoodcity.org/events.

First Free Fridays. The Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History offers year-round First Free Fridays with live music, an all-ages art activity, talks with artists and a bar. www.santacruzmah.org/events/category/free-1st-fridays/.

Friday Nights @ OMCA. Visit the Oakland Museum of California every Friday night for free live music, dance lessons, hands-on art workshops, storytimes, food trucks and more. Ages 18 and under get into galleries free; adults pay half price. www.museumca.org/friday-nights-omca.

Peninsula Symphony. It offers free family concerts in the spring and summer as well as performances at local senior centers, town halls, schools and libraries. peninsulasymphony.org.

Redwood City Kidchella Music Festival. An annual free summer music festival featuring live rock bands for families at Redwood City’s Courthouse Square. www.redwoodcity.org/kidchella.

San Francisco Chamber Orchestra’s Family Concerts. These free 45-minute performances introduce the young and old to classical music. Seating is first-come, first-served so arrive early. www.thesfco.org/events/family/.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Head to the Boardwalk Friday nights during the summer for free Bands on the Beach concerts. www.beachboardwalk.com/events.

Shakespeare in the Park. The San Francisco Shakespeare Festival offers free outdoor performances of classic plays each summer in parks around the Bay Area. www.sfshakes.org.

Stern Grove Festival. The oldest free summer performing arts festival in the country, the Stern Grove Festival includes live music and dances performances at Stern Grove Park. www.sterngrove.org.

Theatre in the Park. Peninsula Youth Theatre hosts summer camps for elementary-age kids that culminate with free outdoor performances for the public in parks in Mountain View, Saratoga and Palo Alto. pytnet.org/theaterpark.html.

Tricycle Music Fest. This annual music festival features some of the best children’s music performers in free performances at San Francisco and San Mateo County libraries. sfpl.org/?pg=2000919601 and smcl.org/tricycle/.

Kate Loweth is the Silicon Valley calendar editor for Bay Area Parent. Teresa Mills-Faraudo is an associate editor. Associate Editor Janine DeFao contributed to this story.

 

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