Family Fun in San Francisco’s Presidio

The list of kid-friendly things to do in San Francisco goes on and on. Even kids lucky enough to live here have a tough time keeping up. The Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and Fisherman’s Wharf are just a few of San Francisco’s world-renowned tourist attractions.

If you have a day to spare, the Presidio is a great addition to any family-friendly itinerary.

Yoda Statue San Francisco

A Little History

The Presidio was a military post from 1776 until 1994, when it was transferred to the National Park Service as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. But it’s not like your traditional park with more than 14-hundred acres and almost a thousand of those acres is open space. That’s something folks just don’t expect in booming San Francisco.

Take look at a map of the Presidio. It’ll help drive home how expansive the Presidio is. With nearly 800 buildings, forest and beach areas, the costs of its operation and long-term up keep were not in the government’s budget, so in 1996 a plan was created to make the Presidio financially self-sufficient.  The plan is paying off, for the Presidio and for families who make the time to visit.

Road Work

There’s currently a great deal of road work going on surrounding the Presidio. Don’t let that stop you from visiting. Once inside the park, at most locations, you’ll barely notice the improvements underway.

The Tenants

Renting some of those 800 buildings brings in some cash for the park’s care. One of the Presidio’s most famous tenants is Star Wars creator George Lucas. Put simply, his Letterman Digital Arts Center is a state-of-the-art facility where he makes his magic.

Located near the Lombard Gate of the Presidio, your kids will feel the force when you go to check out the Yoda fountain in the courtyard just off the parking lot. I’ve never visited during the week when the lobby is open (like I said, even locals have a tough time keeping up), but fans rave about the Star Wars memorabilia inside. The fountain is about half a mile away from your next stop.

Walt Disney Museum San Francisco

The Walt Disney Family Museum

The Walt Disney Family Museum tells the story of the man behind the amusement park. Be sure to take the kids to Gallery 2b where they’ll get a great interactive hands-on lesson about what was involved in synchronizing sound to animation. You’ll walk away with a whole new appreciation for Steamboat Willie, but don’t walk too far. The same gallery is home to Disney’s earliest known drawing of Mickey Mouse. Gallery 9 has a 12 foot model of Disneyland complete with moving parts. Look for Dumbo in flight.

A few words of warning. When kids hear Disney, they think amusement park. Be very clear with the family, this is a museum. I don’t recommend it for younger than tweens. Sure young kids love Mickey and his cast of characters, but most of the exhibits will be more than they’re able and ready to take in.

Strollers are not permitted in the galleries, so you’ll be carrying any little ones who lose interest and poop out. All backpacks and large bags must be left at the complimentary coat and bag check area downstairs.

The exhibits require a good amount of reading. Be prepared to paraphrase for little ones, and to point out key points for older readers who might have a tendency to rush through. My 10 and 12 year-old enjoyed the first 90 minutes, but were ready to move on when we hit two hours.

There’s so much to take in, you might think about taking a break in the middle. Grab lunch or a snack from the museum café, and head outside.  There’s a huge patch of grass in front of the museum, perfect for a picnic and running around. And grab your camera from your checked bag. Though photography is not allowed in the museum, you’ll want your camera while you’re outside to get a shot of the kids sticking their head in the plywood cutout with Disney and the world’s most famous mouse.

House of Air San Francisco

House of Air

One of my favorite memories as a kid growing up on Long Beach Island, New Jersey is summer nights at the trampoline park. The park disappeared when I was a teenager, so when I heard about House of Air in the Presidio, I couldn’t wait to check it out. The indoor trampoline park is located in a former airplane hangar at the end of Crissy Field.

Folks at House of Air take bouncing to a whole new level. There are a variety of programs, some aimed at improving physical fitness, others offer a training ground for gymnasts and board sport enthusiasts, but overall they offer fun active classes and camps. For visiting families Open Jump time is the best bet.

“At the end of the day, Paul and I wanted to create something awesome in San Francisco – a place for kids and adults alike to go nuts and get radical.  Without a doubt, we have accomplished that goal with House of Air,” says Dave Schaeffer, House of Air co-founder.

During Open Jump time kids have options in the park. The Air Junior Bounce House is an inflatable bounce house designed for kids three to six years of age.  The Colosseum is made from 22 conjoined trampolines, has trampoline walls and is used for dodgeball. The Matrix is the granddaddy of them all, and where my girls spent 99 percent of their time. It’s made of 42 conjoined trampolines. (To give you some perspective, the trampoline floor is larger than a regulation basketball court). Just like the Colosseum, it’s surrounded by trampoline walls.  Don’t dress up.  Dress in layers and be ready to sweat.

Before you are allowed on any trampolines, you’ll go through a safety review with an “air traffic controller” or safety manager. They supervise all areas of the park.  All flyers must be at least 7 years old to jump without an adult and younger kids are only allowed on the trampolines during select times with a parent.  Helmets and trampoline shoes are provided.  The day I jumped with my girls, there were three air traffic controllers on duty in just the Matrix alone. All the kids were having fun and I didn’t see any kids getting out of hand so to speak.  In fact I’ve seen much crazier moves on many a playground.

Crissy Field

Another thing House of Air has going for it is its location. When you’ve burned off enough calories to eat guilt free for the rest of your vacation, head outside to Crissy Field. The expansive stretch of grass that was once part of an army airfield, is a great place for kids to run and fly a kite or even just lie in the grass and take a much deserved break. A quick walk and you’re on the beach. With views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and the city, it might make it hard to figure out which way to go next.

My guess is you might really need a nap before you figure out the answer.

Relevant Links:

Ciao Bambino recommended San Francisco family hotels

Things to do in San Francisco with kids (locals version)

Favorite San Francisco attractions with kids

Angel Island San Francisco

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