Museums Without Walls: Public Art to See for Free

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The Bay Area is home to some world-class art, some of it housed in big name institutions. But you don’t necessarily have to fork out any entrance fees to get your culture fix with the kids. Over the years millions of dollars have been spent on public art, executed by both international artists and critically acclaimed home grown talent. Think Richard Serra, Diego Rivera and Leo Villareal to name a few. It’s kid-friendly, free and just waiting to be discovered. Click through for the best of the Bay Area’s public art for pint-sized patrons.


This glowing orb is best seen once the sun goes down, when in all its colorful glory. It is made of 4,500 LED nodes arranged along a series of pentagons and hexagons, and is animated by custom software programmed to display over 16 million distinct colors. If you think it looks right at home against the backdrop of the flickering Bay Lights, that's because it's by the same artist, Leo Villerreal. It's technically part of the Exploratorium's many super-cool exhibits, and that's just where you can find it through February 2018. Embarcadero and Green Sts. at Pier 15 Photo courtesy of Leo Villarealfuck

What is your favorite piece of public art? Let us know in the comments below.

–Erin Feher, Emily Myers and Garrick Ramirez





A Mini Treehugger’s Guide to Muir Woods

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If your little one doesn’t exactly exhibit reverence for things older and taller than them (especially around bedtime), take ‘em to Muir Woods National Monument. It’s one of the last old-growth redwood forests on the planet and one of the only native salmon runs in California. Plus, there’s more than a few opportunities for your tiny treehugger to duck into a massive tree hollow and ham it up for your Instagram feed.

Muir Woods 2

Why It’s So Special
Muir Woods sports a variety of tree types but everyone’s here to see the Sequoia Sempervirens. These coast redwoods are the tallest—and one of the oldest—living things on earth. Why coastal? Because they like the summer fog probably more than you do; it supplies them with nearly half of their water intake. The tallest tree in Muir Woods is over 250 feet and most trees are between 600 to 800 years old. The oldest tree is thought to be 1,200 years young which is merely middle-age for redwoods.

William Kent noted how special these trees were when he and his wife purchased the land in 1905. Two years later, he donated it to the federal government and in 1908 it was proclaimed a National Monument

Muir Woods Redwoods

Happy Trails
Muir Woods sports a number of trails but most visitors are content with the Main Trail Loop. And rightly so: It’s an easy, level stroll that passes through the park’s most notable features including the hushed, awesomeness of Cathedral Grove. You can tailor the path’s length (½ hour, hour or 1 ½ hours) by choosing one of four bridges to cross to head back. Godsend for Gracos: the Main Trail is a stroller-friendly mix of boardwalk and paved road.

Muir Woods Cathedral Grove

Salmon Rush In
Redwood Creek begins on Mount Tam, winds through Muir Woods and flows out into the Pacific at nearby Muir Beach. In Winter, Coho Salmon and Steelhead Salmon (the fish formerly known as Steelhead Trout) return from the ocean to swim back upstream and spawn. You can catch them after heavy rains in December and throughout March. Watch for their offspring in summer months, darting in the deep pools that collect along the river.

Salmon Muir Woods

Earn a Badge
One of the most enjoyable aspects of visiting Muir Woods with young kids is their ability to become a Junior Ranger. Just pick up a free activity book from the Visitor Center and complete a series of hands-on exercises that guide you through the park. Upon completion, your child will be awarded a cool, wooden badge and get sworn in as an official Junior Ranger.

Muir Woods Junior Ranger

Wholesome Provisions
There’s no Coke or Cheetos in the redwoods (this is Marin after all). Instead, you’ll find a cafe offering line-caught tuna and organic peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as well and the Marin Melt, a toasty sandwich that’s made with local cheeses and was featured on the Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate.

Gift Shops
Nope, it’s not a typo: the gift shops within the park are plural. Muir Woods Trading Company has all the trappings of a tourist stop (think bear statuary carved from wood) while the Visitor Center bookstore stocks a smartly-curated selection of books and toys.

The Parking Situation
You must reserve a parking spot in advance or arrange for a shuttle ride (also in advance), check out to book your spot.

Good to Know

  • Entrance fees are $15/adults ages 16 and up and free for children ages 15 and under. Check the site for free days throughout the year.
  • The redwoods host a wide array of life and they all like the thermostat turned down low. Even when it’s warm in the parking lot, it’s cold and moist in the groves so don’t leave  jackets in the car.
  • There are two full-service restrooms at Muir Woods: one in the parking lot and another adjacent to Muir Woods Trading Company in the park.

Muir Woods National Monument
1 Muir Woods Road
Mill Valley, Ca

Have you visited Muir Woods yet? Let us know in the Comments!

–Garrick Ramirez

All images courtesy of the author


Subaru believes in supporting local communities. That’s why, over the past 20 years, they’ve donated more than 50 million dollars to causes they care about, and their employees have logged more than 28,000 volunteer hours. And, it’s why they’ve created the Subaru Loves Learning initiative to help support learning in the Bay Area.

Dim Sum & Dragons: A Guide to a Day in Chinatown

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With lantern-strung streets lined with elaborate facades and trinket-filled shops, Chinatown is a visual delight for little explorers. The neighborhood displays nearly as many murals as the Mission and just as much vibrancy. You’d be hard pressed to find an inch of blank space in the city’s oldest and most colorful district. Day trip it in your own backyard and watch your youngster gobble up culture just as fast as they do their dumplings.

Chinese Historical Society Photo Credit Garrick Ramirez


Chinese Historical Society of America
All visits to Chinatown should begin at this charming museum housed in an ornate building designed by Hearst Castle architect Julia Morgan. Visual and tactile exhibits offer a proper introduction to the Chinese experience in San Francisco. A resident artist keeps things lively for little ones. Tip: drop by the Chinatown branch library (1135 Powell St) to score free tickets by flashing your SF library card

965 Clay St.
San Francisco, CA 94108

St Mary Square Photo Credit Garrick Ramirez

St Mary’s Square
Tucked away off busy Grant Street, this hidden nook sports a fun play area with a scenic backdrop of Financial District towers.

651 California St
San Francisco, Ca

Willie Wong Playground Photo Credit Garrick Ramirez

Willie “Woo Woo” Wong Playground
This modern playground bears the name of a local 1940s basketball player named for the rootin’ “woo woos” he would get.

830 Sacramento St.
San Francisco, Ca

Bargain Bazaar Photo Credit Garrick Ramirez


Bargain Bazaar
Chinatown has innumerable shops bursting with with unique trinkets and toys that reach out to little hands. With three floors crammed with goodies, this fun shop is our favorite.

667 Grant Ave.
San Francisco, Ca

Buddha Exquisite Corp Photo Credit Garrick Ramirez

Buddha Exquisite Corp.
This shop is a visual extravaganza of Joss paper, the paper versions of money and material goods burned at funerals. Marvel at perfect paper replicas of iPads, 6-packs of Coke, sushi platters and air-conditioned mansions complete with maid and armed guard. They’re much cheaper than the real thing, so make sure your kiddo’s letter to Santa is real specific.

756 Jackson St.
San Francisco, Ca


Good Mong Kok
Nothing satiates little tummies quite like a savory pork or chicken bun. Squeeze your way into this shoe-box sized take-away for some of the best dim sum in Chinatown. Bummer for Bugaboos: Stockton’s jam-packed sidewalks make it a strict No Stroller Zone.

1039 Stockton St.
San Francisco,Ca

Yin Du Wonton Noodle Photo Credit Garrick Ramirez

Yin Du Wonton Noodle
Drop by this cozy mom & pop eatery for delicious, inexpensive wonton noodles and rice dishes (prices peak at $5.95) in a pristine setting.

648 Pacific Ave.
San Francisco, Ca

Golden Star Vietnamese Restaurant
Overlooking Portsmouth Square, this tasty restaurant fills up during lunch for pho, grilled meats and kid’s favorites: crispy imperial rolls.

11 Walter U Lum Pl.
San Francisco, Ca

Begoni Bistro Photo Credit Garrick Ramirez

Begoni Bistro
This restaurant sports a menu of refined Vietnamese dishes and the most stylish dining room in the neighborhood. Boon for beer lovers: it’s also one of the few places in Chinatown where you can get good brew on tap.

615 Jackson St.
San Francisco, Ca

 Golden Gate Bakery Photo Credit Garrick Ramirez

Golden Gate Bakery
This bakery is justly famous for their dan tat — rich custardy egg tarts in delicious flaky crust — as well as their corresponding lines.

1029 Grant Ave.
San Francisco, Ca

Fancy Wheat Field Bakery
Pop in for a large selection of egg tarts and baked goods. Your child’s new favorite treat might be a fluffy, sweet bread cocktail bun filled with sweetened coconut paste.

1362 Stockton St.
San Francisco, Ca

Do you have a favorite Chinatown hangout? Tell us in the comments below! 

—Garrick Ramirez

All photography by Garrick Ramirez


Just Opened: The Officers’ Club in the Presidio

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San Francisco just got an impressive new cultural center and social hub with The Presidio Officers’ Club. After an intensive three-year rehab, SF’s most historic building (don’t tell our friends at Mission Dolores we said that) is ready for its close-up. The massive, nearly 37,000-square-foot building holds lots of treats for families too. Here are some of the things you and your kiddo can look forward to.

Officers Club SF Presidio_007 _Sep_17th_©Henrik Kam 2014

Get to Know the Presidio
Make the Heritage Room your first stop. The dramatically-lit gallery space serves as a virtual Presidio for Dummies by detailing the former fortress’ role in American history with engaging displays that won’t leave your little one tugging at your sleeve. Start your visit with an orientation of the property that’s screened in the comfy micro-theatre.

Officers Club SF Presidio_079 _Sep_17th_©Henrik Kam 2014

If These Walls Could Talk
You can step back in time in the Mesa Room thanks to a literal display of history via the exposed layers of the Officers’ Club’s walls. Trace the historic structure’s progression from the actual adobe walls of the 1810s to the colorful Victorian clapboard of the 1880s to the popular Spanish stucco of the 1930s and end with the fabulously drab white walls of the 1970s.

Say adios to audio wands: visitors can also check-out a free, preloaded iPad and swipe their way through the Presidio’s history with interactive photos, videos, and StoryCorps conversations.

Officers Club SF Presidio_120 _Sep_17th_©Henrik Kam 2014

Al Fresco Dining and Craft Cocktails
The Officers’ Club is home to chef Traci des Jardin’s new restaurant Arguello. Named for the first Mexican Governor of Alta California—and former Presidio commander—the new spot will feature Mexican dishes served in a handsome dining room or on a blessedly heated outdoor patio.

You can also grab a craft cocktail and take it the adjacent Moraga Room, an atmospheric space that serves as the building’s de facto lobby with a fireplace and dramatic wrought iron chandeliers (hint: this is when that iPad may come in handy for certain, smaller members of the family that don’t get a cocktail so that those who do can relax). Arguello officially opens on October 8th for lunch and dinner.

Officers Club SF Presidio_087 _Sep_17th_©Henrik Kam 2014

Go See an New Goldsworthy
Does Andy Goldsworthy have a pied-à-terre in SF yet? The nature-based artist is a frequent visitor with numerous works in town including four in The Presidio. The Officers’ Club houses his latest, Earth Wall, which consists of a bundle of branches that he collected over the past year, then buried in an earthen wall and “excavated” a la Indiana Jones.

Officers Club SF Presidio_037 _Sep_17th_©Henrik Kam 2014

Digging the Past
Speaking of Indiana Jones, did you know that The Presidio is an active archaeological site? The Officers’ Club is also home to a snazzy archaeology lab that allows guests to witness how the Presidio’s artifacts are analyzed and processed. Just outside, there’s an ongoing excavation of the El Presidio de San Francisco ruins. From May through October, visitors can observe—and possibly participate in—excavations and chat with staff about their discoveries.

Officers Club SF Presidio_002 _Sep_17th_©Henrik Kam 2014

Field Trippin’
The Officers’ Club is set to become a new field trip fave thanks to hands-on and immersive activities for kids. Multidisciplinary programs allow students to explore local and national history as well as the park’s natural and cultural resources in an authentic historic setting. Programs are tied to curriculum standards and free for participating schools.

Officers Club SF Presidio_053 _Sep_17th_©Henrik Kam 2014

Special Events for Families
Starting October 11th, you can drop by on Saturday and Sunday between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. for crafts based on the Presidio’s natural and cultural heritage and geared for kids 5 through 12.

Also, every Saturday at 2 pm, the Officers’ Club will feature free theatre, music, and dance performances. On Saturday, November 1st, kids can gather around The Tree & The Donkey Who Wanted to Sing, a participatory music and dance program that tells the story of the diverse roots of Mexican people and the making of musical instruments from nature.

Take advantage of the free PresidiGo which picks up at the Transbay Terminal, Embarcadero BART, and the corner of Van Ness & Union.

50 Moraga Ave., Presidio Main Post
San Francisco, Ca

Hours: Tues.-Sun., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Cost: free

Have you been to the Presidio Officers’ Club yet? What was your family’s favorite part?

—Garrick Rameriez

All photos by Henrik Kam and courtesy of the Presidio Officers’ Club



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Point Bonita

Where else can kids explore a rock tunnel, sway over a suspension bridge and marvel at the biggest night light they’ve ever seen? Just 10 minutes from the Golden Gate Bridge pavilion, the Point Bonita Lighthouse is a beacon for passing ships and adventurous tykes.

Point Bonita5

Built in 1855 to safely guide gold-seekers through the perilous waters of San Francisco Bay, the Point Bonita lighthouse sits on an incredibly scenic perch overlooking the Pacific and jagged cliffs of the Marin Headlands. The building and its stories are intriguing — like the fact that despite the lighthouse, 300 boats still ran aground during that time! — but getting there is definitely half the fun. You and your smaller half will ramble down a trail that skirts brilliant wildflowers, cool pillow basalt (underwater lava) rock formations, and churning sea coves. And then there’s those knockout bay vistas. Your Instagrams should let the folks at the California Travel Bureau go home early that day.

Point Bonita1

Bridge & Tunnel Crowd
There’s also a pretty nifty bridge and tunnel too. No pejorative connotation here: just another cool adventure for your little one. The 118-foot tunnel was hand carved over a period of 6 months just after the Transcontinental Railroad was completed. With a low rocky ceiling sprinkled with moss, it twists with the curve of the mountain and delivers you back on the trail on the other side.

Point Bonita2

From there you’ll actually cross a series of platforms before arriving at the remarkable suspension bridge. It’s no Santiago Calatrava, but it is pretty cool. The Point Bonita Lighthouse was the third lighthouse built on the West Coast, but it’s the only one reached by suspension bridge. If you visited before 2012, you know that the first bridge that was built in the 1950s didn’t instill confidence given that only two people could cross at a time. Today, the new bridge accommodates all with a slight and safe sway.

Wickie Pedia 

Point Bonita3

There’s usually a docent on hand to both limit the amount of people on the lighthouse side (max is 49) as well as share info and stories about the lighthouse. For example, you’ll learn how Karl foiled the first location when the lighthouse’s beam couldn’t be seen above the fog line, so they moved the lantern to the present, lower location.

The brick lighthouse building is diminutive, but it’s fun to learn of the lives of the lightkeepers — or Wickies as they were called after the pre-electric wicks — and their families. A ten-item scavenger hunt makes discovery fun for wee Wickies. They can scour the site and get docents’ help with inquiries like locating a nearby gull rookery, describing the lighthouse rain spouts, and identifying what and where the “Potato Patch” is.

Point Bonita7

Gulls and Grills
The lighthouse keepers led isolated lives with no visitors…or BBQ grills. You can have both by throwing a picnic at the killer grill-equipped spot near Battery Wallace that sports a sweeping view of the bay and Golden Gate Bridge. You can also explore nearby Battery Mendell and the short path that leads to a scenic overlook of Bird Island and Rodeo Beach.

Point Bonita6

Good to Know

  • Tunnel access and the lighthouse are only open Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., a potential challenge during those precious nap hours. Docent led tours are offered each open day at 12:30 p.m.
  • There’s porta potties at the trailhead. Full restrooms with flush toilets can be found at the nearby Visitors Center.
  • Bonita means “pretty” in Spanish, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it means “windy.” Even when the rest of the Headlands is warm, it’s chilly out on the point. Bring layers.
  • While you’re in the Headlands, consider becoming a Junior Ranger.

Have you visited Point Bonita lately? 

— Garrick Ramirez (photos too!)

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Pine Tree View

If your trips to beautiful but couple-catering Mendocino ended the minute you plugged in your first baby monitor, we’ve got good news: the adjacent town of Little River wants you — and your family — back. The family-owned Little River Inn offers the same luxury, charm and rugged sea-sprayed splendor as your favorite Mendo B&B but with a welcoming family vibe and kid-friendly digs. Add SF-worthy food and drink and some choice outings for little ones, and it’s a turnkey tike getaway.

The Little River Inn has been in the same family since the site’s striking Victorian home was built in 1853 by the current innkeeper’s great-great grandfather, a local lumber mill owner. He nabbed the best spot along the coast, perched high on a bluff overlooking the Pacific, resting against a forested backdrop and enveloped by gardens.

Main House

Little River Inn-2

It’s easy to gaze at the inspiring ocean view from one of the property’s spacious rooms, but what about watching after your little ones? Fifth-generation innkeeper Cally Dym and her husband Marc — the executive chef at the Inn’s restaurant — are parents to a three year old so they know what it’s like to travel with tots. That translates to pee-wee perks like a stack of board games to rival FAO Schwarz, an in-room DVD player with a library of family movies, coloring books and kids menu at the Inn’s restaurant, and a 3-page list of toddler activities in the area.

A rare treat is leaving the city behind but not the quality of its food or drink. The Inn’s garden-immersed dining room and warm pub-like bar serve refined and comforting dishes that will please any foodie. The salty-sweet sea air will prime you for the Inn’s famed Dungeness Crab Cakes and savory Seafood Bouillabaisse. Or settle in with a deeply-satisfying Roundman Burger named for the smokehouse that produces the bacon topping as opposed to implying anything personal. Just save room for the bubbling Olallieberry Cobbler served with a dripping scoop of vanilla ice cream. It’s been on the menu since the Inn first opened! In the morning, promise to go paleo the day after and enjoy a stack of Ole’s Swedish Hotcakes with lip-smacking jam. Nudge the chef for a bunny-shaped version to please the little one in the booster seat.

Dining Room

Adults get treats too. The restaurant stocks an impressive list of high-end local wines, beers and spirits. Craft beer lovers will flip when they learn the Inn is one of the few spots to get cult-fave Pliny the Elder on tap. And it’s the only place you can sip a Saison 75, the special farmhouse ale brewed with Anderson Valley Brewing to commemorate the Inn’s 75th anniversary.

Little River Inn-6

Fish gotta swim, kids gotta squirm: Don’t feel like dealing with a restaurant setting? The Inn can deliver all meals to your room which is equipped with dining table and mini fridge. And directly across Highway 1 is a small grocery and deli with convenient snacks and supplies should you need them.

From the property, you can take a scenic, 10-minute trail that skirts the bluff and leads you through ferns, past banana slugs and down to pebble-filled Van Damme State Beach (8001 N. Highway 1, Little River, Ca, 95456). Skip rocks in the namesake Little River that flows nearby or explore the tide pools located at the southern edge. More ambitious families will love the flat, creekside stroll along the lush, green Fern Canyon Trail which picks up behind the park’s campsites.


Less than 3 miles up the road is the quaint seaside Village of Mendocino whose wood-plank Main Street sidewalk boasts a few choice spots for kids. Northern Californian small towns do independent bookstores better than most and Gallery Bookshop (Kasten Street, Mendocino, Ca, 95460) is a gem. Tucked in the back of the shop is Bookwinkle’s, a separate room with a huge selection of unique children’s books. Out of This World (45100 Main Street, Mendocino, Ca 95460) hides a toy shop filled with engaging science-based toys, games and gadgets behind it’s binocular & telescope filled facade. It may be the first time you disregard your child’s plea for a toy because you’re too busy playing with one yourself.

Village of Mendocino

Directly across the street is Mendocino Headlands State Park, a stunning series of seafront bluffs that overlook pristine coves. Let your little one scamper through open fields and discover hidden beaches…just mind those edges which are strict hand-holding zones.

Mendocino Headlands

Good to Know:
The Little River Inn has 66 rooms with varied configurations and settings (including some pet-friendly rooms). Call beforehand to help select what will work best for you. Also: there’s no cell reception at the Inn but there is free wi-fi.

Little River Inn
7751 California 1
Little River, Ca 95456

Have you been up to Mendocino with your kids? Tell us your favorite activities and pit stops in the comment section below. 

All photos and copy by Garrick Ramirez

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Yep, we love the Beach Boardwalk too. But Santa Cruz enjoys other attractions that don’t involve a 65 foot plunge down a wooden coaster. The Westside is a hip and happening little corner of town that thrills with some of the city’s best eats, treats and outdoor scenery for kids. The next time you zip down the coast, ditch the deep-fried Oreos and head west for a memorable family adventure.



Photo credit: Jennifer Carole 

Wilder Ranch (1401 Coast Rd) once supplied the town’s mission before becoming a successful dairy farm. Today, the atmospheric grounds are filled with historic ranch buildings, barns, and farm animals like chickens, sheep and horses. Pack a picnic and laze under the shade trees by the stately Victorian home while tots form giant bubbles with stick & string wands. Up for an easy hike? The wide Old Landing Cove Trail skirts seaside cliffs and beach coves patrolled by squadrons of pelicans.


Named for the bridge-like rock formation that juts out into the sea, Natural Bridges State Beach (Swanton Blvd & W Cliff Dr) is a gorgeous sandy expanse with tide pools and nature trails. Families flock here in summer, but come fall and winter its butterflies that rule the roost. You can stroll a walkway dotted with informative displays to a eucalyptus grove where 100,000 Monarchs set up shop during the colder months.


The free and fun West Side Pump Track (Corner of Western Dr and Mission St) sports a continuous loop of dirt mounds that allow kids to roll their bikes along without pedaling. The 5,000 square-foot track is appropriate for all ages and includes side bleachers for those pumped out. Just remember that helmet!


Seymour Marine Discovery Center (100 Shaffer Rd) offers a glimpse into the work of scientists at UCSC’s Long Marine Laboratory. An exhibit hall is filled with local marine life swimming in water pumped directly from the bay. Smaller sea explorers can pet a swell shark – the females lay eggs as opposed to live births! – and pose next to Ms. Blue, a massive blue whale skeleton that’s one of the largest skeleton displays in the world. The lab also sits on what is arguably the most scenic spot along the bay. An amble along their public access bluffs is worth the trip alone.

Natural Bridges Farm

On your way to the marine lab, you’ll pass colorful signage pointing the way to Natural Bridges Farm (0 Shaffer Road at Delaware Ave), a picturesque plot of land abounding with organic veggies, fruits and flowers. You and your budding gardener can pick strawberries and clip flowers to assemble a bouquet daily from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. You can also just stroll their gardens — which includes a cute corral of baby ducks — anytime from sunrise to sundown.

West Cliff Drive Santa Cruz

If it’s got legs or motor-less wheels, you’ll find it on West Cliff Drive (Swanton Blvd through Bay St), a meandering coastline promenade lined with beds of flowering ice plant and views that will have you dialing a local realtor.



The Westside Saturday Farmers’ Market (Western Dr at Mission St) is everything SF’s hectic Ferry Building market is not: relaxed, intimate and affordable. Kids run free pausing only to slurp samples of local stone fruit. Adults relax at the shaded tables, toe-tapping along to the folksy band and noshing on tea cakes from Companion Bakeshop or freshly-fried gorditas from Garcia Mexican Kitchen. Time your visit to coincide with one of their summer Pop-Up Breakfast events.

Cafe Iveta2

It’s all about the drop scones at Cafe Ivéta (2125 Delaware Ave, Ste F), a hidden Westside gem. You and your little one can debate choices like Lavender White Chocolate, Lemon Ginger and Apricot (hint: there’s no wrong choice). Enjoy in the light-filled cafe or on the serene front patio. Or take home a bag of mix to whip up a batch of your own.


Curb the car and join the entire Westside community at Swift Street Courtyard, a thriving industrial-cool hub located in a former brussels sprouts plant. It’s home to numerous independent shops and eateries like Kelly’s French Bakery whose door sports a perennial line for breakfast, lunch and an unending glass case of pastries. You’ll also note the many winery tasting rooms and a bustling brewery with a kid and dog friendly beer garden. A half block down the street is Bantam (note the cool Batman anagram) which serves Delfina-style pizza in a hip and airy dining room.

Have you visited Santa Cruz lately? Tell us your favorite pit stops!

Copy by Garrick Ramirez; Photos by Garrick unless stated otherwise.

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You’ve earned your share of merits: Best Birthday Party Planner, Most Patience Exercised, and Highest Rate of Clothing Changes Made in a Parking Lot Setting. Now let your kids earn their own stripes and have some fun in the process. The Junior Ranger program at Golden Gate National Parks may be America’s Best Idea for parents hoping to earn yet another merit badge for coolest parent ever.

The Scoop
The program is offered at three Bay Area parks: Alcatraz Island, Muir Woods and Marin Headlands. It’s easy, free of charge and available year-round. To become a Junior Ranger, kids are required to complete an activity book available at each park. To participate, simply show up and request a booklet from the park’s Visitor Center.


photo credit: Fabrice Florin

How it Works
The book guides kids through a series of activities designed to lend context and purpose to their visit. Activities are delineated according to age groups: Younger kids sniff; older kids spell. And like all activities meant to inform children, parents end up learning cool new stuff as well. At Muir Woods, you’ll ponder the true awesomeness of the Sempervirens (Coast Redwoods). The Headlands booklet will have your kids comparing animal scat. And at Alcatraz, you’ll search cells for clues to solve a puzzle.

Alcatraz Activity Page

It’s a smart way to engage what otherwise might get tiresome for kids — especially little ones. You’ve certainly figured this out by now: the more your child is engaged, the less your watchful parent brain has to work. The book is a useful tool to allow both child and parent the ability to appreciate the splendor of each setting.


photo credit: Garrick Ramriez

Receive a Badge (and Other Cool Perks)
Upon completion — easily accomplished in an hour or so — budding rangers will hand in their completed activity book to the Visitor Center. They will then be awarded a Junior Ranger badge (a nifty wooden version of the real thing) as well as other items like a temporary tattoo, sew-on patch, and certificate (each park differs). A ranger will even swear in your child with hand on heart, oath recital, and everything.


photo credit: DenaliNPS

Learn. Explore. Protect. That’s the noble credo of the Junior Ranger. Engage my child, please. That’s the credo of the Junior Ranger’s parent. But hey, if kids can be entertained while learning appreciation for nature and stewardship of our environment, that’s a truly magnificent thing. Like we said: America’s Best Idea.

How to Participate
Simply inquire in person at the Visitor Center of Muir Woods, Marin Headlands or Alcatraz. No need to call or reserve anything in advance. You can also download Activity Books online.

— Garrick Ramirez

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North Beach is having a moment. Boutique-lined Grant Street is bustling and destination eateries are replacing touristy ones. Plus the kiddos outnumber the beatniks. You’ll spy little ones cooly sipping cocoa in cafes and snapping along to picture books in the new, modern library. We promise you’ll dig it too, Mommy-O and Daddy-O.

Washington Square Park Photo Credit Garrick Ramirez


Washington Square Park
This picturesque park is the neighborhood’s proverbial front yard. Grab a patch of green and take five while your child frolics amidst families, dogs, and the occasional acoustic guitar hero.

Columbus Avenue at Union Street 

North Beach Library Photo Credit Garrick Ramirez

North Beach Library
This sleek, airy library branch opened its doors in May 2004 with a dedicated children’s room that hides games, reading nooks and big picture windows overlooking Columbus Avenue 

850 Columbus Ave.
San Francisco, Ca

Joe DiMaggio Playground
This venerable playground isn’t going to win any design awards (a facelift is planned for 2015) but it’s a thriving hub for local families.

651 Lombard St
San Francisco, Ca

Destination Art
Need a break? Drop your kiddo at a twice-a-month Movie Night at this art-focused children’s center. Kids watch Frozen and munch popcorn while you enjoy a Hot Wheel-free dinner in the neighborhood. Select Fri. 6:30 – 9 p.m. $15/child; $25/family.

900 Filbert St.
San Francisco, Ca


Kim’s Precision Haircuts
If your scruffy tot is looking more suited for the Haight, plop ’em down on a stack of phone books at the original scissor sisters. Owners Kim and Lynn are as sweet as they come…just like the lollipops they sneak little ones at the end.

554 Columbus Ave.
San Francisco, Ca

Carmel Blue Photo Credit Garrick Ramirez

Carmel Blue
You’ll feel nourished just stepping through the doors of this recipient of Red Tricycle’s Totally Awesome Award. The parenting HQ is a city fave with clothes, toys, art and a workshop space for classes and gatherings.

1418 Grant Ave.
San Francisco, Ca

Park and Pond
Sisters Jessica and Abbey curate fun, witty and well-designed objects for the home such as tea towels, pillows, prints and jewelry.

1422 Grant Ave.
San Francisco, Ca

Lola of North Beach Photo Credit Garrick Ramirez

Lola of North Beach
A must-stop gift shop before your next birthday party. Browse smart cards, children’s clothes, toys and the stylish sheets you need to wrap it all up.

1415 Grant Ave.
San Francisco, Ca

Little Vine Photo Credit Garrick Ramirez

Little Vine
You’ll find all manner of artisan foods at this handsome shop. The freshly made sandwich-of-the-day ranks among the best in the city. Parents grab a bottle of wine for later while kids grab a free cheese block sticker from the silver pail.

1541 Grant Ave.
San Francisco, Ca

Tacolicious Photo Credit Garrick Ramirez


The clever kids menu at this tasty taco spot could win awards: a cut-out taco truck with instructions on how to run a successful one (including getting  a tattoo and Twitter account). Take home a bottle of their MF hot sauce (tell your kids it means mucho fire) and proceeds will fund neighborhood public schools.

1548 Stockton St.
San Francisco, Ca

Tony’s Pizza Napoletana
The best pizza in North Beach, if not the city. Kids get a raw pizza dough to while away the wait. In a hurry? Grab a slice from their bustling take-out shop next door.

1570 Stockton St.
San Francisco, Ca

An atmospheric, family-friendly Italian eatery specializing in deep dish pies from the owners of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana.

641 Vallejo St.
San Francisco, Ca

Original Joes Photo Credit Garrick Ramirez

Original Joe’s
A gratifying choice for old-school Italian-American grub — think spaghetti & meatballs paired with Sinatra — in North Beach (where you’ll crave it most). Bonus: big booths mean luxury for squirming kids. Don’t forget the Spumoni!

601 Union St.
San Francisco, Ca

Italian Homemade Company
A wonderful Italian deli with freshly made pastas, sauces and lesser-common street foods like cassones and piadinas.

716 Columbus Ave
San Francisco, Ca

Victoria Bakery Photo Credit Garrick Ramirez

Victoria Pastry Company
Whether you’re craving a treat or simply in need of an inexpensive child motivator (P.C. for bribe), North Beach has got you covered. Victoria is one of many Italian bakeries that cram a glass display counter full of cakes, custards and cookies.

700 Filbert St.
San Francisco, Ca

XOX Truffles Photo Credit Garrick Ramirez

XOX Truffles
A local treasure that produces pop-in-your-mouth-size cocoa powder-dusted truffles in a wide assortment of flavors like Caramel, Hazelnut and French Roast.

754 Columbus Ave.
San Francisco, Ca

Do you have a favorite North Beach haunt or hangout? 

—Garrick Ramirez

Photography by Garrick Ramirez