22 Aug

Bay Area Entertainment Suggestions

Posted by Jenna, Under Uncategorized

Hiiii! We’re still in Poland. Here is T1 doing what he loves most, playing in my in-law’s backyard.

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Here is Krakow:

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All of the family members here keep saying “Your time here is so short, too short.” I hope they will come visit us in California soon, now that we have the space to host them!

When I announced we were moving to Chicago two years ago, you guys flooded me with suggestions regarding what to do and see while we were there, and I loved it! If you’re headed to Chicago and would like to find ideas regarding where to eat, I have a Pinterest board devoted to places I’ve been (and a few places I wanted to go but never got to).

I logged in to Facebook this morning and noticed a friend had asked what to see/eat/do in San Francisco which led to lots of fabulous suggestions. Do you have any suggestions for me? Now that we have more disposable income and T1 is a little bit older we are looking forward to exploring a bit more. Also we haven’t been very good about making date night a regular occurrence and I am committed to making sure that changes from here on out!

Although I’m sure most people know and love San Francisco the best (and I’m sure we will make some trips up there!) we’re living closer to Stanford and suggestions related to the Palo Alto area would be much appreciated. Or Berkeley or San Jose if it’s something we absolutely can’t miss.

If you have a whole books worth of ideas and would like to get specific, here are the type of suggestions that fit our current lifestyle:

Family outings appropriate for children under 5

Weekend half-day trips for the whole family

Inexpensive (and delicious!) restaurants in the Palo Alto area where I can take friends and family when they come stay with us, or for meeting up with people in the area

Unique restaurants for date night (they don’t have to all be expensive, though French Laundry and Chez Panisse are already on my list!)

Date night ideas (particularly free ones in the Peninsula area of the Bay)

Activities and places to take guests (with/without kid(s) )

Any and all restaurants (and why you loved them) because I love bookmarking possibilities and looking at menus!

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Next week we are going to have a few days together before TH starts work and I want to do something fun before he gets really busy. I’m thinking a day trip down to Santa Cruz (it’s about n hour from where we live) could work. Is there another beach town you would suggest instead? Or something else a sick pregnant lady can handle?

86 Comments


  1. I’d be typing for hours:). Here are 6 tips.

    1. Ardenwood. An historic farmish place across the bay for you and T1.
    2. Marine World, for a family outing. Longish drive, but very clean and right on the water.
    3. There’s a Polish restaurant called Bona in Menlo Park that gets great recommendations.
    4. Mandarin Gourmet has a new Szechuan cook. NOM.
    5. In San Francisco, Hubert Keller’s restaurant Fleur de Lys is really nice for a special fancy evening to celebrate something.
    6. Peruvian at Mochica’s is my favorite light under a bushel food.

    If you find you have two hours free one weekend, how about I meet you and T1 at Johnson Park in Palo Alto? I’ll blab and tell you the rest of what I know:). Johnson Park is wonderful for littles. There’s a great big cement slide that T1 might be ready to navigate – if not – we can go down it with him:). Alternatively, I’d suggest the Menlo Park Civic Center area, a park, a pool, a library, and a great green grassy area or two, often filled with boys playing baseball.

    The SF Peninsula is really a small town from the 50s in disguise:).

    Jenna Reply:

    I will email you when we get back and we can set up a “playmate” :)

    I am curious about crossing the bridge over to Ardenwood. When I drove that way coming over from Utah I had to pay a $5 toll to cross the bridge. Do I have to pay that same toll each way every time?

    Michelle Reply:

    As someone who grew up 20 minutes from Marine World, I would be careful to describe it as “on the water.” It is in Vallejo, which is near the water but not necessarily a beach or somewhere to spend the day sightseeing. And not a great place for little ones as most of the rides are for big kids. The SF Zoo can provide the animal experience and it is closer to you. Plus, you would have to go to Vallejo. Not good.

    I also suggest going to Pacifica/Half Moon Bay or Monterey and Carmel over Santa Cruz. The sightseeing in those places is much more pleasant, in my opinion.

    Lisa Reply:

    I was thinking the same thing about Marine World. “on the water” wouldn’t cross my mind, and probably not worth the cost to take little kids unless T1 is super interested in dolphins/whales or something. When I was little it was much more animal-geared, but now it’s mostly rides with a few animal shows.

    Lisa Reply:

    Interesting. When I took my kids there 15-20 years ago it was lots of animals, very clean, beautiful water fountains, and the feeling of water nearby. Not beaches, but sea air. I understand that Vallejo is problematic, but it was a fun place back when. Granted, better for 6-7 year olds, but still nice for a family looking for an outdoor outing with fun, food, and some education.

    Mimi Reply:

    Please do not go down a slide with your children! http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/23/a-surprising-risk-for-toddlers-at-playground-slides/

    Susan Reply:

    I totally second the vote for Ardenwood — I have many happy childhood memories (and photos of me in unfortunate ’80s outfits) from trips there with my family. (My grandparents lived in Campbell, jut outside of San Jose; my family visited from Ohio.)

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  2. I’ll try to remember to send you an email, we lived in San Jose (South of where you’ll be) for 3 years. Although we didn’t have kids, I’ll try to give some recommendations.

    Santa Cruz is ok to see. We found it very a very touristy, surf town. Outside of the boardwalk rides, there wasn’t much to do and no where very noteworthy to eat, as far as we found. It’s a little further, but we like Monterey better. There’s an aquarium that’s really fun and also 17mi drive that takes you passed Pebble Beach Golf Course. There is a fee to drive through, but it’s worth it! Huge houses and really great views!

    I highly recommend Sam’s Chowder House in Half Moon Bay. (if you’re avoiding seafood during pregnancy, then you might want to wait on this one.) The lobster roll is amazing as well as the other food we tried. We always took guests here and they loved it! It’s right on the bay and you can watch birds dive into the water for their dinner.

    Drive along Hwy 1 as much as you can! The views are breathtaking! In the total time we were there we drove on it from Monterey to Fort Bragg. Some of our best weekend getaways were driving along the coast just taking it all in!

    In Palo Alto, there are a ton of restaurants and shops on University Ave. We ate at several of them and they were all good (Pluto’s stands out – it’s cafeteria style, so not date night worthy). We didn’t spend much time there, but there was always a lot of people and a fun place to just walk around.

    Other people will be able to give better ideas for San Francisco. We did a lot of touristy stuff and not much else. Pier 39 is fun to see once and we also did the Alcatraz tour once and it was worth it and neat to see!

    I found the visitors guide we came up with when people were visiting, so I’ll email that to you. If I think of anything else, I’ll let you know!

    Jenna Reply:

    Do you think driving along highway 1 at night while pregnant will make me sick? I can’t tell how twisty it is based on Google Maps :)

    Heidi S Reply:

    Depending on the area, it might. I recall the twists north of San Fran worse then the ones we encountered South of there. If heights/long drops with tiny guard rails saving you make you sick, you might want to wait! :)

    Kristin ~ Bien Living Design Reply:

    I drove on it not pregnant & it made me sick! It is just gorgeous though, so perhaps wait until T2 is here :)

    Kristin ~ Bien Living Design Reply:

    I should add that the long drive I took was north of San Franciso, which is more twisty (as Heidi pointed out!).

    Zoe Reply:

    Having driven HWY-1 through central California (Hearst Castle area) and then just today up north (to Tomales Bay), I would have to say YES, it is an incredibly beautiful but nauseating drive. I had to take over driving both trips because it was too difficult being a passenger. :(

    Chris Saunders Reply:

    Kelli just told me you moved here. Awesome. I think you will love it. Pluto’s is awesome and when you go there make sure you get their oatmeal carmel bar. Actually, get two. They are divine. If you go to Santa Cruz, make sure to check out Capitola (just south of SC) and go to Gail’s deli and bakery. Brie does a ton of fun bay area things with her mother’s group. I’ll tell her to make sure to post some ideas for you. I also concur about the lobster rolls at Sam’s in Half Moon Bay. There is so much amazing natural beauty in the bay area AND so much fun and beautiful man-made things to see. A favorite grocery store down there is Draegers. You’ll love all the cute things in their home department upstairs. We have one up here in Blackhawk. When you have to serve breakfast to a crown, go to Dragers and buy their spinach quiche. You will thank me. : ) A favorite cheaper eats in SF is Pacific Catch in the marina. Worth a stop. I always get their ahi wasabi sandwich, and their sweet potato fries are the best I’ve had.

    I could go on and on….and maybe I’ll add a couple more later, but I better go enjoy Lake Tahoe while I’m here.

    PS: I was sick like you with my first pregnancy and with my twin pregnancy. I felt much better by 5 months. I hope yours doesn’t last.

    Best wishes in your new home.

    Jenna Reply:

    Thanks Chris! I’m just shy of 5 months and finally feeIng better!

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  3. It’s been 10 years since I left Palo Alto and sadly I haven’t been back, so I don’t have any good suggestions. I just wanted to say how much I LOVED living in that area. Gorgeous landscape, awesome weather…oh man, I miss it like crazy! I live in Houston now and it just doesn’t compare!

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  4. Cheeseboard collective in Berkley!

    Megan Reply:

    I second this! AMAZING!!!

    Jenna Reply:

    Haha, I already have that one bookmarked :)

    Amie Reply:

    There is also Arizmendi bakery, which is a chain of cooperative bakeries that are “sisters” to Cheeseboard. They have the same set up with their pizzas and there are several of them all over the bay area (in San Francisco and Oakland that I know of) so they may be closer to you than Cheeseboard (though I definitely heart cheeseboard). They all have slightly different styles, so you can try them all! There is also a biking/hiking trail along the bay on the peninsula side that could be fun for an easy outing. I think it goes through coyote point, where there is a parking lot, but I’m not sure where it starts and ends.

    Also – to cross the bay you have to pay toll one way (going west) but not the other. Some bridges also have a discounted price ($1 off) if you have fastrak (which makes crossing bridges MUCH easier). You can pick it up for free at safeway, costco, walgreens and a number of other places.

    Jenna Reply:

    Thanks so much for the toll explanation. Very helpful :)

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  5. Oh I love this topic! (and am looking forward to seeing everyone’s cool suggestions: even though we don’t live there anymore, we visit often and since we’re then on vacation, have lots of free time!).

    Family outings: Museums: Children’s Discovery Museum (San Jose), CuriOdyssey at Coyote Point (very cool museum w. rescued native wildlife like foxes and otters, Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center (I took my daughter here and she loved it); Parks: Fairyland in Oakland (T1 is just about the right age to love this place); Los Gatos Oak Meadow Park (carousel, train, historic airplane etc); Ardenwood Historic Farm (working farm but as if it was 1850: it’s in Fremont so not that far).

    Half-day trips: Santa Cruz Mountains (Big Basin State Park, Roaring Camp Railroad), Ano Nuevo (elephant seals!!), and of course San Francisco (Golden Gate Park, cable cars, NW corner, Fort Mason, Embarcadero, North Beach).

    I don’t know about Palo Alto’s dining scene, but you should go get dim sum at Koi Palace (during the day, not for dinner). Cafe Gratitude is pretty different (you order by saying ‘I am spiritual’ or whatever and it’s organic vegan raw food). Supperclub and Foreign Cinema are both kind of experience dining places (with multimedia).

    Date night: how about stargazing? You could go to a public night at the observatory: it’s fun, really! Or concerts at Stanford (the student ones will be very cheap or free: look here: http://music.stanford.edu/Events/calendar.html).

    Guests always want to visit Alcatraz (cool) and Fisherman’s Wharf (awful). My Korean roommate loved the Castro, Sausalito and Muir Woods.

    Santa Cruz is fun (I lived there for 5 years) and has a lot to do. It’s not really beachy but next door Capitola is. Half Moon Bay is more naturally beautiful and low-key if you just want to sit and look at the sea.

    Jenna Reply:

    I’ll be in touch about my Santa Cruz ideas to see if you think it’s worth the drive for us

    Courtney Reply:

    I LOVE Capitola! Especially Gayle’s Bakery. It’s a must!

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  6. I don’t know many places in the Bay, but I highly recommend a trip to South Lake
    Tahoe in September. It’s the best time of year to visit.

    Heidi S Reply:

    I definitely agree!

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  7. I would like to add the Point Reyes National Seashore and Point Reyes Station. When I was in school at Berkeley I did research out there, and visited 2-3 times a week September through June…..it was ALWAYS gorgeous!

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  8. You are going to love the Bay Area! Everything is so accessible!

    There are a ton of places I would recommend, but the main two (both are in SJ) are:

    Happy Hollow Park and Zoo- Super fun small zoo and family park. There is a petting zoo and then a smaller zoo with (non pet-able animals) . They also have a huge play structure and little rides for kiddos. We have a season pass and go frequently. It’s open year round.

    Santana Row is great for the whole family and date night. It’s an outdoor, upscale shopping center with lots of great restaurants.

    Enjoy there area! There’s so much to do and the weather is (almost) always great!

    Lisa Reply:

    Sara is so right about Happy Hollow. The best place ever for pre-schoolers, and their moms. Find another mom with a kid the same age and you can spend hours there. Ride the train:).

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  9. We first tried soup dumplings/xiao long bao at Shanghai Dumpling King in San Francisco. Inexpensive and delicious!

    Grace Reply:

    OMG Shanghai Dumpling King! I love that restaurant. It’s not fancy at all (typical cheap Chinese restaurant aesthetic, neon lights and shrine to Guan Yu) but the food is great and authentic. Xiao long bao, lion head meatballs, dou miao and spicy won ton…mmm. Service is also typical cheap Chinese restaurant (speedy and somewhat rude). Not romantic but certainly adventurous.

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  10. Welcome to the Bay Area!

    San Francisco Exploratorium (you must also try the tactile dome. fun for kids and adults)
    San Jose Tech Muesuem (for tech lovers and there’s an area designed just for kids)
    Oakland Chabot Space & Science Center (all the exhibits, shows, and events are awesome for adults and kids alike)

    San Francisco Dotties True Blue Cafe (good ole american diner. you must try the grilled chili corn bread. wait is unbelievable long, upwards of 1.5 hours!!!)
    Berkeley/Oakland Zachary’s Chicago Pizza (you must try the deep dish pizzas . fave toppings are chicken and basil)
    San Francisco Mitchell’s Ice Cream (how can you not say no to yummy ice cream? wait can be upwards of 30 mins)

    Oh, if you are still considering a trip to Santa Cruz this next week, stop by The Mystery Spot.
    It’s an optical illsuion type of tour. Runs about 15 – 20 mins.

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  11. I’d reserve any Napa/Sonoma foodie cravings for a weekend with an overnight stay… it’s about a 4 hour RT (w/no traffic) for you to get to Yountville (French Laundry). I know we get tired from a day-trip for brunch/lunch and it’s less than half that!

    Big weekend activities for T1: Happy Hollow & Gilroy Gardens are great day trips for the little ones – both have season passes. Roaring Camp up in the Santa Cruz Mtns is wonderful as well for the train-obsessed – take a picnic lunch and enjoy the scenery. Academy of Sciences in SF. Picking strawberries at a berry farm in Watsonville. Coyote Point for a day near the water and Curiodyssey museum. Elkhorn Slough (or further to Monterey) for a kayak trip. And if you end up in Monterey, the Aquarium of course & Dennis the Menace park.

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  12. santana row is awesome in san jose, santa clara area.

    Lisa Reply:

    Heck, you can amuse a pre-schooler at the Stanford Shopping Center:). Climb on bench, look at the frog fountain, eat cupcakes….

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  13. Someone above mentioned Bona, the Polish restaurant in Menlo Park. I am Polish, and I loved going there when we lived in Mountain View. It’s run by Polish owners, and very well done. I am usually skeptical of Polish restaurants in America, but this one was a winner.

    I would also suggest the following:
    -Shoreline Park: Great for walking around the little lake; great playground; just a very nice place to go let your kiddo run around for a while

    -Downtown Mountain View is worth checking out. Mountain View is right next to Palo Alto, so very close to you. It’s not big, but lots of fun restaurants, cafes, book stores, etc. for browsing. They do free concerts in the summer where they block off the entire downtown area from cars, and several festivals throughout the year, all great for kids.
    http://www.mountainview.gov/city_hall/comm_services/recreation_programs_and_services/community_events/summer_concert_series.asp

    -Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve (http://www.openspace.org/preserves/pr_rancho_san_antonio.asp):
    awesome place for walking; light hiking; great scenery; and a little petting zoo farm!

    -Mountain View Farmers’ Market: one of the biggest in California; every Sunday morning at the Mountain View train station

    For small day trips. Or half trips, but beware, traffic can be crazy on weekends, so a “half day” trip is tough anywhere in the bay area.

    -Half Moon Bay: cute town, gorgeous coastline, and a a lovely drive from the Palo Alto area to get there.

    -Capitola Beach: fun beach with kids; lots of little shops and restaurants to check and a sandy beach great for kiddos

    -For a full day trip: Carmel is a gorgeous area to check out. And also, even farther south, but amazingly beautiful, Big Sur.

    Have fun on the peninsula! It’s definitely an amazing place to live!

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  14. Katherine (aka Sparkles) says:

    I didn’t read all the comments– But most of the suggestions ARE AWESOME.
    There are soooo many good things about the Bay Area!!! LOVE IT x100!!!! (note enthusiasm?)
    However in THE AREA we love
    1. 17 mile drive
    2. Montereey Aquarium
    3. Golden Gate Park
    4. Muir woods!

    Somewhere up north of San Fran is the jelly belly factory, Santa Rosa Charlie Brown Museum… Lots of things to do (contrary to belief) in Napa. there is a kids kitchen! Bounce house play place, a sci discovery center, fire dept has a museum there…

    OMG if we could live there that would be lovely. But my entire family lives within 10 min of us down here in SoCal. We have Disney and Zoo passes. So if you ever come down to SoCal I would love to join you guys on an outing. :o) I am DOWN with anything outdoorsy!

    LifeOnMulberry Reply:

    Echoing Muir Woods, although this is in the North Bay, so might be a trickier adventure. If you’re feeling like you want some more interesting exercise, Jenna you could think about this before T2 comes. From what I remember, its all very mild walking on well established trails. Just past Sausalito (cute little town facing SF, just on the other side of the GG Bridge).

    Muir Woods and the parks around Mt Tam were favorites for us when we lived in SF. I’m having a hard time coming up with “family friendly” ideas though, having almost no experience traveling or planning an outing with kids.

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  15. I haven’t read through all the comments so someone may have already mentioned it, but I loved Calaveras Big Trees State Park. It’s not too far from the Bay Area (like a half hour?) and would make a great half-day trip, or day trip if you really love the outdoors. It’s beautiful, and as the name states has really big trees :).

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  16. We live in San Jose and I am BURSTING with suggestions for you. I was so excited when I heard you’d be in this area, I think you’ll just love it!

    I would suggest Half Moon Bay as opposed to Santa Cruz, you can get there by driving North on 280 a bit and then taking 92 down the hill. It’s a much better road then 17 or any of the other along the coast roads and definitely doable pregnant. They have an amazing pumpkin festival in Oct that could be fun with T1…although get there early or it is packed!

    I love Berry/Apple picking south in Watsonville area. There is a great place called Gizditch Ranch south of San Jose and they have pick your own apples and berries…very fun.

    For a quick afternoon activity I would head up to the city and go to Crissy Field. It’s a big park right along the water and perfect for a picnic or kite flying or just running around. The Beach Chalet is also fun and in that area, it’s a restaurant with a more laid back vibe and is right on the water.

    I would recommend North Lake Tahoe (Truckee area) over South Lake. South Lake can get more touristy and casino’ey (is that a word?) Truckee and North Shore is more small restaurants and shops and a bit more family friendly in my opinion. Great place for a fall weekend!

    In terms of things closer to Palo Alto…
    The Discovery Museum in San Jose is apparently amazing for kids.
    Our favorite date night restaurants are: Zibbibo in Palo Alto (great ambiance and local ingredients) and La Fondue in Saratoga (Fondue with really creative dippers alligator and amazing ambiance)
    Of course I’m a bit partial as I’m the owner but I have a business in San Jose that offers Cooking Classes, most of the classes have wine pairings (and I know you guys don’t drink) but plenty of people just skip that part. We have a guest chef from Italy coming for some classes in Oct… http://www.savory-kitchen.com

    On a side note I’m expecting my first in late October…yay! If you’d like to meet up or get some tea or coffee some time let me know!

    Jenna Reply:

    Your menus look sooooo good! I’ve been looking into cooking class’s, but I do hate paying for alcohol when I don’t plan on drinking it. I realize it’s the point of your classes, but if you ever do one where wine is optional let me know, okay?

    LifeOnMulberry Reply:

    Crissy Field is great and super close (walkable, even for a little one) to the Exploratorium, next to my personal favorite – Palace of Fine Arts! The Exploratorium is probably better for T1 once he’s a little older (5 or 6?). But again… no children so this is all conjecture about what’s age appropriate.

    Beach Chalet is actually on the west side of SF, next to Golden Gate Park. There is a section of GG Park with two windmills and there used to be buffalo or bison in there too. So random. But that might be an interesting trip to see wildlife if you’re in the city.

    The pumpkin festival in Half Moon Bay is awesome! I can’t remember the name of it, but there used to be a restaurant close to the water there that had outdoor fire pits and blankets, and you could roast marshmellows and have hot chocolate while watching the waves (albeit over the road). A good date day or one night getaway for you and TH.

    Karin Reply:

    You may be thinking of Moss Beach Distillery. It has fire pits and blankets. Great spot to be in at sunset!

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  17. Just a quick mention of a restauraunt my husband and I really enjoyed while we were in SF last year.

    Isa in the Marina/Presido area of San Francisco. Definitely a nice, fairly expensive date night restaurant. It’s a multi-course, small plate, French style, long, delicious dinner kind of place. http://www.isarestaurant.com/index.html

    Just saw that Sunday thru Thursday they have a 3 course prix fixe for $30/person.

    Specifically the Baked Goat cheese is a dish I’m still thinking about 18 months later…

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  18. I’m totally bookmarking this to mooch off all these awesome ideas. My brain is fried today so my only useful suggestion at the moment is: play with Amy and Maya!

    Jenna Reply:

    You’re on my list!

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  19. You’ve gotten great suggestions.

    I will add a couple of Palo Alto specific places:
    1. Palo alto junior museum – this place is small, but great when you want something inexpensive to do other than the park and you don’t want to drive far.
    2. Mitchell park splash pad – I’m not sure when this shuts down for the season, but my water loving toddler has fun here.
    3. Rinconda pool – I think the recreation swimming ends after September, but this is a good pool for small kids.
    4. UMe in Menlo Park – this place is nice, but expensive. I have only gone on when they were running a half price special.
    5. Bumble in Los Altos – this is a cafe with drop in daycare. It is expensive and the food is mediocre, but I love this place for days when I am at my breaking point and really just need an hour kid free to read a book and drink some tea.

    I’ll be back at some point with other suggestions, but I need to go stop my toddler from using our dog as a couch. :)

    JamieH Reply:

    Okay, back with some date night sugestions:
    1. Watercourse Way – share a hot tub / sauna and / or get massages together. Very relaxing and romantic.
    2. Winter Lodge Ice Skating – outdoor rink in Palo Alto. Possibly not exciting since you just lived in Chicago, but it can be fun.
    3. Planet Granite Rockclimbing – In sunnyvale. Fun if you’re looking for an active date.
    4. Campo di Bocce – in Los Gatos. Bocce ball and dinner.
    5. Salsa dancing – there are a few places around here
    6. Seeing a talk – there are a few speaker series around here. The Peninsula Speaker Series is one. Stanford hosts another I believe.
    7. Go on a hike and to a casual dinner. All of the restaurants around here are pretty casual, or you could do a picnic. There are tons of great hiking areas. :)

    Jenna Reply:

    Bumble is pricey, but what an awesome concept! Would be a perfect place to meet wedding clients without the need to hire a babysitter.

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  20. You MUST go to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk! Check out the Crow’s Nest restaurant on the wharf, maybe walk around the gorgeous campus of UC Santa Cruz, and go to Pizza My Heart on Pacific Ave!

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  21. After living there for two years for school, CANNOT miss pizza in Berkeley:
    http://cheeseboardcollective.coop/pizza
    The masses have spoken: http://www.yelp.com/biz/cheese-board-pizza-berkeley#query:cheeseboard

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  22. The steam train that runs from The redwood forest in Felton to Santa Cruz is so much fun for kids. You can sit in open air cars etc.

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  23. Come on down to Monterey for a day trip! The aquarium is beautiful and Dennis the mennis park is a hit with little kids there is a beautiful state park (point lobos) for hiking and pictures!

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  24. I don’t have suggestions at the moment (well, I’m not a local so I shouldn’t suggest anything) but I wanted to say that my parents were having dinner at French Laundry once and Martha Stewart was there. I am sort of in love with her and I gasped out loud. It’s probably best I wasn’t there…

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  25. Hi Jenna,

    Check out my board http://pinterest.com/jmoreaucook/things-to-do-with-kids-in-sf-bay-area/, there are some great activities for families with younger kids.

    I have also heard good reviews for Gilroy Gardens, I have not been there myself yet, but heard it is good for the preschool elementary crowd. http://www.gilroygardens.org

    I haven’t commented on here in a while, but I grew up in Central WA as well, I am about the same age, was married around the same time, and have two girls (3 years old and 14 months old), and now live in the SF Bay area as well (Mountain View). If you want to get together sometime, let me know.

    Jenna Reply:

    Jen – ill be n touch, and thank you for the Pinterest board link!

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  26. Oh and for a date, not sure if you guys are into cheese, but this could be neat, still waiting to give it a try with my husband. The Cheese School of SF https://cheeseschoolsf.3dcartstores.com

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  27. Capitola is almost right next door to Santa Cruz and a lot nicer beach/less grungy. It’s an adorable beach town with little candy stores and boutiques and local restaurants. the beach is very clean, i think you would love it.

    capitola pic: http://www.gogobot.com/capitola-ca

    I would also suggest taking a walk in “the dish.” it’s a popular hiking/walking spot right near the Stanford campus that locals love! Definitely explore University Avenue, there are a ton of amazing restaurants and stores

    Date night: check out the old fashioned movie theater on University Ave! They show old movies every day!

    Berkeley is actually further to drive to than San Francisco FYI, so if you are deciding between the two cities, San Francisco has so much more to do and is a quick drive up the 280 freeway (101 has too much traffic, always take 280!)

    Jenna Reply:

    Capitola reminds me of Cinque Terre. We have to go!!!

    Elizabeth Reply:

    I lived in Santa Cruz for a few years. It is touristy but also very lovely! Especially nice if you aren’t there on a Saturday! You should definately go to Gayle’s Bakery in Capitola. SOoooooo delicious. They have baked goods and pre made lunch foods like a deli counter. I make sure to stop at Gayle’s every time I am in ther area.

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  28. Hooray for the Bay Area! These are some things that I LOVED doing as a kid, and some that I love to do now for dates with my husband :)

    Monterey Bay Aquarium http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/

    This is an amazing aquarium! Check under the Tickets>Corporate/Credit Union Program to see if TH’s company participates. My dad worked at the Chevron Corporate offices and they participated, and it was so nice! I loved it as a kid, it was a place I could spend hours in. It is also great for little babies too! I took Carmen when she was 4mos old and she loved the movement and was completely mesmerized and quiet the whole time we were there.

    Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkley

    This was a go-to for my family when it was rainy and cold and my mom wanted us to have fun. I still remember learning about earthquakes, how barcodes work, and my youngest sibling was three when we started going and I know he LOVED it there. It seems like there is something for every age, and the view up there is killer too.

    Oakland Zoo http://www.oaklandzoo.org/

    I actually prefer this zoo to the SF zoo, and some may disagree. I love that it is in the Oakland Hills, the open layout of the zoo, and that there is a huge variety of animals there. I take Carmen whenever we go to visit my parents, and it never fails to impress her! I really think T1 would enjoy it, and as a parent it is so fun to watch their excitement as they see all the animals. It would be an awesome activity for vocabulary, just describing the animals, what they are doing etc. alone would be great for him!

    Children’s Creativity Museum in SF http://creativity.org/programs/early-birdles/

    This is a museum that can grow with your children. They have things for 5 and under multiple times a week, and later on when they are older they can enjoy the other activities that help enrich their creative abilities and foster their imagination. I wish there was something similar near where we live because kids love this place!

    SF MOMA in Golden Gate Park http://www.sfmoma.org/

    I took Carmen here and she loved it. I know people don’t think to take a toddler to an Art Museum, but she was super well-behaved and enjoyed looking at all the art. Afterward we enjoyed walking through a portion of the park, it was a great pre-nap activity for her! I also think it would make a fun date night, there is a huge range of art at the museum, something for everybody.

    Point Bonita Lighthouse http://www.nps.gov/goga/upload/sb-pobo.pdf

    This is a fun little half day trip, there are tons of trails, a small beach next to a marine observatory housed in what used to be an outlook post during WWII. The lighthouse is fun too, you go over a foot bridge and walk through a tunnel to get to it, and the views alone of SF are incredible. Make sure you go on a Sat, Sun, or Mon, between 12:30-3:30 though if you want to get to the lighthouse…any other time they will close the tunnel :( It is perfect for bringing a picnic and spending a portion of the day letting T1 explore, and the adults taking in the gorgeousness of it all!

    Also Carmel by the Sea (http://www.carmelcalifornia.com/), Big Sur (http://wikitravel.org/en/Big_Sur), and San Luis Obispo (http://wikitravel.org/en/San_Luis_Obispo) are great weekend trips. I love these places and there is always something to do or see, and the feel of them is a lot more laid back than the pace of life around the Bay.
    Date Nights:

    Mustards Grill in Napa http://mustardsgrill.com/menus/main

    If you ever need a place to eat while in Napa, THIS IS THE PLACE! I love going there, and the ambiance in the evenings is perfect, it is like you are at a cozy restaurant and somehow it manages to be just quiet enough, while still being busy. If you go get the Daily Lamb (it is locally raised) with plum reduction…I had that a few years ago and still think about it. It is that good! I haven’t had it since, because I always want to try something new, however nothing has lived up to it since!

    Stanford Theatre http://www.stanfordtheatre.org/

    I have had lots of friends who attended Stanford love this place! They play classic movies, which is a fun change of pace on a date night. I haven’t been, but it is on the books for me when I have a chance to go.

    Union Square SF at Christmas

    I love coming here for the shopping year round, but Christmas time is extra fun. They do a huge tree, an outdoor rink, and lots of window displays in the huge stores for the holidays.

    Oakland Temple Christmas lights

    This is fun, they always have things going on with performances throughout the holiday season, the lights turn on Thanksgiving Weekend, and the feel is way different than Temple Square-think palm trees covered in lights :) We used to stop and get hot chocolate as a family somewhere close and then go look at the lights as we drank our little cups of cocoa.

    I could put more…but this is already crazy long so I will call it quits here. If you want more ideas, especially the Napa/Sonoma areas let me know since that is where I grew up :) I am excited for you guys, I know you will love it there!

    Jenna Reply:

    Thanks so much! Still sorry we didn’t meet up in Utah. Darn pregnancy sickness!

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  29. Lots of great suggestions are already out there, so I’ll try not to repeat too many of them:

    In Palo Alto, we really like NOLA for dinner. It is a casual, yet fun resturant with yummy food! If you want a good Saturday afternoon option in the fall, I recommend checking out a Stanford football game.

    In San Jose, there is the Discovery Musuem, the San Jose Musuem of Modern Art, Happy Hollow, also the San Jose Giants (a minor league team that has all the fun aspects of a small town game, with activities for kids, fun mascot, cheap tickets, and they let the kids run the bases at the end of the game). During the holiday season, there is Christmas in the Park. It runs from the Friday after Thanksgiving (with a tree lighting) until New Years. It’s FREE. The Cathedral next door to the park also does free concerts the two weeks leading up to Christmas.

    I think I’ve mentioned this before, but check out The Dish — it is a great 3.5 mile loop in Stanford that you can walk or run (strollers allowed). On a clear day you can see all of Palo Alto and out to the bay.

    Probably ending about now, but San Carlos does free music in the park on Thursday nights, I believe.

    If you like live music, I also recommend Poor House Bistro in San Jose. It is a New Orleans themed restuarant. Live music almost every night – for free. The food is good, not great, but also not pricey. We love taking visitors there.

    I’d vote Half Moon Bay over Santa Cruz, but also second the Capitola/Monterey recommendations.

    I’ve lived here for 10 years, and grew up near Berkeley, so if you need more recommendations, let me know. I think you guys will love living out here.

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  30. Jennifer T. says:

    So many great suggestions already! I grew up on the Peninsula and currently live in Redwood City, which is super close to Palo Alto. And my husband works at Stanford. Here is my two cents:
    _ you must go to the Farmer’s Market on California Ave (in Palo Alto) on Sunday mornings, it truly is the best one in the bay area
    - Stanford shopping mall is a big open air mall, it has beautiful flowers and is a nice place to stroll around and get some shopping done. Max’s is a bay area institution and save room for dessert.
    -Check out the Mid-Peninsula Open Space preserve for some great hiking options. The bay trails are flat and easy and the skyline trails are more difficult but the views are worth it.
    -Santa Cruz is okay and if you are worried about getting nauseous then highway 17 is not for you at all. I prefer taking Highway 92 over to half moon bay, which is a quainter town. Do not miss the wonderful pumpkin patches along 92 in the fall. I have the most amazing memories of going there as a child.
    -Downtown Redwood City hosts all sorts of free movie, music and dancing nights. They also have a lot of family friendly events on the weekends. http://www.redwoodcity.org/events
    -All the places in San Jose and San Francisco are wonderful, but I will say with traffic and a busy life you will probably find yourself staying closer to home. Check out the Town & Country Center (in Palo Alto) for great resturants. Calafia is one of my favorites, Scott’s Seafood has a great brunch and Kara’s cupcakes are the best! (way better than Sprinkles which is in the Stanford Shopping Center).
    -So many more places to list. Like I said I’ve lived here my whole life, so please feel free to email me if you need any other recommendations. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else, so I hope you love it here :)

    Jenna Reply:

    The Redwood City salsa festival in late September look so fun! I really hope we can go.

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  31. There is so much to do in the Bay Area, and everything you could ever want is within a couple hours drive. Beaches, lakes, rivers, deserts, snow & mountains! You are going to love it!
    1. San Francisco Exploratorium- As others have said it’s the bomb!
    2. Seward Slides (I almost hate posting this in public because it’s such a gem. More fun for adults than kiddies sometimes.:))
    3. Muir Woods Such – a beautiful place to explore!
    4. Fort Mason/Crissy field/ Off the Grid -lovely views of the Golden Gate and a little history too and yummy food when the “gourmet food trucks” are there.
    5. Golden Gate – Another place to explore there are so many tucked away fields and gardens it’s a fun way to spend the day.

    Hope this is even a tad bit helpful.

    Jenna Reply:

    I am really looking forward to the day when T1 is old enough for the Seward Slides. Those look so fun!

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  32. Also check out http://www.funcheapsf.com
    There are a bunch of free and cheap events listed in the Bay Area, including the free museum days, free concerts etc.

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  33. Sounds like everyone has mentioned all the good stuff already. Santa Cruz is the beach I would go to – it’s definitely my favorite place to visit when I’m around there. And of course you can stop by Monterrey on the way and do the aquarium and pier and whatnot. Just DO NOT go whale watching. That is not an activity for a pregnant woman! Have fun! Oh and if you decide to do a bay area meet-up let me know!

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  34. There’s about a million touristy things to do in San Francisco…well, in Northern California, in general. But you MUST make a trip out of seeing the the redwoods! Also, there are a lot of old missions you can go explore…they dot the entire coast. If you’re into Disney, the Walt Disney Family Museum is in San Francisco…as are a million other fascinating museums of one sort or the other.

    Also, as a side note, this is not specifically San Fran-related but there are a lot of amazing things to explore in the rest of Northern California…Sacramento has a fabulous old downtown with cobbled streets and everything, Sutter’s Fort, the state capital building/grounds are really beautiful/interesting, there are a lot of old gold mines, you can go white water rafting, visit Tahoe…and on and on…

    You really picked a fabulous place to live…I LOVE the bay area! The City is my favorite city in the world. It is gorgeous and overflowing with culture. You can spend a lifetime in the bay area and still not see or explore everything there is to do!

    All I’m sayin’ is…I love Northern California. :)

    Hannah Reply:

    OH, and if you like ice cream you MUST go to Fenton’s in Oakland (http://www.fentonscreamery.com/). It’s DELICIOUS…and fun fact, it’s the little ice cream shop featured in the movie “Up!”

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  35. Since T1 is only a couple of months older than my Zoom :) here are a few toddler faves:

    1. Currioddyssey – in Burlingame, not far from Palo Alto – small zoo and play area, good playground near there
    2. Palo Alto Junior Zoo and Museum – they take donations, but you don’t have to pay to go
    3. Happy Hollow – Park and Zoo in San Jose
    4. Gilroy Gardens – amusement park (horticulturally themed) in Gilroy, about 45 mins from you in PA
    5. Ardenwood Farms in Fremont

    For a “nice” weekend at the beach, DON’T go to Santa Cruz. It’s grimey, packed, super touristy, and I find it gross. I was a camp counselor for years in Soquel, near there. Go to Capitola, or Half Moon Bay. If you want to go a little further, try Stinson, Temescal Bay, Monterrey, or Carmel. All are classy, quaint, fun.

    Play date, sometime? We are now in Fremont, which is across the bay, but we lived on the Peninsula for nearly 20 years and I’d gladly pop over and see you guys.

    Jenna Reply:

    Yes!!! I’ll email you. There are enough moms with kids that have commented about getting together, I’m thinking maybe a big group playdate would be fun!

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  36. I lived in Berkeley for 4 years while going to UC Berkeley so I have a ton of restaurant suggestions for you!
    In SF: Luna Park (goat cheese fondue, need I say more) in the mission district, El Farolito in the mission (best burritos ever), A16 for pizza/italian in the marina
    In Oakland: I second Fenton’s, yummm. The Art Walk on the first friday of every month would be a great free date night idea. And Genova’s deli has the best sandwiches I have ever eaten (there’s a location in Napa as well).
    In Berkeley: another vouch for Cheeseboard, it’s amazing!!! Also Trattoria for a nice date dinner, Ici for ice cream (former pastry chef from Chez Panisse), Cancun for Mexican. Also if you’re interested in cooking classes, I highly recommend Kitchen on Fire (wine not included so you won’t be paying for it). Concerts at the Greek Theatre are so fun, I love that venue. I have sooo many Berkeley recommendations but those are my favorites
    In Napa: there’s a petting zoo in Calistoga (my 2yo nephew loved it), Farmstead is my top restaurant recommendation, also Gott’s Roadside and La Condesa are good for lunch. Castello di Amoroso is a winery in a huge castle and you can do a tour without tasting, I know you don’t drink so that would be a cool activity to do during a weekend trip. Also go to the Culinary Institute for a non drinking activity- they have cooking demos, tours, and a fabulous but expensive restaurant.

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  37. Cute pic of T1! How’s he doing this summer? Is he talking more now? Does he understand both Polish and English?

    Jenna Reply:

    He still isn’t caught up where I think he needs to be, but he’s finally stringing two words together! And doing things I saw his (two month older) friend do T the beginning of the year like assigning ownership to items (“mama’s phone!”)

    He doesn’t hear Polish regularly, so at this point I think it’s unlikely he will pick it up.

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  38. I live in San Jose my whole life, and here are my suggestions. I have a toddler a few months younger than T1 and just gave birth to my second a month ago so my activities would probably be fitting to your current family component.

    -Happy Hallow Zoo: really good for young kids. I went trick-o-treatin there last year with my then 1 yr old and loved it because it was very well contained.
    -Oakland Zoo: really liked it, but DO NOT do this while pregnant. I went there last year while I was about 20 weeks pregnant and it was not a good idea because there are a lot of little hills there. I was trying to keep up with a mobile toddler and dragged my heavy pregnant body around was torture!
    -Santana Row: a really upscale area to hang out at for a few hours, with good restaurants and outdoor area.
    -Campbell Farmer’s market: I go here almost every Sunday and it’s open year round. One of the best farmer’s market in the Bay Area.
    -Great America in Santa Clara: the park is not ideal for young kids because the rides are scary, but it has a great waterpark that would be great for any water-loving kid.
    -Raging Waters: a great and huge water park. My daughter loves the water and it’s a great place to cool down in the summer.
    -Tahoe: Great place to ski/snowboard in the winter. I’m a huge snowboarder, though not recently since we started a family, and used to make the 4 hour drive each way most Saturdays in winter to board. There’s no place like it.
    -Gizdich Farm: went apple picking there last October and very much looking forward to returning to it this year. My toddler had so much fun!
    -Napa/Sonoma County: for wine and cheese or just for the view and the food since you’re not a drinker. Breathtaking place!
    -Garlic Festival in Gilroy – held every July so you missed this year. It’s one of those places that you’ll just have to go once just to check out. Don’t have to return again.
    -Crissy Field: Gorgeous field with the Golden Gate backdrop, would be great for your photography-loving heart.
    -Pier 39/Fisherman’s Wharf: touristy place that should be visited at least once.

    Elle Reply:

    Here are links to some of my posts on the above suggestions:
    Gizditch apple picking: http://www.pinkheartsbrown.com/2011/09/fallen-in-love.html
    Crissy Field: http://www.pinkheartsbrown.com/2011/09/non-laborous-weekend.html
    Santa Cruz Boardwalk/Oakland Zoo: http://www.pinkheartsbrown.com/2012/03/beach-and-zoo-in-winter.html
    Sonoma County/Petaluma: http://www.pinkheartsbrown.com/2011/10/extended-weekend.html

    Jenna Reply:

    A garlic festival! I’m so glad you told me about this.

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  39. Late to this bandwagon and you have some excellent suggestions! I spent a year at UCSC and Santa Cruz can be touristy but there are some really cool spots including the Marine Lab and Natural Bridges (butterfly awesomeness) and tide pooling! http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=541

    Monterey is also fantastic and the coast is just a blast: Año Nuevo State Park is totally worth a day trip. Overall, I think you will find a lot of great things about living in CA and having access to local stuff. I am crazing a real fish taco just thinking about it ;-)

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  40. Thinking about your Tumblr post on ghost apples… could they be Nashi pears? http://www.only-cookware.com/blog/2007/11/28/the-delightful-delectable-nashi-pear/

    I saw them at the grocery today under the name “apple pears” and I thought of you!

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  41. So glad you’ve started this discussion! We’ve been in San Jose for about a year and are always looking for more to do!

    I have to agree with Happy Hollow, It’s very toddler friendly! There’s also a Japanese Garden nearby (same parking area) that’s nice to visit.

    Big Sur is great, and Julia Pfeiffer burns state park is nearby too- This was more of a weekend trip for us.

    We went to Big Basin last weekend and it was awesome! We’ll be going back more often.

    We also like the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, which has a nice outer garden-y area- not so kid-friendly though. Our daughter was only 8 months when we went last year, and fell asleep while we looked around in the museum part.

    Santa Cruz can get VERY busy, but there are smaller beach areas (the one we found is next to a small campground) where there are less people.

    Half Moon Bay is GORGEOUS, more of a green/grassy beach than a sandy one. It seems to be pretty cold and windy most of the time. Last time we went was in July. Half Moon Bay Brewing Company (a restaurant) has a nice outdoor seating area with fire-pits to sit around, which is nice when it gets chilly. Food was pretty good, too!

    I don’t really have any food suggestions (we usually eat at home- I LOVE to cook!), but in Monterey there is a small pizza place called Pelican Pizza, where we ate at during out last visit, and it was THE BEST pizza we’ve ever had. Someone mentioned Pizza My Heart, which is for us normal delivery type pizza (had it last night, in fact!). Yeah. Pelican Pizza is easily 100xs better (different city, I know!).

    Anyway, I’m definitely ‘borrowing’ some of these ideas!

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  42. Hi Jenna! You photographed my wedding back in 09 in El Paso. You will love the Peninsula! We have been living here for 11+ years and I cannot bear to think we may have to leave one day.

    I highly recommend Watercourse Way for a date night. If you put money into an account with them you get discounts on their services. I highly recommend an hour of a tub with the hubby for a great date.

    I just had a baby and I don’t know what I have would have done without massage at Verde touch. Did wonders for all the aches and pains.

    In terms of food, we love Rice Thai, Shiok (their roti prata is to DIE for), and many many more. I know you love froyo and organic food, so you’d probably enjoy Fraiche.

    I would highly recommend Stanford as a great fun place for you and T1, it’s a huge campus and you can never go wrong exploring. I have found that kids his age love going up Hoover Tower and looking at all the gears up top. The Palo Alto Junior Zoo is also great and we are lucky to have lots and lots of parks around here.

    Anyways, I have a gazillion recommendations from my time nannying 2 boys and I’d be happy to meet up and chat more.

    Best of luck!

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  43. Oren’s Hummus is a fabulous, inexpensive, casual Israeli restaurant in downtown Palo Alto. Really delicious and authentic. The Stanford Mall is also fun and upscale with lots of casual eating options.

    Weekend outings with kids:

    SF Ferry Building (Farmers Market on weekend is superb; lots of places to eat; where San Franciscans hang out with or without their kids);

    Yerba Buena Gardens and Metreon in SF;

    Tilden Park in Berkeley (so much to do… carrousel, hikes, etc etc);

    Golden Gate Park in SF;

    Academy of Sciences in SF (the rain forest and aquarium alone are worth the trip);

    Monterey Bay Aquarium (also wonderful for adults and that have a huge play area for kids); you can combine it with a stroll around downtown Carmel and the 17 Mile Drive around Pacific Grove; check out the Monarch Butterflies at Pacific Grove too (check the season before you go);

    Children Fairyland in Oakland (actually inspired Disneyland); if you go, there are so many wonderful places to eat in the area (like Boot & Shoe Service, Sidebar, Holy Land, Mezze, Arizmendi Bakery, etc) AND it’s totally safe (the bad areas of Oakland are not even close). I second the suggestion to check put the ice cream at Fentons (this actually the ice cream parlor that was used in the movie UP since Pixar is just around the corner in Emeryville).

    Beaches (go in September-October, i.e. our Indian Summer; beaches in Northern Cal are far too cold in the Summer time because of the fog):
    Baker Beach; Stinson Beach; Santa Cruz; Carmel; Ocean Beach (in SF; huge beach; bring sweaters; you can eat at Cliff House or Beach Chalet for a classic SF moment and views); Rodeo Beach in Marin Headlands; Half Moon Bay.

    Too many awesome food places in SF and the East Bay (Oakland/Berkeley) to list here but here are some good sources to find kid-friendly, or date-worthy places:

    7X7 (every local reads it): http://www.7×7.com/ They always have great articles about weekend getaways, cheap places to eat, etc. Look in the archives for ideas.

    The Tablehopper (she’d a well-known local food blogger; she has a great book that recommends restaurants for different occasion; highly recommended): http://www.tablehopper.com/ http://www.tablehopper.com/book/

    Eater SF: http://sf.eater.com/

    Sunset Magazine (THE bible for anyone living in the West; great recipes; great ideas for getaways): http://www.sunset.com/

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  44. Santa Cruz is THE BEST for kids, even as young as T1. Also, he’s not too young for the Exploratorium in San Francisco. He’ll like it even more when he’s older, but my kids loved it when they were T1′s age and TH will definitely enjoy it. You might even like it.

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  45. I’m 4 years new(?) to the Bay Area and have enjoyed reading what others have suggested! What a great list!

    I would definitely recommend Dear Hollow Farm and Hidden Villa, both are near Stanford off of Foothill and are relatively cheap or free.

    For great food, University Ave: Tamarind (Asian Fusion), Sprout’s (organic salads and sandwiches) and Le Boulange (not to be confused with Le Boulanger).

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      I'm a farm-raised almost-crunchy stroller-pushing picture-taking lifestyle-blog-writing gastronomy-obsessed divine-seeking thrift-store-combing cheese-inhaling pavement-pounding laughter-sprinkling lover of individuality and taking chances.
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