Treat your kids (and yourself!) to a mini after-school adventure and a break in the routine. These four "quintessentially San Francisco" walks will remind you why it's great to live in the Bay Area: natural beauty, quirky charm, rich cultural history and, of course, a whole lot of deliciousness around every corner. So pack up the kids, meet up with some friends and prepare yourself for a way better than average afternoon snack and a whole lot of local flavor. There's a little something for everyone: from secret gardens, to liquid nitrogen, urban lakes, and Chinese egg custard tarts right out of the oven.
Secret Gardens and Food Trucks
For a bit of country in the city, we love the Fort Mason Community Garden (as you enter Fort Mason, just after the first stop sign, make a soft left around the little chapel. The gardens are immediately on your left.). It's a fabulous sunny day destination for a picnic snack, a game of hide-and-go-seek, or a lazy stroll. Soak in some tranquility as you wander among the 125 vegetable, fruit and flower beds tended by garden members. It's a great place for urban kids to see what their food looks like before it reaches the shelves at the market. For nearby nibbles try Readers' Café and Greens-to-Go, both located in Fort Mason Center (Marina Boulevard and Buchanan Street) then pop into the San Francisco Public Library's Book Bay (adjoining Reader's Café) where you can read a story and shop for gently used books. If you happen to be adventuring on a Friday, stick around for an early dinner at Off the Grid Fort Mason, a meet-up of some of the Bay Area's tastiest food trucks. With kids in tow, we recommend getting there at 5:00 p.m. when the event starts to avoid the big after-work crowds.
Cable Cars and Egg Custard Tarts
If you find yourself feeling intrepid and hungry for egg custard tarts, pack up the kids and head to Chinatown and the famed Golden Gate Bakery (1029 Grant Avenue between Jackson Street & Pacific Avenue). It's true that Chinatown can be a challenging place to visit with little ones—tough parking, crowded, narrow alleys—but your effort will be rewarded with some amazing and delicious discoveries around every corner (for hourly garage parking, the Portsmouth Square Garage is located on Kearny Street between Clay and Washington Streets). You'll have no trouble whiling away a few hours browsing the shops, visiting the Cable Car Museum (1201 Mason Street at Washington Street), and sampling dim sum, but no visit would be complete without a stop at Golden Gate Bakery. The egg custard tarts here are sublime and deserve to be on 7×7 Magazine's list of 100 things to eat in San Francisco before you die. They are jiggly-wiggly in the center, airy light, not-too-sweet, with a flaky crust that makes a "crunching sound" as you bite into it. Deceptively light which leads to you eating more than you should.
Liquid Nitrogen and Charcuterie
The little sliver of Patricia's Green (intersection of Octavia and Hayes Streets) is your launching pad for a hip Hayes Valley excursion. Let the kids loose to play and hang upside down on the rope climbing dome and scramble around the changing sculpture installations. Luckily, while all the blood is rushing to their heads, you can sit back and sip a cup of Blue Bottle Coffee from their original kiosk location (315 Linden Street). From Patricia's Green, you're just steps away from a few of our favorite foodie destinations. Smitten Ice Cream (432 Octavia Street at Linden), adjacent to the green, is located in a refurbished shipping container and makes some of the creamiest, dreamiest ice cream using a machine they created called the "Kelvin." The Kelvin uses liquid nitrogen to freeze made to order scoops in just 60 seconds making this the world's coolest after-school treat. It's just a short walk to the Fatted Calf (320 Fell Street between Octavia and Gough) where your little gourmets can sample house-made salami and charcuterie. While you're there, pick up some artisan cheese, butter, or pasta for dinner or tomorrow's lunchbox.
Chinese Bakeries and Urban Lakes
The Richmond District happens to be home to one of San Francisco's only natural fresh water lakes as well as our all-time favorite green onion bun. Combine the two and you've got the makings of a top-notch afterschool outing. First stop off at Clement Restaurant (621 Clement Street at 8th Avenue) and pick up a selection of pillowy, savory Chinese buns, then walk to the expansive but never-too-crowded Mountain Lake Park (enter from Lake Street at 9th or 12th Avenue). You'll want to take a peek at the lake and feed the ducks (if the seagulls haven't scared them away) and enjoy the park's many amenities from tennis and basketball courts to playgrounds and winding paths perfect for strollering and dog walking. If you take the path around the back side of the lake, you can connect with trails that wind through the rest of the magnificent Presidio National Park.
Stacie Dong and Simran Singh are San Francisco Bay Area moms and the creators of A Little Yumminess, a family food blog where they share spiced-up recipes and kid-friendly food adventures. You can also find them on Facebook.
Photo courtesy of A Little Yumminess.
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