Caring For Our Kids

Free family fun

Mother and daughter enjoying a free summer concert at Stern Grove photo: courtesy scott wall

The words “free” and “San Francisco” may seem like a bit of an oxymoron these days. With rents skyrocketing and the housing market red-hot, it is easy to feel priced out of our own city. However, there are still a few activities we can enjoy for free. Summer is a great time to get out and explore new parts of the city, venture to a new festival, or just break out of your routine and try something new. Listed below are a few of our family’s summer favorites. There is no cost of admission, and these are guaranteed to be great ways to enjoy a summer day.


Located just inside the Presidio on the main parade ground lawn, this is a “must do” for every family. Every Thursday evening and Sunday afternoon, the parade lawn turns into a huge picnic with the help of Off the Grid. There are food trucks, free games, live music, and all you have to do is bring a blanket and chairs. The Sunday picnics get crowded fast, especially when the weather is nice, so I suggest going early and getting food early before the lines get too long. There are corn hole tournaments, the YMCA’s YBike education and safety program, and Sports Basement is on hand lending out bocce ball sets, horseshoes, and even kites for flying. The Thursday evening “twilight” picnic isn’t usually as crowded, but if you get there early, you can secure chairs, a half tent to block the wind, and even a fire pit. There are always a wide variety of trucks, so you are sure to find something for even your fussiest eaters. More information can be found at


The CheckOutSF Family Pass may just be the best-kept secret in town. It is a great way to check out a museum or new exhibition without paying the price of admission. Families can get free admission to over 23 local attractions, including the California Academy of Sciences, the Exploratorium, zoo, and many local pools. You must be a San Francisco resident with children under the age of 18 and be a San Francisco Public Library cardholder. It is easy to use with a little bit of planning. The pass is available at any branch library and provides free admission for up to two adults and four children. You check it out just like a library book, and it is valid for one week. Using the family pass takes the pressure away from high admission costs and allows you to branch out and explore some new places such as the Cartoon Museum or the Asian Art Museum. Learn more about the CheckOutSF Family Pass at


This hidden gem is located in the Sunset District near the zoo. Nestled in a grove of eucalyptus trees, it offers admission-free concerts every Sunday from June through August at 2 p.m. The lineup of artists changes every season, and this summer you can enjoy anything and everything from the San Francisco Symphony to Sergio Mendes to The Zombies. It is a great way to enjoy a Sunday afternoon — all you need is a blanket to sit on and a picnic lunch. The music and the venue attract people from all over the Bay Area, but it truly is a unique San Francisco experience. It is one of the few places where you can see young and old dancing and singing together and enjoying live music in a pristine environment. It is also very family friendly and a great way to introduce your children to different types of music that don’t have anything to do with Justin Beiber or One Direction. For more information, including a full list of this season’s concerts, visit

Summer is a time for branching out and exploring new things. For our family, we love finding new activities we can do together, and it is even better when they don’t break the bank. These activities also provide a teachable moment that not everything has to cost money to be fun. In these three cases, free equals fun and a great opportunity for creating summer memories as a family.

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Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children. She was formerly a television producer in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. E-mail: [email protected]