Summer family challenge

Explore your own backyard this summer. Photo: feuers

Summer is almost here, and although those summer camps have been booked for months, there may be a little time yet to fill. My family loves a summer family challenge, and this year’s is focused on getting to know our city better. My kids know the area around their school, our home, and their practice fields, but I want them to know and feel comfortable exploring every part of the city. I am hoping this will be a great way to connect as a family, and a fun way to have an adventure — plus anytime away from a screen is sure to be time well spent for all. Here are some ideas for a summer family challenge:


We are fortunate to live in a city with more than 200 parks and public spaces. San Francisco also has the unique distinction of being the only city in the United States where every resident is within a 10-minute walk to a park or open space. Topping our list this summer is McLaren Park in the southwestern part of the city. It is a bit of a drive but well worth it. There are hiking paths and trails with great views, a pump track bike park, and soon to be home to two amazing playgrounds. It is the third largest park in San Francisco behind Golden Gate Park and the Presidio. Who knew?

Another hidden gem especially for older children in the Castro Seward Mini Park are the two long concrete slides. Bring your own cardboard and your sense of adventure. These slides are fast, fun, and not for the faint of heart. Also, what should be on every family bucket list is the Helen Diller Civic Center Playground with a Bi-Rite cafe next door serving their famous soft serve ice cream (415-831-2700,


Another way to explore our city is through its museums and libraries. A day spent at the Exploratorium or the Academy of Sciences is definitely a day well spent. No matter how many times we visit we always discover something new (415-528-4444,; 415-379-8000,

If you are looking for something a little more hands-on, consider the Children’s Creativity Museum in Yerba Buena Park, which specializes in participatory exhibits. The animation studio and music lab is always a hit. Another super interactive option is the newly renovated Randall Museum. It is a little off the beaten path in Corona Heights, but it has something for everyone (415-820-3320,; 415-554-9600,

Summer Stride is the San Francisco Library’s summer reading program. It starts June 1 and will have more than 1,000 free events across the city to encourage STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and reading. The program usually includes incentives for kids to read. Checking out different libraries is a great way to explore different parts of the city. The main library is directly across from the Civic Center Playground (mentioned above), so it could be all tied into a great day downtown (415-557-4400,


What better way to discover your city than by swapping out your car for Muni, BART, or even a cable car, and see where it takes you. This is on our summer challenge for two reasons. For my older children, I want them to be able to navigate a city using public transportation — a great life skill that can come in handy anywhere — and they are seeking more independence, so I want them to be able to take Muni certain places from our home. For my younger son, because public transportation is not something we use very often, it is still a thrill. He loves keeping track of where we are going and pulling the signal cord when it is time to get off. Many of our parks, libraries, and museums are located near public transportation, so it is an easy way to combine all three summer challenges. Riding a cable car is a great way to play tourist in your own city. There is nothing like a ride on one of these iconic cars to make you realize and appreciate all that is great about our city (415-701-2311,; 510-464-7134,

We are facing a lot of tough problems in our city right now, which can seem daunting, so sometimes it takes a little reminder of all that is good here. This may be a view from McLaren park, a new discovery at the Randall Museum, or even a warm smile from a Muni driver who helps you navigate your next destination. As you travel other places this summer, don’t forget to spend a little time exploring our city and reminding yourself why it truly is the greatest place to live.

Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children and the founder of TechTalks, a consulting group to help schools and families have productive and healthful conversations around social media and technology. Email: [email protected]

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