Ditch the Playground: 20 Cool Places to Take Your Kid You Haven’t Thought of


We live in San Francisco, which is a city chock-full of interesting things to do. (Tonight I can choose from an aerial dance performance, an archaeology excavation, or a street cart festival, and it’s a Tuesday.) Yet, do you know where we spend almost all of our time? At the playground. Or the zoo, if we’re feeling adventurous. Or if we’re really crazy the pool. Ladies, I could be watching people dance on the side of buildings and instead I’m pushing my kids in the swing for the millionth time this month. 


So, enough. No more excuses and “I can’t think of where we could go because I have 45 people talking at me at once.” Here are 20 places to take your kid that are slightly outside the (sand)box and won’t break the bank. And the best part? They aren’t the playground. 

  1. Hit up an art museum. I took my three year old to the art museum because there was a show I really wanted to see and was pleasantly surprised when we both had a great time. We cruised through pretty fast, but she loved studying the paintings’ details, we made up stories about a lot of the folks in the paintings, and I got to see my show. 
  2. Give runners a boost. Check out active.com for a local running race and head down to cheer the runners on. Your good will will add a bounce to their step (I promise), while watching the race shows your kids what working toward a goal looks like, literally.
  3. Get your car washed. You know your car needs it and your kids will love the whole drama of going through the rollers and wash.
  4. Take ’em dancing. Have you guys heard of Baby Loves Disco? It’s awesome. They come in and take over a nightclub for an afternoon and create a toddler-friendly space where families can dance to music that isn’t Barney. It’s now in over 20 cities because, um, it plays music that isn’t Barney.
  5. Go on a culinary adventure. Want your kids to try new foods? Take a mini food tour where you sample a croissant from your favorite bakery, try a cheese sample from the local cheese shop, and round it out by sharing a pad thai. 
  6. Stop by a party supply store. They’ve got princesses, they’ve got pirates, and they’ve got pretty much everything you can imagine in between. Take a jaunt down the aisles and let your kids try on hats, check out the latest in crazy glasses, and pick out a sticker momento for the ride home. Inexpensive, yet highly entertaining. 
  7. Go to a retirement community or nursing home. My great-aunt lives in a retirement community, and when we visit it’s like we’re visiting royalty. The kids get more attention than they know what to do with—during our last trip the kids rode on a scooter, helped push wheelchairs, and danced for crowds of people (seriously)—while the residents get their kid fix. It’s a win for everyone, including mama who gets to put her feet up and revel in the free babysitting…
  8. Get Krispy Kreme donuts. It’s the ultimate treat for both of you; plus, you can see into their kitchen and watch the donuts being made. 
  9. Cheer on your high school. You don’t have to spend a ton of money to have an afternoon at the ballpark (or football field or swimming pool). Head over to your local high school and cheer on the in-season sport.
  10. Relax at a movie. And I do mean relax. The kids are entertained, it’s dark, and no one will notice if you close your eyes for one teeny, tiny second, I promise.
  11. Play farmer at a local farm. Many farms are happy to show the kids around and even give them a quick ride on the tractor so your kids know where food comes from.
  12. Volunteer your time. Head to your local shelter with the kids and help serve meals, take them with you to wrap presents for less privileged kids, sort cans together at your local women’s shelter—the non-profits will love the help, and your kids will love the feeling you get from helping others.
  13. Take an art walk. Most communities have some sort of a First Friday art walk, where galleries and local businesses stay open late once a month. Take the kids down for an evening stroll, meet the business owners, and support your local shops. 
  14. Go antiquing. Antique shops are a veritable treasure trove of weird objects for kids to study and wonder about, leaving you free to wander and hunt for your next big score. 
  15. Play tourist. Take off your local glasses and hit some of the hot spots you’d go to if you didn’t live in your town. Bonus points if you download one of the Lonely Planet guides and make your way down the list.
  16. Hit the great outdoors. Kids love to be outside, whether it’s in the woods, at a lake, or just a walk through the fields. Get your hike on—you’ll get your exercise and the kids will expend enough energy they may just take a nap…
  17. Go to a play. There’s nothing quite like the magic of watching performers live. Keep it inexpensive with your local kids’ theater or, if that’s not available, check out your local high school, where they most likely perform a musical or two a year. 
  18. Swing by a pet store. Is there anything kids love more than animals? Take ’em to the pet store and let them admire the hamsters, fish, and puppies up close and personal where they’re someone else’s responsibility.
  19. Check out a new neighborhood. It’s easy to get stuck in the mile around your house. Get out of your neighborhood (literally) by picking a new ‘hood to wander around. Hit the local coffee shop and ask if there’s anything noteworthy to see, or just take a stroll through the streets and see what you run into.
  20. Take time. In the hustle and bustle of daily life, I find I’m always moving us along to the next thing. Instead, take a moment where they can take as much time as they need to look at bugs, study princesses in Target, or spin in the park. 

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