San Francisco Botanical Garden with Kids

Hands-On Learning Fun in Golden Gate Park

By Kristy Esparza, July 25, 2020

San Francisco Botanical Garden

Bean SproutS Family Day

MILES TRAVELED: 48

The San Francisco Botanical Garden is frequently listed as one of the best in the United States. Its 55 acres of gardens feature over 9,000 different kinds of plants from all over the world.  And if that weren’t reason enough to visit, it’s also a paradise for families looking for unique spaces for hands-on educational play.  

We recently reserved a bucket for their Bean Sprouts Family Day and had an amazing time. Whether you’re looking to introduce kids to the joys of gardening or just want to let them get their hands a little dirty playing outside, we highly recommend experiencing all that the San Francisco Botanical Garden has to offer.

We share the following below:

Kid-Friendly San Francisco Botanical Garden

 

San Francisco Interactive Visitor Discovery Map

Wandering through botanic gardens can give visitors of all ages a sense of awe, wonder, and calm. In the case of the San Francisco Botanical Garden, you’ll experience far more biodiversity than any other equally accessible trail we’ve found. This keeps a feeling of discovery alive as you move from plants that grow in Temperate Asia to the Mesoamerican Cloud Forest to the Redwood Grove.

The boys were excited as soon as we parked on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. They knew we were going to visit a garden, but they weren’t expecting the garden to be situated within one of the world’s great urban parks! We arrived early to explore a bit before our Bean Sprouts reservation, and I’m glad we did. The Children’s Garden is located way off on its own in the far west end of the Garden. Walking there allowed us to experience many Collections on the way over, but it also took more time than we expected.

We wandered through the trails south of the Great Meadow on our way in, and then circled back through to Waterfowl Pond and the Ancient Plant Garden on our way back. As amazing as all the rare plants are, I think the boys loved racing around the Great Meadow just as much as they enjoyed exploring the trails. I noticed many multigenerational families and a mom picnicking with her young children. Not for the first time, I wished we lived nearby so we could easily stop in for a visit anytime.

Bean Sprouts Day in the Children’s Garden

San Francisco Botanical Garden with Kids, Children's Garden Welcome
Bug on the Stump Jump, San Francisco Botanical Garden Children's Garden
San Francisco Botanical Garden with Kids, The Sensory Garden in the Children's Garden
San Francisco Botanical Garden with Kids, Bean Sprouts Day in the Children's Garden
San Francisco Botanical Garden with Kids, the Children's Garden Orchard

Bean Sprouts Family Day Registration

We were blown away by San Francisco Botanical Garden’s Children Garden. We didn’t know what to expect, and I completely fell for their super creative approach to engaging kids at many different levels. This area was created with the direct input of children. Hands-on exploration is actively encouraged (even “conscious collecting”!), and kids are invited to explore with all of their senses. It’s simply an awesome space for kids.

We had pre-registered for Bean Sprouts Family Day, in which each family receives a bucket with gardening tools, a magnifying glass, and activity materials. Each bucket is good for up to 3 children and is reserved and checked out on a schedule so that they can be cleaned between family groups. Families are also welcome to bring their own toys and tools. While masks are required for all visitors, we loved that they had specific areas designated as “one family” zones where you can hang out as a family without masks. Perfect for those necessary snack and lunch breaks with little ones. In this high-stress time, we felt very comfortable and could tell that much thought went into creating a safe space where families can enjoy all that the Garden has to offer.

The Bean Sprouts bucket was fun for the boys, but they were having such a good time exploring the different garden stations that we sometimes forgot to use our tools and materials! Both boys loved the Stump Jump, where you hop from log to log, and Bug could have stayed in The Sandlot and The Sensory Garden all day. JJ was excited about the Creation Station, where you can build objects or shelters with found natural materials, and the Cone Zone where you play basketball with pinecones. And I personally loved The Kitchen Garden with the “Growing Vegetable Soup” story trail.  So many simple, creative ideas that keep kids engaged for hours. It was a great reminder of the power of natural play spaces. 

Library and Museum Collaborations

Mexican Museum: One area that caught us by surprise was the Garden’s collaboration with the Mexican Museum. They were on site making rattles and shakers in celebration of Mexican Independence Day, using foraged seeds as noise makers. Unfortunately, we had reached the lunch / nap time meltdown stage for Bug, so they let us bring materials home. The following weekend, we made a little celebration at home, complete with the boys’ noise-makers and John’s delicious carne asada (and margaritas). Click here for more projects and activities you can do at home from the Mexican Museum.

Helen Crocker Russell Library: Located at the entrance to the San Francisco Botanical Garden, the Helen Crocker Russell Library is the region’s most comprehensive horticultural library. The children’s section has 2,000 volumes on its own. They’ve added in some wonderful subject guides you can access online, including online story time links for families. If you’re looking for a new story to help teach your children about life in the garden, or many related topics, you have to check out this Collection!

Helen Crocker Russell Library Children's Subject Collections
San Francisco Botanical Garden with Kids - Crafts from the Mexican Museum

San Francisco Botanical Garden with Kids: The Basics

First and foremost, always check the official San Francisco Botanical Garden website before visiting. It will have the latest information on programming and how to keep yourself and others safe in the park throughout all seasons. 

  • How much is the cost of admission? San Francisco residents are free, as is early admission between 7:30 and 9:00am. Free days for all are on the second Tuesday of the month and Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. Admission for non-resident adults is $12 are weekends and $9 on weekdays. Youth and Seniors are $7. Children between the ages of 5 and 11 are $3 and toddlers are free. Families (2 adults and all children under 17) are $20.
  • Can I bring my dog? Dogs are not allowed, with the exception of trained service animals accompanying people who have qualifying disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • Can you buy tickets onsite? It is possible to buy tickets on site, but advance tickets are recommended.
  • How long should we plan to stay? We stayed for about 3 and a half hours, arriving around 9:30am and leaving with a sleepy 3 year old. We could have stayed longer, but our youngest tends to run out of steam around noon.
  • What should we bring? Be sure to bring layers, as the weather can be difficult to predict. There are no restaurants or concessions in the Garden, so bring your own snacks, lunches, and water. You’ll find plenty of good picnic spots.
  • Bathrooms: There are only two restrooms, and neither is very close to the Children’s Garden. Make sure to plan accordingly! 
San Francisco Botanical Garden Entrance

The San Francisco Botanical Garden is a special place to take your kids. We could have spent a full day there, and we can’t wait to return. Make sure you add it to your list, if you haven’t already. You’ll find something for every member of your family to enjoy. 

Do you have a favorite spot in the Garden? We’d love to hear your experiences in the comments!

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