7 Ways to Keep Your Cool With Young Kids This Summer

Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

a small kid and a young man who appear to be Latino play in a sprinkler in front of a house and trees
Steve Cordero and his son Julius, 5, soak themselves in a sprinkler at Meadow Homes Park in Concord during a heat wave in 2022. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Be sure to check out our full 2023 Summer Arts Guide to live music, movies, art, theater, festivals and more in the Bay Area.

When I was a kid growing up in the Bay Area, the word “summer” conjured endless possibilities: lazy days spent lounging at Lake Anza, bleacher seats at baseball games, massive sundaes at Fenton’s. As a working adult now raising a small kid of my own in the Bay Area, the word now prompts a slightly different reaction: namely, “Oh, it’s on me to think of stuff to do?”

Of course, there are always classic summer attractions and kids’ activities you don’t need me to recommend: can’t go wrong with county fairs or water parks. But it’s also fair to desire some kid-oriented activities that feel uniquely Bay Area — and that you, an adult, can enjoy on their own merits. Here are a few to get you started.

a drag performer in a blonde wig and colorful dress reads to kids in a classroom
King Art Babe reads the book ‘This Day in June’ to children and parents during a Drag Queen Story Hour event at the Castro Valley Library in June 2022. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Kick off Pride month with a Drag Story Hour

Presidio Tunnel Tops, San Francisco
June 4

No matter what the shouty talking heads on cable news say, drag is for kids — perhaps especially when it involves story time at one of the most picturesque parks in the Bay. Originally founded in 2015 in San Francisco by local literary royalty Michelle Tea, Drag Story Hour is now a nonprofit with chapters across the country, as well as in Tokyo, Berlin and Copenhagen. But I still feel good about calling this a quintessential Bay Area kid experience, and it’s all the more precious considering the recent spate of anti-drag bills in the country. Come for the story at 11 a.m., stay for a picnic and a playground with an unbeatable view.

(Later in Pride month, on June 24, take part in the first-ever Transtastic Soccer Extravaganza, with inclusive soccer games for kids and adults in the athletic fields at Jefferson Square Park.)

a giant sand castle shaped like an ice cream sundae, with the word 'sandae'
An award-winning entry at Alameda’s annual Sand Castle and Sculpture Contest. (Alameda Recreation and Park Department)

Build an epic sandcastle

Robert Crown Memorial State Beach, Alameda
June 10

People get serious at the annual Sand Castle and Sculpture Contest in Alameda, and it’s easy to see why: previous years’ winners have set the bar pretty high. Participants enter in three categories (12 and under, 13 and over, families); have exactly three hours to complete their masterpieces; and are judged on four criteria (design, detail, neatness and technique), with an official awards ceremony to cap off the day. The whole thing’s free, and sideline spectators are very much encouraged.

tents are seen set up next to a storybook structure in a children's amusement park
A sleepover gets underway at Children’s Fairyland in Oakland. (Courtesy Children's Fairyland)

Join a slumber party at Fairyland

Children’s Fairyland, Oakland
June 16, Magic; July 8, Circus; July 22, Puppets; Aug. 4, Fairies

For more than 70 years, the beloved, old-school amusement park at the edge of Lake Merritt — famously a source of inspiration for Walt Disney when he was designing that other, slightly more commercial amusement park down south — has been a go-to for Bay Area family day trips. But if your kid can’t get enough of the park’s rides, storybook attractions or puppet performances, camping out under the stars at one of Fairyland’s themed summer sleepovers will be a next-level thrill. Dinner and breakfast are included, so you can just pack your sleeping bags, pick your theme and get ready to leave grownup reality-land behind for the night.

a small child with curly hair points at some berries on a vine against a blue sky while holding a plastic red basket
A late-in-season olallieberry hunt at R&R Farms in Pescadero. (Emma Silvers)

Get pickin’

Various locations
Late May through August depending on different crops; check individual farms’ websites for details

What’s better than homemade pie? Homemade pie in which you can (literally) taste the fruits of your labor. Early summer is berry season in the Bay Area, and there are dozens of “u-pick” farms where kids can get their hands berry-stained to their hearts’ content.

In Sebastopol, check out EARTHseed, Sonoma County’s first Afro-Indigeous permaculture farm, for plums, pluots and blackberries. Head east to Brentwood for cherries — locals like Nunn Better Farms, where you don’t need a reservation. In Pescadero, hit the Blue House Farm for strawberries in June or R&R Farms for olallieberries later in the summer (and stop by Arcangeli Grocery for a loaf of fresh-baked garlic artichoke bread on your way out of town).

a young Black girl and an older Black man give thumbs ups while riding a horse in front of a mural celebrating the Black Panther Party
Donnell McAlister gives kids a chance to sit on top of his horse during a block party to celebrate the opening of the Black Panther Party Mini Museum in West Oakland during a 2021 Juneteenth celebration. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Celebrate Juneteenth

Various locations
Programming throughout June; most events June 17–19

Juneteenth has only been a recognized federal holiday since 2021, but the Bay Area has celebrated the day of emancipation since the 1980s. Family-friendly parades, musical performances, film screenings, political actions and parties highlighting Black history and culture abound on all sides of the Bay.

San Francisco’s party in the Fillmore on June 17 promises carnival rides and games in a kids’ area set up at African American Arts and Cultural Complex; while Afrocentric Oakland’s massive Fam Bam party and wellness festival at Lake Merritt always includes a youth zone. Berkeley has a whole week of programming from June 11–18, including a softball tournament and a celebration of Black inventors with an invention competition. In San Jose, the Children’s Discovery Museum will have a special kids’ program June 19, while Juneteenth in the Street takes over downtown June 17 with family-friendly music and dance performances. Check KQED Arts in the coming weeks for a more comprehensive guide to Juneteenth offerings.

a band made up of five kids with instruments performs on a stage with a sign that reads 'the boat dock' at a festival
A band of kids performs at the Rivertown Revival, an especially family-friendly music fest in Petaluma. (Debbie Wilson)

Get down at the Rivertown Revival

McNear Peninsula, Steamer Landing Park, Petaluma
July 22–23

This sweet two-day festival, now in its 11th year, offers a sizzle reel of Bay Area indie-folk, soul and alt-country talent: Saturday night’s headlined by Petaluma’s own Ben Morrison (Brothers Comatose), plus “California Creole” from Richmond native André Thierry and freak-folk from Tay and the JangLahDahs; Sunday has Oakland-born psych-rock mainstay King Dream and Santa Rosa’s favorite pirate punks, The Crux. But the kicker for families is a big, dedicated area where kids can “view and pet animals, dance to music, play with water and engage in group art,” plus a shaded, private parents’ tent for nursing or diaper changes. It’s all a fundraiser for the nonprofit Friends of the Petaluma River.

(Other music festivals where I’ve seen kids of all ages having a great time? Stern Grove, Mosswood Meltdown and the San Jose Summer Jazz Fest.)

people watch a movie on an outdoor screen at the beach with a roller coaster in the background
Free movies on the Beach at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. (Courtesy of Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk)

Catch a movie at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Friday nights June 16–Aug. 11
Beach in front of the Colonnade, Santa Cruz

Nothing says summer like sand between your toes, corn dogs and saltwater taffy, and the unmistakable look on the face of a parent who just consumed corn dogs and saltwater taffy, then agreed to go on “one more ride” at the behest of a child hopped up on sugar and arcade games. A trip to the Santa Cruz boardwalk is already a classic summertime pilgrimage for Bay Area kids; up the ante (or just celebrate no one losing their lunch on the Giant Dipper) by sticking around for a free cult-classic movie on the beach. Just make sure no one wanders off on their own at night — “Santa Carla” can get freaky after dark.