Tag Archives: San Francisco

Explore Math, Photography and Observation Skills at your Local Botanic Garden


I like botanic gardens.
With assorted plant species, winding paths, infinite colors, and interesting creatures, botanic gardens can easily meet the expectations of everyone in your family. Gardens can be mysterious places to explore, quiet spaces to reflect and relax, a photographer’s playground, a laboratory for learning and much more.

Here are a few botanic gardens I have visited:

  • San Diego Botanic Garden
    In addition to 2 children’s gardens, there are 37 acres and 4 miles of trails to explore at this Encinitas attraction. For my ideas on visiting the Hamilton Children’s Garden, check out my playgrounds post.

    Balboa Park Botanical Building

  • Balboa Park Botanical Building
    This building is one of the largest lath structures in the world. Together with the Lily Pond that lies directly in front of it, this area is the most photographed in the park.
  • The Huntington
    San Marino, California
    In addition to a library, art galleries and tea room, there are more than a dozen themed gardens spanning 120 acres at The Huntington.
    For more ideas on visiting The Huntington, check out my repetition and playgrounds posts.
  • Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
    This garden is a great place to explore on a hot day, and dogs are permitted too. Ask for a mystery scavenger hunt especially for kids.
  • Lotusland, Santa Barbara
    Exploration of this garden is by tour only, but groups are kept small and families are grouped together to provide the most enjoyable experience.

    Conservatory of Flowers

  • Conservatory of Flowers
    San Francisco
    Located in Golden Gate Park, this iconic piece of architecture is the oldest wood and glass conservatory in North America.


Try This:
1. Grab a camera for macro photography practice. This is a great activity for children and adults alike. Each season offers different subjects, so visit often and compare photos throughout the year.

2. Enhance observation skills with a scavenger hunt or I Spy. How many shades of green can you find? What shapes do you see in the cacti? What is the most unusual plant name you read?

3. Pick up a garden map and have the kids plan the visit. Will you start at the desert or topiary garden? How will you get there? Introduce or reinforce the concept of cardinal directions.

4. Draw a visual representation of your visit. Use a ruler to measure from the entrance of the botanic garden to your first stop of the visit. Hint, if the path isn’t straight, try a string or piece of yarn to measure the distance against a ruler. Record, then measure the distance to the next stop of the visit. Create a scale for the map or write about your visit using these measurements.

5. Explore patterns by designing a dream garden. Create a blueprint for your garden. Instead of a tissue paper Christmas wreath, use those same materials (colored tissue paper, glue, pencil with eraser and paper plate) to create a pattern of tissue paper flowers for your garden. First, cut the tissue paper into various sized squares. Next, wrap and twist one piece of tissue paper around the eraser end of a pencil. Then, dip the flat side into the glue and tap the paper plate where you want to place the tissue paper. Finally, release the paper and remove the pencil. Repeat until the entire plate is covered.

Check out this great blog for 10 children’s books about gardening.

Family Bonding with Bike Rides

I like bikes. I remember the feeling of accomplishment when my dad let go of the bike and I was riding all by myself for the first time, but I think we forgot to discuss how to stop! Occasionally, my family would pack up our bikes and drive to a special bike path that was built into an old railway. We would ride for an hour or so and end up at a little old-fashioned ice cream parlor, where we would refuel with a cold treat before riding back to the start. I loved the feel of wind in my face, and when I dared, the freedom of riding with no hands!

I have always loved cities that provide some sort of trail system for walking, biking or skating, which are generally along waterfronts. Here are my favorites:

Portland, Oregon
One of my favorite bike rides as an adult was in Portland, which is known to be bike-friendly and has one of the highest bike commuting rates. The majority of my ride was not on the Eastbank Esplanade along the Willamette River, but actually through Forest Park to St. John’s bridge and back along the east side of the river.

Austin, Texas
Austin has hike and bike trails along Town Lake, but the paths near Barton Springs can get pretty congested on weekends. I found the northeast side of the lake to be a faster trail for bikes. This ride took me to a New Belgium Brewery festival called Tour de Fat, which is all about “the positive societal offerings of the bicycle.” There were games, interactive art and many, many unique and interesting bicycles.

Yosemite National Park
Rent bikes at Curry Village or Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, grab a bike path map, and pack a picnic lunch for an enjoyable bike ride through the Yosemite Valley.

San Francisco, California
This bike ride started at the piers, rode along the harbor, crossed the Golden Gate bridge and ended in San Marino with lunch before a ferry ride back to San Francisco.

Isla Mujeres, Mexico
This small island town near Cancun is less than 5 miles long and less than a ½ mile wide, so my bike ride spanned the entire island from the few touristy hotels on the north end to the Mayan temple on the southern tip.

Durango, Colorado
My ride in Durango was a short one through town, but the city and surrounding area seemed to be popular for mountain biking. There is also the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic event in which riders get to race a train from Durango up the mountain to Silverton.

Itinerary:
Research trails near your city, pack a picnic lunch, and head out for a family bike ride.

San Diego, California
Bring your own bike or rent one. Then start your ride near Seaport Village (note bicycling regulations along the boardwalk). Enjoy a coffee, sweet treat and shopping before or after your ride. Click here for a San Diego region bike map.

Option #1: Ride your bike along the harbor, past the airport, under Harbor Drive bridge and across the pedestrian bridge to Liberty Station, where there are a number of restaurants to dine for lunch.

Option #2: Ride your bike a short distance north to the Broadway Pier ferry landing or south to Embarcadero Marina Park South/Convention Center ferry landing. Buy a ticket and board the ferry to Coronado, where you can take a 7-mile trip around the entire “island” and enjoy lunch and shopping at the Old Ferry Landing Shopping Center before heading back on the ferry.

Try This:
1. Discussion: Relive the experience at lunch or dinner by having each family member share their favorite part of the ride. If everyone has multiple favorites, keep going around the table until you have shared them all. Try not to repeat a part of the trip that someone else has already shared, so each person has to come up with something different!

2. Map your ride: Work together as a family to create a collage of the trip on a big piece of poster board. Start with a map of the area (harbor or Coronado) – print one from the Internet or grab one from a visitor center. Draw your route and add images from tourist brochures, photographs or family drawings that show things you saw on your ride. You can even add bicycle images with headshots of the family.

3. What if…bikes could make ice cream? As a kid I would flip my Big Wheel Trike upside down and pedal with my hands to “make” ice cream. Play the “What if” game by imagining different functions a bike could perform. Check out this website for some inspiration, but beware of the “Chick Bike” if you share the photos with your kids. Here is a website with photographs of bicycle-powered sculptures.