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Taking the Kids: Visiting Golden Gate Park for its big birthday

By Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

There were tents everywhere.

Tens of thousands of San Franciscans left homeless by the April 18, 1906 earthquake and the fires that followed set up camp in Golden Gate Park -- rows of tents and small houses called "Earthquake Shacks" that became de facto towns.

Sound familiar -- kind of like the pictures we've been seeing of the tent hospital set up in New York's Central Park; Golden Gate Park's recreation centers are now emergency childcare facilities for children of first responders, health care workers and other essential city employees.

Golden Gate Park was set to celebrate its 150th birthday earlier this month on April 4 - a celebration that is now online.

San Franciscans were especially excited about the upcoming opening of an illuminated 150-foot observation wheel (spectacular views from the gondolas) 150 years after the California Legislature created the park. The celebration and the opening of the observation wheel are, of course, on hold as Californians continue to observe the state-wide shelter-in-place order and Gov. Gavin Newsom outlines what steps must be taken to reopen the economy, though no specific dates have been given as yet. .

California has been lauded by public health experts for its social distancing measures that have successfully helped curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus. For those who love visiting San Francisco as much as I do, the City by the Bay deserves kudos for how its restaurants, museums, orchestras and more are inviting families to visit virtually -- for now.


Teens can get to know the lives of influential composers from around the world when the San Francisco Symphony streams nine episodes of "Keeping Score" with Michael Tilson Thomas, each followed by a one-hour concert on the Symphony’s YouTube channel. Younger sibs will have fun with The Exploratorium's learning toolbox that features Science Snacks -- bite-sized science activities to do with simple materials that you share online with the tag #ScienceSnacks. For a visual break, SFMOMA, the Asian Art Museum, the de Young and Legion of Honor museums, Walt Disney Family Museum and the Chinese Historical Society of America are participating in the Instagram #Museumfromhome phenomenon, which delivers artwork right to followers' smartphones and other digital devices. And for more thrills, head north to San Jose's Great America theme park and enjoy a virtual ride on the amazing RailBlaster coaster. You can virtually tour the famous Presidio like we did in 2019.

The China Live @Home Web Series provides video classes on making popular dishes, such as pot stickers, fried rice and beef and broccoli. It expands chef/owner George Chen's mission "to demystify Chinese ingredients and recipes while educating guests on its rich history and influence."

Check out the live web-cams of Pier 39’s Sea Lions while the Aquarium by the Bay at Pier 39 offers plenty of at-home learning. The "Sea Lions in San Francisco" initiative commemorates the 30th anniversary of the sea lions' residency -- Sea lions started "hauling out" on Pier 39's K-Dock shortly after the Loma Prieta earthquake hit San Francisco in October 1989. By January 1990, they'd taken over K-Dock which continues to prove an ideal lounging location for them and a spot for visitors' selfies.

There'splenty to explore virtually in Golden Gate Park, from virtual concerts, live cams and, virtual tours of some of the huge park's hidden gems -- see the butterflies emerge, the bison who live in the park, and the famous Golden Gate Park Band. Everyone loves the San Francisco Botanical Garden. and the The Conservatory of Flowers, a landmark here since 1879. There are plenty of virtual activities for kids- a sing along, coloring book of famous park sites like the Japanese Tea Garden and live webcams of the animals. (For more virtual family travel ideas, check out the Taking the Kids 51 best Virtual Family Vacation Ideas put together with Family Travel Forum.


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