The Northern California Pirate Festival and 7 Other Bay Area Summer Festivals for Kids


Welcome to our first weekly post from the moms behind Red Tricycle, a site that focuses on the "lighter side" of parenting. Every week, they'll be bringing us their picks of stuff to do around the Bay Area with kids.

The weather's giving us a case of spring fever today, so we're glad Red Tricycle's inagugural post looks ahead to summer. Here are their picks for the best summer festivals to enjoy with kids in the Bay Area.

Summer days conjure images of laughing children, crashing beach waves, ice cream cones and nights out under the stars. For San Francisco, add a solid dose of fog and kids in fleece vests to get the full picture! That said, summer also brings to the Bay Area an incredible array of outdoors festivals, each being a unique opportunity to expose children to music, theatre, food or lazy relaxed fun. The best part? Many of these festivals are either free or at budget prices and set outdoors, so that kids can roam around freely if they feel like busting some moves. Here’s what you need to know to start planning.

 San Mateo County Fair

With a petting zoo, carnival rides, a kids train, funnel cakes and pig races, the San Mateo County Fair is a long time family favorite that can fill a full day trip or just an evening stroll to enjoy dinner and night shows. With a packed schedule of activities, the fair will keep you busy for as long as you plan to be there with the kids. Conveniently located off Highways 101 and 92, the fair is also accessible by public transit for a carless day. Save on entry and buy your tickets at presale prices before May 11. Details: June 11 through 19, 11:00 am-10:00 pm or 12:00 pm-10:00 pm depending on days. San Mateo County Fairgrounds, 2495 S. Delaware Street, San Mateo.

Northern California Pirate Festival

Kick off the summer in swashbuckling style with the NorCal Pirate Festival in Vallejo for Father’s Day weekend, a pirate feast for the eyes and for the ears. Yes your children will be treated to ship-to-shore cannon battles, magic shows and loud retellings of The Treasure Island on stage, but you also get to enjoy pirate rock (no kidding) and our favorite pirate entertainer for families, namely Captain Jack Spareribs. It’s free, it’s sunny and you can go there by ferry if you want to feel all piratey. By the way, costumes are encouraged. Indulge, you won’t be disappointed! Details: June 18 and 19, check closer to the date for hours. Vallejo Waterfront, Vallejo.

Stern Grove Festival

Where else can you see the San Francisco Symphony and They Might Be Giants on a stage surrounded by tall trees? That would be the Stern Grove Festival (pictured), a beloved summer-long festival that welcomes an impressive line-up of artists each year. Come on Kids Days and enjoy free drop-in interactive arts education programs for children ages 4-13 but don’t forget to register here before. Before each Sunday concert at noon, the Stern Grove Festival’s KidStage provides free hands-on arts projects and workshops. Oh, and there is a family bathroom with changing station. Can’t be more family-friendly, right? On a general note, arrive early for good seating and bring layers and sun protection to face the funky summer weather changes. Some parents bring noise-canceling headphones for their kids on non-classical concert days. As far as lunch and snack, it’s BYO food and drink, or cash for the food vendors. Details: June 19 through August 21, every Sunday at 2:00 pm. Sigmund Stern Grove, San Francisco.

Nihonmachi Street Fair
Part street fair part Asian Pacific festival, the Nihonmachi Street Fair livens up San Francisco’s Japantown in August right before kids get back to school. Crowded but walkable, this street fair is mostly a food event but expect Japanese and Hawaiian performers on stage, as well as a Hello Kitty corner for kids. Details: August 13 and 14, 11:00 am-6:00 pm. Nihonmachi Street, Webster Street, San Francisco.

Ardenwood Shakespeare Festival & Renaissance Faire 
Love the medieval look, jousting tournaments and gifted storytellers? The Ardenwood Shakespeare Festival & Renaissance Faire closes the summer on a vibrant note with 900 performers in period costume roaming the grounds of Ardenwood Historic Farm in the South Bay. Children will love traveling back in time and discovering old-fashioned games as well as listening to bards and admiring knights and ladies on horses. Plus, it’s farm – a young animal lovers’ paradise!Details: September 10 and 11, 10:00 am-6:00 pm. Ardenwood Historic Farm, Fremont.

Gravenstein Apple Fair
The Gravenstein Apple Fair in Sonoma will have you looking forward to the autumn even though the sun is still shining high and warm. This old-fashioned country fair is small enough that families can have a good time under the oak trees and kids can savor their apple fritters without feeling rushed. Spread over two days, the fair features good old barnyard fun with acoustic music, hay bales to sit on, animals, food contests and tractors. Kids will love the hay barn and the apple crafts, as well as a fresh caramel apple on a stick. Parents can have their share of fun too – this is Sonoma after all. Expect grown-up drinks and good food. Details: August 13 and 14, 10:00 am-6:00 pm and 10:00 am-5:00 pm. Ragle Ranch Park, Sebastopol.

Cotati Accordion Festival
Smack on the Cotati town plaza, the Cotati Accordion Festival is an outdoors music festival honoring the instrument that made your grandmothers swoon. The event is super family-friendly, as in shaded meadows and folding lawn chairs, with a kids area to entertain the youngest spectators. The good news is, accordions are not for nerds anymore. The festival features country singers, Yiddish performers, rock pop mischief makers and classic accordionists. Details: August 20 and 21, 9:30 am-8:30 pm. Cotati Plaza, Cotati.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Last but not least, California wouldn’t be the same without the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk so get your family ready to rock on the beach on Friday nights! All summer long, free concerts à la Lost Boys and Beach Boys showcase iconic bands of the 70s, 80s and 90s. Come for the evening only or show up early and take the kids to the kiddie rides of the amusement park. The vintage Loof carousel is a hoot: riders on outside horses can grab rings from a dispenser as they spin, then toss them into a large clown’s gaping mouth, rewarded by bells and flashing lights. Isn’t that awesome? Details: every Friday from June 17 through September 2, shows at 6:30 pm and 8:30 pm. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Bandstand, Santa Cruz.

Seriously, don’t you wish summer lasted all year long? What summer festivals are permanently marked on your family’s calendar? Let us know in the comments below!

Red Tricycle focuses on the "lighter side" of parenting, offering ideas for cool things to see, eat, make and do with our kids in your neighborhood. Visit our site and sign up for your 5 fresh weekly picks for hip people who happen to be parents too!

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