07/01/09 - posted by John Martini
Frank's excellent article on the SF zoo and the familiar experience of kids' birthday outings got me to thinking (always a dangerous event) about other destinations popular in the 1950s and '60s for families with lots of kids and limited budgets, especially for birthday expeditions.

Here's what I came up with:

- Golden Gate Park, notably the Academy of Sciences. Again, free admission and lots for kids to do. I think the only place that charged admission was the planetarium. If the kids were well-behaved (fat chance with boys' parties), some moms even ventured inside the DeYoung Museum or the adjacent Tea Garden. Both were also free.

- Whitney's Playland. No admission charged, but a great place to spend a ton of spare change on rides and games of chance. (One way to lose your money -- literally -- was to ride the rock-o-plane that turned you upside down. Gravity did the rest.) Drawback: embryonic gang activity there in the early 1960s.

- The Fun House. I know, I know, it's really a subset of Playland, but the Funhouse was a destination all by itself. Parentss could turn 15 or 20 kids loose in there for hours and never see more than a couple of them at once. The Fun House was loaded with things that moved, slipped, pinched, turned over, and slammed you around, and was essentially a giant tort claim waiting to happen, but as far as I know no one ever died there. Or sued the Whitney Brothers.

- The zoo (of course). Benefits: free admission and LOTS to do. Easy to get to via MUNI, and lots of parking for those '48 Chevies and Oldsmobiles many of our families used to drive. Drawbacks included flung poo, seagulls, and the heavy possibility of fog. The old locomotive in the kids playground was also good for the occasional sprain or two.

- Sutro's. My favorite place. You paid 25 cents to enter, but once inside the possibilities were limitless: mummies, Ito, a Tucker car, the Tom Thumb exhibit, carriages, a bird aviary, and the Marine Deck with its ship models and telescopes. Also, the Musee Mecanique with its risque peep shows. (Big stuff if you were into 1910 ankle photos.) You paid another dime to ice skate, and birthday groups were easily spotted as they clustered along the railing in a rickey-ankled line moving ever so slowly in a counterclockwise direction. It was a real lesson in humility for the budding jocks in my group to be lapped multiple times by six year old semi-pro skaters.

- Finally, Marin Town & Country Club. Big attraction: girls. Oh yeah, and sunshine and multiple pools and basketball and volleyball courts and picnic grounds and acres of grass. And girls. Drawback: no MUNI service.

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