San Carlos is deemed “The City of Good Living,” and through all of our in-depth reporting, we haven’t found any reason to argue. Its convenient location between San Jose and San Francisco, and easy access to Hwys. 101, 280 and Caltrain, make it a stellar option for those commuting either to the north or south. It’s also approximately one-quarter the size of San Mateo, yet manages to offer a wide variety of family friendly retail and dining options. The parks are pristine, the weather is great (average yearly daytime temps are in the 70s) and the vibe around town is lively. If you’re not already a suburbanite, a place like San Carlos could begrudgingly change your mind from “only the city life for me” to “hmmm, I could see living here.”

Crestview Park

Photo: Heather Rodgers

Play

Burton Park 
This peninsula favorite attracts families from all over, and for many good reasons. It’s recently been renovated, so the spongy turf is still in-tact and the play structures are of the newer variety. For some, the main attraction is the giant sand box, which is sunken, shaded and tiered. Other highlights include a splash pad (currently on hiatus due to dry conditions); a paved path perfect for scooting, biking and skating; a separate enclosed toddler area with its own shady sandbox, and an accessible swing set.

900 Chestnut St.
San Carlos, Ca
650-802-4382
Online: cityofsancarlos.com

Laureola Park 
Treehouse is the theme here, which will inspire lots of imaginary play. The bigger kids can climb a ladder through the trapdoor into their secret fort, then slide down a tall dugout “log” to make a quick escape. In the separate toddler area, there’s another treehouse much closer to the ground (ok, on the ground), small stumps to climb on and jump about, and tunneled out “logs” to run through and slide down. There’s also lots of paved space for ride-ons and the bathroom does have a changing table! Total winner, all around.

503 Old County Rd.
San Carlos, Ca
650-802-4382
Online: cityofsancarlos.com

Arguello Park
The setting is the highlight of this park, which lies at the bottom of a small canyon. Park at the top lot, accessible via Wellington Dr. and intro your kids to hiking on a pretty and not-too-steep trail that takes you over a bridge and down to the park below. The play structure is fun for all ages, and there’s a ball field with batting cages so bring equipment for your little slugger.

260 Wellington Dr.
San Carlos, Ca
650-802-4382
Online: cityofsancarlos.com

Crestview Park
Brand. Spanking. New! This fully renovated park opened in December and offers some fun and interesting features like the giant sandwich sculpture complete with fake ants. Odd, yes, but kids clamber all over it, and it’s a neat place to take a break, have a seat and nibble on the real thing. There’s also a trampoline, a fun (and still pristine) sandbox and great paved trails for riding around.

1000-A Crestview Dr.
San Carlos, Ca
650-802-4382
Online: cityofsancarlos.com

Rockin’ Jump
Lots of trampolines and lots of foam pits into which your kids can propel themselves. Is there anything else you need to know? Yes! There’s a great snack bar, free lockers so you can dump your diaper bag at the door and there are two little-kid jump days (Rockin’ Tots) so you have a little less to worry about as far as knocked noggins go. Tip: fill out your waivers online, in advance. Once your kids rush through the door, they will not want to wait around on mom doing paperwork!

401 Quarry Rd.
San Carlos, Ca
650-528-2036
Hours: Rockin’ Tots, Tues.-Wed., 9 a.m.-11 a.m.
Cost: $15/Adult+Child, $3/additional child
Online: sancarlos.rockinjump.com

Hiller Aviation Museum

Photo: Hiller Aviation Museum

Explore

Hiller Aviation Museum 
Overlooking San Carlos Airport, this museum is one-of-a-kind. Inside the massive hangar, the exhibit includes an impressive assortment of aircraft, from space-aged jet packs to helicopters and seaplanes, as well as the history behind each. Some of the craft are open for exploration: jump in and out of a fighter jet, “fly” a helicopter (which houses a flight simulator), and take a walk through an Albatross. Also indoors is a toddler area with a few ride-on planes, a playhouse cockpit, and some art materials. Outside, your pilot-in-training can pretend to be the real deal in the cockpit of a retired Boeing 747. Take the captain’s seat, grab ahold of the throttle, and listen to real, live air traffic chatter. Next to the plane you’ll find view of the neighboring airport’s runway, where kids can watch planes taking off and landing. There is special programming all week long, too, like the popular animal shows (birds riding bikes!) and food truck Wednesdays. Drop by the gift shop on your way out, which stocks plenty of high-quality toys and books for your little aviator.

601 Skyway Rd.
San Carlos, Ca
650-654-0200
Hours: Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Cost: $14/Adult, $9/Child, FREE/Children 4 & under
Online: hiller.org

The Reading Bug
This is one bug your kids will not run away from! Inside, you’ll feel like you are in a scene from Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, with tall leaves towering above, and toadstoods as tiny seats. It’s enchanting, for sure. There’s a train table and small playhouse in the back, so they can play while you browse. There are also drop-in classes  and programs offered daily: choose from story times, crafts, prenatal fitness, adult yoga, book clubs, and opportunities to “meet the character.” On January 14, bring your kids to meet Bad Kitty!

785 Laurel St.
San Carlos, Ca
650-591-0100
Hours: Tue.-Wed.&Fri.-Sat., 10:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m.; Thurs., 10:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.; Sun., 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Online: thereadingbug.com 

Laurel Street Arts
Drop in anytime during business hours to paint your very own dish, animal figurine, vase, platter, picture frame… you get the idea! For a mere $8 studio fee, plus the cost of your chosen piece of pottery, your kid can create a masterpiece that might look best on grandma’s mantle. For mom, there are also drop-in glass fusion and mosaic classes.

733 Laurel St.
San Carlos, Ca
650-591-1005
Hours: Mon.-Thurs., 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sun., 12 p.m.- 5 p.m.
Online: laurelstreetarts.com

Mi Ranchito

Photo: Heather Rodgers

Eat

Blue Line Pizza
Deep dish is the specialty here—you can even order the kid’s pizza Chicago style. The kid’s menu offers a few other surprises as well, as it’s taped to the back of a magna doodle! We bet they’ll draw the conclusion that they really like coming here.

1201 San Carlos Ave.
650-610-0200
Hours: Mon.-Thurs.& Sun., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Online: bluelinepizza.com

Depot Cafe
This train-themed breakfast and lunch spot is located, as the name suggests, right at the San Carlos Caltrain station. It is housed in the historic landmark building underneath the tracks of Calrtrian, making it a fun place to watch all the trains coming and going, and people, too. There are plenty of menu items for kids, and the atmosphere is that of a diner, complete with the telltale “ding” of a bell when food is up. Very nostalgic, and very captivating for the train enthusiasts in your family.

599 El Camino Real
San Carlos, Ca
650-595-0555
Hours: Mon.-Sun., 6 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Online: yelp.com

Mi Ranchito Taqueria
This spot is as kid-friendly as it comes. Order at the counter (kid’s quesadilla, $2.99!), grab a table covered in a plastic (wipeable!) tablecloth, and it will not be long before everybody is happily filling their hungry tummies with cheesy goodness of some sort. The mexican rice is a crowd pleaser, the self-serve chips-n-salsa are no extra charge and the salsa is mild enough for everybody to scoop up. Don’t forget to order a round of fresh sugary churros for dessert!

660 Laurel St.
San Carlos, Ca
650-592-0597
Hours: Mon.-Sun., 10 a.m.- 9 p.m.
Online: yelp.com

San Remo’s Ristorante and Pizzeria
So here’s the story: For 40 years, every day, San Remo’s cranked out hundreds of slices of their Italian-style thin crust pizzas to busy shoppers in the food court at Hillsdale mall. Now, San Carlos is home to their full service restaurant, which still features the same thin crust pizza, along with a full menu of Italian dishes. Rudy, the owner, likes to come by and meet and greet the families dining with him. It’s like a Tuscan fairytale inside, too; awnings and murals and very warm and cozy. Your kids will get crayons and a paper placemat on which to draw, but otherwise the main appeal here is great food and general family friendliness. Thanks, Rudy!

1152 San Carlos Ave.
San Carlos, Ca
650-654-9800
Hours: Tue.-Fri., 5 p.m.-10 p.m.; Sat., 4:30 p.m.-10 p.m.; Sun., 4:30 p.m.-9 p.m.; Closed Mon.
Online: sanremossancarlos.com

Sweets

Zest Bakery
Sweet? Yes! Wheat? No! Everything made here is completely gluten-free. These folks even built their bakery from scratch to ensure that everything was perfectly free of gluten. Wedding cakes, muffins, donuts, cookies, bread, quiche and ravioli are just a few things you’ll find on their menu, which fluctuates daily based on local available ingredients. As they say at Zest, their food is great for Celiacs but good for everyone!  Check out their blog for humorous posts like their gluten free holiday survival guides and a guide to gluten free gift giving.

1224 Arroyo Ave.
San Carlos, Ca
650-241-9378
Hours: Tue.-Fri., 9 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sat., 8 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sun., 8 a.m.-2 p.m.; Mon., closed
Online: zestbakery.com

Susie Cakes
Brand new to Laurel Ave is this cakery that has taken California by storm with its beautiful and tasty layer cakes, cupcakes, minis and more. Grab whatever is striking your fancy and head a block South to Laurel Street Park, where you can plunk down on a shady bench and savor the sweets while the kids play around the small park and climb trees.
649 Laurel St
San Carlos, Ca
650-282-2253
Hours: Mon.-Sun., 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
Online: susiecakes.com

Plantation Roastery

Photo: Heather Rodgers

Sip 

Plantation Coffee Roastery
Yours will be a coffee house kid in no time when you frequent this little joint, the oldest coffeehouse in San Carlos. It’s been around for 40 years, and the current owners have been running it for the last fifteen or so. They roast their own beans, and the aroma hits you from blocks away. Grab a pastry, muffin or one of their really good cinnamon rolls (ask to have it warmed just a little for max effect), and browse the cute little selection of children’s books. Have a seat to sip and read and mingle with the daily regulars. Kids are very welcome here!

668 Laurel St.
San Carlos, Ca
650-592-3710
Hours: Mon.-Sat., 5 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun. 5 a.m.-12 p.m.
Online: yelp.com

—Heather Rodgers

Does your family have a San Carlos favorite that you frequent? Tell us below in the comments!