Living in San Francisco means being blessed with loads of activities for culture vultures. Well-meaning parents want to enrich their kids with trips to the museum and the symphony, but too often our kids are just not interested in going for fear of being bored to death. What’s a cultured parent to do to convince them it’s worth the effort? Here are some easy-to-follow steps to make your museum visit more fun and educational for both you and your little artistes.

Where to go: The Legion of Honor is a triple threat for parents. Located on scenic grounds perched above the San Francisco Bay with views of the Golden Gate Bridge peeking through the trees, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more fun spot to roam around or a more beautiful setting for a museum. Within the stunning Beaux Arts building’s courtyard, you’ll find Rodin’s The Thinker to give little noodles something to ponder as they cavort about the main entrance. Among the many attractions housed within the museum, is a hidden jewel box of a theatre that regularly hosts performances fit for young ones.

Before you go: Bring a mini sketch pad, a box of colored pencils, and an eraser for each tyke. Your budding Picasso will happily sketch the sculptures and paintings in the galleries. Be sure to discuss using an inside voice so as not to disturb museum patrons and of course, kids must understand they cannot touch the artwork. The docents and museum guards will thank you! You might also check out library books on art before your visit, to begin a discussion about different styles and types of art.

What to do: Begin in the Rodin gallery in the front of museum, where the scattered little ones may sit comfortably on the floor as they sketch from one of Rodin’s impressive sculptures. An organist performs concerts on the Skinner Organ on Saturday and Sunday at 4pm. Check the updated schedule for the chamber music series and special events, if you’d like to have Junior listen along. Be sure and check for ongoing special exhibits that might interest your family.

No need to rush your aspiring Michelangelo with their artwork. Encourage them to take their time and label their individual sketches with the name of the piece they copied and the date as a keepsake and a record of their artistic development, and of course, have them sign their artwork with great flourish.

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In the main galleries, you’ll find European paintings (portraits often make interesting subjects for the little ones and are a window into another world and bygone era) and Modern art for some paintings that should captivate your kiddies. On your first visit, it’s better to not overwhelm small ones trying to see the entire museum. Choose a few galleries that you definitely want to view and then take your time as you explore the collections. Many of the galleries boast special features. For instance, in gallery 17 with its stunning painting of The Russian Bride’s Attire, if you look just above your heads, you’ll see an exquisite ceiling made in the same time period. These small details should further enhance your kid’s experience and make them look at going to the museum in a whole new light.

Additional highlights: The Gunn Theater, within the lower part of the museum, presents stage productions and musicals for children performed by the Children’s Theater Association of San Francisco. This gorgeous theater is especially remarkable with frescoes on the ceiling of little smiling cherubs sure to delight your kiddos.

A wide variety of programs are designed specifically for families with little ones in tow. Free Saturday classes “for doing and viewing art” are available for ages 4-12 at both the Legion of the Honor and the de Young museums. The de Young also features Art After School for kids in first through eighth grades, a summer art camp for ages 5-14, and an artist’s studio with artists in residence. Check out their brochure for more details.

The museum store is worth popping into for gifts, books, postcards or posters. The Legion of Honor café has a lovely, light-filled dining room with views of Lincoln Park. The menu includes soups, salads, sandwiches, and hot entrees along with hand-pulled espresso and warm pastries for snack time. Outdoor dining is available seasonally on the patio in a garden setting.

Kids under 12 are free and the first Tuesday of the month is free to all. Remember the Legion of Honor is closed on Mondays.

100 34th Avenue
San Francisco, Ca
415-750-3677
Online: legionofhonor.famsf.org

–Nicki Richesin