Historic Day Trips in San Francisco and the Peninsula

Museums, a fort and even the Federal Reserve Bank have their own unique story to tell as visitors gain insight into the past.

Credit: National Park Service
Credit: National Park Service

Written by Bill Zavestoski

Sometimes history is right in our midst, but unless we were lucky enough to visit on an elementary school field trip, we might not have any idea that something significant has happened in our own backyard.

Hop in the car with the family and spend a day getting to know these historic sites within easy driving distance of San Francisco and the Peninsula. The best part? You can get to all these destinations on one tank of gas (or less).

San Mateo County History Museum

2200 Broadway

Redwood City

(650) 299-0104

Why Go? “I learned a lot about this county I've called home forever,” one visitor noted online. It's not just the exhibits that draw rave reviews. The museum is inside the 1910 County Courthouse and features a beautiful stained glass dome and mosaic tile floor.

Insider Tip: Admission is free at the museum on the first Friday of every month.

Must Do: Take in the “Living the California Dream” exhibit, which offers a look at peninsula homes from the late 1800s (a millionaire's mansion) to the early 1900s (a middle-class bungalow) to the post-World War II boom (a ranch house).

The Fine Print: Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors and students, with no charge for kids under 5.

Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

101 Market St.

San Francisco 

(415) 974-2000

Why Go? To see stacks and stacks of money, of course, and because the U.S. Mint in San Francisco is not open to the public. The San Francisco Federal Reserve houses the most extensive public collection of rare and valuable antique currency in the United States.

Insider Tip: Tours are only available to groups with a minimum of 10 persons and a maximum of 30, so your best bet is to arrange one through work or another large organization. Priority is given to educators, students and the business community.

Must Do: An hour-long free “Personal Finance Workshop” aims to teach high-schoolers how to take control of their personal finances.

The Fine Print: Group tours last about 90 minutes and are available by appointment, Monday through Thursday, at either 9:30 a.m. or 1:30 p.m. There is no cost, but your group of 10 to 30 must submit names of attendees at least two weeks in advance.

Fort Point National Historic Site

99 Marine Dr.

San Francisco

(415) 556-1693

Why Go? The close-up view of the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge is reward enough, but history buffs will want to learn the story of a facility built between 1853 and 1861 by the U.S. Army Engineers as part of a defense system protecting San Francisco Bay.

Insider Tip: Want to avoid hunting for a parking spot in the Presidio? Hop on the San Francisco Muni 28 line or the PresidiGo buses, which stop at the bridge toll plaza. Follow trail signs to Fort Point at the base of the bluffs.

Must Do: Watch a cannon-loading demonstration.  

The Fine Print: Open to the public Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; no admission charge. Popular candlelight tours run until February, but are booked into early 2014 already.

Burlingame Museum of PEZ Memorabilia

214 California Dr.


(650) 347-2301

Why Go? Baby Boomers in particular will fondly recall Pez dispensers and the little candy bricks that popped out when the cartoon character's head was tilted back. Well, new dispensers are still being produced, and all 900 that have been issued since 1950 can be viewed here.

Insider Tip: Ask Gary, the owner and Pez guru, for a personal tour, which he frequently provides to visitors. On the first Thursday of every month, admission is free.

Must Do: Also within the small retail space is a Classic Toy Museum (Tinker Toys, Easy Bake Oven and more) and a Banned Toy Museum (Lawn Darts, for instance).

The Fine Print: Adults who want to head from the retail shop back to the museum area pay $3, children 4-12 and seniors (65+) are $1, and kids under 4 enter free. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. 


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