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Child's Play: Free your inner kid in San Francisco

From the lasting appeal of James Matthew Barrie's Peter Pan, to Zen Buddhist teachers espousing the virtues of a "beginner's mind," the desire to recapture the magic of a child's perspective seems to span both generational and cultural boundaries. When feeling bogged down with adult responsibilities, many of us find ourselves pining for that enigmatic sense of childhood freedom. 

One of the qualities that makes travelling -- especially to new places -- so intoxicating is that it can reconnect us to a childlike state of wonder; freeing us to see the world as if for the first time, unfettered by preconceived notions. Thinking and acting like a kid is not only fun, but it also keeps us rooted in the present moment, instead of worrying about past mistakes or hypothetical futures. 

Embrace childlike exuberance and reconnect with your own inner kid by spending a day exploring a youthful side of San Francisco. Follow our map to discover some of the adult-friendly childhood thrills the City has to offer kids of any age! 

Kick off the day with a trip to Musee Mechanique, located less than a mile away from the San Francisco Fisherman's Wharf Hostel, on Pier 45. This free and interactive museum boasts a collection of over 200 vintage mechanical games, many of them rare or even one-of-a-kind. Admission is free but bring cash for the antique penny arcade games, music boxes, coin-operated fortune tellers, video games, and pinball machines. Beware the Laffing Sal character -- a famously creepy 6-foot tall automaton -- who just might evoke memories of childhood nightmares.

Bounce out the Laffing Sal heebie-jeebies at the House of Air, an indoor trampoline park featuring over 8,000 square-feet of conjoined trampolines, allowing one to quite literally "bounce off the walls." An hour-long jumping session costs $16 per person Friday - Monday, and $13 Tuesday - Thursday. Reservations are strongly recommended as tickets often sell out two or three days in advance. 

If outdoor physical activity is more your style, rent some roller skates ($5/hour) or roller blades ($6/hour) from Golden Gate Park Bike and Skate and head to Skatin' Place, an officially designated outdoor roller skating rink in Golden Gate Park. Skating has quite a storied history in San Francisco, and Skatin' Place is open daily for gliding. Come on Wednesdays from 3 - 5 p.m., Saturdays 1 - 5 p.m. or Sundays from 12 - 5 p.m. to join in a serious skating boogie with members of the California Outdoor Rollerskating Association (CORA). There's nothing like a scraped knee or elbow to make you feel like a kid all over again!

Not interested in skating? Pay a visit to the Koret Children's Quarter in Golden Gate Park instead. The playground -- originally called the Sharon Quarters for Children when it opened in 1888 -- is thought to have been the nation's first public playground. Though it's gone through many different incarnations since that time, the playground's historic and thrilling concrete slides remain unchanged. Grab a piece of cardboard and, if you're really a daredevil, a handful of sand -- it acts like tiny ball bearings to speed your descent -- and scream like a banshee as you whiz down the slide. 

The Children's Quarter is also an ideal setting for an epic adult version of that most iconic of childhood games: hide-and-seek. Or, join one of the Ultimate Frisbee pick-up games that regularly meet on the grassy fields right beside the playground. 

Ready to collapse after expending so much energy? Take a leisurely spin on the Golden Gate Park Carousel, located next to the children's playground. Take adequate time -- like kids do -- to make the painstaking decision about which creature you'll ride, and then hop aboard this piece of living history and let the German band organ music carry you back in time. The Carousel costs $2 for adults, and is currently open Fridays through Sundays from 10 a.m - 4:30 p.m.

On your way out of Golden Gate Park, swing by Free Gold Watch, a funky little screen printing shop which houses the largest collection of pinaball games in San Francisco. While the time away in this pinball heaven, and feel like a cool kid knowing that you discovered Free Gold Watch before everyone else did

For the last hurrah on our childhood-evoking tour, make the trek out to Billy Goat Hill Park -- it's worth it! -- for a terrifying, yet exhilarating, ride on the rope swing. Honored with the "Best Fun Way to Break a Limb" Award in the SF Weekly's 2012 Best of San Francisco Awards, the rope swing is decidedly dangerous, but on the plus side -- if you do fall and break a limb -- you'll have a spectacular view of the City's skyline while you wait for the ambulance to arrive! Be sure to bring a buddy, and some gloves to save you from the rope burn you'll start to get after a few twirls. 

Reward yourself for surviving the rope swing with a sweet treat from one of San Francisco's top candy shops. After all, child's play is serious business and you've earned the right to indulge in some gourmet delicacies. Check out the unique offerings from around the world -- like winegums from the UK and nougatine olives from France -- at The Candy Store, which recently took home top honors as the "Best Carnie Candy" in this year's SF Weekly Best of San Francisco Awards.

Interested in some local flavor? For handmade sea-salted chocolate-covered caramels -- and plenty of other mouthwatering comfort foods -- you can't beat Hooker's Sweet Treats, a friendly neighbor of the San Francisco City Center Hostel that we are particularly sweet on.  

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