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What do the kids like? Top ranked San Francisco Bay Area summer camps

September 26, 2010

Just after the end of the summer camp season, Sign Up For Camp conducted an ad hoc survey with parents to investigate what their kids had to say about their summer camp experiences.   While the following blog posting is not the definitive list of “go-to” camps in the Bay Area, it is a brief commentary on some of the camps that really struck a chord with our kids and their moms (and one dad).  The views depicted below come from children who range in age from four to eight years old.

Wanderers, a hiking camp that takes kids through wilderness areas in Marin County (just north of the city) and teaches them about the natural world, made its maiden voyage this past summer.  Right out of the gate, Wanderers gets a big thumb’s up from our family!  Our daughter attended a week of Wanderers and her comment the first day, “My Wanderers hiking camp sure makes me walk a lot; I’m tired,” says it all.  She had a fabulous time, and I have the photographs to prove it.  Kurt, Wanderers founder and director, emailed us parents every night with photos the counselors had taken of our kids in nature, from frolicking in the Pacific Ocean in the Marin Headlands to ooohing and aaahing over a big squishy banana slug.  Every night was a treat to see our daughter, big smile across her face, relishing nature.

Our sole dad responder was extremely impressed with the counselors at Kids Outdoor Club, a play-based outdoor camp that calls Golden Gate Park its home.  “One of the most important things that can make a camp great is the staff.  A lot of times camps hire high school or college[-aged] kids, who can be pretty immature and not THAT in tune with the needs of the kids…I was very impressed by one counselor at Kids Outdoor Club who really watched after my daughter, who wasn’t thrilled about the whole camp thing…We mentioned this to the counselor…and…the entire week, she was our daughter’s ‘buddy’.”  His daughter still talks about that counselor now.

Loads of people mentioned the camp at the Golden Gateway Swim and Tennis Club as one of the highlights of their children’s summers.  I did not send my daughter to Golden Gateway for summer camp, but she has taken after-school tennis lessons there.  However, one mom gave it such a stellar review that I will definitely send my daughter next summer, and perhaps my son if they take four year olds.  “Golden Gateway is a fantastic camp; it truly was a growing experience for my child, in both [teaching] tennis skill[s] and the social aspect.  She absolutely loved the camp.  It was 100% fun.”

Other moms mentioned that Golden Gateway offers an amazing package for the summer that can’t be beat: a three-month summer membership to the club’s facilities, plus a camp discount.  One mom in particular offered that she will send her daughter to one or two one-week camps and “then to Golden Gateway for the remainder of the summer if they have the same deal next year.”

That same mom couldn’t speak highly enough about Camp Galileo, a science-inspired program that encourages imagination and new ideas, collaboration with peers and creative expression.  She felt it was definitely the “right choice” for her six-year-old girl, a budding scientist.  “She loved it!  It was very organized, [the] counselors were great [and they had] lots of terrific activities.  She loved going every day.”

Tree Frog Treks resonated well with one mom who sent her four-year-old daughter to the Bay Area’s infamous “bug, lizard and snake” camp.  “Tree Frog Treks [was] a huge hit with my younger child.  She learned so many things about animals and about sea/marine life.  It was great to hear her stories.”

One mom, whose two boys are four and six years old, sent them to a variety of camps all twelve weeks of summer, including Steve and Kate’s. “We all loved Steve & Kate’s; the boys liked that there were so many different activities and so much free choice.  I loved the flexibility.”  Steve and Kate’s is truly a unique camp program whereby kids are exposed to enumerable activities, and they are free to pick and chose any combination that suits them, from the classic (singing, dancing, pottery-making and popular team sports) to the magnificent (Karaoke, clowning, cutting-edge interactive gaming and live-action filming).

Both Slide Ranch Camp and Planet Granite Climbing Camp were hits with one mom’s six-year-old daughter and five-year-old son: “They LOVED them both!”  At Slide Ranch, children experience and explore a working farm and learn respect for animals, plants, the earth and each other.  Children actively participate in farm routines and tasks to gain an appreciation of the origins of our food and fiber, including milking goats, feeding chickens, preparing compost and planting seeds.  At Planet Granite, kids explore a variety of climbing features found in nature.

Finally, one mom couldn’t say enough about the summer camp program at Children’s Day School, which is open to all kids, not just CDS students.  Her son, who attended Kindergarten at the school last year, took the Movie Making Camp and “talked endlessly about ‘his’ movie, showing it to all the cousins and anyone who came near him.  He [was able] to explain how all the effects were done.”

So, did your children attend any of these camps last summer and, if so, did they feel the same way or differently about their experiences?  Would you send your kids to any of these camps next year based on what you’ve read here?  Because reviews help future campers make better choices and Sign Up For Camp be a better tool for everyone, we’d love to hear from you.  Please, when you get a moment, log on to Sign Up For Camp and give us your feedback on any or all of the camps your kids attended this past summer.  And, if you don’t see a camp on our website that you think is worth a highlight, please drop us a line at  A big “Thanks” from Sign Up For Camp!

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