Imagination City is a NEW Interactive Play Space in the San Francisco Bay Area

Take a bite out of imaginative play. Photo by the author
Take a bite out of imaginative play. Photo by the author
4/21/23 - By Sandra Lee

Imagination City is a brand-new indoor pretend play space in the Hillsdale Shopping Center in San Mateo, and I recently checked it out. Since opening its doors in February, families have been talking about it, the mall has been promoting it, and our family just had to see it ourselves. Once in a while, we like to go to a spot around the Bay Area that's getting a lot of buzz and see if it's worth all the hype. Keep reading below for our review! 

If the kiddos are yearning for more imaginative play, we've got a whole list of indoor playgrounds and play spaces, plus free museum days to continue education and inspiration. 


The New Imagination City Play Space

Imagination City indoor play space in San Francisco Bay Area
Veer over to pretend play at Imagination City. 

Imagination City is owned by Janine and John, parents who understand the beneficial impact and joy that creative, real-world role-playing can have on kids. With a name like Imagination City, you can probably guess that this play space revolves around pretend play.

At the play space, kids (and caregivers) enter into a child-size city to learn and spark ingenuity. From making pizza at a pizzeria, driving an ice cream truck, putting on a show at the theater, taking care of pets at the animal hospital, and using a pretend fire hose to put out a fire, make-believe is everywhere. 

RELATED: Exploring San Francisco's Presidio Tunnel Tops with Kids

Imagination City indoor play space in San Francisco Bay Area
Paddle, slide, scoot, repeat. 

For more active kids (like my son), there are scooters and toy cars to ride around on a track that connects the pretend city. Slides, bridges, and a construction zone with a Jungle Jumparoo are great to expend that energy. My daughter could climb and jump all day while my son lived his best life on the scooters. 

Best Ages for Imagination City

While Imagination City is intended for kids ages 12 and under, after my visit, I'd say it skews more toward toddler or preschool age. Many new walkers and fast crawlers were having a blast with all the toys. Parents are allowed inside, and the space is open yet gated, so kids can explore to their heart's desire without getting lost.

The Imagination City sweet spot is between ages two to five, as they can interact with all the pretend toys, take the cars for a spin, and get into imaginative play. 

RELATED: 25 Top Indoor Playgrounds and Play Spaces in San Francisco

Imagination City indoor play space in San Francisco Bay Area
Little ones will especially love the variety of interactive activities. 

A 10 to 12-year-old might get bored here, and while we did see some seven to nine-year-olds playing, it seemed the play space might have been a little young for older children. Gamma Ride is also at Hillsdale, and older kids will enjoy more age-appropriate entertainment like the arcade and mini bowling. 

Where to Find Imagination City

Imagination City is in the Hillsdale Mall, on a corner of the second floor, so it's far enough to feel removed from the hustle and bustle of a mall but close enough to all the shopping and eating areas. There are no restrooms in the play space, but since it's in a mall, you are never far from one. 

When to Visit Imagination City

There is no open play on the weekends, as this is when the play space hosts birthday parties (yay! A new indoor birthday party spot), making Imagination City a weekday spot. 

The last 90 minutes of the day, and last play session, are from 5:30-7pm with a discount price of $16 for kids, $14 for crawlers, and $5 for babies or free with an older sibling. The last play session is perfect if you need to entertain a younger sibling while an older one is in an afterschool activity or if kids need to burn off some energy before dinnertime.

I was advised that the "older" kids tend to show up on the later side, so if you have a new walker or crawler, the earlier times are best. 

RELATED: 25 Top Indoor Birthday Party Places in San Francisco for Kids 

Imagination City indoor play space in San Francisco Bay Area
Pretend play awaits in the Hillsdale Mall 

Things to Know About Imagination City

  • Playtime is capped at two hours, giving the staff a chance to clean and pick up any previously used toys before the next playtime begins. Playtimes are Monday to Friday from 10am-12pm, 12:30-2:30pm, and 3-5pm. 
  • Food is not allowed inside the play space, but there is a spacious lobby where kids can take a break to get a snack and rehydrate. 
  • Admission rates are $18 per child, $16 for crawlers, and only $5 for babies (or free with an older sibling). 
  • I loved the cleanliness of the play space and would recommend it as an ideal spot for new crawlers and walkers. There is a bin for dirty and used toys which is a thoughtful way to help decrease the spread of germs.    
  • There is a Mrs. Field's Cookies right across from the play space, which helps getting the kiddos out of there when it's time to call it a day.
  • Don't forget to bring socks for the kids, and gripper socks are best.  


All photos were taken by the author.

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