San Francisco is a city abundant with interesting places to see and things to do for visitors of all ages. Although this bustling city by the bay has more than it’s share of entertainment for adults with its theaters and nightlife, it’s also a great vacation spot to take your kids. So, pack up your family and head west to enjoy the sights and sounds of San Francisco.
Where to Stay
Fisherman’s Warf, The Embarcadero, famous for Pier 39, holds plenty of family friendly hotels at reasonable prices, compared to hotel prices in the downtown area. Popular attractions are within walking distance or you can jump on a cable car or trolley to travel around the city.
Consider staying in a hostel. For a family traveling on a budget a hostel makes a lot of sense. Hostelling International is a great resource for learning about nearby places to stay and their website allows you to make reservations online. There is a great hostel located at Fort Mason just west of The Embarcadero. With its inexpensive dorm style rooms and community kitchen a family can save some money on frills and meals.
What to Do
A trip to San Francisco would not be complete without a visit to the Exploratorium. This non-profit, hands-on science museum will fascinate you and your kids with its experiments and displays of physics, light and sound, life science, weather and anything else you can think of. It is located at the Palace of Fine Arts on Marina Blvd. and is a short bus ride from the Embarcadero. The exhibits in this museum are designed to experience, not just to look at. They have designed experiments for all ages from the toddler to the teenager. Play with the anti gravity mirror or the thermal imaging camera. This is a museum where you can touch it, build it, play with it, hear it, see it, experiment with it and be creative, all while learning about the science of the world around you.
The museum will change the exhibits once in a while so if you are to visit again, you are always going to find something different along with some of your favorite exhibits as well. Give yourselves plenty of time here; you can easily spend the entire day. Back at Fisherman’s Warf you family can enjoy a visit to Pier 39. You are guaranteed to see plenty of interesting characters. Street performers’ such as magicians, jugglers, dancers, singers, and some guy painted silver, who only moves when you give him a tip, have been entertaining the crowds for decades. A walk on Pier 39 takes you to specialty shops, candy stores, ice cream parlors and a carousel.
Another great science related museum is the California Academy of Science located in Golden Gate Park. Here you can see en entire skeleton of a T-Rex right when you walk into the museum. It is conveniently located near the De Young Museum where you can a world of incredible art. Golden Gate Park is a great place to let your kids run around and many pack a lunch for a day of museums and a picnic. The park is absolutely huge so be sure to bring a map to find your way.
Also, inside the park is the San Francisco Zoo. The zoo is open everyday from 10am to 4pm and aside from cool animals, it features a mini steam train, a carousel and a talking storybook feature for the kids. The zoo will often change their exhibits and hold special presentations on animals that they may feature for a limited time. They also feature children’s education programs for kids of all ages, from toddlers to 12 year olds to give them an opportunity to learn more about the animals at the zoo.
What’s a trip to San Francisco without a trip to the beach? Ocean Beach, at the west end of Golden Gate Park is 3.5 miles of sandy beach. But, keep in mind, this is not the kind of beach where you lay out in the sun with your beach blanket and watch your kids frolic in the waves. The water here is much to cold to swim in and the currents can be dangerous. Bundle up, roll up your pant legs and take off your shoes for a stroll along the sand. Hunt for seashells, and driftwood while your kids run off their energy playing tag with the surf. At the north end of the beach is the Cliff House where you can have a nice meal with a beautiful view of the ocean.
What to Eat
Speaking of meals, if you’re hungry, the street vendors on the Embarcadero make some of the best clam chowder you will ever taste, served in a bowl of famous San Francisco sour dough bread, of course. Speaking of bread, visit the Boudine Bakery on Jefferson Street where they have been making the original sourdough bread since 1849. Stop in a buy a loaf shaped like a teddy bear or a turtle. Your kids will love it. Stuff yourself with crab at any one of the street side crab shacks or stop in of the numerous restaurants nearby. For great kids entertainment at mealtime head over to the Rainforest Café, also located on Jefferson Street. Your kids will love eating in the jungle surrounded by wild animals of the rainforest.
For desert, stop at Ghirardelli Square. The ice cream shop serves up some of the best sundaes you’ll ever eat. When you’re done, stop in at the Ghirardelli store to stock up on their world famous chocolates.
San Francisco is a beautiful city with such a variety of activities, your family will have plenty to do from walking in parks, eating great food, watching the harbor seals on the pier, or scavenging on the beaches. One last note, the weather is always a little on the chilly side. It rarely gets hot and on summer evenings you will want a sweater or light jacket. So, come to San Francisco and enjoy a great family vacation.