San Francisco is a great place for a family vacation. There are tons of things to do with kids, from crossing the Golden Gate bridge to riding a trolley car. San Francisco has many historical sites to tour as well, including the notorious prison, Alcatraz.
General tips on a San Francisco trip with kids:
- San Francisco is a large city, with several distinct neighborhoods. It is also a VERY hilly city so be sure to know if your hotel is uphill or downhill from the tourist destinations!
- San Francisco does have a significant vagrant/panhandler population. Be sure to talk with your children beforehand to prepare them, and as in any large city, steer clear of the areas with aggressive panhandlers. Talk to your hotel concierge for up-to-date information.
- Transportation: San Francisco has a great public transit system. All of the various systems, including the BART subway, the MUNI buses, and the cable cars, are easy to navigate and use. Driving is not encouraged unless you plan to see some of the sites outside of the city.
- Food: San Francisco has amazing restaurants but many may not be kid-friendly. In the tourist destinations, you will find plenty of restaurants that cater to kids. We found a great Italian and pizza place that our kids enjoyed near our hotel, Palomino. There are local bakeries/sandwich shops, like Boudin Bakery, that are authentic and good for kids. The Ferry Building at the Embarcadero has a great market with lots of choices. And of course, since you are in California, don’t forget In-and-Out! We lucked into a walk-in table at the famed Chez Panisse Cafe in Berkeley and surprisingly, it was our kids’ favorite meal!
- Lodging: San Francisco has many amazing hotels. We stayed at the Hyatt Regency on the Embarcadero, and it was a large business hotel but in a great location. Areas of the city to consider are: Embarcadero, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Union Square.
- City passes: There are a couple of ways to save money if you plan to see a lot of the sites in San Franscisco. Check out:
- Websites to help you plan your trip:
Don’t miss attractions with kids:
- Cable car ride: Long lines can form at the Fisherman’s Wharf endpoint so head to the Financial District end point near the Embarcadero instead to catch the California line at California and Drum Streets. This line takes you up a large hill and you can get off at Mason Street and walk to the Cable Car Museum, which is fascinating. Let your kids look in the photo machines at the pictures of the city after the 1906 earthquake.
- Ghirardelli Square: Don’t miss sharing an ice-cream sundae at The Original Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop!
- Fisherman’s Wharf: Lots of shopping, dining, entertainment, and fun are found in this very touristy area. Don’t miss seeing the sea lions lounging, fighting, and calling out on Pier 39.
- Sightseeing or dolphin cruise
- Chinatown: The largest Chinatown in the US is here and is a fun place to walk. Don’t miss the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory tour!
- The Presidio (includes the Walt Disney Family Museum)
- Golden Gate Park: Large park with museums and a botanical garden (including the California Academy of Sciences)
- A baseball game at the Giants’ home stadium right on the water
- Lombard Street: One of the most crooked streets in the country!
- Exploratorium: Great science museum for kids right on the Embarcadero.
- Children’s Creativity Museum
- Musée Mécanique
- San Francisco Zoo
- Nearby attractions include:
Historical Sites: Check back often for more of these sites to be reviewed by The History Mom! Note that only sites reviewed by The History Mom are marked with *. Other links are external links to the museum’s own web site.
- California Historical Society
- USS Pampanito submarine museum
- SS Jeremiah O’Brien ship and museum
- San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park (ships, museum, visitor center)
- Cable Car Museum and Market Street Railway Museum
Books to Read:
- 14 and up:
- 10 and up:
- 6 and up:
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