In my opinion, every parent should have San Francisco on their “places to take the kids” bucket list! With clear blue skies, beautiful architecture and interesting (and steep) uphill streets, it is a city with views that everyone will enjoy!
There are several things that we experienced together that really stand out in our memories. Today I want to tell you what they are so that when you plan your trip to San Francisco with your kids, you’ll know a few do-not-miss activities!
Just walking the streets of Chinatown with our kids was an exciting adventure! There is shop after interesting shop where locals go to buy fresh groceries, including (sometimes still alive) meats and seafoods. We saw whole fish, eels, squid, octopus and who knows what else packed in ice in these markets. You can imagine the conversations we had about that! Ha! There are beautiful kite and toy shops as well. We were all dazzled by the brilliant colors of the Chinese toys and kites available in those stores. Tucked away in an alley is the fortune cookie factory. It was so interesting to see how fortune cookies are made and we even got to taste them right off the press! There are tea shops where you can sip and purchase wide varieties of hot tea. Sit down to enjoy a fabulous dim sum dinner where you order several small plates for everyone to share…so surely with that variety, the kids will find something they like to eat! Chinatown is a great place to pick up lovely souvenirs and fine teas and maybe even a beautiful authentic kimono for Mom! I wasn’t expecting it, but Chinatown was my favorite day in San Francisco with my kids. I highly recommend the experience!
Cross the Golden Gate Bridge
There are several ways you can accomplish this…we’ve done two and I recommend both. We have biked across it and we have driven. Of course you can always walk it too. There is a nice pedestrian walkway the whole length of the bridge. When your kids are old enough, there are several different bike rental places in the city. Bike across the bridge into Sausalito. Have lunch and then either bike or ride the ferry back to the city. There are several day trip excursions that you should consider renting a car to take. These would include but are not limited to Sonoma or Napa, Muir Woods, Stinson Beach, and Point Reyes.
Fisherman’s Wharf and Musee Mecanique
The Fisherman’s Wharf area is really fun with kids. Just walking around people-watching, sightseeing and tasting food from vendors that are nearby is quite an experience. Public Service Announcement though: make sure your food is covered! We had just bought my son a six dollar hotdog and a seagull swooped down and took it right off his plate. Hahaha! It was like we were watching it in slow motion and couldn’t do anything to stop it. It was hilarious! But we didn’t buy another six dollar hot dog and he was a little upset about that! There is a perfect view of Alcatraz as well…and our kids enjoyed walking along the water watching the boats come and go. We still haven’t actually made it over to Alcatraz but I know for a fact that it is an excellent place to visit. So add that to your list as well. Musee Mecanique was very interesting to see and experience. It is an interactive museum of antique penny arcade games. My kids were mesmerized with the games and quite terrified of “Laughing Sal”…a life-size windup doll that laughs a kooky guffaw that will scare the coins right out of you! Ha!!
California Academy of Sciences and Golden Gate Park
Something that thrills me to no end is providing rich educational experiences for my kids. The California Academy of Sciences was a fantastic place to do just that! It is enjoyable and interesting for kids and adults. An aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum and a living roof make up this wonderful place. Add this one to your bucket list of enriching spots to take your kids! The museum is located in Golden Gate Park. The park itself is giant and has tons of available family activities. You can spend a whole day taking in the museum, exploring Golden Gate Park, boating on a little pond and playing on the playground. Grab lunch at my favorite Haight Street restaurant Cha Cha Cha! Make sure you get the mussels and the plantains with black bean sauce!
Point Reyes Lighthouse
About an hour out of the city, Point Reyes is a little town that would be an excellent day trip destination. This lighthouse is really something to see! It feels like you have walked to the edge of the world when you visit this lighthouse! It’s just absolutely beautiful and something anyone would enjoy seeing. Due to it’s windiness and fogginess, the lighthouse was used as a location for the John Carpenter film, The Fog. I’m always interested in visiting film locations! There are 308 concrete steps that lead to it. My kids made sure to count each one…so it was a great counting lesson! When you’ve taken in enough of the overwhelming beauty of the lighthouse and ocean, head over to the little town and grab some chargrilled fresh oysters at Station House Cafe! Make sure and drive back into the city on Highway 1, for an absolutely gorgeous, curvy drive.
Places to Play
Our very first evening in the city, after being cooped up in a plane and airports all day, my goal was for the kids to spread their legs and burn off some energy. So we stopped in a CVS and bought several cans of silly string and headed to Alamo Square. There they had an epic silly string fight and then played on the playground to their little hearts’ content. They also enjoyed climbing around the massive trunks of the ancient Cottonwood trees that grow in the park.
My kids could have played for hours on Ocean Beach. We stayed in an Airbnb in the Sunset District and this beach was very close to us. There are others of course, but we chose Ocean Beach to play on. The sand is black and there are whole sand dollars to discover in the surf. Though the water and the wind were both freezing, my children had their shoes off in no time and my son stripped down to just his pants (as you can see in the picture above) and dove in the ocean! Crazy! But they loved it! And we enjoyed watching them play from our bundled up vantage point.
So there you have it….certainly not an exhaustive list of kid activities….but a few of our favorite things to do in lovely San Francisco. I hope you are inspired to experience this wonderful place with your kiddos soon!
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