San Francisco is a cultural playground in many forms. Children (and parents) will find museums that encourage creative thinking and exploration, as well as numerous parks, playgrounds, attractions and activities to provide plenty of stimuli to inspire. The San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau (SFCVB) features an itinerary just for children called Kid City on San Francisco’s official Web site www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com. From the home page go to "Insiders Guide" and then Itineraries.
San Francisco’s devotion to the arts extends to teaching young ones the importance of art and culture. Many museums feature youth-oriented programs. Here are just some of the City’s kid-friendly museums:
Asian Art Museum of San Francisco
The Asian Art Museum is one of the largest museums in the western world devoted exclusively to Asian art. Its collection spans 6,000 years of history and reflects the major cultures and religions found throughout Asia. Family programs include storytelling offered every Sunday and more (www.asianart.org/family.htm). Hours: Tues.-Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Thurs. until 9 p.m. Admission: $12 adults, $8 seniors, $7 ages 13-17 and college students with ID, $5 after 5 p.m on Thurs., children 12 and under free. First Sun. of the month free.
Bay Area Discovery Museum
The Bay Area Discovery Museum is a one-of-a-kind indoor/outdoor children’s museum located next to the Golden Gate Bridge in Sausalito, offering hands-on art and science exhibitions, cultural festivals and special events. Kids can explore a shipwreck, collaborate on natural art projects, grab the “catch” of the day in a simulated Fisherman’s Wharf, or discover the wind, currents and creatures of the Bay. Tues.-Fri., 9 a.m.-4 p.m, Sat.-Sun., 10 a.m.-5 p.m., closed last two weeks of Sept. $10 adults, $8 children 1-17, $8 seniors 62+, infants under 1 free. Free on first Wed. of each month from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
California Academy of Sciences
Golden Gate Park
Families can explore earth, ocean and space in the only place in the world to combine a natural history museum, aquarium, planetarium and world-class research and education facility under one roof. Designed by award winning architect Renzo Piano, the world’s largest public green building is topped with a living roof, a 2.5-acre expanse of native California plants, providing a habitat for birds, butterflies and insects, which blends seamlessly into the beautiful landscape of San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Park. Daily interactions with animals, educators and biologists within immersive, hands-on exhibits offer discovery and wonder for visitors of all ages. The Academy inspires lifelong curiosity and appreciation for the natural world. Experience the depths of a Philippine coral reef, climb into the canopy of a Costa Rican rainforest and fly to the outer reaches of the Universe. Hours: Mon.-Sat., 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Admission: $24.95; children 6 and younger, free; children 7-11, $14.95 ; youth 12-17, students 18+ (with I.D.) and seniors 65+ (with I.D.), $19.95. Free third Wed. of each month.
Cartoon Art Museum
The Cartoon Art Museum is the only museum west of the Appalachian Mountains dedicated to the preservation, education and exhibition of cartoon art in all forms. View rare, original cartoon art. Open daily 11a.m.-5 p.m.; closed Mon. and holidays. Admission is $6 for adults; $4 for students and seniors; $2 for children age 6-12; under age 5 free. The first Tues. of every month is “pay what you wish day.” (Some exhibits may not be suitable for children).
Contemporary Jewish Museum
Newly opened in downtown San Francisco in June 2008, the Contemporary Jewish Museum presents dynamic exhibitions and educational programs, exploring contemporary perspectives on Jewish culture, history and ideas. To see programs for families, visit www.thecjm.org . Hours: Mon.-Tues., Fri.-Sun. 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Thurs. 1-8:30 p.m, closed Wed.. Admission $10 adults, $8 seniors and students with valid ID, age 18 and under free.
de Young Museum
Golden Gate Park
Located in Golden Gate Park, the museum’s state-of-the-art facility integrates art, architecture and natural landscape. For family programs, visit www.famsf.org. Hours: Tues.-Sun. 9:30 a.m-5 p.m., Fri. until 8:45 p.m.; closed Mon. Admission: adults $10, $7 seniors, $6 youth 3-17 and college students with ID, age 12 and under free. First Tues. of each month free.
The Exploratorium – Palace of Fine Arts
The Marina District
The Exploratorium is the original hands-on science museum – its interactive exhibits make learning fun. The museum offers a number of events and exhibits that are listed on their Web site. The museum is open year-round, but closed on Mon. Children are $9 (children under the age of 3 are free) and adults are $14. Admission is free the first Wed. of every month.
San Francisco Cable Car Barn & Museum
The City’s cable car system is run from a circa 1907 red brick barn. Examine the winding machinery designed to make the motorless cars navigate city streets and study Andrew Hallidie’s original prototype Car No. 8. Hours: open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: free. Located at 1201 Mason St. For more information call 415-401-3119 or visit www.sfcablecar.com.
San Francisco Fire Department Museum
The San Francisco Fire Department Historical Society (SFFDHS) preserves the heritage and records the history of the San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD). Guests can see displays of documents, graphic items, fire memorabilia, apparatus, appliances and other items. Admission is free. Hours: Thurs.-Sun., 1p.m -4 p.m.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)
The SFMOMA offers the West Coast’s most comprehensive collection of modern and contemporary art. To see special programs for families, visit www.sfmoma.org . Hours: 11a.m.-6 p.m., Thurs. until 9 p.m.; closed Wed. and major holidays. Admission: adults $12.50, $8 seniors (age 62 and over), $7 students with ID, age 12 and under free with an adult. First Tues. of each month is free; Thurs. 6 p.m.-8:45 p.m. is half-price.
Wax Museum at Fisherman’s Wharf
Every day of the year visitors can come face to famous face with the most renowned personalities of history, fantasy and today’s news. The Wax Museum features wax replicas of heroes, stars, religious and world leaders. Admission: $6.95 for children 6 and younger; $9.95 for juniors (age 12-17) and seniors (55+); $12.95 for adults. Open daily 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. except for holidays. Call 415-202-0402 for holiday hours.
A multimedia arts and technology museum where kids and families explore creativity through hands-on programs including clay animation, video production, and more. Hours: school year hours Wed.-Sun. 1-5 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 11a.m. –5 p.m.; summer hours Tues.-Sun. 11a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: $8-10; free for members and children under age 4.
Parks and Playgrounds
Even on vacation, kids need time to play. So why not take a play break in one of San Francisco’s playgrounds?
Golden Gate Park’s cherished Children’s Playground, the first children’s playground in a public park in America, was recently renovated to comply with ADA requirements. There are several other playgrounds within the park: Fulton Playground, Kennedy Dr. at Ninth Ave.; Panhandle Playground, between Oak and Fell streets; and Mother’s Meadow, Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. near 19th Ave.
Other neighborhood playgrounds include the Chinese Recreation Center located at Washington and Mason streets, Portsmouth Square at Kearny and Clay streets, North Beach Playground at Lombard and Mason streets, Mountain Lake at Lake and Ninth Ave., the Rooftop at Moscone Center at Fourth and Howard streets, and Nob Hill’s Huntington Park at California and Taylor streets. The Marina Green and Crissy Field, along the waterfront in the Marina offer picnic areas with the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz in the background.
AT&T Park, South Beach, has a number of ticket packages available to keep baseball affordable for families. For example, at Costco Stores, Giants fans can purchase a $24 gift card good for two view reserved tickets to a 2009 home game.
• The Knothole Gang is the Giants right field wall which contains open archways, where fans can walk up and watch the game free of charge.
• The Giants Kids’ Meal is one of the best deals in the ballpark – which includes a hot dog, drink, carrots and a toy for $4.50.
• The Giants allow food to be brought into the ballpark, enabling families to save money on food and beverages while at a game.
• Autograph Sundays is every Sun. after batting practice, two players sign autographs for the first 200 kids 16 and younger in line in Section 125/126 and Section 104/105.
AT&T Park is not only a place to see a Giants baseball game, it boasts a playground within the ballpark called the Coca-Cola Fan Lot, located on the Promenade Level, behind the Left Field Bleachers. This interactive play area offers slides located inside the 80-foot Coca-Cola bottle made of Alaskan Cedar, to Little Giants Park where kids can play baseball and adults can admire the original artwork on the walls of the mini-park, created by local illustrator and artist Halsted Craig Hannah. Fans can also visit the Build a Lou Seal Store by Build-A-Bear Workshop® and create a plush Lou Seal or one-of-a-kind Giants bear. While in the Fan Lot, fans can also get a close look at one of the world’s largest baseball gloves (26’x32’x12’), a replica of a four-fingered vintage 1927 glove.
Levi’s® Landing – the ballpark’s signature right field wall and arcade, is just 309 feet from homeplate. The 25-foot high wall is the shortest in all of baseball and has become the distinguishing feature of AT&T Park. The arcade section, which features seven rows of seats and standing room locations, is a favorite viewing location for fans.
There is also a miniature AT&T Park whiffle ball park so the younger generation of Giants fans can play their own game. That area is open during baseball games and on the weekends from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. beginning April 1 2009.
For more information, visit sanfrancisco.giants.mlb.com
For San Francisco Giants information contact 415-972-2000 or visit www.sfgaints.com.
To join one of the daily ballpark tours, contact Alexis Arbizu at 415-972-2400.
Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park is San Francisco’s largest park, covering 1,013 acres. Take a picnic, try fly fishing, see the buffalo, rent a bike or skates or play golf. Visit the Conservatory of Flowers, Japanese Tea Garden, San Francisco Botanical Garden, pedal a boat on Stow Lake, or visit the de Young Museum and the new California Academy of Sciences – all in the expansive Golden Gate Park. For Golden Gate Park information call 415-831-2700 or visit http://www.sfgov.org .?
For San Francisco Botanical Garden Arboretum information, visit www.sfbotanicalgarden.org.
For Conservatory of Flowers information, visit www.conservatoryofflowers.org.
For the California Academy of Sciences, visit www.calacademy.org.
The Presidio of San Francisco was once the most important military post on the West Coast. Over the span of 200 years, three flags flew over the base — Spanish, Mexican and American.
The Presidio’s 1,491 acres of prime real estate next to the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay have some of the best views in town. And there’s so much more to experience, including miles of hiking trails; signed bike routes; hidden picnic sites with lavish backdrops of the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands and Pacific Ocean; eucalyptus and cypress groves; cannons dating from the late 1700s; a pet cemetery; abandoned barracks where Indian fighters once slept; and guided walking tours through historic military ruins, artillery batteries and the National Cemetery. A 20-page guide to the two-mile Ecology Trail highlights the Presidio’s oldest redwood trees and Inspiration Point and includes pages for children to journal their own experiences.
Rangers with the National Park Service also lead free tours at Fort Point, a four-tiered brick and granite fortress built between 1853 and 1861, tucked under the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge. The reclaimed wetlands and grassy knolls of Crissy Field, located along the shoreline of San Francisco Bay not far from the Exploratorium, offer picnic tables, walking paths, viewing areas and a schedule of energetic family-friendly activities in the Crissy Field Center. Using the ocean as a classroom is the province of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary visitor center, which guides groups through more than 1,200 miles of open ocean surrounding the Farallon Islands off the Golden Gate.
Attractions and Activities
San Francisco’s attractions are iconic and kid-friendly – whether it’s walking across the Golden Gate Bridge, or the tasting fresh clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl on Fisherman’s Wharf. There’s plenty for families to see and do:
Aquarium of the Bay
Meet 20,000 sharks, octopuses, jellies, skates and other amazing marine animals from the San Francisco Bay and neighboring waters as you walk through 300 feet of crystal clear tunnels. Take a Behind-the-Scenes tour or enjoy special free-with-admission presentations by the Aquarium’s naturalists and biologists, including sevengill shark feedings, bat ray feedings and more. Touch leopard sharks, bat rays and sea stars. Explore the all new PG&E Bay Lab (opening April 4, 2009) with land-dwelling animals as nature’s ambassadors, promoting energy conservation to protect their habitats from the potential impact of climate change. Open daily except Dec. 25. Summer hours 9 a.m-8 p.m. Most other times Mon.-Thurs., 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Fri.-Sun. until 7 p.m. Admission $15.95 adults; $8 seniors (age 65+) and children (ages 3-11); $39.95 family (2 adults, 2 children). Children under 3 free. Prices and hours subject to change.
Yerba Buena Gardens Festival
The Yerba Buena Gardens feature more than 100 free performances and events annually, May-October. These include classical, jazz, world and operatic music, theater, spoken word, traditional and contemporary dance, visual arts and children’s programming. In the unique upstairs park, families will find an indoor ice skating rink; a playground; a carousel; and bowling alley.
Tour San Francisco neighborhoods or the Golden Gate Bridge by bicycle. The City has several tour companies where families can rent everything they need for a two-wheeled outing (including kid’s bikes).
• Bay City Bike Rentals and Tours
2661 Taylor St.
• Golden Gate Park Skate & Bike
3038 Fulton St.
Ride the Cable Cars – there are three lines for this famous transportation system, Powell-Hyde, Powell-Mason and the California St. Line. For more information contact the San Francisco Municipal Railway at 415-673-MUNI (6864) or visit www.sfmta.com.
While more than 7,000 carousels once existed in the world, just 300 remain, with four unique carousels residing in San Francisco. For more information about San Francisco carousels, visit www.sfcvb.org/travel_media/press.asp?rid=454&cid=5. The four carousels located in San Francisco include:
• Golden Gate Park
Martin Luther King Dr. and Bowling Green Dr.
Hours: Fri. –Sun., 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Cost: Adults $1.50, children $.50 per ride
• PIER 39
PIER 39, First Level at the North end
Hours: Sun. –Thurs., 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Cost: $3 per ride
• San Francisco Zoo
1 Zoo Rd.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
Cost: General Admission is $11 adults, $5 children; San Francisco residents $9 adults, $2.50 children
• Yerba Buena Gardens
Corner of Fourth and Howard streets, on the Rooftop at Yerba Buena Gardens
Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily
Cost: $3 for two rides
Although its oldest building - the Woolen Mill - dates back to 1864, Ghirardelli Square is most famous for its years as a chocolate factory, from 1893 until the 1960s. In 1964 Ghirardelli Square became the country’s first manufacturing complex renovated into a festival marketplace. In addition to fabulous views of the bay, landscaped gardens and a self-guided historic walking tour, it boasts more than 50 shops and award-winning restaurants. Families may enjoy a Ghirardelli chocolate hot fudge ice cream on the plaza. Entrance is free. For more information, visit www.ghirardellisq.com.
Golden Gate Bridge
Cross the Golden Gate Bridge – explore on foot or by car, bicycle, or tour bus. Travel under the bridge on a bay cruise or soar over it by helicopter or seaplane. For more information about the bridge call 415-921-5858 or visit www.goldengate.org.
Yerba Buena Ice Skating
750 Folsom St.
San Francisco’s only year-round ice skating center at Yerba Buena offers a variety of programs – public skating, skating school for figure and hockey skating, instruction and more. Figure and hockey skates are available for rental. For more information, call 415- 820-3527, or visit www.skatebowl.com.
From November through January, seasonal ice rinks entertain thousands of holiday shoppers at the Embarcadero Center, the San Francisco Zoo and Union Square.
San Francisco is the perfect place for kids to learn about food – where it comes from, the variety of tastes and how it’s prepared. Families can take children to the Ferry Building’s famous Sat. and Tues. markets to learn about seasonal produce, ask farmers questions and even participate in a Farmers’ Market scavenger hunt or Ferry Building bingo. Visit http://www.cuesa.org to download the forms.
For a list of San Francisco restaurants with special children’s menus, visit the SFCVB’s TasteSF site at www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com/taste.
San Francisco Zoo
The San Francisco Zoo, home to exotic and rescued animals from all over the world, is located across from the Pacific Ocean. The African Savanna offers a multi-species landscape with giraffes, zebras, kudu, ostriches and more. Go nose to nose with famed grizzly sisters Kachina and Kiona at Grizzly Gulch; watch lemurs leap through the largest outdoor lemur habitat in the country; visit Penguin Island; marvel at the troop of gorillas; and feed farm animals in the popular Children’s Zoo. Take rides on one of the world’s only old-fashioned miniature steam trains and the historic Dentzel Carousel. Open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission for San Francisco residents $12 adults ages 15-64; $5.50 children ages 4-14; seniors 65 and over $7.50; children age 3 and under free. Non-residents $15 for adults 15-64; $9 children ages 4-14; seniors 65 and over $12; children age 3 and under free.
Tours offer a different historical perspective on San Francisco – with no two tours alike. Below are a few tours popular with children. For a complete listing, visit www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com.
Bay Quackers, LLC-San Francisco Duck Tours
See San Francisco a whole new way on board one of the “Ducks,” an original, refurbished WWII amphibious landing craft. The U.S. Coast Guard-certified “Wacky Captain” takes visitors on an informative, 90-minute “Surf & Turf” tour of San Francisco’s famous landmarks, then into the Bay for a 20-minute cruise. Operates seven days a week.
Mr. Toad’s Tours
Tour San Francisco in a vintage pre-1930s touring car. Ride in the heated, open-air touring cars with a professional guide. Each tour visits the main parts of the City while highlighting the more unique and harder to get to locations. Mr. Toad’s Tours is only available in San Francisco.
Ride the Ducks
RTD’s mission is to “create Quack-tastic memories worth repeating” ™ by offering guests an entertaining sightseeing experience that is fun, informative and engaging. The 90-minute sightseeing tour includes about 60 minutes on land and 30 minutes in the water, wending through the city’s historic streets and neighborhoods, then splashing down into McCovey Cove, with an engaging captain who entertains passengers with captivating stories of San Francisco’s legendary past and tales from the intriguing present.
San Francisco City Guides
San Francisco City Guides offers free walking tours of San Francisco. Visit their site at www.sfcityguides.com for a list of upcoming tours, which include many neighborhoods and interests (Civic Center; Embarcadero; the Presidio; North Beach).
The Gold Rush City Tour takes visitors through the Yerba Buena neighborhood – Yerba Buena was the name of San Francisco in the late 1800’s. This tour covers the City’s most historical sites and shows visitors what it would have been like to live in San Francisco in the 1800’s.
San Francisco Fire Engine Tours & Adventures
The Fire Engine Tour across the Golden Gate Bridge is a one-of-a-kind San Francisco experience in a restored 1955 big red shiny Mack fire engine. Guests wear fire hats, jackets and scarves as they travel through Fisherman’s Wharf, Russian Hill, the Presidio, Pacific Heights and Sausalito.
The Urban Safari
San Francisco tours in a zebra-striped Land Rover take visitors to places off the beaten path.
Visit a Kid-friendly neighborhood
There are more than 40 neighborhoods to explore in San Francisco. For more details on the various characteristics of these unique enclaves, visit www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com/neighborhoods. Below is a listing of some of the more popular areas where families congregate:
San Francisco’s more than 140,000 citizens of Chinese ancestry, and the 15-million visitors who pour through Chinatown every year, participate in the enclave’s everyday street pageantry in almost equal parts. Explore Chinatown’s shops filled with fun trinkets, tour a fortune-cookie factory, take a walking tour and more.
At Fisherman’s Wharf, the crab pots are out in force most times of year, but especially during Dungeness crab season (mid-Nov.-mid-June), when tasty, fresh crab is available in abundance. Tour a real submarine or a national Liberty ship, visit wax replicas of famous people, find out how to make San Francisco sour bread or enjoy a picnic in Aquatic Park. PIER 39 has many family attractions, kid-friendly restaurants, and the world-renowned sea lions.
Where the Pacific Ocean meets the western edge of the City, families will find the perfect beach to fly a kite, throw a Frisbee or simply build castles in the sand.
More than a dozen museums are located in the Yerba Buena District – many with special programs for families. The rooftop garden and playground at Yerba Buena Gardens provides a welcome respite.
For general information on hotel packages and reservations; events; activities and transportation in San Francisco, visit www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com. For lodging reservations, call 800-637-5196 within North America or 415-391-2000 elsewhere.