San Francisco Delivers Kid-Friendly Fun
Jump ahead to... Alcatraz
o Cable Cars o Chinatown o Chinese
Culture Center o Coit Tower o Filbert
Steps o Fisherman's Wharf o Ghirardelli
Square o Pier 39 o Glass Elevators
o Golden Gate Bridge o Golden Gate Park
o California Academy of Sciences Children's Playground o
Japanese Tea Garden o Stow Lake
o The Haight o Lombard Street o
Fire Engine Tours o San Francisco Zoo
o Yerba Buena Gardens o The Rooftop
at Yerba Buena o Metreon A Sony Entertainment Center
o Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Waterfall o Cruises
o Sports o Museums & Performing
Arts o Day Excursions Outside of San
Francisco is known as “Everybody's Favorite City” and “everybody” includes families.
The City offers a wealth of unique, pleasurable and affordable family activities.
From just-for-fun attractions to culturally enriching and educational experiences,
San Francisco is an ideal spot for a family vacation.
Carole Terwilliger Meyers, author of “Weekend Adventures in Northern California,”
has been researching child-friendly activities in the Bay Area for 28 years and
is a local authority on the subject of going out on the town with children.
just gets better and better at accommodating families,” she says. In her opinion,
San Francisco's classic, fail-proof family attractions are Golden Gate Park, the
Zoo and the splendid Exploratorium. Truly valuable hints from this veteran of
family travel include:
When visiting museums,
stop by the gift shop first and have the child pick out a postcard of one of the
works of art in the museum, then have them find the piece in the collection as
they walk through.
Remember to keep
the more adult activities short. At mealtime, when in doubt, head towards ethnic
restaurants. Often they are more receptive to kids or have a family atmosphere.
If passing by a treat stop, such as an ice cream parlor, consider stopping for
a snack even if it's the wrong time. Those opportunities don't always pop up at
the best time and should be taken advantage of when present. In the initial stages
of trip planning, figure out an itinerary, then cut it in half, everything will
take twice as long when kids are involved. Finally, having a child carry a backpack
of toys and goodies is a must.
Below is a listing
of selected options to consider for a family-friendly San Francisco itinerary.
All numbers are in the (415) area code unless stated otherwise. Complete San Francisco
visitor guides are available at the Visitor Information Center at 900 Market Street
at the corner of Powell and Market streets, lower level, Hallidie Plaza. To receive
a copy by mail, call (415) 391-2000, write to the San Francisco Convention & Visitors
Bureau, P.O. Box 429097, San Francisco, CA 94142-9097 or send your request by
e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Formerly a maximum security prison that housed many infamous criminals and spawned
a good amount of legends, “The Rock” as Alcatraz is also known, is situated on
an island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. Audio tours of the prison are
educational and entertaining. Best to buy tickets well in advance and remember
to dress warmly with comfortable walking shoes. Tickets can be purchased at the
Pier 41 ticket booths, by calling Blue and Gold Fleet, 705-5555, or online at
www.blueandgoldfleet.com. Blue and
Gold Fleet also offers regular cruises of the bay.
Gracing San Francisco streets since 1873 and now a designated national historic
landmark, cable cars are a delightful way to explore The City. Experience the
elements in an open-sided car as it's pulled up a steep hill by cables and enjoy
the magnificent views along the way. To add an educational spin on the excursion,
stop by the Cable Car Museum at Washington and Mason Streets. Catch the cars at
Powell and Market, California and Van Ness, Hyde and Beach, Bay and Jones or California
and Drumm, 673-MUNI.
A thriving community since the days of the Gold Rush, San Francisco's well-established
and sizable Chinatown is inextricably woven into the fabric of local history.
A walk through Chinatown is a truly sensory experience, overflowing with produce
and meat markets, herb shops, temples, dim sum restaurants and exotic shops. Kids
love to enter this area through the gateway at Grant Avenue and Bush Street.
Providing extensive information about the community, the Chinese Culture Center
also hosts walking tours and upcoming events. 750 Kearny Street, 3rd Floor, 986-1822.
Chinese Historical Society of America The Chinese Historical Society presents
a window to the past of San Francisco's Chinatown. Call ahead of time at 391-1188,
open periodically at 644 Broadway Street until Fall, 2001 when they move to 965
Clay Street and resume regular hours.
Offering panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay and The City from the top of
Telegraph Hill, this Art Deco tower is decorated on the lower levels with colorful
murals of 1930s California life. Located at the end of Telegraph Hill Boulevard,
public transit No. 39 - Coit is highly recommended.
After the exhilaration of Coit Tower, a walk down the Filbert Steps affords the
pedestrian a look at nearby gardens and homes imprinted on the backdrop of the
beautiful San Francisco Bay. Located on the east side of Coit Tower.
Take the F line trolley cars down Market Street or along the Embarcadero or take
catch the cable car at the Powell Street turnaround and go “halfway to the stars”
to Fisherman's Wharf. Street performers entertain while the aroma of fresh cracked
crab wafts through the crowd. Dining and entertainment opportunities abound along
From 1863 until the early 1960s, Domingo Ghirardelli and his family used this
area for the production of chocolate. Now converted into a festive brick marketplace,
Ghirardelli Square is home to more than 70 unique shops and eateries. 900 North
Point Street, 775-5500
Whether it's family fun, distinctive shopping, an up-close look at California's
playful sea lions, an encounter with a street performer or dining with a Bay view,
Pier 39 has it all. This year round active marketplace is a key entertainment
center and San Francisco's No. 1 most visited attraction. Pier 39, 705-5500, www.pier39.com
Elevators (Westin St. Francis, Hyatt Regency San Francisco)
Whooshing to the top of a building in a glass elevator is always a fun break during
a day of touring. The Westin St. Francis in Union Square and the Hyatt Regency
at 5 Embarcadero Center are both accommodating to families and provide gratifying
Nothing can compare to a stroll across the Golden Gate Bridge, whether the day
is sunny, blustery or fog-shrouded. San Francisco's premier landmark can be also
be crossed by bicycle, skates, or auto, all providing access to the best views
of The City and the San Francisco Bay. The bridge itself spans the one-and-a-half
mile gap between San Francisco and Marin County.
Established in 1870, Golden Gate Park is one of the largest man-made parks in
the world and is a jewel for San Francisco locals and visitors. Aside from park
activities such as horse back riding, boating, bike riding, skating or strolling
through the botanical gardens, Golden Gate Park offers many other activities for
family enjoyment. The Music Concourse is a great place to see live music on weather-permitting
Academy of Sciences
Built in 1887, is the first playground ever built in a U.S. public park. With
traditional playground fare such as slides, sandboxes, swings and jungle gyms,
the park playground is a great place to entertain kids. A large, colorful carousel
is open nearby. Bowling Green Drive, between Martin Luther King Jr. and Kennedy
Carefully sculpted Japanese gardens are a feast for the senses. Pagodas, koi-filled
ponds and bonsai trees add to the atmosphere. Stop by the teahouse for some green
tea and fortune cookies. Near the Music Concourse area, 666-7107.
Rent a small boat and tour this scenic retreat. Easy hiking trails lead up to
the Huntington Falls, a great spot for a picnic. Off Martin Luther King Jr. Drive,
midway through the park.
The 1960's catapulted this street into rock and roll history, with Janis Joplin,
the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix and other rock and roll legends having called
this neighborhood home at one time. With its flower power reputation firmly entrenched,
this neighborhood became established as a hippy haven and ground zero for alternative
culture. Teenagers love to browse through the shops for music and “vintage” clothes.
Haight Street, between Central and Shrader Streets.
The block of Lombard Street between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets, is known as
the world’s crookedest street with nine hairpin turns to navigate. The street
itself is cobbled in brick, carefully landscaped and lined with beautiful houses.
The best way to get there is to take the Powell-Hyde cable car line. Visitors
should be respectful of residents’ privacy. Lombard Street, between Hyde and Leavenworth
Francisco Fire Engine Tours
A truly unique way to experience San Francisco, Fire Engine Tours accommodates
up to 13 passengers at a time on an exciting, educational and exhilarating adventure
on a big red shiny (open-air and fully restored) 1955 fire engine. This is an
unforgettable way to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. Call for reservations. The
tour begins on Beach Street at The Cannery. 333-7077, www.fireenginetours.com.
Take a walk on the wild side at the San Francisco Zoo. Families can't miss with
the winning combination of the animal habitats, special children's area, safari
trams, a steam train and more. Highlights include the Koala Crossing and Gorilla
World, as well as animal feedings that take place throughout the day. 1 Zoo Road
Publicized as the first urban center specifically for kids, 10 acres of San Francisco's
dearest real estate has been turned into a haven for the younger generation. The
rooftop above The Moscone Center is well equipped with a playground area for the
kids, an old-fashioned carousel, Zeum and ice skating and bowling.
Rooftop at Yerba Buena.
Atop the Moscone South Convention Center on Fourth Street between Howard and Folsom
Streets. This $56 million complex is bursting with family activities. Cultivated
for kids, the Rooftop has an excellent playground, complete with grass and spongy
ground covering, a sand box, and a super fun jungle gym.
and Bowling There is a ton of fun to be had for the entire family at the
Ice Skating and Bowling Center, atop Moscone. Both facilities are new and offer
a variety of activities; call ahead for events and times. 750 Folsom Street, 777-3727,
Reminiscent of an age past, this hand-carved carousel dates to 1906. Located below
Zeum at the entrance to the Rooftop.
Gardens - the Gardens
Mission Street between Third and Fourth Streets. The Yerba Buena Gardens offer a secluded haven for those seeking a quiet moment away from city streets. Truly an oasis in the midst of the bustling downtown district, these beautifully landscaped gardens are a great spot for picnics, relaxation or fresh air fun.
A Sony Entertainment Center
This entertainment mecca, offers something for everyone with 15 movie theaters,
an IMAX screen, restaurants, shopping, state-of-the art games (including virtual
reality) and other attractions. A great place for kids, teens and adults, the
Metreon is the personification of San Francisco's love affair with technology.
101 Fourth Street, 369-6000, www.metreon.com.
Luther King Jr. Memorial Waterfall at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Behind a 22-foot high, 50-foot wide waterfall is a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther
King Jr. commemorating his vision of world peace and unity. Flanked by carved
images of Dr. King and San Francisco's community leaders are 12 gleaming panels
engraved with Kings writings in a variety of languages. 701 Mission Street, 543-1718,
Blue and Gold
Offering Bay Cruises to fit anybody's preference the Blue and Gold Fleet is a
great place to start exploring the San Francisco Bay. The one hour Bay cruise
is the most popular, cruising around Alcatraz, going beneath the Golden Gate and
past Angel Island. Other unique offerings include tours of Alcatraz, Angel Island,
Six Flags Marine World, Muir Woods, and much more. Pier 41 Fisherman's Wharf.
For rates and daily departure times call 773-1188, www.blueandgoldfleet.com.
Red and White Fleet
Savor San Francisco's best features during a one hour Bay Cruise aboard the Red
and White Fleet. Sail under the Golden Gate Bridge, along the City's skyline and
by Alcatraz Island. Light snacks, beverages and cocktails are available from the
snack bar and cruises are available in foreign languages. Pier 43 ½ at Fisherman's
Wharf, 673-2900, www.redandwhite.com.
The winners of five Super Bowl Championships in the last 20 years, the 49ers are
a true San Francisco institution. The football team continues to shine at 3Com
Park. Tickets may be obtainable on game day, call ahead for availability, or reserve
in advance during the mid-July ticket sale. Jamestown and Harney Way, 656-4900,
Giants at Pacific Bell Park
Do you go to the stadium to see the game, or do you go to the game to see the
stadium? The new and lauded Pacific Bell Park, home of the famous San Francisco
Giants, is a destination in itself. There's even a playground with a miniature
baseball and giant Coke bottle-shaped slide for youngsters. A limited supply of
tickets is available on game day at the onsite box office. For those interested
in viewing the ballpark during off hours, stadium tours are available seven days
a week after April 17. Call ahead for schedule. 24 Willie Mays Plaza, 972-2000,
and Performing Arts
San Francisco is
a wonderful place to expose the kids to a little culture. The options are practically
on for more info.
Excursions Outside of San Francisco
Read more about
day trips out
of the city - from world renowned aquariums to wine country excursions (even
the kids will love a ride on the wine train).
Great family restaurants
sure to please parents and kids alike. Read