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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 o Restaurants

Golden Gate BridgeSan 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.

Travel writer 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.

“San Francisco 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

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 Blue and Gold Fleet also offers regular cruises of the bay.

Cable CarsCable Car
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.

Chinese Culture Center
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.

Coit Tower
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.

Filbert Steps
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.

Fisherman's WharfFisherman's Wharf
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 Jefferson Street.

Ghirardelli Square
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

Pier 39
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,

Glass 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 views.

Golden Gate Bridge
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.

Golden Gate Park
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 Sundays.

California Academy of Sciences
Children's Playground
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 Drives.

Japanese Tea Garden
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.

Stow Lake
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 Haight
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.

Lombard Street
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 Streets.

San 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,

San Francisco Zoo
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

Yerba Buena Gardens
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.

The 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.

Ice Skating 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.

Yerba Buena 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.

Metreon 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,

Martin 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,

CruisesBay Bridge

Blue and Gold Fleet
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,
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,


San Francisco 49ers
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,

San Francisco 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,

Museums and Performing Arts

San Francisco is a wonderful place to expose the kids to a little culture. The options are practically endless; read on for more info.

Day 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).

Family Friendly Restaurants

Great family restaurants sure to please parents and kids alike. Read more here.


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