Every time I visit San Francisco, I feel like I’m experiencing the city for the first time all over again. This ever changing metropolis has so much to offer from history, to architecture, food, to technology. Over the course of the last decade I’ve visited as part of a girl’s trip, a romantic baby moon with my husband, and (most recently) a family trip with our daughters. I was seriously so impressed with how much there is to offer for families. It was hard to narrow this list down to ten, but for the sake of time we’ll focus on the most popular places we visited.
Without question, the number one thing you must do when visiting San Francisco is see the Golden Gate Bridge. Three visits in, and I can personally attest it never gets old. You can see this iconic structure from many vantage points throughout the city especially along the shores of the bay. As one of the 7 Modern Wonders of the World it’s certainly a bucket list item you don’t want to miss a selfie with. Although you can walk the bridge, I recommend families with small children avoid the risks and travel over the bridge by car or tour bus, or view it from the water on a Bay Cruise. During our trip, the kids had ample opportunity to take in the bridge, although the weather did make it a bit more difficult. Although rain and fog created an obstacle with seeing clearly, I will admit, it made a more mystical photo. The weather also cleared out a few of the beaches, which allowed us the opportunity to catch a rare glimpse of the legendary bridge from an empty shore.
Tip: If it rains, head to the beach for a creative photo op.
Find the “Full House” House
If you ask a local in San Francisco where you can find the “Full House” Victorian home, they will likely point you to Alamo Square and the iconic Painted Ladies bordering the park. I recently learned however, that this is a big misconception. Apparently, the actual home featured in the show’s external footage is located over a mile away on Broderick Street. The Painted Ladies were highlighted in the original title sequence however, so you can feel free to be like me, my daughter, and hundreds of other folks like us taking shots of the lovely homes from Alamo Park. Heck, why not seek out both the Painted Ladies and the actual home filmed for the show? It’s a great way to get to know the city a little more, and a fun way to bond with the newer generation who are now in love with the show’s reboot “Fuller House”.
Tip: Alamo Square is currently undergoing improvements so you may have to shoot around some construction.
One of the largest museums of it’s kind, The California Academy of Sciences is one part Natural History Museum, one part Aquarium, and one part Planetarium. This state of the art facility is a must-see attraction for the entire family. Walk through the three story biosphere full of free flying butterflies and birds, explore the latest traveling exhibits, and marvel at larger than life displays of dinosaur fossils. You can easily find yourself losing track of time as you absorb yourself in each fascinating corner of the massive museum. When you’ve worked up an appetite, head to the cafeteria where you’ll find a variety of locally sourced organic dishes to choose from.
Tip: To get the most out of your money purchase San Francisco City Passes which include The California Academy of Science as one of the ticket options.
There is no denying that San Francisco is a magical place. One of the elements that create this unique atmosphere are the Cable Cars. The only permanently operational National Historic Landmark, the Cable Cars are a piece of history seemingly frozen in time. The city is one of the most technically advanced in the states due to the major influence of nearby Silicone Valley, yet the Cable Cars appear and operate as they have since their launch in 1873. Natives and visitors alike crowd the trolleys as they work their way up and down the steep hillsides of San Francisco. It’s a marvel to watch, and a joy to experience no matter your age. Our kids grinned ear to ear as we secured our roadside seats and made our way throughout the city. With her daddy’s strong arms around her, Sienna (7 years old) enjoyed her first experience of hanging off the trolley and greeting the city around her. It was a timeless rite of passage for all who travel to this iconic destination, and a memory our family will never forget.
Tip: Both City Pass and San Francisco’s Go Card have great deals that cover your transportation via Cable Car and/ or Muni Bus.
A family friendly hub for shopping, restaurants and attractions, you can be sure there is always something to do at Pier 39. Not only is it hours of fun, it’s also full of history and exceptional views of the bay. Upon arrival my kids were entranced with the hundreds of sea lions who call the Pier’s marina home. Once inside, the entire family enjoyed The San Francisco Carousel, the interactive 7D experience, and scored some memorable souvenirs to take home! Leaving on a Bay excursion? Many of the fleets offering Bay adventures leave right out of Pier 39 making it a convenient place to refuel and recharge.
Tip: Get a coupon for a free family discount pack here along with an hour of free parking.
Pier Market Restaurant
Conveniently located on Pier 39, Pier Market Restaurant is the perfect place to satiate your appetite after a day full of play. This thirty year old family owned and operated restaurant stands out as a truly authentic San Francisco experience due to it’s fresh, sustainably sourced seafood, as well as classics like the sour dough bread, and clam chowder. Our family felt comfortable and at ease in the casual dining atmosphere with a lively view of the sea lions on the Pier, and (The Rock) Alcatraz. Our server Mo was extremely knowledgable about the menu, and made us feel like we were part of the family. Menu favorites for our crew included the crispy fried calamari, and the tasty Market Mixed Grill cooked over a mesquite grill in the Market’s open kitchen. Mo would not let us leave without tasting the Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee’ and we’re so glad we didn’t miss out on the decadent creaminess.
Tip: Pier Market’s clam chowder was voted “Best” on Fisherman’s Wharf. I recommend enjoying a bowl of it al fresco on Pier Market’s patio for an authentic San Francisco experience you wont soon forget.
Ever since my first visit to San Francisco I’ve been itching to get out on the water and experience the beauty of the Bay. On this visit I was thrilled to take our entire family on a Bay Cruise with the Blue and Gold Fleet and see The Golden Gate Bridge from the unique vantage point of the water. I was pleasantly surprised at the epic narration we listened to while cruising. We learned about San Francisco’s history, and through moving music and Hollywoodesque sound effects we were transported to another time. As we sailed past the city we learned of it’s highs and lows throughout the last century and gained a greater appreciation for how far it’s come. The cruise provided ample opportunities to snap fantastic photos of the bridge, as well as an up close look at Alcatraz. If you are visiting the city, don’t miss out on this fantastic opportunity to get to know San Francisco in a truly memorable way.
Tip: The Blue and Gold Fleet Cruise is part of the San Francisco City Pass. You can also find special offers on Pier 39’s website. Children under 3 cruise free.
Get up close and personal with San Francisco’s underwater residents at the Aquarium of the Bay. This interactive destination transports you to watery world full of magic and mystery. Surround yourself in the natural wonder as you walk through the aquarium’s tunnels where you’ll be surrounded by marine life local to the region, both big and small. I was captivated by the jellyfish gallery. They moved so gracefully and were lit up in a variety of colors, reminding me of a living lava lamp. My kids loved touching the bat ray’s wings as they glided delicately by their fingertips in the Aquarium’s touch tank. Towards the end of our experience we laughed at the Otter exhibit where the playful creatures leaped and dove into the water to study the faces of children close to the exhibit’s glass.
Tip: Grab a San Francisco Go Card for a great deal on Aquarium of the Bay and other attractions.
You simply can not visit San Francisco without a trip to Ghirardelli Square. It’s the heart and soul of the historic Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, but also a great place for shopping and dining. As soon as you arrive your senses are overwhelmed with the sweet fragrance of cocoa and sugar. Families of all ages make it a tradition to walk through the chocolate shop and enjoy a free square of Ghirardelli’s timeless chocolate. Established in 1852, Ghirardelli is considered the nation’s longest continually operating chocolate manufacturer. More than a century later and the legend still lives on. On this trip we had to stop in for a sweet treat at the Sundae Shop, and grabbed a giant Sundae to share. It was epic!
Tip: Right outside of Ghirardelli is a big park with a gorgeous view of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s perfect for letting the kids run around and burn off all that sugar, and it’s just steps from Fisherman’s Wharf.
|Image Provided by San Francisco Travel|
“The Crookedest Street in the World” is certainly a bucket list item to check off every traveler’s list. Kids especially will get a a kick out of walking or riding down the eight impossible turns of Lombard Street. If you are traveling by Cable Car, several lines drop off right at Lombard. Every time I’ve come to the city we always have to stop here for an epic ride down the hill. It really never gets old. Each time you’ll discover something new to see, whether that be the people watching, or the gorgeous mansions that border this famous road.
Tip: It only takes minutes to experience Lombard Street. Looking to hit up some other local icons? China Town, Fisherman’s Wharf, and North Beach are all within a short walk from this locale.
Pier 2620 is an ideal hotel to stay in for families visiting San Francisco. Perfectly situated in the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf, it’s steps from everywhere you want to be. We were thrilled to find that the Market and Union St Cable Car station was only a block away making it simple to hop on board and make a day of it. Comfortably chic surroundings with an urban accent gave this gem a trendy sense of place and was the perfect spot to call home base during our stay.
Tip: Pier 2620 has a $30 “Urban Fee” which includes complimentary breakfast and access to other great amenities on the property.
Our family trip to California was truly one of our favorite trips together thus far. All of us enjoyed the action, adventure, and culture we found in San Francisco and we cannot wait to return. If you are looking for a destination rich with history, natural beauty and modern innovation, then you have to move San Francisco to the top of your family travel wish list.
Enjoy the Journey!
xo- Amy West
See More Amy West Travel City Guides here.
This blog was collaborative partnership between myself, San Francisco Travel, Pier 39, and Pier Market Restaurant. Although many of the destinations provided an experience at no charge for our family, all words and opinions expressed in this blog are my own.
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