Travel | Kid-Friendly Fun in San Francisco
San Francisco is a terrific place to take your kids! From the cable cars to the museums and bay cruises, there is a lot to do. The City by the Bay has a super unique personality too, which makes it a fascinating place to soak up a different city culture, while still in the US. I used to live in the Bay Area in the early 1990s and spent a lot of time in San Fran, but I hadn’t been in several years, nor had we taken Christina to one of our favorite US cities.
We decided to stay at the Fairmont on Nob Hill, which is fabulous and top-notch with terrific bay and city views, plus you can walk out the door and catch a cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf. Or, Union Square is just a 10-minute walk down the hill. A fun bonus, if you have a girl who likes American Girl dolls, they are one of just a few hotels that offer a special package for the doll. There are several great boutique hotels in the area too, if you don’t want to pay the higher room price. We were lucky we had gorgeous weather for our entire stay — not even any fog in the morning! Here are highlights from our trip, plus our recommendations and a few tips.
After doing some research, I decided to buy a CityPASS, which gives you three days of unlimited cable car riding (and buses), plus access to several key attractions. If you use it for at least two attractions and the cable cars, it’s worth the cost. And, we used it! We rode the cable cars A LOT (a trip highlight — my daughter loved it!), plus took the Bay Cruise and went to the California Academy of Sciences. I would buy it again.
A highlight of the San Francisco experience for sure, my daughter couldn’t get enough of the cable cars and we rode them several times daily, from the waterfront to Union Square and back again. Our hotel was conveniently located right next to a cable car stop, which made it easy to use them to get around. The City Pass gave us unlimited riding for 3 days (or there’s a longer option too) and made it easy to hop on and ride.
No trip to San Fran is complete without a visit to historic Ghirardelli Square for their incredible ice cream sundaes. Our favorite? The classic hot fudge sundae. The best hot fudge ever. You can also get a look at how they make their famous chocolate. If you’re around the square during lunch or dinner time, it’s also the home of McCormick & Kuleto’s outstanding seafood and sweeping bay views. Plus, there are several cute shops in the complex.
The home of the famous sea lions that sunbathe on the docks and shops ranging from souvenirs and candy to the popular Christmas in San Francisco boutique, Pier 39 is must-go tourist attraction. It’s a short walk from Ghirardelli Square and close to Fisherman’s Wharf.
Bay Cruise at Fisherman’s Wharf
One of the options on the City Pass, the Bay Cruise on the Blue & Gold Fleet leaves near Pier 39 and cruises around Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge and back along the city shoreline for about one hour. It was well worth it. If weather permits in the morning, meaning no fog, I recommend catching one of the cruises earlier in the day. According to staff, the early afternoon cruises are the busiest. We sailed on the 10:15 am boat and it wasn’t crowded at all, allowing for terrific viewing and photos. After the cruise, we stopped at the Chowder Hut at Fisherman’s Wharf for must-have chowder in a bread bowl. Yum!
California Academy of Sciences
After our hunger for chowder was satisfied, we took an Uber up to Golden Gate Park to the California Academy of Sciences. The building was very cool and we enjoyed touring the rainforest and aquarium, which were both good and worth the visit, although the aquarium was not the most impressive we’ve been to. Across the plaza sits the DeYoung Museum, which we didn’t tour as we were ready for an activity break. Next time, I’d go earlier in the day because there is SO much to do and see in the park! The Japanese Tea Garden sounded fun as well.
Museum of Ice Cream
Definitely one of my daughter’s favorite activities, the Museum of Ice Cream is a fun, interactive experience! There are a ton of great photo ops (as you will see in the pictures below!), a variety of ice cream treats are handed out along the way, and the sprinkle pool is so much fun for kids. Definitely buy your tickets in advance as days and times do sell out, plus the museum is closed on Tuesdays and hours are limited during the week. While initially there were other pop-up locations in LA and NY, San Francisco now has the only permanent location. The exhibits change regularly, so there is always something new to see. It’s located right near Union Square, so close by shopping and easy to walk to.
A must-go for people watching and photos around the park in the center of the downtown action. Union Square is also known for its outstanding shopping — from the giant Macy’s with its own food court, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom to an impressive line-up of standalone designer stores (Think Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Valentino). If you’re looking for a bargain, Nordstrom Rack, H&M and Zara are all the same area as well.
Tonga Room at the Fairmont Hotel
Open from Wednesday through Sunday, the Tonga Room with its regular thunder and rainstorms through the evening is fun for adults and kids! A live band plays on stage in the center of the giant pool — where the rain falls — although they don’t start until around 8pm. There is a kids’ menu and happy hour menu for adults. We went on Wednesday at 6pm and it was busy, but not crazy. A fun, interactive dining experience and the food was good as well.
Next Time: We didn’t make it to everything, so on our list for next time… the Alcatraz tour, San Francisco Zoo, Exploratorium at Pier 15, and a trip out to Sausalito, which is a cute town across the Golden Gate Bridge on the other side of the Bay.
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