San Francisco offers so much for the young — and the young at heart. Having grown up in California, I’ve explored San Francisco many times. My family traveled here when my kids were growing up. I have my favorite activities. And now I’ve been able to enjoy the city with three of my grandkids, seeing the sights through their eyes, with brand new enthusiasm. After venturing here when Nico and Maddie were 10 and 11 and then with a newly-minted 10-year-old, Tyler, a few months ago, I have updated info on seeing the city with kids. Here’s what worked well (or didn’t) on our last two visits.
California Academy of Sciences
All three kids were entranced with this science museum. An extensive aquarium and the rain forest are highlights. Tyler also happily perused the collection of colorful geodes. You can spend a good part of a day here. The cafe serves a varied selection of foods for lunch so you can fuel up and explore some more.
I’m a big fan of these San Francisco icons. And so are the kids! We rode all three lines of cars up and down the steep hills and around corners, hanging onto the outside whenever possible. That’s the most fun way to ride! On one trip, the gripman talked to Maddie and Nico, asking about their interests and then getting the entire carload of folks to chant their names. You can buy a multi-day pass, which saved us quite a bit over what we would have paid for individual tickets.
The cables for the cars run out of this barn/museum. You can literally watch the cables spin. They run constantly under the streets, allowing a car to grip them and be pulled along. To stop, the gripman lets go of the cable. There’s also a brake to help slow the car. This unusual form of transportation fascinated the kids.
The Golden Gate Bridge
Of course, any trip to San Francisco will include the Golden Gate Bridge. We decided on both trips to walk across (part way) because riding a bike can be a bit tricky as you dodge pedestrians while gaping at the view. This worked well. We could take our time and enjoy the scenery.
The Musée Mécanique
This museum of working mechanical games is on Fisherman’s Wharf at Pier 45. Admission is free, and you can change a few dollars for quarters to play the games. It’s a great place to pop into for a short time to let the kids play.
Where to Eat
Our go-to breakfast cafe is a family-run restaurant named Sears in Union Square. With our without kids, Sears is the place for mouthwatering Swedish pancakes, bottomless cups of coffee, and a bustling warmth. This is where the locals go, trust me.
We stayed at the Hilton Union Square on both of these trips. It’s perfect for kids. The large deli offers snacks and juices, and a daily credit came with our room. We felt right at home with the mix of casual tourists and business people in the lively lobby. The Hilton is super fun during the holidays, all decked out with Christmas trees. I worked on collecting Hilton points and was able to swing both stays here entirely free. It’s just two blocks from Union Square, the cable car turnaround, and plenty of restaurants.
The one activity fail we had was going on the docked submarine USS Pampanito. Tyler asked to go on it, but it rocks in the water and makes loud, alarming cracking and moaning sounds. He wanted to get back on the pier immediately.We moved on to something else, and all was well, but be warned that your kids may not care for this one. A trip to San Francisco put big smiles on the kids’ faces. That’s what it’s all about.
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