Exploring San Francisco with Kids

posted by Sharon February 10, 2019 37 Comments
San Francisco cable cars

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.San Francisco Caliornia Academy of SciencesSan Francisco Caliornia Academy of SciencesAcademy of Sciences, San FranciscoSan Francisco Caliornia Academy of SciencesThe Cable Cars

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. San Francisco Cable Cars

San Francisco cable carsSan Francisco cable cars

San Francisco cable carsCable Car Museum

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.

San Francisco cable car barnSan Francisco cable car barnSan Francisco cable car barn

San Francisco cable car barnTyler seriously studied the workings of the cables.San Francisco cable car barnThe 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. San Francisco Golden Gate BridgeSan Francisco Golden Gate BridgeSan Francisco Golden Gate BridgeSan Francisco Golden Gate BridgeSan Francisco Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco Golden Gate BridgeSan Francisco Golden Gate Bridge

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. San Francisco Musee MecaniqueSan Francisco Musee MecaniqueGhirardelli Square Chocolate Factory Ghirardelli Square Fishermans Wharf San Francisco

Here you can see how chocolate is processed into the delicious candies and sauces made by Ghirardelli. This is the original site of the company’s first factory. San Francisco GhirardelliSan Francisco Ghirardelli

Of course, you must treat yourself to a hot fudge sundae! San Francisco Ghirardelli

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. San Francisco SearsSan Francisco SearsSan Francisco Sears

San Francisco SearsWhere to Stay

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.

Hilton Union Square San FranciscoSan Francisco ChristmasSan Francisco ChristmasWhat to Skip

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. San Francisco USS PampanitoSan Francisco USS PampanitoSan Francisco USS PampanitoSan Francisco USS PampanitoA trip to San Francisco put big smiles on the kids’ faces. That’s what it’s all about.San FranciscoSan FranciscoSan FranciscoSan FranciscoHow about you? Do you have a favorite San Francisco attraction to recommend?

Linking up with Image-in-ing, Monday Murals, Pictorial Tuesday, Wednesday Around the WorldThe Good, the Random, the Fun, Through My Lens, Seasons, Our World Tuesday, Photo Friday, Travel Photo Thursday, Weekend Wanderlust, Faraway Files, The Weekly Postcard, Wanderful Wednesday, Feet Do Travel, Weekend Wanderlust, Nanahood, My Corner of the World, and Weekend Travel Inspiration.
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37 Comments

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Carol February 10, 2019 at 9:43 am

You certainly know all the fun places to go!

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William Kendall February 10, 2019 at 10:34 am

Terrific shots! The science museum would particularly draw me in.

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Tamar Strauss-Benjamin February 10, 2019 at 11:30 am

I so want to see SF one day!

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Junieper2/ Jesh StG February 10, 2019 at 7:06 pm

Ah had already been thinking next time my son comes from Holland we need to go back to San Fran, He might want to see the choc factory, and who knows the submarine (not the cable cars, since a cable car comes daily in front of the apartment where he lives in the Hague). Thank you for sharing this fun experience with your grands in San Fran!

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Lydia C. Lee February 10, 2019 at 10:15 pm

That Musee Mecanique looks awesome – love that old ‘basketball’ game. #MondayEscapes

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Deborah Patterson February 11, 2019 at 8:38 am

We’re looking forward to taking our kids to San Francisco next year, so I’ve pinned your post to look at closer to the time. Great to have a good breakfast / brunch recommendation, and the cable car museum looks like a good place to head to too. #mondayescapes

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Clare (The Travelling Wilbennetts) February 11, 2019 at 9:08 am

San Francisco is such a gorgeous place and your photographs are brilliant. I have visited a couple of times but never with my daughter. We also have family there who are due a long overdue visit so might be time to start planning #MondayEscapes

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Christine February 11, 2019 at 9:52 am

We had a stopover in San Francisco a few years back and loved visiting Alcatraz! The trams were good too, saved little legs. #mondayescapes

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Eileen Wise February 11, 2019 at 11:36 am

Hello, wonderful trip photos. I love San Francisco. It is a beautiful city. Enjoy your day, have a great new week!

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Photo Cache February 11, 2019 at 11:41 am

What a great reminder that San Francisco is also a good choice for kids. I would add Muir Woods, even though it is technically not in San Fran, for kids who have not seen tall tall trees.

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Mother of 3 February 11, 2019 at 11:58 am

I’ve never been to San Francisco but it sure does look like a fun city! Pinned.

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Jeanna February 11, 2019 at 5:17 pm

I bet there are too many good choices of places to stay and see and eat. I love the chocolate machine, I’ve seen one make chocolate covered pretzels and it was a fraction of that size but still enthralling. I can imagine the smell. I thought for a second you were visiting Scharfenberger, I think they have a factory there too.

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Fun60 February 11, 2019 at 11:34 pm

Your photos brought backed happy memories of my holiday there a couple of years ago.

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Chloe: Picture Taker Memory Maker February 12, 2019 at 3:10 am

San Francisco is somewhere I would love to visit. Well, I’d love to do the whole of California actually, but San Fran is a big pull. It looks like there’s loads of stuff to do – the cable cars look fun and my middle daughter would really enjoy the California Academy of Sciences. I think it’s wonderful that you spend time with your grandchildren in this way too.

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Typical Mummy February 12, 2019 at 2:02 pm

I’ve never been to America (sadly!) but SAN Francisco is definitely somewhere I’d like to visit when I do eventually make it over to the U.S. It looks great! #MondayEscapes

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Kelly Anne Rothaermel February 13, 2019 at 10:20 am

San Francisco is a fun city for all ages! Have a great week! Glad you have fun !

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Katherine February 14, 2019 at 8:53 am

I have been planning to visit the USS Pampanito for a little while, but maybe I’ll reconsider after your little review. Or maybe I’ll brave it and see what I think. Great round up of kid-friendly things to do in SF! Sometimes I wish I had a kid out here to give me a better excuse to visit the attractions aimed at a younger audience. #farawayFiles

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Little Wandering Wren February 15, 2019 at 2:28 am

San Fran is one of those cities, a bit like Sydney that you never forget. I remember riding that cable car as a youngster with my parents and of course the bridge. It was a wonderful city as a child and indeed at every stage of life. Note to self must get back there soon! Thank you for sharing these great ideas.
Wren x

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Erin Gustafson | Oregon Girl Around the World February 15, 2019 at 2:44 am

I celebrated my first and second birthday at Ghiradelli (and have the photos to prove it!) I love SF -and would love to explore the town with my not-so-littles. Great list of some seriously iconic spots. Lovely photos as always! Thanks for sharing – cheers from Copenhagen. #FarawayFiles

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Esther February 15, 2019 at 6:04 am

Aww, looked like you had an amazing time. I must say that I quite liked most of these things to do when I was in SF last and I was far from a child 😉 Can’t wait to go back there when my baby is old enough!!
#FeetDoTravel

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Lisa | Handmade in Israel February 16, 2019 at 11:48 am

It looks like you have had some terrific visits with your grandkids. I would love to ride the cable cars, the museum looks so interesting. My kids would have enjoyed the mechanical games place and those hot fudge sundaes. Yum! #FeetDoTravel

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Carrie Ann February 16, 2019 at 3:25 pm

I haven’t been to San Francisco in forever, and your post is making me want to go back! You picked such fun activities, it’s no wonder the kids had such big smiles on their faces. I hadn’t heard of the Cable Car Museum, and I bet it’s fascinating, Putting that on my list for when we visit again, along with Sears restaurant..those pancakes look delicious!.

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Nitin Singhal February 16, 2019 at 11:40 pm

Looks like you and your grandkids had a blast. Amazing pictures. I loved every part of your post

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Garth February 17, 2019 at 3:57 am

Loads of great ideas and for big kids too! Not been to SF for years, have pinned for a future visit! #FeetDoTravel

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Jill February 17, 2019 at 7:43 am

We are East Coasters so I’ve only been to San Francisco twice but we did take our kids there many years ago and absolutely loved all the things to do for kids. I think it warrants a return trip for sure.

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Indrani February 17, 2019 at 8:38 am

Children all over the world seem to be fascinated by cars… my kids too are! Love the car museum, a ideal destination with kids.
And the chocolate factory… I would love to go too.

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Patrick Weseman February 17, 2019 at 10:10 am

I have many since I am a teacher in the district. LOL. Too many to name. Glad you enjoyed my great town.

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Obligatory Traveler February 17, 2019 at 11:59 am

I’m young at heart so I would love all of these activities. Going to the Ghirardelli’s in San Francisco is on my ice cream bucket list. The Cable Car museum seems like a fun and unique to San Francisco thing to do. #WeekendWanderlust

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Catherine’s Cultural Wednesdays February 17, 2019 at 2:14 pm

We are headed to San Francisco this summer with teens … thank you for the submarine tip, wewill avoid #FarawayFiles

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CARMEN | Wellington World Travels February 17, 2019 at 8:21 pm

You guys look like you had a wonderful time! Look at your kids smiles!! I have never been to San Fran so I can’t recommend other attractions. But I would loved to take my kids there! I am sure my kids will have a great time!

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Linda (LD Holland) February 18, 2019 at 9:39 am

We are in San Francisco right now. While we don’t have kids with you, we still like to travel like kids some days. The cable cars are one of our favourite rides. We will have to check out the cable car museum. So great to catch the Golden Gate Bridge without fog. And I will definitely have to take my chocoholic hubby for one of those Ghirardelli sundaes! A very timely post for us.

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hilary February 19, 2019 at 11:50 am

What perfect timing! We’re planning a trip to the Bay Area in April, and although I’ve been there many times, we plan on looking at this trip with fresh eyes! Oh, and your grandkids are adorable. #farawayfiles

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Angie (FeetDoTravel) February 21, 2019 at 10:23 pm

Yes I would definitely say this post covers something for everyone, kids and big kids 😀 Who doesn’t love a cable car eh, and the Golden Gate Bridge is a bucket list item for me. Great list of things to do in San Fran with kids, pinned. #feetdotravel

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Rob+Ann @TravelLatte(.net) February 22, 2019 at 9:36 pm

We do enjoy San Francisco! Love all of the attractions you mentioned, but we have never been to the USS Pampanito. We also like the Maritime Museum by the Hyde Street Pier. They have some great ship models in there, and it’s close to Ghirardelli Square. But our favorite attraction is definitely the cable cars! To us, that IS San Francisco! 🙂

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Daisy - Dais Like These February 24, 2019 at 11:45 am

I would absolutely love to visit San Fran – it’s on my bucket list for sure! It looks like you managed to pack so much into your trip I love the look of the traditional trams.
Thanks for linking up to #MondayEscapes

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Katy Stern February 24, 2019 at 11:59 am

I would absolutely LOVE to do SF. A road trip would be epic -its definitely on my bucket list. Love the golden gate bridge. Thanks so much for linking up to #MondayEscapes

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Sofie March 29, 2019 at 3:22 am

I would love to plan a trip to San Francisco.
But there are so many things to do and so little time 🙁

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