What is the most beautiful city by the bay, you ask? Quite literally, San Francisco has my heart. It is THE city by the bay (as far as I'm concerned) and you are guaranteed to fall in love with it, as well. It is the city where I was born and once called home. So, for me, visits to San Francisco are filled with family time and re-visiting nostalgic haunts from my childhood. That said, since traveling there with my tykes in tow, I’ve had to re-create child-friendly itineraries that we all find fun and vacation-worthy. In this city, that is easy peasy.
San Francisco is one of those rare and special places where both children and adults are easily entertained. A myriad of experiences await in a variety of different neighborhoods around San Francisco and some even better hotspots just outside the city. And whether you’re driven by your taste buds, a desire to explore nature or shop in some of the world’s best boutiques, San Francisco cannot be beat
Any Native San Franciscan will be the first to tell you that you shouldn’t miss the big tourist spots: Ghirardelli Square, Lombard Street, Union Square and Pier 49. That said, you’ll pay dearly in time spent trying to find parking, beating crowds and eating mediocre food when San Francisco is KNOWN for its’ food scene and off-the-beaten pat fun. Still, you can’t be in San Fran and skip these. So check ‘em out and then, go off-the-beaten-path with my family and me.
My goal is to give you a fabulously fun guide to extra special spots that will make your family trip to San Francisco, one of the best ever. So, from one Native San Franciscan to all of you, here’s my list of can’t miss San Francisco hot spots and a few hints to make it extra special and fabulously fun while driving the crazy hills of this incredible city!
I hope you find my San Francisco TOP 15 as enjoyable as my family has. Have fun getting to know my favorite city by the bay.
Seward Mini Park & Street Slides – These totally secret slides are part of a community garden and are seriously a child’s paradise. Nestled between the Castro and Twin Peaks areas, this park boasts slides made out of cement that are sure to bring out the child in everyone. The garden, which is home to California native plants, and the slides are open every day from 9am-5pm. (Hint: Bring cardboard to make the sliding easier.) http://sfrecpark.org/destination/seward-mini-park/
Tiled Steps – If you’re looking for a hidden ART gem that is rarely toured and in few tourist books, this is it! Located in the Golden Gates Heights neighborhood, and inspired by similar steps in Rio Di Janeiro, these beautiful steps were created and inaugurated into the San Francisco art scene in 2005. The mosaic design is “a colorful, flowing, sea-to-sky theme, with fish near the foot of the steps and birds, leaves and starts near the top.” It consists of 163 separate mosaic panels. You can get your exercise and appreciate the beauty, all at the same time. http://www.tiledsteps.org
Crissy Field Beach & The Marina – One of the most beautiful FLAT walks in the entire Bay area is right here, at Crissy Field. The views are breathtaking, the kite flying is always happening and if it’s a cold day, make sure to make a pit stop at the Warming Hut for a cup of Joe or hot chocolate for your kiddos. Whether you walk, run, kite fly, bike ride or picnic your way through Crissy, you can’t go wrong. https://www.nps.gov/prsf/planyourvisit/crissy-field-marsh-and-beach.htm and http://www.parksconservancy.org/visit/eat/warming-hut.html
Coit Tower – I know I’ve mentioned a few places that are view-worth but there is none better than Coit Tower. Pay the extra money to take the crazy, small elevator to the top and then shimmy your way up the final narrow staircase for the most incredible 360-degree views of the Bay area. It is stunningly breathtaking. Don’t forget a jacket…most days it’s crazy windy and cold, but beyond worth it! (Hint: If you’re looking for an alternative path to Coit than driving, you can head up the Filbert Street Steps. Caution: It’s a workout!) https://www.coittowertours.com
Westin St. Francis, Union Square – Whether window-shopping or actual shopping in Union Square, you and your little ones will inevitably need a break at some point. The Westin St. Francis is a historical hotel with glass elevators in the lobby. Let your little ones take a ride while you all rest your footsies and grab a snack in their café. I remember riding these, when I was little; during the holiday season...memories! (Hint: If you’re in Union Square during the Holidays, enjoy ice skating and hot chocolate right in the heart of all the action. And don’t forget to snap a family picture in front of the most recognizable heart, Tony Bennett’s heart titled, America’s Greatest City By the Bay. It resides permanently on the corner of Powell and Post Streets. http://www.westinstfrancis.com and https://sfghf.org/events/hearts-in-sf/
AT&T Park – If you’re lucky enough to score tickets to a Giants home game, you’ll be the superhero of your family. But even if the Giants are away, it’s worth a visit to their home base. Check out the one-of-a-kind Fan Lot for a super immersive experience for the entire family. If you want an even more behind-the-scenes look, you can schedule a group or private tour. Whether the Giants are in town or on the road, a stop at AT&T Park is a homerun! http://sanfrancisco.giants.mlb.com/sf/ballpark/attractions/index.jsp?content=fanlot
Golden Gate Park – Sometimes you just wanna be outside and in nature. This is one of the best places to do that in San Francisco. There is literally always something going on in Golden Gate Park. Check the website for current and upcoming activities. A few of our fave places to visit include the California Academy of Sciences (we love the Osher Rainforest exhibit), Stow Lake (rent a boat or get a snack from the Boathouse and venture in and around Strawberry Hill), The Japanese Tea Garden and The De Young Museum (make sure you check out the sculpture garden). https://goldengatepark.com and http://www.calacademy.org
Cable Cars – Cable cars might actually be a real means of transportation for some San Franciscans but for the rest of us, they are more likely a fun and nostalgic ride. You can hop aboard for a small fee and cable around the city, while traversing some of the steepest hills. If you get on the right line, you’ll pass right by my most favorite ice cream haunt on the West Coast, Swensen’s. My favorite cable car line is the Powell/Hyde line that runs from Union Square to the western side of Fisherman's Wharf. It has some of the best views in addition to an amazing ride down one of the steepest streets in the city. http://www.sfcablecar.com, http://www.sftourismtips.com/cable-cars-san-francisco.html, and Swensen’s Ice Cream on Hyde St. and Union St. http://www.swensens.com/our-story/
Angel Island – Love, love, love it here! Sometimes overlooked in favor of its more popular neighbor, Alcatraz Island, Angel Island State Park has a plethora of natural and historical resources to be explored. It is a gold mine of fun! Angel Island has been a civil war Army post, an immigration station for Chinese immigrants, a POW camp, and a quarantine station, and it STILL has buildings and other structures from each of these eras. This fascinating island in San Francisco Bay is accessible by ferry from San Francisco’s Ferry Building downtown or from Pier 41. You can rent bicycles near the ferry stop on Angel Island to tour the island by bike, or explore the trails and roads by foot. http://angelisland.org
Golden Gate Bridge & Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito – This Bridge is one of the most iconic and beautiful engineering achievements in California, if not the world. A true marvel and a must-see, you can walk, bike or drive across it. Either way, don’t miss it. Once you’re across the Bay, head into Sausalito for one of the best children’s museums, we’ve ever visited. You can spend an hour or a full day at the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito. Your children will thank you. To reward yourself, find some good eats in the morning at Cibo, and if your taste buds are needing lunch or dinner, you must not miss FISH Restaurant in the Marina (http://www.331fish.com/index.html) http://goldengatebridge.org, http://bayareadiscoverymuseum.org
North Beach (Little Italy) – More commonly known as North Beach, the best pastries and pizza in all of San Francisco (as far as I’m concerned), are undoubtedly found here, in Little Italy. What I love the most about this quaint neighborhood, however, is that while my husband and I indulge in a "foodie experience", my children can play in Washington Square Park - right in the middle of all the action! Flanked by the beautiful Saints Peter and Paul Church, you might get lucky enough to witness an Italian wedding, in progress. Let’s be clear, North Beach is really all about the people watching and the crazy, good eats. With that said, here are my fave spots not to be missed: Mama’s for breakfast (if you’re cool with a 1.5+ hour wait), Tony’s Pizza, Linguria Bakery, Golden Boy Pizza, Victoria Café, The Italian Homemade Company, Caffe Trieste, and Café Divino.
Muir Woods – Just thinking about Muir Woods puts a smile on my face and simultaneously, lowers my blood pressure. It is one of my favorite places to visit in all of North America. It's amazing to actually walk through the valley of the Forest and see the true size of these Coastal Redwood trees – it’s awe-inspiring for kids and adults, alike. Depending on your speed and the ages of your children, you can stroll through the valley or head up into the hills for a longer hike. Children under 15 get in free. https://www.nps.gov/muwo/index.htm (* If you’re looking for an incredibly special getaway, my favorite B&B resides at the peak of Mt. Tamalpais. The Mountain Home Inn is situated overlooking the Redwoods of Muir Woods. When staying here you’ll feel like you’re in a castle in the clouds. This is such a special place – spiritual and relaxing - I highly recommend it…though maybe not with your children. http://www.mtnhomeinn.com)
San Francisco Farmer’s Market at the Ferry Building – This is a foodie’s, "I’ve died and gone to heaven” experience. If your children like people watching and food tasting, you could spend an entire day here. With over 50+ food and specialty vendors, the Ferry Building Farmer's Market is equivalent to "sensory overload"...in a good way. Grab your fave food and stake out a spot behind the building, on the water. Seawater makes everything taste better. While the Ferry Building is open M-Su, the Farmer's Market takes place on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. https://www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com/farmers-market/
The Exploratorium - When I was a little girl, I used to beg my parents, grandparents, anyone really...to take me to this museum. It was, I believed, the most fun place in San Francisco. I still pretty much agree - it's a true child's paradise. The Exploratorium is hands-down one of the best children's museums that I've ever visited...and my children wholeheartedly agree. Perhaps the only downside is that it is ALWAYS busy. My suggestion: hit it up early and mid-week. https://www.exploratorium.edu
Chinatown - North of the Financial District, San Francisco boasts the largest and oldest Chinatown in North America. Enter through the Chinatown Gate at Grant Avenue and Bush Street, and explore the shops, restaurants, and bakeries on Grant Avenue and Stockton Avenue. My favorites are the Golden Gate Bakery at 1029 Grant Avenue, the dim sum restaurant New Asia at 772 Pacific Avenue, and the local park Portsmouth Square. The kiddos will get a sweet kick out of the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory where they can watch them being made and then eat them "hot off the press". http://www.sanfranciscochinatown.com