This kid-centric tour of San Francisco is brought to you by Dana Rebmann, who blogs about traveling with her two school-age daughters at Ciao Bambino. The helpful tips were first published on Expedia in 2012 as part of the Kids in the City summer travel campaign highlighting family-friendly urban destinations throughout the U.S.
San Francisco is one of the top tourist destinations in the world, famous for its summer fog, steep hills, and sourdough bread. Throw in hundreds of parks, including one that once was a notorious prison, innovative family-friendly museums, cable cars, and a bridge known pretty much around the world, and you've got all the makings for a great family vacation. Two or three vacations, actually.
Since kids' (and parents') moods can change in the blink of an eye, having plenty of choices is never a bad thing. But whatever you do, make sure you pack lots of layers. San Francisco's foggy and chilly summer weather tends to catch folks off guard, often leading to the purchase of stylish San Francisco sweatshirt souvenirs.
Viewfinder Tip: Pack layers and sweatshirts for summer in San Francisco. The chilly, foggy weather – even in July – catches many visitors off guard.
You can't do it all, but you can and probably will leave wanting to come back for more. Here are a few of my “must-see” suggestions, along with my favorite places to sleep and eat when you land in the City by the Bay.
What to do with kids in San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge: You can drive, walk, bike, skip, hop, or jump. It doesn't matter how you cross the Golden Gate Bridge, just do it. An estimated 9 million people from around the world visit the Golden Gate Bridge each year. The span is 1.7 miles, so make sure everyone is wearing comfortable shoes and has a sweatshirt handy. If you're worried about little legs making the nearly four-mile roundtrip, head halfway across, then double back.
Cable Cars: Along with getting you to the next “must-see” destination on your family's list, cable car rides provide some of the best views in the city. The ringing bells are just plain fun to listen to on San Francisco's moving historic landmarks.
Alcatraz: Tours sell out quickly so it's best to plan this excursion in advance. The infamous federal penitentiary once held some of the nation's most notorious bad guys. Though many tried, no inmate ever successfully escaped from “The Rock.” Now, it's a national park and top tourist attraction where you and the kids can take an eerie stroll through the cellblock.
Pier 39 & Fisherman's Wharf: After a trip to Alcatraz, take in the amusing antics of Pier 39's resident sea lions. The waterfront area is often jam-packed in the summertime, with visitors shopping for souvenirs, eating fresh seafood, and watching street performers.
Crissy Field: If the family is feeling full of energy, Crissy Field is a great place to walk, bike or fly a kite with views of the Golden Gate Bridge that'll take your breath away. Dodgeball anyone? House of Air is an indoor trampoline park located inside a former airplane hangar at the end of Crissy Field.
Golden Gate Park: Everyone in the family will find something they want to do in Golden Gate Park. For the younger set there are playgrounds throughout the park, but the grandest of them all is the Koret Children's Quarter and Carousel. Opened in 1888, it's believed to be the oldest playground in the nation. Entertainment is a walk in the park with tweens and teens. Roll through the park on Segways, or be jolted by an earthquake simulator at the California Academy of Sciences. The exhibit Earthquake: Life on a Dynamic Planet includes an immersive planetarium show and live ostriches. Visit to find out what plate tectonics have to do with the world's largest flightless bird.
Where to stay with kids in San Francisco
Hotel Del Sol: Kids are welcome at this fun and funky hotel that is also kind to parents' wallets. Hotel Del Sol also provides an often important family amenity that most San Francisco hotels can't – a heated outdoor pool! Throw in complimentary continental breakfast and afternoon cookies and you know you've found a winner.
Hotel Monaco: Just two blocks off shopping mecca Union Square, kids are king at Hotel Monaco. Details like a goldfish to keep you company during your stay, child-size robes, and KimptonKids goodie bags filled with San Francisco souvenirs are guaranteed smile makers. Parents will appreciate the sliding door that provides some privacy for the queen-size sleeper sofa in the living room.
The Fairmont San Francisco: For a splurge, consider this landmark San Francisco hotel. Have Afternoon Tea, a tradition since the San Francisco Fairmont opened in 1907. Kids have their choice of tea, apple cider, or hot chocolate, as well as tea sandwiches such as traditional egg salad and peanut butter and jelly. Its location, just steps from the only spot in San Francisco where each of the cable car lines meet, makes it easy to use cable cars to tour the city.
Where to eat with kids in San Francisco
Boudin San Francisco Sourdough: You can't go home without trying San Francisco's famous sourdough bread. Watch bakers turn balls of dough into works of art in the Demonstration Bakery, then head to Bakers Hall Marketplace & Café to get your taste.
Viewfinder Tip: Save room for dessert at the Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop. Consider sharing “The Earthquake,” eight scoops of ice cream and eight toppings.
La Taqueria: If your family has a car in the city, a trip to La Taqueria in San Francisco's Mission District is worth it. Off the beaten tourist track, this is where locals go for great Mexican food. Loaded carne asada tacos, vegetarian burritos, and horchata are just a few of the “must-try” menu items. The line to order can be long, but it moves fast. Make sure you bring cash; credit cards are no good here.
Molinari Delicatessen: There's a good chance it will be crowded here, so grab a ticket when you walk in. Sandwiches are made to order in this classic old-school Italian deli. There are only a few tables outside, so plan on taking your sandwiches and heading across the street to Washington Square for a picnic. There's a popular playground and lots of grass where the kids can burn off some steam.
Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop: Did you save room for dessert? Jump on the Powell-Hyde Cable Car Line, where the last stop leaves you just steps from Ghirardelli Square. You can't go wrong with a hot fudge sundae, but with eight scoops of ice cream and eight toppings, “The Earthquake” is a family favorite.
What do you like to do with children in San Francisco?