Coming for a visit to the best city in the world? San Francisco has sooo much to offer- the city can be expensive to visit, let alone to live for a family of 6…. I have 4 kids and must find budget friendly and kid friendly things to do … so here is what I have found…. here are my favorite things to do with a family…. (there are plenty of places for the kids to run for a few min. in each place)
So My suggestions for a visit to San Francisco (with kids or without) In 5 days.
1- Day 1 – take in the beautiful architecture of the city… bridge to bridge. Start at the Legion of Honor to see one of the most beautiful buildings in the city and some art if you want to venture inside…
Enjoy views of the golden Gate bridge as you make your way to take a drive down the “crookedest street” (not actually the most crooked) Lombard Street while taking in the beautiful sights of the bay. Park at the Palace of Fine Arts and take pictures of the absolutely beautiful architecture that makes you feel like you have escaped to Italy for a few minutes.
From there you can grab a cup of coffee at the presideo starbucks and take in the sight of the Golden Gate Bridge ,
have a picnic and a quick wade in the water at crissy field and have fun watching the boats at the marina. Head across the Golden Gate Bridge (you can walk across as well). To your left is the pacific ocean and to your right is the bay. Don’t forget to stop at the far outlook for iconic pictures of the Golden Gate bridge and San Francisco behind you….and great pictures spots up the road at the marin headlands. Drive down a few minutes to Sausalito to enjoy a cute walk through the sister town and take a few more beautiful pictures of San Francisco, do a little shopping. There is even a great kids discovery museum if you want some extra fun. Take a drive back across the golden gate and down the embarcaderro onto the bay bridge to treasure island. Grab your sweater and enjoy a beautiful sunset, watch the fog roll in and take in the city views and bay bridge light display as the city lights come on.
2- Pier 39 is one of the most iconic places and one that any tourist must stop at. You can see everything from alcatraz Island & the Golden Gate Bridge to the beautiful San Francisco skyline behind you. Take a look at the Sea Lions that make pier 39 their home behind the pier and get outrageous fresh raspberry truffles at the fudge house. There is EVERYTHING you can imagine to eat here… but I suggest you snack here and enjoy the fun shops –
then walk up the block to see all the street vendors as you find yourself in the world famous Fisherman’s wharf. Don’t forget to take a walk down history lane by visiting the quarter arcade musee mecanique at the end of fisherman’s wharf. You MUST go see the fresh crab and snack if you want at the famous outdoor crab stands. All along Fisherman’s wharf you will find little shopping spots. This is your best place to buy classic SF souvenirs. Take a peek inside the wax museum (if it’s still there) and the rain forest cafe for a few minutes of fun….I like just the “store front” of these two places – It is a fun adventure to eat at the rainforest cafe at least once, but I actually recommend you stop to eat at A true San Francisco original. The absolute BEST sourdough bread & clam chowder bowls anywhere…. the famous Bistro Boudin & Bakery. Take the time to watch them make fresh bread in their open window viewing station at the bakery. If you want a nice sit down meal…. choose any one of the amazing restaurants in the area to dine -rumor has it that Scoma’s is amazing. A restaurant guide will need to be another post, besides, it is all about personal taste anyway :o) If you like horse carriage rides, this is the place. Also, trips to Alcatraz and boat rides, bike rentals, open air bus tours and personal “go car” tour rentals around the bay all leave from the piers near Pier 39…. look for coupon deals if you plan to bring the whole family on any of these adventures. ( I still have many of these adventures to conquer with my family, the kids are saving chore money :))
3- Moving to San Francisco, I was surprised to learn that it is a beach town. :o) In fact, if you like history you can take a tour of the sutra bath ruins for free, then hike a few minutes into Lands End trail to see the gorgeous gateway where the ocean meets the bay with the Golden Gate Bridge as the beautiful picturesque background. In fact if you take the whole trail you will end up in the Presideio Neighborhood where some of the most expensive and beautiful houses in San Francisco are… (if you are exploring by car, check out “china beach” – a local beach with the Golden Gate Bridge at your feet) Back down the trail towards the ocean… take a stop at the Cliff House for a coffee, an appetizer and spectacular view of the ocean at the balcony lounge- or enjoy one of their three restaurants for a more expensive lunch.
Next take in the waves and surfers at Ocean Beach- along the great highway. Across from the beach is The entrance to Golden Gate Park– you will know you are in the right spot by the huge old fashioned windmills that flank either side of the park’s entrance. Truth be known, you could spend all day at this park…
with attractions for every adventuresome type including the japanese tea gardens, the academy of sciences with a beautiful aquarium, the de young art museum, the conservatory of flowers, strawberry hill, stow lake…. and soooo much more. I have only begun to explore everything… Just a few blocks down the great highway you will find the only Zoo in America located at the beach. The SFZoo offers a beautiful array animals with an autmosphere of tropical meets safari… if they upgraded their landscape and added a few rides they could be the disneyland of SF. In fact on the sky walk you even have an ocean view. I LOVE it here….We just got a family pass and it is the best deal around for a family our size.
4- A visit to the foggy city is not complete without a ride on the cable cars. My favorite route is to start on the bay at Ghiridelli Square, and Buy your ticket to Union Square. (Watch for a good day rate parking garage- Parking prices are outrageous in the city) Enjoy your wait in the line as the iconic cable car turns with the golden gate bridge, Ghiridelli Square and the beautiful bay as your backdrop…
Wait your turn for the “outside” cable car seats- You will see the whole city and end up in Union Square for the best shopping around. The Westfield mall, Yurba Buena, the Metreon and specialty shops are all in walking distance including Diesel, Ferrari, and wonderful array of high end stores as well as some regular mall hits, but done WAY better like a HUGE Forever 21 & H&M & 2 Story Disney Store. It’s a shoppers dream. A short walk to Yurba Buena Gardens has tons of things for kids to do, including ice skate, bowling, A beautiful merry go round, Zuem, a childrens center for the arts, and a super fun free rooftop park for the kid in all of you. The restaurants in the area are amazing. Check out Super Duper Burgers – This area is my stomping grounds with the kids as it is only a few blocks away from our church City Life .
After you have enjoyed all that Union Square has to offer, hop back on the cable car and enjoy the city lights on your way back to Ghiridelli Square. Don’t forget to walk through the general store and get your free chocolate sample just for walking through… the kiddos would LOVE to have a sundae and see how chocolate is made inside the historic Ghirridelli factory cafe ( the back of your cable car ticket might have a coupon) – Don’t forget to stroll through the art galleries of the “cannery” next door to the factory before checking out the bayside beach in front of the square before calling it a day. This area is the best in city bay swimming… it will be cold though. 🙂
5- Start at the Painted Ladies at Alamo Square for that Iconic picture and make your way to China Town. It is a must stop in the city…. It is the largest in the USA and in fact the largest china town outside Asia… and totally authentic. From there you can drive to see unbelievable views at the Coit Tower – Hike down the back stairs to enjoy a tropical feel and possible see the wild parrots….then enjoy a stop by little italy on your way by the historic Transamerica building.
From there you must stop at the Ferry Building and enjoy an authentic San Francisco cup of coffee at the Blue bottle kiosk, take a walk through the ferry building for amazing farmers market style food…. and a view of the bay as the ferries arrive. Open air outside seating is a fun option at the restaurants along the back side of the building… amazing oysters can be found here if you like them. A trip to the city would not be complete without a visit to the World Champion San Francisco Giants Stadium… take in a game at the most beautiful ball park in America… you must experience the garlic fries… out of this world. It is a great place for kids with the Coke bottle & Mitt slides with Play area. WE LOVE the giants!!!
Bonus: If you want to enjoy a few off the grid experiences that are authentic San Francisco: here are a few of my favorites.
The Best Food Trucks: – You will love this food: SoMa StrEat food park
The Best Park: Amazing views and playtime for kids: Dolores Park , Plus a favorite of mine: Sunshine and palm trees.
The Best City Coffee: Sight Glass Owned and operated by two brothers, the environment is beautifully urban, they roast their own coffee and it is walking distance from our church…. so we have dubbed it our second office.
The Best Church: (biased opinion) A SoMa “Start Up” City Life Church- Come visit us!!!!
The best Walk: all the way down the beautiful city by the bay on The Embarcaderro- especially right now with all the boats in town for the America’s cup for boat racing.
the Best Launching point for all the best places on earth: Drive to Tahoe- 4 hours, Drive to Disneyland – 6 hours, Drive to Napa Wine Valley – 1 Hour, Yosemite – 3 hours Drive to Outlet – Shopping 1 hour, Drive to Pacifica Surfing Beach – 15 min., Muir woods- 45 min Drive to Half moon bay – 25 min, Santa Cruz – 1.5 hour drive, Flight to Hawaii – 3 hours.
Best tip: check out Fun & cheap In SF for the best deals during your visit. There are lots of free museum days, most are in the 1st week of the month.
Honestly, I have only touched the surface of all the amazing places and things to do in and from the best city in the world.
I am in love and soooo blessed to be called to live, play and minister to the side of the city that is unseen in San Francisco…. because though you may see the city as a tourist,
the REAL San Francisco is the PEOPLE of the City and all the amazing neighborhoods that tell the stories of City Life. If you get to know our great city you will see great need, great pain, great love, great need, great hope in store, and a HUGELY bright future ahead for San Francisco. Watch and see! I LOVE this place!