We recently took our children to San Francisco for the first time. There was so much to do in this fun city that we weren’t able to visit all of the sites that we’d hoped. But we spent a very full day in San Francisco and want to share all of the adventures we were able to squeeze in. Most of them are free or very affordable. Here are our favorite family-friendly activities in San Francisco.
A Personal Note
Our story began in San Francisco. Twenty years ago, a handful of teachers flew to the International Reading Conference, and we were two of them. Natalie was teaching second grade, and Randy was teaching fourth, but we had never really talked or noticed each other. All that changed as we paired off in the City by the Bay. We found ourselves enjoying each other’s company as we strolled around the city, taking in the sites, laughing together, and enjoying the salty sea air. It is still one of our favorite places. Here’s a very simple guide to a few things that you can do when you visit San Francisco.
Golden Gate Bridge
Obviously, the first stop should be the Golden Gate Bridge. This is the iconic bridge crossing the Golden Gate Strait. You can drive across the bridge, or you can park and walk part of the bridge, too. We did all of these! More details, and tips for parking, on our Golden Gate post.
If you stop to visit the Golden Gate, then make sure to drive down below it and visit historic Fort Point. This adventure is free, and the history of this old army base is very interesting. You even get to walk underneath part of the Golden Gate Bridge, which is a unique adventure all in itself.
After you visit the Golden Gate Bridge, head toward the touristy area of the city. Start by parking at Ghiradelli Square (it will cost based on the hours you stay). Make sure to take a picture by the famous sign. Just to the right of the sign is the Ghiradelli Ice Cream shop, which has the richest, tastiest, and possibly most expensive ice cream we’ve ever had. It is definitely worth the cost.
San Francisco Maritime National Historic Site
After exploring Ghiradelli Square, walk down toward the water. There is a small entrance to an inexpensive national site. Our boys enjoyed exploring the boats. We’ve written a more specific post all about this excursion.
Clam Chowder on Fisherman’s Wharf
Continue down the road to the right. This part of San Francisco is one of the best places in the world for people-watching, and we really enjoy the sights and sounds of the city. It feels safe, and there are thousands of people, exotic cars, streets shows, hotdogs sizzling, and things to do. The entire city seems abuzz. Amid all this wonderful chaos, you can find a lot of food, but our favorite is the clam chowder. Make sure to try a bowl.
Sea Lions on Pier 39
Pier 39 is abustle with shops and people. On a busy weekend you can barely push your way to the end of the pier. It is a really wonderful place with a circus-like atmosphere. We always make it a point to walk all the way to the end of the pier, because there is a colony of sea lions that laze on a dock just off the pier. Our boys love to see them sunning themselves.
Along this route, there are some really unique museums. You can check out the celebrities at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, be astounded at Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum, or fool yourself at the Museum of 3D Illusions.
Drive Lombard Street
One of the touristy things to do in San Francisco is drive down the curviest road in America, which is called Lombard Street. We always make sure to drive this street when we come to town. The amazing thing is the houses and driveways along this street. It is cool to drive, but it would a real pain to live on Lombard Street!
16th Avenue Tiled Steps
We’ve written about the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps and their bright colors. It is an out of the way stop that is a really unique set of stairs because it has a tile mosaic on the front of each step. There are around 150 stairs, and each has a beautiful little picture on the front. We enjoyed this unique stop, even though it took some patience in traffic to get there!
Other Adventure Ideas
We ran out of time for some of the other traditional San Francisco attractions. Here are three family-friendly activities in San Francisco that we highly recommend because they are at the top of our list of next trip.
- Alcatraz: Take a boat out and tour Alcatraz Island.
- Ride a Cable Car: We saw cable cars, but we didn’t have time to ride one.
- San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts: Beautiful grounds and a dome with columns. Free to visit, and take lovely photos.
Outside the City
If you have more time around San Francisco, there are some beautiful nature spots to visit near the city. Being country folk, we enjoyed each of these places.