When visiting San Francisco,” the variety of activities and dining options can be overwhelmingh. Everything looks fun, all the food smells amazing. So if you only have a few days or a week, where are the best places to spend your time and money on your family vacation?
If you like to tour cities, start with the Ride the Ducks Tour on an amphibious vehicle that resembles the WWII DUKW. Yes, this is definitely touristy. It’s also extremely family friendly, and a good way to see the city in a way that adults will enjoy and kids will love.
The captain is your knowledgeable, often funny guide and driver and is certified by the U.S. Coast Guard. The captain will not only point out landmarks, but also fun spots you might like and good places to eat or shop.
The guides also let the kids have a turn driving the DUKW while it’s in “boat mode” in the bay, which will thrill them.
Your family will see the best of San Francisco from land and water. Get up close and personal with the Bay Bridge, float by Alcatraz, see Fisherman’s Wharf, roll through Chinatown, wave at cafe patrons in North Beach (San Francisco’s answer to New York City’s Little Italy) and take in great views of the city skyline.
A San Francisco CityPass provides access to many of the most popular sites in the city, as well as a seven-day unlimited-use Cable Car and Muni transportation pass. Cost: $84.
One of the sites is the California Academy of Sciences, where you can climb into the treetops of a man-made rainforest to view life on all levels, see what an earthquake feels like, check out eggs that are bigger than your kids, viewbones that show the evolution from ape to human, and see a rare albino alligator (named Claude, in case you’d like to get formal).
Also included in the pass is the Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise Adventure, which gives you a tour of the city via boat. The hour-long tour is scenic and narrated, and available in nine languages via audio tour as well. The boat cruises past the Pier 39 sea lions, which are a must-see for any visitor, especially children. You can also see them on land when you visit the pier later on (and make sure you take a spin on the merry-go-round).
For a look under the sea, so to speak, take out your CityPass and head over to the Aquarium of the Bay. Children get hands-on learning and exciting experiences while increasing their love of the water and its creatures. The aquarium staff also teaches respect for the environment. Check out the touch tanks; feed the creatures; walk or ride through tunnels that provide a view from all sides of rays, starfish, turtles, and plenty of sharks; catch a 3-D movie in the aquarium’s theater.
Your little science buffs won’t want to miss the Exploratorium, where they can tinker and create all sorts of mechanical madness, as well as open up all that moves to see what’s inside and what makes things tick. Wondering what’s inside your favorite candy? Check out the Candy-O-Matic and see how it’s made. Ever wonder why wintergreen Lifesavers create sparks in the dark or in your mouth? Find out here.
Two places stand out for first-rate family dining. The Pier Market on Pier 39 is family owned and operated. The market serves only sustainable seafood, and most tables offer an amazing view of the docks and bay. Kids get crayons for coloring their menu, and if they bring their artwork to the Aquarium of the Bay, they get a free theater ticket. The fare is fresh and delicious, and served quickly as well. This is the perfect place to go eat with kids without having to sacrifice taste or quality, or wait for service or the check when you are done. (And there’s nothing not to love about the garlic fries.)
My favorite spot to eat in San Francisco is Nick’s Lighthouse, on Fisherman’s Wharf. The staff was amazing with the kids, and the service was fast. The food was brought to the table quickly and drinks refilled as soon as they needed to be. The kids’ menu includes traditional children’s favorites as well as some local favorites, and the regular menu is filled with seafood lovers’ delights.