Not quite ready to travel but looking to get away this fall? Why not explore one of the world’s greatest cities right here in our own backyard? San Francisco’s gates are open and waiting for your family and we will give you all the reasons to play tourist so read on and get ready to pack the bags!
Editor’s note: We’re making every effort to provide you with the most up-to-date information and doing our best to keep all of our stories and calendar current. Please double check hours and venue status before you head out due to last minute changes and cancellations. Stay safe!
Golden Gate Bridge
Discover San Francisco's iconic bridge by foot or on bike. Enjoy majestic, sweeping views of the Bay, marvel at the engineering feat that merged Marin with San Francisco and decide for yourself if the bridge's whistling sounds are eerie or romantic.
This former military base turned national park has something for everyone: bird watching, kite flying, beaches, picnicking, hiking and beaches plus some of the city’s most scenic views. Presidio is the perfect location to spend your day—let us help you explore the very best that Presidio has to offer!
Asian Art Museum and teamLab: Continuity
Immersive art is all the rage these days and the Asian Art Museum’s teamLab: Continuity and Ocean Sketch exhibits is an interactive, digital experience that will immerse the kids right into the art! Find out how our kids blended right into the exhibits and why it's the perfect museum to take kids to in this review.
200 Larkin St
Iconic San Francisco Desserts
Russian honey cake? Kouign amann? One of each, please! As a food-loving city, it should come as no surprise that San Francisco locals have affinities towards certain desserts...find out which ones here and then decide which ones (yes, plural!) you will try!
Land’s End Lookout
A national monument at the mouth of the Golden Gate, Land's End is a rocky, wind-swept shoreline offering hiking trails with unparalleled views of the Bay. Start at Land's End Eagle Point, make sure to stop at the artistic Labyrinth and end at the Sutro Bath ruins. During winter months, whales are often spotted migrating in nearby waters so keep an eye out for those spouts!
680 Point Lobos Ave
San Francisco Playgrounds
There's only so much sightseeing to be had with kids but with over 100 playgrounds within the 46.9 square miles that the city sits on, there are plenty of options to give tiny sight-seers a break. Our top picks for San Francisco playgrounds means you will find one no matter where you are in the city!
Ghirardelli Chocolate company was founded here in 1852 and is the country's oldest, continuously operating chocolate producer. With shops, restaurants, mini-golf and arcade, this is a must-see for not just anyone with a sweet tooth (we challenge you to finish one of their massive sundaes!).
900 North Point St
Kids will love walking down the steep, zig zag street known as America's crookedest street! With eight hairpin turns down one block, this street will delight your littles to no end. Insider’s tip: the Powell-Hyde cable car line stops at the top of Lombard street so get off, walk down Lombard, then walk to the Powell-Mason line a few short blocks north or walk back up Lombard.
between Richardson Ave./Broderick St. and Van Ness Ave
San Francisco Zoo
Steps away from the Pacific Ocean on the West side of the city, the zoo is often overlooked but another fantastic option for kids. A snow leopard, black rhino and polar bears will delight pint-sized travelers- read all about our visit to the zoo for a roaring good time!
Sloat Blvd &, Great Hwy
An experience that is unique to San Francisco is a cable car ride! Many find that the Powell-Hyde line is the most exciting trip and we agree. This route will take you past Union Square, Nob Hill, Lombard Street, the Cable Car Museum and Coit Tower all while offering views of Alcatraz Island (on a clear day). Give little legs a break and let the cable cars do the steep climbing!
Take a trip to the island—Alcatraz Island, that is! One of the most notorious penitentiaries in the country housing the likes of Al Capone, Alcatraz island is chock full of history and can be reached by ferry leaving from Pier 33. You’ll want to book your tickets in advance as they do sell out. Check out our Alcatraz and Angel Island guide for the full scoop.
Tickets: $41/adults and kids 12 and up; $25/kids 5-11; kids under 5 are free. A family pack (which includes two adult and two child tickets) is $119.60.
One of the busiest and most visited spots in San Francisco, Fisherman’s Wharf can scream “tourist trap” but you will navigate the crowds confidently with our expert guide in your back pocket. Kids will also love Pier 39 with its sea lions, carousels and doughnuts—read all about our trip to Pier 39 here.
Golden Gate Park
The third most visited park in the country, Golden Gate Park has bisons, windmills, a giant playground, carousel, gardens, lakes, museums and so much more—it would take over a week to see it all! Find out how to make the most of your visit with our guide to 20 cheap and free things to do at Golden Gate Park.
Cal Academy of Sciences
A highlight within Golden Gate Park is the Cal Academy of Sciences where families can discover an aquarium, planetarium, rain forest AND natural history museum. African penguins to a butterfly canopy to the albino alligator Claude are just a few of the animals that await your family! For an insider’s look at Cal Academy, make sure to check out our guide here.
55 Music Concourse Dr
Yerba Buena Gardens
Located at the cultural heart of San Francisco, Yerba Buena Gardens offers free concerts and festivals May through October that gathers locals and tourists alike. Located next door is the Yerba Buena Center for Arts, the Children’s Creativity Musuem, a 100+ year old carousel, bowling alley, ice skating rink and a lovely playground. With plenty of options for food nearby, you can easily spend a whole day here!
50 Howard St
As one of the largest modern and contemporary art museums in the world and the first of its kind on the West Coast, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is a great place to introduce the mini Picassos to modern art. Kids 18 and younger are always free and free general admission is offered every first Thursday of the month from 4-8p.m.
151 3rd St
Where to Stay
When it comes time to tuck in young travelers after a long day of sight-seeing, our recommendation is for the Westin St. Francis at Union Square. The trustees of the Charles Crocker estate envisioned San Francisco as the “Paris of the West” and opened what was then the St. Francis hotel in March of 1904. Just a stone’s throw away from Union Square, the hotel is situated ideally within walking distance to Yerba Buena, SFMOMA, Chinatown and the financial district. Additionally, the Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason cable car lines have a stop across the street for easy transportation to popular spots such as the Ferry building (via transfer to the California Ave line) and Fisherman’s Wharf.
Upon stepping into the sweeping lobby, guests are greeted by a distinctive master clock, the first of its kind in the Western U.S. With over 1,254 rooms and suites, the hotel is one of the city’s largest and offers a plethora of lodging accommodations with either a city, bay, or Union square view. The traditional guest room promises a classic and comfortable stay while families who opt for suites such as the spacious Golden Gate one bedroom penthouse suite will enjoy unparalleled views from the luxury of a living room and separate dining area.
After a refreshing night of sleep, Cafe Rito is a great option for grab ‘n go breakfast for coffee, pastries and avocado toast or a breakfast sandwich. For sit down service, the Oak Room restaurant offers a delightful breakfast buffet while another delectable choice is the breakfast buffet at B55 Craft House and Kitchen at the Marriott Marquis—be sure to try San Francisco’s meanest made-to-order omelette. With little legs rested and bellies filled and readied for another day of exploring, the Westin St. Francis is the perfect choice for family-friendly lodging to complete your staycation.
Editor’s note: This trip was paid for by Marriott International, but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer.
featured photo by Christine Lai