Explore San Francisco Like a Local

California Academy of Sciences

I’m lucky enough to call the Bay Area home. And for almost seven years I lived in the center of it all, San Francisco. I was young, and newly married with a great job. The city was the place to be.

Then I had a baby.

But instead of packing up and moving out, I quickly discovered raising a “city kid” had major perks.

San Francisco is a kid-friendly city. Countless families visit every day from all over the world. And any good guidebook will give you the basic tourist track: Pier 39, Alcatraz, North Beach and Chinatown. Once you’ve made the rounds of all the known must do’s, take some time to play in San Francisco like a local. Amie has her list of favorite things to do in the Bay Area with kids, and so do I. If you’re in the city and you’ve got kids you should head to Golden Gate Park.

Endless Options

Since kids moods (and parents for that matter) can change in a heartbeat, having options is never a bad thing. Larger than New York’s Central Park, Golden Gate Park offers a calm one thousand plus acres for the city to play in. Leave the car parked at the hotel. Jump in a taxi or use MUNI, the city’s public transportation system. Circling over and over again to find a place to park is a sure fire way to ruin your day. On Sundays, the park is closed to cars, so multiply the parking frustration times 100.

Bouquets to Art at the de Young Museum

Where to Start

Do a little bit of homework, or have the concierge at your hotel do it for you. Take a map, trust me on this one. There’s a good chance you’ll need it at some point in the day.

The de Young Museum may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of a fun day with the kids.But exhibits at the museum are constantly changing and you never know what you might see. My 11-year-old thought the King Tut Exhibit was one of the coolest things ever. (She wants the next family trip to be to Egypt!) One day when I was playing in the park with my 9-year-old, we stumbled upon an exhibit called “Bouquets to Art.” The annual week-long celebration of spring features floral interpretations of art on display in the de Young. Think big, beautiful and completely kid-friendly. An added perk, kids under 13 are free.

Tea Time

Tired of being inside? Take a break next door at the Japanese Tea Garden. It’s the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States, and the tea house is a perfect place to have a snack and regroup. The peaceful gardens are home to more than just plants. There are ponds full of koi fish, bridges and paths that make even tired legs excited about doing some exploring.

The Living Roof

If the Japanese Garden isn’t your cup of tea, the Living Roof at the California Academy of Sciences might be just what your family has in mind. Directly across from the de Young, the newly re-done Academy is bustling with more than 40-thousand animals, a 4-story rainforest, planetarium and natural history museum. That said my kids could spend all day on the roof. The Living Roof’s 1.7 million plants were specially selected because they could thrive in the Park’s unique climate. You can’t beat the view either!

Bison Paddock

As odd as it might sound, bison live in San Francisco. Often mistaken for buffalo, the American Bison live in a meadow off John F. Kennedy Drive, just east of 41st Avenue. They’re by far not the most exciting thing in the park, but for some reason, it’s something you just seem to have to see. The San Francisco Zoo takes care of the animals.

Sliding in Golden Gate Park

Just Play

So many choices so little time. If I had to choose just one, there’s no question. I’d head right to the playground. There are a number of playgrounds scattered throughout Golden Gate Park, but the grand-daddy 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. I discovered it when friends threw my baby shower there. Preparing me for the countless hours I would spend there in the future I guess!

Climb the spider web, grab a piece of cardboard (there’s plenty for the taking) and fly down the old style concrete slide. I’m talking to parents too! When you need to catch you breathe go for a ride on the fully restored carousel. I’m still talking to parents. Every attendant I’ve ever met acts as if they love their job. Last time I was there with my youngest daughter, it was a slow, foggy day. The attendant asked my daughter if she wanted to learn more about carousels. She got the complete lowdown – how to start it and how to stop it. I never thought about it, but I guess I feel better knowing there’s an emergency brake.

Golden Gate Park is bordered by the Sunset District neighborhood to the south and the Richmond District neighborhood to the north. Both are residential neighborhoods where few tourists rarely wander. What awaits the lucky ones who do is a variety of delicious, kid-friendly food. Some of my family’s favorites: Vietnamese at PPQ, grilled cheese and curly fries at Pluto’s and some of the best sushi we’ve ever had at Ebisu. Not sure what you’re in the mood for? Just stroll down Irving Street. There’s something for everyone, even the pickiest eater!

There’s no way you’ll be able to hit everything in one day, probably not even two. Pick what sounds good to you, and plan on coming back on the next trip. I didn’t have time to talk about the flowers or windmills. Next post I guess?

Relevant Links:

Ciao Bambino recommended San Francisco family hotels

San Francisco Bay Area Summer Camps

Favorite San Francisco attractions with kids

Favorite San Francisco Spring activities with kids

Visiting Mount Diablo with kids

San Francisco with kids – Ciao Bambino guest post on Two Kids and a Map

3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Visiting San Francisco Tourist Spots | Things to Do in San Francisco with Kids | Ciao Bambino Blog

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