Give my family an excuse to head to San Francisco and we won’t even hesitate to hop in the car and get rolling. I use the term excuse lightly. “I’m in the mood for dim sum,” has been known to lead to fun-filled days in the city by the bay. San Francisco isn’t a huge city by most standards, and as my kids have gotten older, we’ve discovered one of our favorite ways to get around during the summer is by bike. When I was asked to participate in the Expedia Kids in the City Program, I knew exactly what I’d recommend.
My family’s perfect summer day in San Francisco goes something like this:
Park the car somewhere in the Fisherman’s Wharf vicinity and unload the bikes. I know, bikes don’t travel easily. Out-of-towners park your rental car if you’ve got one, and then rent bikes from Blazing Saddles.
If we’ve scheduled it right we’ll head south along the waterfront, also known as the Embarcadero, to catch a Giants baseball game at AT&T Park. If they’re not playing the day you’re in town, don’t fret, AT&T Park Tours are great for visitors and baseball fanatics. Tours are available most days at 10:30am and 12:30pm.
Chocolate with a View
Don’t eat too much ballpark food because chocolate is waiting. Unlock your bikes and roll to Tcho Chocolate Factory at Pier 17 on the Embarcadero. You can buy all sorts of chocolate goodies made in the onsite factory, or even better go on a tour to learn everything you’ll ever need to know about chocolate. Free public tours run twice daily at 10:30 am and 2 pm, 7 days a week. They also fill fast, so to avoid disappointment make a reservation.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better … it does. The Exploratorium is an incredibly popular art and science museum for kids, and in 2013 it’s moving to Piers 15 & 17, right next to Tcho. Chocolate and science, I can’t wait.
If you’ve never been to San Francisco, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t recommend a trip to Alcatraz. It’d be criminal to miss out. The Rock is best known as the maximum-security prison that once held some of the nation’s most notorious bad guys. The tour includes the ferry to Alcatraz, a self-guided audio tour (my daughter did it at age 7), and ferry back to terra firma. Give your family a good three hours for the whole trip.
Roll on to Pier 39
There is no denying, Pier 39 is designed for tourists but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun for locals too. The pier is loaded with plenty of places to eat and lots of souvenir shops. We head straight for the end of the pier to say hello to the sea lions. California sea lions are known for their noisy barking, so just listen and let your ears lead the way. The sea lions first appeared in 1989 after the San Francisco Loma Prieta earthquake, and since they’re animals of habit, it’s a good bet you’ll be able to bring your kids and grandkids to see them.
Catch a Show
This section of the waterfront is popular and pretty crowded. It’s a good bet you’ll have to walk your bikes from now on, but that’s okay because you’ll want to move slower to take it all in. Take time to stop and watch the assortment of street performers. There’s a little bit of everything; musicians, artists and jugglers, to folks just covered in silver and gold. You never quite know what you’ll see.
Bakers Front & Center
Don’t miss the always fabulous performance at the Boudin Bakery demonstration window. You can watch bakers turn sourdough bread dough into works of art. Just about every shape you can imagine from crabs, alligators and turtles to fancy bunches of grapes. There’s even a microphone system so you can ask the bakers questions as they create their doughy masterpieces. This always makes my family hungry. This is where we typically lock up the bikes and head inside to share a sandwich or Boudin’s famous clam chowder in a bread bowl.
Sharing is Important
Our last stop of the day is always Ghirardelli’s Flagship Chocolate Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop. (I did recommend sharing something at Boudin.) In the summer, hot fudge sundaes are popular. In the winter, hot chocolate hits the spot. The likelihood of a sample or two pulls my girls into the chocolate store like a magnet. They could be attracted to worse.
Some quick pedaling back to the car and were on our way home. Most of the time the backseat’s asleep before we hit the Golden Gate. Be sure and check out the Kids in the City San Francisco page on Expedia for more insider tips on San Francisco with kids.
Editorial Note: Ciao Bambino was compensated to support the Kids in the City summer-travel campaign. Photos by Dana Rebmann
Looking for more summer vacation ideas for the family? Check out these posts from other savvy family-travel bloggers: Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Boston, Denver, Washington, D.C., San Diego, and Los Angeles.
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