How many things can you fit into a jam-packed day with the family in San Francisco? The answer is simple. Never enough. One of the reasons I enjoy spending time with my kids in San Francisco is that there are so many different options to choose from. What I love even more about the place is that it never stops adding new choices to the dizzying array of possibilities. Just when I think my kids have done it all, up pops something new.
Yes, it’s touristy, but Fisherman’s Wharf is a given stop on most family-friendly San Francisco itineraries. From Alcatraz to the sea lions at Pier 39, there’s a great deal to see and now there’s two new additions in the mix.
“Dungeons” can be found throughout Europe in spots like London, Amsterdam and Berlin. But the San Francisco Dungeon location is the first in North America. The concept is a bit like a haunted house in that the attraction is designed to give you a creepy kind of feel, but the shows are based on 200 years of San Francisco’s darker history.
Actors lead you from one dark room to the next for a series of shows that focus on topics like Alcatraz and the Plague. Members of the audience are pulled into performances. Groups are fairly small, so chances are good someone from your group will be embarrassed at some point during the hour long endeavor.
The San Francisco Dungeon is eerie and scary, in a fun, weird kind of way. It’s not for everyone. It’s recommended for kids ages 10 and up. (Children under 4 are not allowed.) The tour I was on with my teens had numerous kids well under 10 and they all seemed to enjoy it. That said, just like anything when you travel, know your kids and make a choice that will work for the family. There’s also some adult humor – I’d say the equivalent of a PG-13 movie – incorporated into the shows. School aged kids won’t understand, but middle school age kids and up most likely will.
You don’t have to go far to reach another new destination. Madame Tussauds is located right next to the San Francisco Dungeon. Technically they actually share lobby/gift shop space, so you don’t have to leave one to buy a ticket to enter the other. (They are both operated by Merlin Entertainments, opening their new doors together during the summer of 2014.)
I’ll admit, I had no interest in going into Madame Tussauds. But my 14 year-old and a friend were all over the idea, so as a family we did the divide and conquer thing. I’ll also admit, I’ve thanked my daughter more than once for dragging her mother along. I don’t really know what I expected, other than it was not what I found.
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The wax figures are remarkably life like. Costumes and props are important, but the actual artistry is impressive. It takes over 800 hours of work by 20 artists to complete each creation. The figure of Michael Phelps is a good example of the detail involved. It, well, doesn’t have as much clothing as others, leaving an even lesser what I would call margin of error. Yet when you look at him, your brain is confused by the possibility he could be real and instinctively you have the desire to reach out and touch him, I mean it. The nice part is, gentle touching is allowed. As you walk from one figure to the next, you can get up close and personal to snap a photo. There’s even props to play with.
Teens and even tweens will love the star-studded population including names like Lady Gaga, Jackie Chan and Betty White. Parents will love seeing the Beatles, Michael Jackson and faces like Steven Spielberg and my absolute favorite, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial.
Located in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District, Urban Putt gives miniature golf a whole new swing. The first and only indoor mini-putt course in the city has 14 holes and calls a historic Victorian building home. Urban Putt also has an onsite restaurant and two bars. As a result, no one under 21 years can play the greens after 8 pm, so plan accordingly to avoid disappointment.
You’ve never seen or played a course quite like this. A combination of mechanics, creativity and lots of tinkering come together from one hole to the next, to pay tribute to some San Francisco icons. Then there’s just some holes that are downright kooky and fun.
If anyone’s hungry when the game is over, my favorite spot in the Mission, La Taqueria is just a quick drive away. Expect a crowd and good food. Winner buys?
Dana received complimentary admission to the attractions above, but as always her thoughts and opinions are her own. Photos unless otherwise noted by Dana Rebmann.
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