blog_post_19

San Francisco with Kids

My daughter turned 12 this year, and we decided to celebrate with a quick 2 day trip to San Francisco. In this whirlwind tour of San Francisco sights and delicious cuisine we share what we loved, what we ate, and what we would do again.

When We Went

Early March

Pros - Beautiful weather, clear skies, fewer crowds

Cons - Not warm enough for sunbathing and swimming

How We Got There

We flew into the San Francisco Airport (SFO) and took the Airtran to the Garage G/BART Station Stop where we hopped on the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to get into the city. Once in the city, we rode the public bus and PresidiGo Shuttle to our destinations. You can stop by the information desk in the airport if you aren’t sure how to get into the city.

You can stop by the information desk in the airport if you aren’t sure how to get into the city.

Waiting for the free PresidiGo bus to come by. Next time we would probably take the public bus instead because it is faster and still very affordable.

The public bus was so cheap and easy. It was $3.25 total for an adult and youth ticket good for 2-5 hours depending on the driver. (They tear the ticket at the hour it expires. Some are more generous than others.) It was also fun and valuable teaching my daughter how to read the bus lines and stops. We simply stopped by the concierge desk in the hotel to pick up a map with the bus lines and asked where the nearest bus stop was located. Just remember to bring some small bills in cash.

The public bus was so cheap and easy. It was $3.25 total for an adult and youth ticket good for 2-5 hours.

Where We Stayed

Hyatt Regency San Francisco

Pros - Great location, nice views, near public transport, and just across from the ferry building.

Cons - We did hear a lady yelling random things outside around 4 am, even from the 7th floor. This seems to be the norm in San Francisco though, so just roll with it.

Dessert at the Hyatt Regency, view of the ferry building from the window on the way to our room, lights and sculpture in the lobby

What We Ate

This trip, we decided to have a food checklist and tried to visit most of the restaurants on Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations San Francisco episode. We mapped out the restaurants in advance and planned our visits by day and meal. We both enjoyed the challenge, and it was nice to know where we would be eating each meal.

Swan Oyster Depot - Crab Salad $29.00 served with louie sauce and bread.

There was a line out the door when we arrived for lunch at Swan Oyster Depot. They do not accept cards, so I wandered across the street to the atm while my daughter held our place in line. We waited about 20 minutes for a seat at the counter.  The crab salad was large enough to split and came with bread and butter. I do recommend getting the sauce on the side as it was delicious but a bit too much. 

Waiting in line at Swan Oyster Depot, limited seating at the counter inside, menu and crab salad, old cash register still in use

Far East Cafe - Egg Foo Yung

The Far East Cafe is in Chinatown. We went here for dinner and tried the egg foo yung. It was very good, and I noticed that the waiter wrote our order in Chinese, which made the experience even more authentic. This area of Chinatown was closed at night, and the stores were barred. It seemed quiet and peaceful, but we took an Uber back to our hotel after dinner because it felt safer after dark.

I noticed that the waiter wrote our order in Chinese, which made the experience even more authentic.

Waiting for an Uber just outside Far East Cafe in Chinatown

Boudin Bakery - soup in sourdough bowl

The Boudin Bakery is a must with children. They have animal shaped bread loaves of all sizes. Make sure you go to the main location at the Wharf (160 Jefferson Street, Lower Level San Francisco, CA 94133) for the full experience. Here you can also visit the 30 foot observation window and view the bakers hard at work. Have a question? Use the intercom system to get an answer. If you have enough time, you can also schedule a museum and bakery tour. 

Make sure you go to the main location at the Wharf for the full experience.

Boudin Bakery bread bowl, exterior, and interior. We would eat here again.

Ghirardelli - Classic Sundae

Head to the original Ghirardelli ice cream and chocolate shop at Ghirardelli Square. Grab a seat and browse the menu for the perfect tasty treat. We tried the classic fudge sundae, and also enjoyed viewing the history and equipment used to make such delicious chocolate.

Ghirardelli Square and hot fudge sundae. We would eat here again.

GiGi’s Sotto Mare - Cioppino

Sotto Mare is located in Little Italy. You will not be assigned a table here until everyone in your party has arrived. They are strict, but with good reason. The food is fresh and the guests line up. We lucked out with a seat at the bar. While it was a bit warm (from the flames), we were able to watch the cooks prepare every dish. I highly recommend this seat with a tween because it was entertaining and a great way to view the menu. 

They are strict, but with good reason. The food is fresh and the guests line up.

The prawn saute’ was calling my name, but my daughter and I had planned to try the recommended cioppino they are famous for. Neither of us eat clams or mussels, but we had agreed to be brave and give it a go. Even though we weren’t converted, it was definitely an experience to remember. 

We sat at the far end of the bar right in front of the cooks, trying Cioppino for the first time, exterior of Gigi's Sotto Mare, smiling her way out of trying oysters with me, Cioppino. We would eat here again.

What We Did

Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge is an iconic landmark of San Francisco. When visiting be sure to stop in the welcome center for more information on the history of the bridge and swing by the outdoor exhibits to learn more about the construction of the bridge. If interested, they also offer free walking tours twice a week. 

We made it to the Golden Gate Bridge and were blessed with clear skies after the rain.

Wave Organ

We had great expectations on our ¾ mile stroll to visit the wave organ, however we were very disappointed upon arrival. We visited near high tide, but sadly no organ sounds were heard. This was one of our “out of the way” adventures (travel tip #4) that didn’t go quite as planned. The scenery was beautiful though, and the walk was lovely so it wasn’t all a loss. If we went again, we would cut this out of our itinerary.

We visited near high tide, but sadly no organ sounds were heard.

Enjoying our walk to the wave organ. Beautiful scenery, but we would skip this next time since the organ didn't play.

Seward Mini Slides

We packed some burlap sacks for our excursion to the Seward Mini Slides, as we had read that burlap or a piece of cardboard would help us go even faster down these slides. This was our first stop of the day, and we were ready. Sadly, upon arrival the slides were still locked up. A second “out of the way” adventure gone wrong. We were not about to leave without attempting what we came for. So, we slid down each half as best we could and left the sacks for the next lucky visitors.  

We would visit these again, but we would not come so close to opening hours.

We would visit these again, but we would not come so close to opening hours. Apparently, the hours are lenient and subject to the employee of the day. Unfortunately, our schedule didn’t allow us to linger. The surrounding area was quiet and peaceful at 10 am and we enjoyed our walk to the nearby bus stop.

Seward Mini Slides open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm, but we arrived at 10am on Tuesday and they still had metal bars over sections of the slides. Schedule your visit a little later in the day.

Castro District

My daughter saw the rainbow street crossings online and was immediately interested in a visit. The Castro District was near Seward Mini Park so we just hopped off the bus a stop early to wander a bit. I would not bring her here in the evening, but at 10 am on a Tuesday it was mild enough with just a few hints at later events of the day.

Houses and a lizard we passed on our walk from the Castro District to Seward Mini Park, signs and rainbow street crossings in the Castro.

Japanese Tea Garden

This garden was lovely and just the right size for a visit with kids. The Japanese Tea Garden provides an excellent area for exploration by foot. Don’t forget to stop by the cafe before leaving to try something new, an adventure for the tastebuds.

Enjoying the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco. Trying Matcha Green Tea and Dorayaki (pancakes with red bean paste). Both were quite good. We would come again.

Chinatown and the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory

Chinatown during the day is a fun experience. My daughter really enjoyed stretching her souvenir money here. The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory is small but definitely worth a visit. For a 50 cent donation you can take a picture, but the samples, fresh off the griddle, are free. You can purchase bags of various fortune cookie quantities and flavors to snack on while you wander the town.

Shopping in Chinatown and visiting the Golden Gate Cookie Factory.

Walked along the piers and visited the seals at Pier 39

A walk from Pier 1 to Fisherman’s Wharf is free and filled with exciting sights and smells. From bubble blowers to kites, hippie vans to live statues and carousels you certainly won't get bored. Don't forget to stop at Pier 39 to visit the seals. We extended our walk to Ghirardelli Square to end with a delicious hot fudge sundae.

Don't forget to stop at Pier 39 to visit the seals.

Sights on our walk along the piers in San Francisco.

Lombard Street

We took the bus to a stop near the top of Lombard Street and walked our way down. Famous for being “the world’s crookedest street” it’s beautifully manicured and provides lovely views of the water on your walk down as well.

A walk down Lombard Street with a view of the water.

Additional Itinerary Options

Rent bikes and ride them across the Golden Gate Bridge into Sausalito. Ride the ferry back to town and return your bikes. (bikes can go on the ferry with you). I did this when I went with my sister and we loved it. This is not the best option with kids because you have to ride on busy streets and there are plenty of hills to climb, however you could easily take the ferry over to visit this adorable town.

Biking over the bridge with my sister on a previous trip. Rewarding ourselves with lunch in Sausalito.

Ride the cable car. This is a must do when visiting San Francisco. I did this with my sister, so we skipped it this time and took the bus. Just don’t expect the scene from the old song "Clang, Clang, Clang went the Trolley". The workers weren’t nearly that friendly, haha. The Powell/Hyde line of the cable car ends up near Ghirardelli Square and passes by Lombard street along the way.

Taking our chances with the irritable conductor for a photo op.

Visit Alamo Square and the Painted Ladies, most commonly known for their appearance in the t.v. sitcom Full House. The hilltop provides a picture perfect view.

Tour Alcatraz Island and learn about the history of the former federal prison that housed notorious prisoners.

Spend time in Golden Gate Park, the San Francisco botanical garden, or climbing the 16th Avenue tiled steps.

Know Before You Go

San Francisco is beautiful and definitely worth a visit, however, you need to have a general awareness of the various districts and trust your instincts. When visiting with my sister we hailed a taxi at dusk because the vibe didn’t feel safe any longer. With my daughter, I tried to be back at the hotel before dark or take an Uber directly to and from our location. 

With my daughter, I tried to be back at the hotel before dark or take an Uber directly to and from our location.

A hotel along the pier or in Embarcadero/Financial District is a wise choice. A hotel in the Union Square District will expose you to more homeless people asking for money and/or yelling random things. The West side of Union Square also borders the Tenderloin District which is to be avoided.

We felt safe using the bus during the day. It was affordable, easy, and didn’t take much longer to arrive at our destinations.