Our Family’s Top Scoring San Francisco Moments
As far as family vacations go, it would be unrealistic for all family members to enjoy EVERY thing on the day’s agenda ALL the time – especially, if your kids (like ours) have a ten-year age difference (Vi is 5 and Den is 15).
Last summer we have spent 3 days in San Francisco as part of our California “sampler” family road trip. Here are our TOP SCORING FAMILY MOMENTS SAN FRANCISCO (with the highest scores awarded to the activities enjoyed by most family members)
1. Exploring the City on Foot.
We walked from our hotel in Union Square through China Town and North Beach (Little Italy) neighborhoods all the way to famous Lombard Street, stopping for sandwiches at Molinari on Columbus Ave and for coffee at Café Trieste on Vallejo Street (this is where Francis Ford Coppola wrote the screenplay for The Godfather).
Family Score: 4 out of 4
Travel Tip: Next time we visit, we will take advantage of the free walking tours offered by the San Francisco’s Public Library.
2. Taking the tea with a view at the Japanese Tea Garden of the Golden Gate Park.
We definitely caught our moment of Zen while sipping the teas in the Japanese Garden’s tea house overlooking the pond, as we admired carefully landscaped recreation of a traditional Japanese garden. This was just the moment where our teen got his next trip’s inspiration.
Golden Gate Park has an abundance of family moments potential: it houses de Young Art Museum, California Academy of Sciences (Aquarium, Planetarium and a Natural History Museum all under one roof), Botanical Garden, Conservatory of Flowers and much more (not to mention a neighboring Ocean Beach).
Family Score: 4 out of 4
Bonus: Future Travel Inspiration
Travel Tip: Entrance to the Japanese Garden is free on Mon, Wed, Fri if entered by 10:00 am. For all pricing and event information, check out their website.
3. Riding the Cable Cars
We enjoyed seating in the outside section of this distinct San Francisco transport and admiring the Golden Gate and other ocean vistas in the distance so much – we used the cable cars as our main mode of transportation in the city!
Family Score: 4 out of 4
Travel Tip: Single $6 tickets offer NO on-and-off privileges, so $14 all day Muni passport is a much better deal.
Here is a “quintessential” San Francisco vista as seen from the Power-Hyde Line’s cable car: (Colt Tower on the Telegraph Hill is in the top right corner in the distance.)
4. Picnicking in Dolores Park
With only a couple of days in the city, most tourists don’t venture out to the historic Mission neighborhood. We were lucky to have our second “chance” with the city on the final day of our Californian road trip. And we needed this extra day to explore some areas beyond the main tourist attractions. Mission neighborhood’s Dolores Park is famous for its sunny afternoons (even when the rest of the city is foggy!) and downtown panorama opening from the hillside. There are plenty of wonderful Mexican food take outs nearby to get your picnick ready. The park has an amazing playground, too.
Family Score: 3.5 out of 4 (I’ve taken off half a point because my daughter got scared of some unleashed dogs which you have to get used to in the exceptionally dog-loving California)
Bonus: Getting out of the touristy areas and mingling with the locals
Travel Tip: beware of unleashed dogs and smokers
5. Walking Part of the Golden Gate Bridge
Both end of the Bridge are part of the national Golden Gate Parks. (Free access and parking); it is accessible by public transportation, but we drove via Marine Drive along the coast, then parked near Crissy Field and walked the trails to reach the Southern end of the Bridge.
Family Score: 3.5 out of 4. I did not walk the bridge out of fear of heights, but enjoyed the views from the trails leading up to it, such as this one:
Now you can see who is missing from the post-walk picture:
6. Learning about the Beat Generation at the Beat Museum
This will not be your elementary school kids’ favorite San Francisco moment, but teens and adults will enjoy getting enlightened about the history of the Beat generation and browsing through the artifacts and literary heritage.
Family Score: 3 out of 4
Travel Tip: Consider guided 2-hour Beat tours (offered by the Museum); they cover both the museum and literary history of the neighborhood.
7. Visiting Alcatraz
Once America’s most notorious prison, Alcatraz is across San Francisco Bay from Fisherman’s Wharf. My teen learned a great deal of history of the island and its famous occupants. He also told me “the views were spectacular” (I did not go).
Family Score: 3* out of 4 (*My daughter and I did not actually go to Alcatraz, but I raised the score to 3 because both my teen son and my husband liked the visit a LOT!)
Bonus: Teen Appeal (Parents of Teens would understand)
Travel Tip: Get your Alcatraz ferry tickets weeks or months advance (cruises depart from Pier 33 at the Fisherman Wharf) and go early in the day to avoid the crowds; you don’t need to pre-book your return time.
8. Steering the Duck Boat on the Duck tour
(and not taking a picture at the same time)
90-minute (land and sea) narrated Duck tour took us through Union Square, China Town, Ghirardelli Square, and North Beach (check out complete route and prices here); and then into the San Francisco Bay for the sea portion of the tour.
Family Score: 3* out of 4 (*our teen did not go, but the activity may actually be agreeable enough with YOUR teen)
Bonus: “Quacking” Excitement of younger kids (and some parents) is contagious
9. Enjoying Everything Pier 39 Has to Offer
Outside of the presence of the sea lions and the fact that it is an ocean pier, there is nothing special about Pier 39; and- it is crowded and not particularly clean. BUT our 5 year old loved all the carnival style attractions so much that I just had to throw in an *extra point – and let the Pier make the list.
Family Score: 2* out of 4
NEAR the city, we ALL loved the artsy appeal of Sausalito and relaxing vibe of the Monterey, (spreading all the way to Point Lobos National Reserve), but they are part of another story about this trip (check out our 11-day California Sampler Road Trip Story here.)