San Francisco with Kids: 4 Day Family Friendly Itinerary

San Francisco with Kids - A Family Friendly Itinerary

San Francisco might be most famous for the Golden Gate Bridge but there is so much more to the city than the big red bridge. I was seriously surprised at how much the city has to offer – chic neighbourhoods, picture perfect streets, museums and art galleries galore, beautiful parks and gorgeous views from just about any corner. So, read on if you’re soon heading to San Francisco, with kids.

You could easily and happily spend a week here but you probably want to see more of the West Coast, so I’ll keep it shorter. Still, if you’re flying straight into San Francisco from Asia, I would recommend staying for at least 4-5 days as you’ll probably end up wasting a day, thanks to jet lag.

Our first day in San Francisco with kids was mostly zombie-like – think 16.5 hours in the air with 3 kid. That was followed by trying to stay awake the entire day to adjust to the 15-hour time difference.  By day 2, though, I was completely in love with the city – San Francisco is simply beautiful and it has such a cool vibe to it.

We rented a car and stayed in an Airbnb apartment in Daly city. We mostly drove around but took Ubers on a couple of occasions as parking can be a nightmare – difficult to find and super-expensive.

Here is a 4-day family friendly itinerary for San Francisco with kids. I drafted this based on what we did right, what we did wrong and how we could have organized our days better.

Day 1
  • Take in spectacular views of the Bay Area from Twin Peaks
  • Enjoy a family picnic at Golden Gate Park
  • Get gorgeous views at Lands End
  • Walk on the Golden Gate Bridge
  • Make a pit-stop at the Palace of Fine Arts

Start by driving to Twin Peaks for spectacular expansive views of the Bay Area. It is free (even the parking) and yet, not too crowded. We absorbed the views from near the parking lots but you can climb to the top of one of the peaks for 360 degree views. It can get really windy up there, so make sure you have jackets and something to tie your hair. Tip: If you want to look through the telescopes, keep quarters handy.

After getting a good bird’s eye view of the Bay Area, head over to Golden Gate Park for some family fun. Rent bikes, have a picnic or just laze around. If you want to visit the California Academy of Sciences, it is within the park. I wouldn’t rate it as a must-do but it is quite good, so if you’ve got the time, the money (at $35.95 for adults, it is pricey) and kids who want to explore an aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum, all under one roof, then go for it. My (and one of my 6-year-old’s) favourite part was the Earthquake simulation.

In the late afternoon, drive to Lands End – the wildest, rockiest corner of San Francisco. Trails at Lands End offer a cliff-top walk through dark cypress and open grass. Spend an hour or two here, walk around to get gorgeous views from different vista points – Lands End offers 30-mile views up and down the California Coast.

Now, time to finally see the iconic landmark up close – the Golden Gate Bridge. We parked at a parking lot in Presidio, not too far from the information centre and hiked up 15-20 minutes to reach the bridge, stopping several times to get that perfect picture of the bridge. And in case you were wondering – yes, with 5 kids in the group, we are entitled to call it a hike! Walking on the bridge is an experience, so definitely go for it.

On the way back, drive around Presidio for a bit and stop at the Palace of Fine Arts for a few minutes.

Family Friendly Itinerary for San Francisco - Twin Peaks

View of the Bay Area from Twin Peaks

Family Friendly Itinerary for San Francisco - Lands End

Gorgeous Views at Lands End

Family Friendly Itinerary for San Francisco - Golden Gate Bridge

Walking on the Golden Gate Bridge

Family Friendly Itinerary for San Francisco - Palace of Fine Arts

Palace of Fine Arts

*It might look like a long day on paper, but you’ll only spend around 15 minutes each at Twin Peaks and Palace of Fine Arts. But if you start late in the day or want to take it slower, then omit the Golden Gate Park or do it on Day 3.
   

Day 2
  • Watch the sealions at Pier 39
  • Walk around Fisherman’s Wharf
  • Buy chocolates at Ghirardelli Square
  • Ride the Cable Car
  • Walk up and down Lombard Street
  • Shop at Union Square

Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghirardelli Square cover several blocks along the waterfront. This is basically one of the popular and touristy things to do in San Francisco with kids.

You can start around the Ferry Building and walk along the piers. Pier 7 is “supposedly” less crowded and offers great views. The Exploratorium at Pier 15 is a hands-on science museum for kids. We wanted to go but couldn’t manage it because of a poorly planned day ☹. Keep walking along the piers – take in the views and make a few stops so kids can jump, run around and admire the docked ships.

As you get closer to Pier 39, the hustle bustle starts to increase. Pier 39 gets crowded but the sea lions are a must for kids. After exploring the area, have an early lunch at Hard Rock Café. I loved the Cauliflower Burger – Hard Rock Café lets you mix and match the burgers, so I had my Cauliflower patty topped with condiments from the Atomic Burger.

Post lunch, walk through Fisherman’s Wharf to Ghirardelli Square. You can make pit-stops on the way to buy souvenirs, pretzels or chocolate milk. When the kids start whining about being tired, bribe them with the promise of chocolates – the folks at Ghirardelli will take care of this as they dish out a free chocolate to everyone who enters. This might just be the highlight of your trip to San Francisco for kids from their point of view.

The Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop and Café is a haven for chocoholics – watch chocolate being made while you enjoy a hot fudge sundae and go crazy shopping for chocolates for the folks back home (or at least, that’ll be the official version). Tip: DO NOT buy the small packs of squares, or you’re so gonna regret it once you’re back home and hooked on your daily dose of a post-dinner Ghirardelli. And if you’re delusional enough to think that you won’t get hooked to these, you’ve got another thing coming 😉.

Post the choco-mania, cross the street to where you can see a huge queue. This is where you can (and with kids you probably should) board the famous San Francisco Cable Car (Powell-Hyde Line). Then again, if you’re from Singapore you probably already joined the queue first and wondered later what it was for 😉. Ride the Cable Car up and down the steep streets of San Francisco, all the way to Union Square. Tip: Sit at the open front of the car. It gets pretty crowded, so you’ll miss the views if you’re in the back.

But first, get off on Lombard Street just a few stops away. Lombard Street was one of my favourite things to do/see in San Francisco with kids. The street is famous for a steep section with 8 hairpin turns. Walk down the street, take in the views and plenty of pictures before you hop back on the Cable Car and continue on to Union Square. Once there, shop, eat, walk, photograph and shop some more.

Family Friendly Itinerary for San Francisco

Walking along the Waterfront and the Piers

Family Friendly Itinerary for San Francisco - Pier 39

Sealions at Pier 39

Family Friendly Itinerary for San Francisco - Pier 39

Pier 39 – The view

Family Friendly Itinerary for San Francisco - Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf

Family Friendly Itinerary for San Francisco - Ghirardelli Square

Ghirardelli Square

Family Friendly Itinerary for San Francisco - Ghirardelli Square

Chocolate Galore at Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop

Family Friendly Itinerary for San Francisco - Cable Car

The world famous San Francisco Cable Car

Family Friendly Itinerary for San Francisco

Picture Perfect – Get a Bollywood pose with the cable car

Lombard Street

Family Friendly Itinerary for San Francisco - Lombard Street

View from the bottom of Lombard Street

Family Friendly Itinerary for San Francisco - Union Square

Union Square

Family Friendly Itinerary for San Francisco - Union Square

Union Square

 

Day 3
  • Alcatraz Tour
  • Shopping or additional sightseeing

The former prison is rated as the top attraction in San Francisco. The tours get sold out weeks in advance so make sure you book early. We made the blunder of leaving it to chance and were pretty bummed out ‘coz we ended up missing it. The ticket price includes the ferry and the tour. For more information and to purchase tickets please visit the Alcatraz Cruises website.

The Day Tour ($37.25) is approximately 2.5 hours and would be most appropriate with kids. You can also opt for a combined tour of Alcatraz and Angel Island ($71.50/Adult).

Depending on what tour you take, you can plan for the rest of the day. Besides, you’re travelling with kids! So, let’s face it – things probably didn’t go to plan the first couple of days and you ended up missing stuff. Use the remaining part of this day to see what you missed, or any extras that you might be interested in –The de Young Museum, SFMOMA, Coit Towers, Chinatown, San Francisco Zoo, just to name a few.

Family Friendly Itinerary for San Francisco

Chic SFO neighbourhoods supporting Pride

Family Friendly Itinerary for San Francisco

Just about any street is clickable


Day 4
  • Muir Woods
  • Sausalito

You’ll have to take a drive across the Golden Gate Bridge to get to Muir Woods and Sausalito. I would suggest doing Muir Woods first but if you’re not driving, then you can take the ferry from San Francisco to Sausalito and start there.

The easiest way to get to Muir Woods is by car. Instead of driving all the way, I recommend parking at Pohono St Park & Ride and taking the Muir Woods Shuttle from there. It’s just easier. The shuttle costs $5 for a round trip for adults. Kids are free. Remember that there is no cell phone service in Muir Woods so you can’t rely on Uber for your pick-up.

Once you get to Muir Woods, you can do one of the many hikes through the forest. Or, if you’re travelling with young children, my guess is that you might just want to take a leisurely stroll amongst the majestic redwoods. Muir Woods will enchant you with its beauty – it is peaceful and beautiful. For more information on Muir Woods and the Shuttle, click here.

Spend the second half of the day at Sausalito. This cute little bay side town has a European feel to it. Experience the quaint charm of Sausalito’s waterfront, by strolling along the waterfront near the harbour, watching the ferries and hopefully a few seals. Walk along the main street lined with restaurants, cafes and shops; stop for an ice-cream. Sausalito is also a great dining destination, we had dinner at  Poggio Trattoria – the food was amazing with great vegetarian choices (more on this later).

Family Friendly Itinerary for San Francisco - Muir Woods

Majestic Redwood Trees at Muir Woods

Family Friendly Itinerary for San Francisco - Muir Woods

Connect with nature at Muir Woods

Family Friendly Itinerary for San Francisco - Sausalito

Sausalito Waterfront

Family Friendly Itinerary for San Francisco - Sausalito

Poggio Trattoria at Sausalito

 

(Optional) Day 5

In case you want to do a day trip to Napa Valley or even a drive on the Pacific Coastal Highway to Santa Cruz and back.
  

Tips for the trip:
  • Always, always keep a jacket – summer in San Francisco is not like the Singaporean summer. During our visit (June 2017), temperatures often dropped in the evening, even if it was sunny during the day. It is often windy, so it also feels cooler than the temperature might suggest.
  • Driving distances from one sight to another can be longish, 20-40 minutes or occasionally more. So always keep some water and snacks in the car, for the kids. You might also do well to keep a tablet, in case you need to diffuse a fight that starts out of boredom.
  • Depending on what attractions you want to cover, the San Francisco City Pass and/or the GO Card may be more value for money. Check them out while you draw up your itinerary.

 

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of EatRoamLive, Pooja’s enthusiasm for food and travelling is palpable from the variety and intensity with which she writes. A traveller at heart and a big-time foodie who happens to be a vegetarian, EatRoamLive was incepted with her desire to create a resource aimed at making travel fun, and not restrictive, for families and for vegetarians. Not just (solely) vegetarian restaurants, she marks out places that serve sumptuous food with enough meat-free options. A hands-on mum to 3 young kids, the former architect and interior designer has her hands full juggling her love for writing, travelling and home.

12 thoughts on “San Francisco with Kids: 4 Day Family Friendly Itinerary

  1. Harveer Sidhu

    Very neatly written Pooja, as always ! I think one should only follow this itinerary. It’s looks so short and apt but so much detailed also.

    1. Pooja Bakhshi Post author

      Thanks Rosemerry for the kind words. That’s the hope – to encourage people to travel more :).

    1. Pooja Bakhshi Post author

      Definitely go with the kids. They’ll love it. My 2-yr-old still keeps telling everyone that he saw the Golden Gate Bridge.

  2. The DADventurer (Dave)

    Looks like you had a great time – we’ve done San Fran three times as adults, but haven’t gone with Toddler L yet. My favourite thing about San Fran is the chowder you get in the bread rolls by the harbour – could eat that all the time!

    1. Pooja Bakhshi Post author

      That’s fantastic Carrie. So you’re my guinea pig, lol. Would love to hear how it went and if you have any suggestions for improving the itinerary, do send them accross if you’d like (ERL@EatRoamLive.com).

  3. Plutonium Sox

    Some brilliant ideas for an itinerary. We haven’t been to San Fransisco yet and I can’t wait to go. Great tip about the Alcatraz tour, I’d hate to miss that. I’d actually love to do the Alcatraz swim so hopefully we’ll combine it with the tour when we go. Thanks for linking up to #familytraveltips!
    Nat.x

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