My family drove from LA to another one of California’s best cities: San Francisco. And of course, we needed to find realistic things to do in San Francisco with kids.
With a five-year-old and two-year-old twins, driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco was no joke. We left at 8am and didn’t arrive until 4pm. Our frequent stops and food breaks extended our travel time.
So we were more than relieved when we finally arrived at our rental house. We planned to stay for four days, and when you’re driving eight hours one way, that means two days.
Realistic things to do in San Francisco with kids
I didn’t want to jam pack every tourist spot and take a toll on three young children. Instead, here are realistic and fun things to do.
1. The Golden Gate Bridge
I actually debated driving through the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s just a bridge, right? Turns out it’s the most famous bridge in the world. To young children, bridges can be one of the most majestic sights to behold.
Only later did I realize that we don’t have comparable bridges in Los Angeles. My kids kept talking about the Golden Gate Bridge long after we got home. My eldest kept drawing pictures of it days and weeks after we returned.
You can choose to drive through the bridge or walk. The distance is almost two miles long, short enough for a walk. (Bring a stroller for younger ones though.) If you drive through like we did, bring $7 for the toll to get back into the city.
2. Bay Area Discovery Museum
After driving through the Golden Gate Bridge, we visited the Bay Area Discovery Museum.
This hands-on museum includes several bungalows, each having its own theme. Some of the themes include a Tot Spot, Art Studios and Wave Workshop. Outdoors, they also have an Imagination Playground. Between the bungalows, you’ll see interactive displays like giant xylophones or bubble machines.
The museum also includes a cafe so you can grab a bite to eat while you’re there.
3. Golden Gate Park
This site deserves a category of its own with all the things you can do here. It’s like New York City’s Central Park. Some fantastic sites they feature include:
4. Riding the cable cars
I still remember riding the cable cars at nine-years-old on my first visit to San Francisco. They’re a mainstay of the city, one of the things you can only do in San Francisco.
Riding the cable cars is a fantastic way to view neighborhoods without walking up and down the hills. And when you’re done, you can visit the Cable Car Museum to learn its history.
My friend lives in San Francisco and told us about a pretty good Chinese restaurant, San Tung, nearby. “Oh, and their chicken wings are pretty good,” she casually mentioned.
I almost didn’t order said chicken wings because I’m not a huge fan of wings (too messy). But thankfully my husband placed an order. Holy moly, those were good chicken wings. I made sure to get the name of the place so I know where to eat when I go back. Insanely good.
6. UC Berkeley
Though not in San Francisco, I’m still including this stop on the list. I take my kids to college campuses when we travel, and we weren’t about to skip out on Cal. I’ve always liked the vibe of Berkeley and wanted my kids to explore their options. (Yes even at this young age!).
7. Fisherman’s Wharf
Now that you know where to go, take a look at these additional tips to make your stay even more pleasant:
Tip 1: Book a rental home instead of a hotel
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This was our first experience renting a house instead of booking a hotel. It was, by far, one of the best decisions ever. Here’s why:
- The cost was about the same (maybe even cheaper) especially for a city like San Francisco.
- Most hotels didn’t offer a separate bedroom suite or a living room. With three bedrooms, the kids could sleep early and we wouldn’t have to tip toe around when they were asleep.
- The rental home we found was upgraded with modern amenities. It felt like living in someone’s fancy house.
- The rental home had a ton more space than a hotel room. Rather than sleeping in the same tiny room as the kids, we had our own bedroom and living room to hang out in while the kids were asleep.
The only potential downside was the lack of a 24/7concierge service. At one point, I realized we didn’t have the portable play yard or the bedding that we had initially asked for. But the owners dealt with that and any other issues quickly and efficiently.
Tip 2: Borrow books about San Francisco and bridges
Read these children’s books about San Francisco before or after your trip. My kids couldn’t stop reading through all the adventures they had just seen:
- This is San Francisco by Miroslav Sasek
- City by the Bay: A Magical Journey Around San Francisco by Tricia Brown
- San Francisco, Baby! by Ward Jenkins
- Larry Gets Lost in San Francisco by Michael Mullin
- San Francisco ABCs by Gus D’Angelo
- Bridges by Carol A. Johmann
- Bridges and Tunnels by Donna Latham
- Pop’s Bridge by Eve Bunting
With an eight-hour drive one way, even a four-day trip to the city didn’t seem like enough time to explore the city. Though there were plenty of things to do in San Francisco with toddlers and young kids, dragging them to every spot seemed unrealistic.
Instead, we opted for kid-friendly spots that wouldn’t drain our energy and would still be enjoyable for the whole family.
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