San Francisco with Tweens: A Perfect Family Day

San Francisco with Tweens: A Family Vacation

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San Francisco (don't call it "Frisco"-- the locals hate that) is one of the most picturesque cities in the world. So before you set out on your perfect day in San Francisco, with your tween, make sure to get your tween a camera. This way your camera bug can have a great time snapping sailboats out on the glistening bay, the amazing architecture old and new, the mix of people and interesting things at every turn.


The first place you might want to take your tween in San Francisco is the Exploratorium (3601 Lyon Street, San Francisco, CA 94123; 415-561-0360). It's located in the Palace of Fine Arts, one of the most stunning terracotta-colored columned buildings this side of Rome. Enormous-winged goddesses hold up a dome near a lake dotted with statues. On the grounds, you might see toddlers chasing birds on the rolling grass, tourists picnicking, or even a model showing up for a photo shoot. The sights here are worth the visit and you haven't even gone inside the museum yet!

Once you enter the Exploratorium, you will be able to tinker, putter, handle, shake, rattle and roll to your heart's delight. It's all about exploration (hence, the name) and learning about the wonders of science. Prepare to spend hours in the museum and keep an eye on your tweens. It's a big place, some of the exhibits are in the dark, and often you can't pry your husband off one nifty thingamajig to go try another (by the way, take some sanitizer if having all those hands on everything gives you the creeps). The gift shop sells science and nature games, toys and gadgets in all price ranges for all ages. It is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10AM - 5PM. Tickets are $12-$15.

After being on your feet for hours in the museum, it's good to take a little drive: You can't visit San Francisco without crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, one of the modern Wonders of The World. Enter just north of the Exploratorium. Park at the turnout and take in the view of the city skyline including the Transamerica Pyramid building or you can walk the bridge from there. Whether its sunny, windy, foggy or rainy, the bridge and its bay views are a sight to see. (Did I mention you should get your tween a camera?) Tolls are free for northbound cars, bikes and pedestrians; southbound traffic is $6.00 per auto.


Back in San Francisco, take your tween on a real San Francisco cable car ride. The gripmen and conductors are a friendly part of the experience. Tweens will love that there are no seat belts and people are allowed to hop on and off. And the ringing bell is a landmark sound. There are three cable car lines with several cars in the area around Fisherman's Wharf. Cost is $5.00 each way per person or you can purchase a day-long pass for $13. You'll see marked signs for cable car stopping points.

Back down at Fisherman's Wharf, check out the street vendors before heading over to the original Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop Ghirardelli Square (900 N. Point St., San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-474-3938). Here you'll see some of the original chocolate making equipment in action. You can also indulge in old-fashioned sundaes -- the kind where the decadent fudge sticks to your spoon -- banana splits, beverages hot and cold and a gift shop with its world-famous candy bars. If you've got a crowd, there is a monstrous $30.00 dessert called the Earthquake with eight scoops of ice cream, eight toppings, bananas, chopped almonds, chocolate chips, whipped cream and cherries on top.

Next stop: Chinatown. Parking can be tricky. Be especially careful on those one-way streets. If you've abandoned the cable car for your rental, have coins for the meters, so you don't have to pay big bucks in a parking structure. The sidewalks are crowded and the people are pushy, so get in with the group and go with the flow. Be sure to check out the red dragon motifs on lamp posts, colorful lanterns in store windows and Chinese calligraphic signs. All are photo-worthy.


In Japantown is a unique restaurant, Isobune Sushi (1737 Post Street, San Francisco, CA 94115; 415-563-1030), which opened in 1982 as the first "sushi boat" restaurant in the U.S. An actual moat of water encircles the sushi chefs in the center of the place and wooden boats of fresh sushi and sashimi float by your table, as you help yourself. Watch out, though -- you pay by the plate and it's easy to get carried away and stack 'em high.

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