San Francisco with Kids: A Perfect Family Day

San Francisco with Kids: A Family Vacation


Visiting San Francisco with kids is even better than visiting alone. This cosmopolitan city, set within a seven-mile wide peninsula in northern California, has mild weather, a waterfront setting and heaps of cultural activities, making it ideal for family vacations.

San Francisco has so many things to do that you could easily spend several days or even a week exploring the city and surroundings with your family. Travel is easy, and there are abundant attractions which will interest young and old alike. Your best bet for a family vacation in San Francisco, however, is to stick to the city's western side for at least a day or two.

By the way, note that San Francisco is abbreviated to San Fran, never "Frisco" -- it's a dead giveaway that you're a tourist!

A sample itinerary for anyone touring San Francisco with kids:


Start your family vacation in San Francisco by fueling up at one of the best diners in the city. Darla's (822 Irving Street, 415-753-3275) offers a great fried breakfast for adults plus a kids' menu designed not only to feed your children, but to keep them busy while you eat. "Sunny scramble" means scrambled eggs and home fries, while "kids' cake" will keep young children seated at the table while they tackle their pancake and bacon. For those with experience with family vacations in San Francisco, which admittedly isn't the cheapest city around, the best part about Darla's is the price: children's breakfasts cost only around $4.95.

After breakfast, the next stop on your family vacation: San Francisco Zoo (Sloat Boulevard and Highway 1 at Ocean Beach, 415-753-7080). Arrive early -- the zoo opens at 10AM and early birds will be able to park by the door and enjoy short bathroom lines.

In the penguin pool, you can watch these awkward birds waddle around the rocks and dive into the water (always fun to imitate them!). At the insect zoo, kids will marvel at the colorful butterflies flying overhead. One of the best things to do in San Francisco Zoo is the family farm, which offers children the opportunity to pet animals and learn about farm life. It's great if they can find out where their chicken nuggets and ham sandwiches come from!

If your children tire of visiting the animals, there are plenty of other things to do at San Francisco Zoo. The beautiful and historic Dentzel Carousel dates back to 1921 and kids can pick which horse to ride. At 11AM, the Little Puffer Train starts steaming its way around the zoo -- a great alternative to conventional family travel. It's a convenient end to the morning, too, since tired children can ride the train and get one last look at the animals.

General admission for the zoo is $15 for adults, $12 for grandma and grandpa, $9 for children aged 4 to 14 and free for children aged 3 and younger.


Tackling the rest of your San Francisco family vacation itinerary is best done after lunch. Cliff House (1090 Point Lobos, 415-386-3330), one of the best restaurants in San Francisco for families, is straight up Highway 1. You get a fabulous view of the ocean, a gallery of old photos of the historical restaurant and a carefully designed children's menu. This changes frequently, yet always offers staples such as french fries, chicken tenders, pasta and fruit.

By delaying lunch until 1PM or 2PM, you will miss the crowds and have a better chance at grabbing a table next to the window. Adult meals range from $10-$25 and children's meals start at $8.

A five-minute drive from Cliff House is Rochambeau Playground (238 25th Avenue, between Lake and California Streets). This is a great park to bring a picnic blanket and let your little ones nap on the lawn while older children enjoy the play structure. The lawn area is small, so if the park is crowded, bring an extra padded blanket to use on the hard benches. The children's play structure is fenced off, so you can feel safe knowing your toddlers can't run away!

If you find yourself with extra time in the afternoon, head to Golden Gate Park, one of the most fun things to do when traveling in San Francisco with kids. Get dizzy on the carousel or marvel at the bison in the buffalo paddock. If the weather turns, shelter in the California Academy of Sciences, which houses a natural history museum, planetarium, aquarium and rainforest dome.

Evening: Beach Chalet

After a day exploring San Francisco with kids, everyone is bound to be ready for dinner. On the west end of Golden Gate Park opposite Ocean Beach, you will find the Beach Chalet (1000 Great Highway; 415-386-8439). This place has fantastic ocean views: arrive at the right time and you will be able to watch the sun set over the ocean. Being so close to the ocean, the seafood is predictably fresh, local and superb, but the dinner menu also features steak and pasta. Kids' meals go for only $5.95, so try them on macaroni cheese, Ocean Beach chicken fingers or a corn dog.

Just think! These are only a few family vacation ideas for the west side of San Francisco. The rest of the city and its surroundings await you, for what's almost guaranteed to be the best family vacation ever.

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