My daughter Charleigh waited patiently all summer to get her solo trip with mom. Both of Charleigh's aunts live in San Francisco, consequently, when my husband got assigned to do an audit there we decided to tag along. I hadn't been to San Francisco since before having kids and it isn't somewhere I've been very many times. I carefully researched and compiled a mixture of adult and San Francisco for kids activities.
1. Petting Bat Rays at Aquarium of the Bay
Over 20,000 sea creatures are waiting for you at the Aquarium of the Bay. Cost of entry as of May 2019 are $27.95 for adults and $17.95 for children ages 4 to 12. If you are a member of your local zoo it must be remembered, because they do offer a major reciprocity discount for Association of Zoos and Aquarium members.
One of the major highlights of your visit are the long tunnels that surround you with marine life. Divers feed the animals and graciously swim within camera view to pose for photos with your children. Charleigh has been to many aquariums during our travels, Aquarium of the Bay received her stamp of kid approved San Francisco activities because of their touch pool. She had a blast petting the bat rays and learning about why they were not going to sting her.
2. Exploring Pier 39
After your day at the aquarium, you should, by all means, spend some time exploring Pier 39 right outside. Pier 39 is filled with some of the best activities in San Francisco for kids.
You'll find a farmers market filled with fresh fruit and of course delicious candy.
A bob of seals creates a major crowd of people at one end while they eagerly record the seals barking.
My daughters favorite part was the bungee jumping contraption. As a parent, I love the concept of kids doing regular kid activities with epic views in the background.
3. Playing Cornhole in Ghirardelli Square
It's like the Ghirardelli company knew that moms want to simultaneously sit and have a little chocolate in peace. To occupy your kids there is a lovely fountain with mermaid statues as well as cornhole games set up in the square. Charleigh made a friend about her age and they played for almost an hour while I got to sit down. Entertaining a child all day for days on end is exhausting!
When deciding on activities I put a lot of weight into anything that mixes learning with fun. The Ghirardelli chocolate shop is the perfect stop in San Francisco for kids. You can see the chocolate making process and enjoy your chocolate covered strawberries all in one shop.
4. Making Friends at Mission Dolores Park
Before we left for San Francisco we heard from a mom at Charleigh's school that Mission Dolores Park was super fun. Wow was she right! the slides at Mission Dolores Park are HUGE!
This is not the kind of park where parents can sit down and zone out on their phone. While your kid is climbing hills to get to the slides there are a lot of blind spots out of view.
5. Licking Ice Cream at Bi-Rite
Truth be told the advice we got pointing us to Mission Dolores Park explicitly included the fact that there was an epic ice cream shop right across the street. Can you tell we love desserts on vacation?
Bi-Rite ice cream is a local favorite because of its quirky flavors and amazing customer service. We were encouraged to try as many flavors as we wanted before making a decision. The staff talked to Charleigh like a human being, thus solidifying my love for them. I appreciate the hell out of any place that respects kids and acknowledges them as people.
6. Walking the Golden Gate Bridge
There is nothing more iconic in San Francisco than the Golden Gate Bridge. Truthfully I wanted to walk the bridge and I had to get creative to make it appealing for Charleigh. But once we were there in person, it was super fun for her. We took an Uber from our hotel to the far end of the bridge and walked back towards the hotel.
I had some fun facts about the bridge in my back pocket to help her learn as we walked. Between photo ops, games of tag, looking for boats, and practicing different walking styles (skipping, hopping, ballet, etc), the walk was actually very easy for a four-year-old to do.
7. Viewing the Animals at the San Francisco Zoo
Kids love zoos and accordingly are a safe bet. From an adult perspective, I'm always looking to see the animals I've never seen before. In this case, I was excited to see the rhinoceros and koala.
We don't travel with a stroller anymore but Charleigh assured me that if I didn't rent one she would be asking me to carry her. The stroller rental fee is $10 for singles and $12 for doubles.
8. Exploring Japantown
Seeing as how this vacation was in response to her sister's mommy trip to Japan, we had to include some culture on our trip too. Wandering around the shops was fun for Charleigh in particular because many of the staff people were actually Japanese speakers. Charleigh has been studying Japanese at school for a year and has some basic conversational abilities.
Aside from telling her no about a million times as she asked to purchase every item in sight, the neighborhood was very cute.
9. Slurping Noodles at Ramen Yamadaya
When it came time to grab lunch I turned to Yelp to help me decide on a truly great Japanese restaurant nearby. Yelp did good! We wandered up the stairs to the secret Ramen Yamadaya.
You are greeted by an iPad stand. I have never checked into a restaurant via iPad. Full disclosure, I did it wrong. The welcome screen asked for my phone number and name. I typed in my work cell phone number because I didn't want spam calls intruding on my personal cell. That caused me to miss the auto-text directing me to walk in the next door to be seated. When the people who arrived after me got a text we had a good laugh about how secretive I am about my personal phone number.
Anyway, lunch was amazing. I could eat Ramen Yamadaya every day. If you need a restaurant in San Francisco for kids, unquestionably put this on your list.
10. Riding the Cable Car
Hey, you're a parent you probably need some coffee. Get to the Hyde & Beach Cable Car turn around. You can grab some Starbucks before you get on the cable car. You can't bring your beverage on the cable car so be sure to finish it prior to boarding.
I recommend getting a day pass and hopping on and off at the next two places on my list of activities in San Francisco for kids.
On the cable car, you'll want to be on the East side of the car for the best views for the bay.
11.Seeing the Famous Lombard Street
Hop off the cable car a the crookedest street in the world. I cannot imagine being a resident of this neighborhood, people act absolutely cray cray. When cars need access to the street, please be respectful that your photo is not more important than respecting other humans.
Charleigh LOVED walking up and down Lombard Street on both sides. She watched cars as they attempted to navigate the road and laughed at tourists being honked at for blocking vehicles.
12. Interacting with Robots at Union Square
Union Square mall is especially kid friendly. Upon entering you find curved escalators that take you from level to level. There are colorful walkways, toy stores, and even a friendly robot at the Microsoft store! The robot will have a dance party with you, take your photo, and tell you jokes.
13. Playing on the Playground Overlooking the Painted Ladies
The painted ladies are an iconic landmark which are also referred to as postcard row. Featured in the opening credits for the original Full House series, it was widely believed the Tanner family home was one of the painted ladies. But in fact, it is only in the opening credits because the family happens to be at Alamo Park across the street from the painted ladies, having a picnic.
While seeing a row of houses is not a fun activity in San Francisco for kids, playing on a playground is! At Alamo Park, there is a fun playground overlooking the painted ladies. Along with the playground structure, there is also a sandbox my daughter loved romping in!
14. Seeing the REAL Full House House
Off the beaten path, you can take an Uber ride to the real full house house. Unlike the painted ladies there weren't crowds of people there to swap photos with. At the time of our visit, Jeff Franklin owned the house and it was undergoing renovations. As of May 2019, it is back on the market listed at $5,999,999.
If DJ, Stephanie, and Michelle's pretend living quarters get you giddy like me, surely it's worth the 5-minute visit. The real Full House address is 1709 Broderick St, San Francisco, CA 94115.
Top 5 Things to do in San Francisco for Kids
Charleigh had a blast on her mommy-daughter vacation. Now that both her aunties live in SF I suspect we will be spending more time down there. I already know Charleigh will get a kick out of showing her sister the things she got to see without her.
Our summer has been packed with wonderful travel adventures. I hope our family trips inspire you to take your children on your next vacation. You can always keep up with our travel adventures by finding us on social media.