By: Cindy Hu
Editor’s Note: Many of the attractions highlighted in this itinerary are included in San Francisco CityPASS which includes pre-paid admission to the California Academy of Sciences, a Blue & Gold Fleet bay cruise, a choice between the Aquarium of the Bay and Monterey Bay Aquarium as well as a choice between the Exploratorium and the de Young and Legion of Honor museums. And getting to all these attractions — not to mention Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown and other notable sights — is easy with a Muni and Cable Car 7-Day Passport, also included in each CityPASS booklet.
Got tots? The city of rollicking cable cars and kid-centric museums, tours and parks – and, of course, the world famous Fisherman’s Wharf with its endless amusements – has heaps of ways for kids of all ages to get wacky or get down to some serious exploration.
Lines tend to be shorter in the morning so opt for a cable car ride to Fisherman’s Wharf. Make sure you take a look right at Lombard Street, the crookedest street in the world, for a breathtaking view of the Bay.
The sound of sea lions will have the group gravitating to PIER 39. Most stores and attractions open by 10 a.m. where they can take a whirl on a carousel, find amusement in the arcade or take a magic carpet ride. Or perhaps they will prefer to wander through 300 feet of clear tunnels surrounded by sharks, eels and octopus at the Aquarium of the Bay’s underwater wonder world. Pop in to Ghirardelli Square (pronounced Gear-ah-dell-e) to stock up some chocolate-covered snacks and watch the sweet-making system in action. Lunchtime is whenever the kids need nourishment; there are loads of opportunities for a classic clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl or a walk-away shrimp cocktail.
Fire Engine Tours
When those little legs need a break, a chariot awaits atop the beautifully restored 1955 big red shiny Mack fire engine from San Francisco Fire Engine Tours & Adventures. Your festive guides pass out fire hats, jackets and scarves whisking you and the kids in the open air truck through the Presidio, over the Golden Gate Bridge, to Sausalito and back, singing fire songs all the way! If you’d rather lead the tour, there are several bike rental, San Francisco Segway and City Segway tour companies in the area. Still got some zip left? Try one of the bright-yellow GPS-guided storytelling GoCars. If you forego any of these options, a short ride on the F-line historic streetcars which link the Castro to Fisherman’s Wharf will cart the crew back downtown to a new adventure.
No need to tell the kids the next stop is a museum. At the Exploratorium on Pier 15, children and adults are encouraged to touch and play their way through the more than 600 science, nature, art and technology exhibits. Hint: Streetcars are often at capacity coming from the Wharf area and it may be easier to check with the Exploratorium for a recommended bus route or plan on walking back to the Ferry Building and enjoy some yummy cupcakes from Miette, a scoop of gelato or check out the farmers market on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The samples are great and kids get a first hand lesson on the merits of farm-to-table fare.
If your return route puts you back downtown hop out and head down Third Street for a visit to Yerba Buena Gardens and Metreon. Dinner here is sure to please everyone, with eateries offering everything from juicy burger and burritos to Japanese noodles and roasted chicken. Tonight, rest assured, you and your explorers have conquered the best of the City by the Bay.
Day Two – Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach
A cab ride may be in order for the trip to Golden Gate Park; however, there are several public transit options including the N-Judah Muni Metro or #5 bus.
The Japanese Tea Garden opens quite early. A tea ceremony and contemplating the concise wisdom contained in a fortune cookie set the tone for a day of exploring Golden Gate Park’s 1,000-plus acres: You will discover a new area of interest.
That’s an understatement. The California Academy of Sciences, which opened Sept. 27, 2008, combines inventive architecture and eye opening exhibits to inspire visitors to explore and protect the natural world. A museum for the 21st century, the Academy includes an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum and scientific research facilities under one roof — a living one at that. The 2.5-acre roof has been planted with more than 1.7 million native plants. It boasts the world's largest all-digital planetarium and the world’s deepest display of living corals. More than 38,000 live animals fill the Academy's aquarium and natural history exhibits.
The entry court of the nearby de Young museum, its expansive lobby, café, museum store, sculpture gardens, and 144-foot-high observation deck offering panoramic Bay Area views, are open to visitors free of charge. Noted for its collections of American art from the 17th through 21st centuries, textile arts and costumes, contemporary art, and art from the Americas, the Pacific, and Africa.
Both the de Young and California Academy of Sciences offer healthy food options in their cafes and the Academy’s Moss Room is known for its modern California cuisine.
Completely restored in 2003, the Conservatory of Flowers was erected in 1879 and is the oldest surviving wood and glass greenhouse in the U.S. From Borneo to Bolivia, the 1,750 species of plants at the Conservatory represent tropical flora from more than 50 countries. Kid-friendly installations include Butterflies & Blooms this summer, May 8-Oct. 20, 2013.
One of the most beautiful public gardens in the U.S., San Francisco Botanical Gardens covers 55 acres and features more than 7,000 kinds of plants including outstanding geographical collections and unique specialty gardens as well as the most extensive botanical reference library in the U.S. Docent-led walks of the 17 extraordinary gardens are offered daily. The kids will thrill to a glimpse of those fog-loving towering giants known as Coast Redwoods, right in the heart of the city.
The western end of Golden Gate Park’s (picture a rectangle starting at Stanyan and extending all the way to the Great Highway) leads to the edge of the Pacific. The landmark Cliff House is nearby and a good spot to refuel before heading home for a warm bath and a bedtime story.