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.
That’s the ideal way to start this family fun-filled day: at San Francisco’s extreme museum, the Exploratorium. But first, there is the matter of breakfast to attend to. After getting the gang together, head toward the Marina and grab some goodies to go at one of the eateries on Union or Chestnut streets – bagels, smoothies or a croissant will do. Munch your picked up picnic breakfast on the nearby lawn at the Palace of Fine Arts (adjacent to the Exploratorium) enjoying a spot in the sun with the dazzling 1915 Roman rotunda reflecting into the duck-laden lake before you.
No need to tell the kids the next stop is a museum. At the Exploratorium, children and adults are encouraged to touch and play their way through the more than 600 science, nature, art and technology exhibits. Kids learn the science of skateboards, crank gears and levers to discover the mechanics of motion and turn their head sideways and blink their eyes, just so, to experience art. Nearby Fort Mason also offers the Outdoor Exploratorium. Before they know it, they’ll know more about global climate change and tidal charts. And it’s still morning!
A short bus or cab ride will cart the crew to Fisherman’s Wharf, just minutes away. The walk along the Wharf begins at Polk Street, just in time to 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, sometime between here and Pier 39, as you pass trinket shops galore and loads of opportunities for a classic clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. At The Cannery, the turn-of-the-century brick warehouse, you’ll find winding walkways, balconies and a courtyard packed with shops and restaurants. The sound of sea lions will have the group gravitating to Pier 39 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.
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! Also based in Fisherman’s Wharf, Mr. Toad’s Tours utilize vintage touring cars. If you’d rather lead the tour, rent at Scootcar Rentals (even Bill Clinton couldn’t resist taking a photo with these fun-fangled mini-mobile units), hop on a City Segway or choose either a Segway or electric bike at the Electric Tour Company. Still got some zip left? Try one of the bright-yellow GPS-guided storytelling GoCars.
Back at the Wharf, you’ll head for the historic cable cars for a ride downtown. Make sure you take a look left down Lombard Street, the crookedest street in the world, for a breathtaking view of the Bay. At the end of the line, hop out and head down Fourth Street for the Metreon. Dinner here is sure to please everyone, with eateries offering everything from pizza and burritos to Japanese noodles and roasted chicken. If the brood isn’t completely bushed, grab an IMAX movie to wind down, and then head for the hotel. Tonight, rest assured, you and your explorers have conquered the best of the City by the Bay.