For the longest time, when people thought of San Francisco, they thought of flower children staging love-ins in grassy parks and hippies turning on, tuning in and dropping out in the Haight-Ashbury district. But by the time I was growing up in the late ’80s, San Francisco was the picturesque backdrop for the Tanner family from Full House. (The opening credits with the row of Painted Ladies houses are forever burned into my brain.) And today, San Francisco’s identity has pivoted from that of a hippie heaven and sitcom setting to a tech utopia, the heart of where everything app-related originates.
While a good portion of SF’s bohemian population has been replaced (aka pushed out due to insanely high rents) by hoodie-wearing aspiring entrepreneurs, the city is still an exhilarating destination to visit — with no shortage of things to do for the whole family.
My family makes about two to three trips to San Francisco each year from our home in Los Angeles, and we’re constantly amazed — and relieved — at all the awesome kid-friendly spots. Also, huge shoutout to San Francisco International Airport for having dedicated family bathrooms, nursing rooms and small playgrounds in their terminals. We wish all airports were like you.
San Francisco and the Bay Area in general have an unreal amount of crazy-good museums to visit. It’s not possible to do them all in one trip, of course, but pick two of the four listed below and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
The Children’s Creativity Museum: Right next to the Moscone Convention Center in the SoMa neighborhood, the Children’s Creativity Museum is an innovation- and technology-focused spot where kids are expected to get their hands dirty and create things. My older girls (ages 7 and 5) loved the stop-motion clay studio and the music area, while my baby boy (almost 1) got to crawl around in the imagination lab.
California Academy of Sciences: This is hands-down one of the best science museums in the world, with “an aquarium, a planetarium, and a natural history museum, all under one living roof” as the museum’s own tagline describes. Oh, and there’s also a rainforest in the middle of the museum as well. Plus, staffers roam around in bright-orange lab coats to give mini-lessons about each exhibit.
The Exploratorium: While California Academy of Sciences leans more toward environmental science, the Exploratorium, located in the Embarcadero, is all about tinkering and experimenting. (You know, like physics class, but way cooler.) This spot is really good for elementary schoolkids.
The Bay Area Discovery Museum: If you’re looking to get outside, head to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Area Discovery Museum, which has both outdoor and indoor exhibits, playgrounds and STEM and art labs for kids from ages 6 months to 10 years old to enjoy. And you can’t beat that scenic setting. (Just remember to bring layers for everyone.)
Mom tip: Consider buying a CityPASS for these attractions and others like the cable car and a cruise around the bay.
Where to eat
Leopold’s Gasthaus SF: This small Bavarian-style restaurant in Russian Hill is a win-win for parents and kids. Parents can indulge their Oktoberfest fantasies with a well-rounded beer menu (you can order your beer in a large glass boot) while kids will gobble of the käsespätzle (Austrian for “mac and cheese”). And do order the apfelstrudel (“apple strudel”) for dessert.
Delarosa: There’s no shortage of chain restaurants around Union Square and SoMa but Delarosa near the Yerba Buena Gardens is an original San Francisco treat. The main attraction of the menu is their Roman-style pizzas, but my family also overloaded on the appetizers, such as burrata bruschetta, spicy meatballs and a kale and romaine Caesar salad. Yes, of course they serve wine and beer and craft cocktails too. Bonus: there’s another location in the Marina.
Yank Sing: To be entirely honest, the only place in San Francisco where I’ve ever had dim sum is at Yank Sing at the Embarcadero location on Stevenson. But it’s that good: I don’t care to find any other dim sum place. Be sure to make a reservation before you go. Then, once you get there, sit back and let the carts loaded with yummy goodness drop off delightful dishes at your table. Stretchy pants highly recommended.
Ghirardelli Square: This is a touristy stop along Fisherman’s Wharf but it’s a treat nonetheless. There are a few restaurants and shops to peek into, but the real highlight is to have an ice cream sundae at the original Ghirardelli chocolate store.
More: The Mom’s Guide to Miami
Where to stay
Airbnb: The home-sharing site is headquartered in San Francisco, so naturally, there are plenty of lodging options here. Just keep in mind that not all apartments or houses will have parking available. Uber, Lyft and BART are still the best ways to get around the city, but it’s something to remember in case you are driving.
Argonaut Hotel: If your top to-do in San Fran activities are centered around Fisherman’s Wharf, the Piers and Alcatraz, then the Argonaut is a perfect choice. The guest rooms are done in an adorable, nautical style, and they offer plenty of services and amenities for kids. Just be aware there’s an “Urban Facilities Fee” of $25 a night, which sounds like a drag, but actually includes discounts to area attractions, a $10 food and beverage credit, bike rentals and a guided waterfront tour on the weekends. So be sure to take advantage of all of this during your stay.
St. Regis San Francisco: This luxury hotel has a sleek modernist vibe but it’s surprisingly family-friendly. Little guests receive a welcome bag with a St. Regis stuffed bear and a reusable water bottle. Its location near the Yerba Buena Gardens and SoMa is so convenient. There’s a Target two blocks away and yet another museum next door. (The SF MoMA.) Oh, and (how could we forget?) an indoor swimming pool.
Hilton San Francisco Financial District: The guestrooms here are standard Hilton fare, but the views of the city are stunning. The public spaces of the hotel are also super-modern, and there’s even an on-site karaoke room to play around in. If you stay here, be sure to join the HHonors loyalty program for the best rate. Then, using the HHonors app, you can select your exact room before checking in and then use your phone as the room key. That’s so SF!