San Francisco is an amazing year round destination for the family. I actually never thought of San Fran as a place to go with little ones but a recent visit completely changed my mind! My almost 4-year-old daughter had a blast and calls San Francisco the city of bread! San Francisco’s cobblestone streets, piers and ocean smells are reminiscent of my hometown Boston. We traveled by foot for all the following attractions because they were in walking distance from our hotel excluding our trip to the California Academy of Sciences. That was a brief drive from Fisherman’s Wharf. Fisherman’s Wharf is a busy tourist area. So be mindful of your children.
Here are the attractions we enjoyed while staying in the Fisherman’s Wharf area:
This small aquarium is the perfect-size for families with young children. The only animals you will see at this Aquarium of the Bay are native to the Bay Area. Spend time in the 300-foot-long tunnels appreciating jellyfish, sharks and more. The tunnels were a favorite for my husband and I. My daughter was leery of the darkness at first but she adjusted to the lighting in no time. The Touch the Bay area was where my daughter really enjoyed spending time. We witnessed a ray feeding and my daughter was totally enthralled. She also enjoyed the bee case and touching the starfish. She seriously couldn’t get enough and didn’t want to leave. The Aquarium staff was helpful and interacted well with the children. Families can squeeze a couple of hours out of this Aquarium. Aquarium of the Pacific is a fun, cute and educational experience for parents and the kids.
After visiting the aquarium continue down Pier 39. We were here in the evening and missed seeing the sea lions that are camped out at the Pier. We did catch some performances at the Alpine Spring Water Stage at the Bay end of Pier 39. This is also where the San Francisco Carousel is located. The two-floored carousel is hand-painted and lovely to ride. There’s plenty of to do and eat here at Pier 39. There’s also a Happy Feet 4-D ride.
I love places off the beaten path. Our friends recommended Musee Mechanique and wow what a score! Admission to the museum is free and located at Pier 45. Musee Mecanique is home to vintage arcade games and other machines. “Laffing Sal” greets guests with her guttural laughter. She’s a large happy red head at the entrance and you can’t help but crack a smile! The dancing mechanical dolls mesmerized my daughter. She even liked riding on the old horses. Some of the characters were creepy but oh sooo cool! Spend some spare change here and escape from the Bay Area’s drizzle! It’s amazing how basic and entertaining these old-fashioned games were. I love the advances in gaming technology but miss the character of these big-old machines! Love photo booths? There are a few here to capture memories in!
Boudin at the Wharf
I can still smell the bread! Take the family here for breakfast, lunch or dinner! We ate at the café and had pizza and sandwiches made from delicious Sourdough bread. Boudin is the reason why my daughter calls SF the city of bread. You can see the bakery right from the street and passers bye stop to observe the bakers at work. Teagan enjoyed tracking the baskets of bread that traveled overhead along conveyor belts. The prices downstairs were cheaper than eating at the upstairs restaurant but you can take a free tour and learn more about Boudin’s history up in the restaurant. The Clam Chowder bowl seemed to be a favorite there but we we’re not fans (gasp) of Clam Chowder. Visit the counter to view the various shaped bread. Yum! Pricey but some of the best Sourdough I’ve ever had.
Ghirardelli Chocolate Company at Ghiradelli Square
Do your children love ice cream? Ghirardelli Ice Cream Shop is the place for a sundae! They had me at the homemade hot fudge chocolate sauce! Shakes, banana splits, whatever floats your boat soooo good but $. The square gets crowded but a must for Ghirardelli and ice cream lovers. We wound up window-shopping and snapping pictures of the surrounding views at Hyde Street Pier.
California Academy of Sciences
There’s a little bit of everything at the California Academy of Sciences located in Golden Gate Park. An aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum and tropical rain forest all rolled up in one. This is a parent’s dream! There’s definitely enough here to keep the family busy for a full day and kids of all ages can enjoy this museum. Make sure to take in the new Snakes & Lizards: The Summer of Slither which runs through Sept 5.
One of our favorite areas was Rainforests of the World. We had to wait in line for about 20 minutes before entering the large dome. Travel up four stories to see the animals that live in this humid climate. Large fish can be seen from below while butterflies swoop by from above. Make sure that none of the butterflies hitch a ride before taking the elevator down to your next stop, the aquarium. See the rain forest from a different angle and visit the Amazon River from below. This aquatic area is wonderful for young children and make sure you get a closer look at their albino alligator located in the Swamp.
Young children (under 5) will enjoy the Early Explorers Cave area where they can explore the hands-on exhibits with their parents. There might be a wait since the amount of guests is limited. End your visit on the roof of the California Academy of Sciences. The Living Roof green roof boasts native plans and the skylights that are really impressive. The observation deck is perfect for winding down and spending a quiet moment appreciating the surrounding environment.
The California Academy of Science is open, bright and clean. One-day tickets are a bit pricey, but kids 5 and under are free, and if you’re going to visit more than once a year, the individual membership covers you and one other person all year. Tickets can be bought in advance to avoid lines.
Also, I suggest getting to the museum early to find a parking spot. Their parking lot fills up quickly and you’ll be searching the streets for a while. Pack a lunch or eat at the Academy Café. The Café was SUPER crowded, but the menu choices were pleasantly surprising and delicious. There were different stations with international cuisine. I suggest trying out a steamed bun!
There’s so much character in this colorful town of hills, crooked streets and trolley cars. We can’t wait to get back to San Francisco and explore the other parts of this city. I love the culture, rich history, and architecture. The drive took us about 5.5 hours from L.A. (skipped the PCH) making it a manageable ride. Just load up on snacks, games and books for the little ones to keep them busy.
* We did not receive monetary compensation for this review. We wanted to share our experience with other families traveling to San Francisco. That’s IT Mommy received entrance to Aquarium of the Bay and California Academy of Sciences to facilitate portions of this review. This will in no way sway our opinion of the product or service.
The review is in our own words and is our opinion. Your results and opinions may differ. All pictures were taken by That’s IT Mommy unless noted.