San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the United States, and fortunately for parents, it’s also full of activities that children will love. Besides the well-known Exploratorium and California Academy of Sciences, the city offers many kid-friendly activities that the whole family will enjoy.
Cable Cars for Days
Ride cable cars and visit the Cable Car Museum. Kids love transportation of all kinds, and San Francisco offers a unique transportation experience in the United States: the cable car. The best place to take a cable car ride is at Powell and Market Streets, the beginning of the line where the car arrives and then turns around at the turntable. The Powell-Hyde line is considered the most scenic and includes a stop at Union Square, a good place to jump off for a little fun before taking the return ride. Drivers may offer kids a special place to stand in the open back of the car, just be sure to ask.
Kids will also love the Cable Car Museum, which includes original cable cars and displays of the history of cable cars in San Francisco. The Powell-Hyde and PowellMarket lines stop right at the museum, so it’s easy to find. Admission is free, and the museum is open every day except major holidays, 10:00-6:00 April-September and 10:00-5:00 October-March.
Parks with A View
With over 1,000 acres and various indoor and outdoor activities, Golden Gate Park has many things for families to do. From visiting the windmill and seeing the buffalo at the west end of the park, to seeing the views from the Young Museum tower and walking the many outdoor gardens, Golden Gate Park has more than enough to keep active families busy for a couple of days.
The Botanical Garden is the perfect place to spend a nice day outdoors, and if your kids enjoy nature, they’ll love walking the paths and discovering all kinds of interesting plants along the way. Highlights of the garden include the Redwood Grove, the Ancient Plant Garden (with dinosaur footprints) and the Great Meadow where you can lay down a blanket and enjoy the towering cypress trees. Admission is $2 for kids ages 5-11, $5 for ages 12-17, $7 for adults, and $15 for two adults and their children. The garden opens at 7:30 a.m. and is free until 9:30 a.m.
The Koret Children’s Quarter is the oldest public playground in the United States and is a must if you have small children. It’s suitable for babies, toddlers and older kids and includes a historic carousel and a slide like none other. Nearby is the Conservatory of Flowers, housed in the country’s oldest conservatory building where kids can marvel at the 1,700 plant species including carnivorous plants and an array of tropical flowers. Admission is $2 for kids ages 5-11, $5 for ages 12-17, and $8 for adults, and it’s open Tuesday-Saturday 10:00-4:30. The inside is hot, so plan accordingly.
A New National Treasure
The Presidio is one of the country’s newest national parks and sits on the northwestern edge of San Francisco. This urban park has quiet places for walking, including Wood Line, an outdoor art installation located inside a eucalyptus grove near the southeastern entrance to the park. The long beach of Crissy Field makes a great place for kids to run and enjoy views of both the bay and the field’s huge, colorful sculptures.
For the Fit Family
The Golden Gate Bridge is the beautiful symbol of San Francisco and will attract your kids’ attention as soon as they see it. Fortunately for families, getting an upclose look at the bridge is a kid-friendly activity. The easy walk from the Presidio to the bridge takes you through old tunnels once used by the military and offers views of the bridge and the bay. Once at the bridge, you can walk or bike along the pedestrian lane on the bay side. It can get very windy up there, so be sure to dress in layers.
Animal Lovers Rejoice
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area is the nation’s largest urban national park. The park’s rugged cliffs and hills offer many opportunities to spend time outside, but two experiences particularly interesting for families are the Point Bonita Lighthouse and the Marine Mammal Center. The Point Bonita Lighthouse is located on a small peninsula where the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean meet. After parking the car, take the steep half-mile walk to the lighthouse that includes views of the ocean, the Golden Gate Bridge and even seals playing in the water below. The lighthouse is dramatically located at the end of the peninsula and is reached by walking through a tunnel and then crossing a bridge. The hours are limited: Saturday-Monday 12:30-3:30. Admission is free.
The Marine Mammal Center rescues and rehabilitates sick and injured ocean mammals. Visitors can choose a self-guided tour or a group tour given by a docent. Both are free, but donations are encouraged. The types of animals you will see depend on which ones are healthy enough to be seen, but there are also fantastic exhibits that teach kids all about marine mammals and protecting the oceans.
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