Greetings from the Golden Gate! You’re coming out my direction to San Francisco for your vacation or holiday and the entire family is coming, too. While the City by the Bay has no Disneyland theme parks, there is so much for your kids to do that is fun, educational and interesting. Best of all, you will enjoy these attractions as well!
FISHERMAN’S WHARF/ALCATRAZ ISLAND
The main tourist attraction in San Francisco has got to be Fisherman’s Wharf and the excursions out to “The Rock” or Alcatraz Island. Fisherman’s Wharf boasts museums, shops and an aquarium that kids will love. Let’s take a quick look at some of the fun things you can do.
- The Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum: With more than 400 exhibits of the strange and odd, you’ll be aghast with all these weird experiences. It has 18 themed galleries including a huge mirror maze.
- Aquarium of the Bay: Sharks! Octopus! Jelly Fish! Sea Stars! This fabulous aquarium on Pier 39 has three enchanting environments. Learn about the different ecosystems in Discover the Bay. Delve underwater through two 300-foot clear tunnels discovering the marine life in San Francisco Bay. Lastly, explore interactive labs and touch tanks with animals like a leopard shark or a bat ray.
- The Wax Museum at Fisherman’s Wharf: You will be amazed when you see 250 personalities carved from wax. The museum boasts several galleries, some may not be appropriate for very young children like the Chamber of Horrors. The Chamber of Religion has iconic figures from religious history, and then the most popular will be the Gallery of Fame. This gallery has famous sports figures, presidents, royalty and celebrities.
- Pier 39: When you need a rest from museums and aquariums, come through Pier 39, the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf. Here you can sit back and relax at one of the restaurants and enjoy the San Francisco views. Take your kids to see the resident sea lions and then watch the street performers that come out daily to put on a show.
- Alcatraz Island: Take your kids on a excursion to The Rock. The boat ride there and back is great fun and there are several tour packages to choose from to best fit your time schedule.
I’ve found FishermansWharf.org to be a very helpful resource for all the attractions.
CABLE CARS/CABLE CAR MUSEUM
When you’ve had your fill of Fisherman’s Wharf, the end of the line for the famous cable cars is at Beach and Hyde. If you wish to take the trip all the way to Powell and Market, it is a fun ride up and down the steep hills. See the beautiful architecture of the historic buildings and sweeping bay views. I took my son when he was three years old and he just loved the ride!
Want to know how this cable car system works? Get off at Washington and Mason and go into the San Francisco Cable Car museum. Learn how the cables work underground to pull the trolleys along the streets. View three antique trolleys on display from the 1870s. Enjoy the FREE ADMISSION! More information on the cable car map route, fares, and museum: Cable Car Museum
Here’s a hands on, interactive adventure for your kids of all ages. The Exploratorium is “an ongoing exploration of science, art, and human perception—a vast collection of online interactives, web features, activities, programs and events that feed your curiosity.” Travel is certainly a way to educate your children, but taking them to a place like the Exploratorium WHILE you’re traveling takes their experience to a whole new level with 600 exhibitions.
I’ve noticed that most of the collections have to do with one of your senses, such as hearing, seeing and touch. One exhibition deals with your mind and explores your inner life. The famous Tactile Dome enlists all your senses except sight as you crawl, slide and walk through.
The Exploratorium website has all the info you need, including admissions, hours, and other visitor information.
MECHANICAL MUSEUM aka MUSEE MECANIQUE
Little kids will be fascinated and maybe a bit bewildered. Older kids will want to know how it works. The San Francisco Musee Mecanique is the largest privately owned collection of antique penny arcade machines. They all still work and you can insert a coin to put them into action! From musical instruments to fortune tellers and sports games, the San Francisco Mechanical Museum is FREE and located at Pier 45 at the foot of Taylor Street in San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. It is a place to see and experience a unique piece of history you can’t get anywhere else. This might be a fun stop before the cable cars. See the official website where you can watch a fun video of the machines in action as well as visitor information.
GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE
Take a walk on one of the most beautiful bridges in the world! The sweeping cables and enormous towers are breathtaking, as are the views of the city. Drawbacks are cold and blustery weather, lots of crowds and noise from the traffic. But it’s a must-see attraction for many folks and getting your picture taken with the fabulous Golden Gate Bridge in the background is a sure sign you’ve been there and done that in SF!
Last important tip: Before you come, be sure to pack jackets and long pants! Although summer months in California have a reputation for being hot and sunny, this is not so in San Francisco. We’re foggy, drizzly and chilly for most of the summer months. It doesn’t seem to warm up much until late August! So come prepared and you’ll be having a great time.
Amy Tanathorn is a long-time resident of the Bay Area with her husband and young son. Taking little ones with you to San Francisco? She can help you find the right lightweight stroller or umbrella stroller for your trip on her helpful stroller reviews site, Stroller Envy.