San Francisco: One of the Best Cities for Couples and Kids
This assertion may seem a little at odds with itself, but San Francisco not only is one of the world’s most romantic cities, it’s also one of the best places to take kids.
In a prior blog post, I wrote about spending many summer afternoons watching Willie Mays and Willie McCovey play at Candlestick (yes, I’m that old), while tossing back Ghirardelli’s Flicks chocolates out of a cardboard tube. Another treat always was walking along Fisherman’s Wharf, and touring Ripley’s Believe it Or Not museum, which displays a trove of oddities from around the globe.
It’s nice to know that some things don’t change completely. Fans can still enjoy a Giants game, albeit at the breathtaking AT&T Park instead of wind-whipping Candlestick, and Fisherman’s Wharf still has Ripley’s, as well as multiple shops, attractions and restaurants. What makes it so fun for parents is that instead of being fenced in a theme park’s grounds, families can enjoy mobile adventures riding cable cars, ferryboats, and Segways, and take in wonderful strolls through sprawling Golden Gate Park and along the beach. Here, one can find scrumptious food of any variety, cost and ethnicity. It’s truly a city for all ages and people.
Plus, with San Francisco CityPASS, many of the city’s best attractions are a bargain.
Start with the iconic Cable Cars. CityPASS ticket holders not only get access to the historic cable cars, they can use CityPASS to traverse the city on the Muni system, which also operates diesel and electric trolley buses and historic streetcars. But you have to ride the cable cars with the kids at least once. They’re pretty easy to catch coming down the hill, but there’s a huge line at the turnaround locations to go back up. Therefore, it’s best to board at least four blocks above the turnaround. Also, according to the CityPASS website, the cable car on California Street is least crowded and easiest to board.
Another terrific ride for ages 12 and up is a City Segway Tour. I’ve blogged about this before, and the rides remain as popular as ever. The Segways are a thrill to ride after just one lesson, and the tours incorporate stops at San Francisco’s most famous destinations: Telegraph Hill, the Embarcadero, the Pyramid building, Ghirardelli Square, Palace of Fine Arts and the cable car turnaround. Along the tour, Segway riders are treated to panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and the Bay. It’s an unforgettable few hours spent with wonderful, friendly tour guides. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Families will want to visit the Exploratorium’s new home on the historic waterfront at Pier 15. This CityPASS attraction was called “one of the best science museums in the world" by Scientific American. Visitors of all ages will enjoy exhibits on the human body, astronomy, food and sports science, color and the natural world.
Make your kids’ eyes open like saucers by taking them into Chinatown, the largest outside of Asia. Chinatown is one of the top attractions in a city that’s known for so many iconic and eclectic things to do. The three top picks for kids are visiting the Chinatown Kite Shop on 717 Grant St., going to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory (which churns out 20,000 cookies a day) at 56 Ross Alley, and taking everyone to a noisy, clattery dim sum restaurant and giving your kids a real culinary education. “I don’t know what it is … just try it,” you’ll say. That is, unless it has a beak sticking out of it.
On Friday, January 31, 2014, the Chinese New Year is celebrated. Originated in the 1860s during the Gold Rush, it is the largest general market event in Northern California. The celebration includes two major fairs, the Chinese New Year Flower Fair and Chinatown Community Street Fair. All the festivities culminate with Chinese New Year Parade on the 31st. The year 2014 is the 4,711th Chinese year, and marks the year of the horse — a symbol of traveling, competition and victory.
The Aquarium of the Bay also is a perfect family getaway, particularly if the city’s famed wet, gray carpet of fog unfurls. This CityPASS attraction is the only aquarium dedicated to animals native to San Francisco Bay. One of the more striking attractions is its 300 feet of crystal-clear tunnels, which provide a scuba diver's view of more than 20,000 marine animals. The aquarium has a giant Pacific octopus, and even a tactile pool where little fingers can touch sharks, rays and sea stars – without losing digits, of course.
If the weather isn’t too blustery, enjoy a Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise. Not only do the boats cruise along the city’s historic waterfront and past the PIER 39 sea lions, they travel underneath the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz, the famous last stop for so many of the nation’s infamous prisoners back in the day. Or, for a real thrill, take the kids inside the prison on an Alcatraz Tour. For just $30 ($37 for a night tour), it’s a memorable capper to a perfect family vacation.