Parents’ Travel Guide: What to Do in San Francisco With Kids
California’s gleaming “City by the Bay” sits on the edge of the continent—and on the cutting edge of American consciousness and innovation.
A cultural icon, San Francisco was at the centre of the 1880s Gold Rush, which transformed American society. Then came the Beats, the hippies, the “greed is good” 1980s high finance decade; and most recently, Silicon Valley, the Dot-com boom, and the social web. It’s a hub of continual reinvention and exploration that’s also seen its fair share of drama: the city once burned to the ground and has survived epic earthquakes.
A photogenic metropolis that does glamour with laid-back ease, San Francisco is a haven for dreamers with its bohemian soul and impossibly steep hills (tip: don’t rent a stick shift car). Think sourdough, Alcatraz, King Crab on the wharf, Haight-Ashbury, The Castro’s Gay Pride, clanging cable cars, China Town, the Alice Waters locavore movement and the famed Golden Gate Bridge peeking out from under the fog. Located in the thick of it all, Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco sits right downtown, just a few blocks from Union Square, a shopper’s paradise.
- It’s a gorgeous, easygoing West Coast city set between the Pacific Ocean and California wine country. Not much need to elaborate. It ranks 35th out of the top 100 most-visited cities in the world—can everyone be wrong?
- Its counterculture and beatnik soul.
- To get to know the famed neighbourhoods. Check out The Mission (top-notch Latino fare, burritos as big as your head), Union Street/Cow Hollow, Pacific Heights, North Beach/Little Italy, China Town and Noe Valley.
- Outstanding seafood and some of the best locavore farm-to-table offerings around.
- It’s California. Do San Francisco, then move on to other sun-drenched destinations in the Golden State. Note: Summers are cool and foggy within San Francisco (while hot just a few miles south), so come prepared. Or visit in the glorious fall months—warm and sunny.
What the kids will love
- The city’s fabled steep and rolling hills (50 in all). They’ll love zipping up and down on the cable car, and the whoosh of the other car passing yours—within inches!
- The beach. It’s located right in the city.
- Golden Gate Park. Check out California Academy of Sciences, plus the gargantuan de Young Museum, Japanese Tea Garden (with tea house) and the elegant Conservatory of Flowers. There’s also a botanical garden and old-fashioned carousel.
- Enjoying make-your-own ice cream sundaes.
- Photographing the sites. Pick up a disposable camera and let your kids take their own pictures—a great way to preserve the memories from your child’s point of view.
- Biking the hills of the Headlands.
- Nearby trips to Treasure Island, Alcatraz, Berkeley—you could even tack on a vacation to Yosemite National Park.
What you will love
- A Wine Country side trip. Napa Valley and Sonoma are a short, scenic drive up the coast. (The Concierge can arrange an excursion itinerary for you.)
- Full-body detox at the Spa. The deep-cleansing and calming full-body exfoliation and stimulating massage is followed by an application of marine algae to stimulate circulation, eliminate toxins and improve energy levels.
- Eclectic shopping. Hit Union Street and Pacific Heights; hippie haven Haight-Ashbury is also a fun place to stroll.
- Piloting the USA 76—the famed America’s Cup racing yacht—around the San Francisco Bay. After your induction, take the helm and prepare for a thrill.
- The farmers’ market in the Ferry Building. Four Seasons offers a guided culinary tour. While there, pick up picnic goodies and head to Golden Gate Park or The Marina.
Telegraph Hill’s Coit Tower, a symbol of the city since since the 1930s. Your kids will love the WPA murals and the dizzying views from the top.
The Hotel’s new MKT Restaurant – Bar is a chic yet laid-back restaurant that harkens back to the city’s old newspaper publishing culture with its dark oak floors, leather accents and brass details. The creative, California-centric menu features a variety of steaks and small plates that are ideal for sharing, as well as handcrafted cocktails, craft beers and wine.
For the family, Kokkari is a popular upscale Greek restaurant that’s very accommodating to kids. For food on the go, AG Ferrari Foods is a quaint little shop just around the corner from Four Seasons where you can pick up food and drink to take with you on a picnic.
Stop by Bi-Rite Creamery, a favourite for all kids, and Tartine Bakery & Cafe for the homemade artisan breads to the pastries to the salads—this renowned bakery is a must-visit. You’ll sip some of the best coffee in town at Coffee Bar, which also has excellent pastries for kids and family lunch options. The Ice Cream Bar offers homemade old-fashioned sodas, creams and phosphates along with a kid-friendly lunch menu.
For parents, try Cotogna, a rustic Italian eatery with grilled fish and meats, and wood-oven gourmet pizzas (the fine dining version is adjacent at Quince Restaurant); and State Bird Provisions—a husband-and-wife operation serving up adventurous, inventive contemporary American cuisine with a California locavore focus.
5 family to-dos
1. Ride the cable car. Kitschy? Perhaps. But truly, this is a thrill. Ask the Concierge for a map and walking directions to the cable car depot where you buy tickets. There can be long lines, so it’s best to arrive early.
2. Cycle the Golden Gate Bridge. For families with older kids, rent bikes and zoom across the bridge, enjoying the cool ocean breeze and way-up-high perspective. If your family is the athletic type, try a bike trek up the mountain on the opposite side of the bridge for incredible city vistas.
3. Hit Lombard Street. Driving along the “Crookedest Street in the World” makes a fun trip memory for the kids. We recommend driving down the street, parking and then letting the kids explore.
4. Head to the Exploratorium. Spend an entire day in this magical hands-on museum. It’s science made super-fun and wacky—you really have to see it.
5. See San Francisco from the Shiny Red 1955 Mack Fire Truck. Young boys will especially love this one. A twist on the usual bus sightseeing option, you’ll hop aboard a fire engine touring through the Presidio, across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito and finally to Fort Baker for a family picture. Ask the Concierge to arrange your tour.