San Francisco is known for many things, from the towers of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and the twists and turns of Lombard Street, to the historic cable cars and beautifully drastic topography. The city has a rich history and a history of being home to the rich.
But one aspect of San Francisco that you might not have considered is that it is a wonderful destination for a family getaway. There are so many things to see, do and eat in San Francisco that are fun for kids of all ages.
Everything that was planned on our short, three-day itinerary worked beautifully for my husband and I, but also for our 10-year-old, who not only enjoyed the thrill of riding a cable car from the running boards with no seatbelt, but also snapping photos on her phone of all the things she’d never seen before.
It’s almost cliché to say that we wore sweatshirts in late July, but guess what? It’s true. The coldest I have ever been was this past summer in San Francisco.
Maybe it’s partially because we left the stifling 90-degree heat and 100 percent humidity that is Nashville in July. But the cool breezes and foggy mornings were a welcome respite. Just check the weather and be prepared for the temperature swings.
Here’s a rundown of some of our favorite things we did as a family from food and activities to sights we saw and where we stayed.
How to Spend a Weekend in San Francisco
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed at the historic Intercontinental Mark Hopkins on California Street. The hotel is wonderfully historic, but not overly fancy and expensive. Located in the Nob Hill neighborhood, we felt like it was the perfect location as we were close to the Financial District, the Ferry Building, Chinatown and Fisherman’s Wharf.
Dating back to 1926, the Mark Hopkins hotel features a fabulous rooftop restaurant and bar called Top of the Mark that is also worth a visit. Children are allowed in before 10 p.m., and the floor-to-ceiling windows offer breathtaking 360-degree views of the city if you time it around the random wafts of fog that set in unannounced and overstay their welcome. But when the fog lifts, the late afternoon sunsets are spectacular.
We also walked across the street and looked around in the stunning Fairmont Hotel. It is steeped in history having survived both the earthquake and devastating fire that ripped through San Francisco in the early 1900s. The lobby is gorgeous, and the rooftop garden is worth a stop. If you are a fan of Tony Bennett, who calls the Fairmont his home away from home, you can spend a night in the Tony Bennett Suite for a mere $5,000 a night.
WHERE TO EAT
You won’t be surprised to read that San Francisco has a plethora of dining options. We noshed on everything from decadent homemade doughnuts, to a massive comfort food breakfast and quite possibly the best Chinese food we’ve ever had.
Start your day with a stop into Mr. Holmes Bakehouse in the Nob Hill area. They will serve you a homemade doughnut like no other. The best part is they hand it to you in a bag that says “health food,” which somehow removes a bit of the guilt of the indulgence. Their pastries are wonderful, the coffee is good, and there’s a perfect selfie spot in front of their neon sign that reads “I got baked in San Francisco.”
If you are looking for something more substantial to fuel your day, check out Sears Fine Food just outside the Financial District on Powell Street. The eatery feels like something out of a gangster movie. It was founded in 1938 by a retired circus clown who made homemade Swedish pancakes from a family recipe. True story. The restaurant is still serving those somewhat legendary silver dollar pancakes today — and they are delicious!
We ventured over to the Mission District … to eat at Little Star Pizza. This is one of those restaurants where the appetizer sets the tone for the meal. As soon as the burrata Caprese was placed in front of us, we knew we were in for a treat. Then the pizza came and further blew our minds. We chose the deep-dish variety that comes served with sauce on top and somehow also packs a crispy crust.
After dinner, amble down Valencia Street to Dandelion Chocolate where they make bean-to-bar small-batch chocolate. They have a small pastry case and make an impressive cappuccino to wash it down with.
Another outstanding dinner option is R & G Lounge in Chinatown. The district is packed with dining options, so we consulted a lifelong San Francisco resident who recommended R & G. We got there just before the line started to form, so plan ahead. The meal starts with a hot tea that was another tone-setter for what was to come. It was delicious, as was everything that followed. The menu is chock full of items you don’t see on typical Chinese restaurant menus such as a fried live crab (which is live when they cook it, not when they serve it, thank goodness), prawns with honey walnuts and a garlic-steamed Maine lobster. But dining with a child, we found even the basics on the menu (wonton soup, fried rice, egg rolls) were also fantastic.
WHERE TO PLAY
Now that you have your meal options laid out and are full just from reading it, here’s a list of ways to walk it off. Start with the Ferry Building Marketplace. It’s a beautiful old seaport building that has been restored into a market and office spaces. There’s a farmers market there as well on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays that’s worth a visit. It’s a quick cable car ride or downhill walk from Nob Hill.
This is also where you catch ferries to Sausalito, Alcatraz and other across-the-bay locales. We rode a ferry to Sausalito, again on the recommendation of a local, and it was a highlight of the trip. The boat ride provides great views of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge, and Sausalito is an adorable little town worth seeing. We stopped into Venice Gourmet for lunch and had a wonderful meal on the patio before boarding the boat back to San Francisco.
My daughter found a super fun store called Games People Play, a must if you are traveling with kiddos. They have T-shirts and stuffed animals, but also Mad Libs, magic tricks, and dice the size of a pea in every color of the rainbow.
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Back in San Francisco, Fisherman’s Wharf is another area easily accessible by a fun, very steep cable car ride. The area skews a bit touristy, but the shops are cute, and the seafood was fresh and delicious.
The Mission District is a great area for walking, shopping and sight-seeing, and it is dotted with great little eateries, coffee shops and boutiques. We started there and had easy access to see the Painted Ladies (which any child will know from the opening scene of “Full (and “Fuller) House.”
Walk down the hill to the Bi-Rite Creamery to cool off with a scoop of San Francisco’s most famous slow-churned ice cream. You know when people wait in a line that wraps around the building that it’s got to be good. Opt for a scoop of one of their signature flavors such as Ricanelas, Roasted Banana or Honey Lavender. Or if you want to really jump in with both feet, there’s the soft serve that comes in a brioche donut from our favorite, Mr. Holmes Bakehouse.
You are also a short Uber ride to the twists and turns of Lombard Street. Have your Uber driver drop you at the top on Hyde Street so you can walk down and view Lombard’s eight hairpin turns in one block from the bottom. Also notice the colorful foliage and stately homes that line this popular landmark.
There were a few things we didn’t do because we didn’t book ahead of time. If you want to tour Alcatraz, the locals I chatted with said you almost always have to book a month in advance. We also looked into an excursion to Muir Woods, but waited too long on that as well. The bus tour we were interested in had sold out for the days we were in town.
Another trek we had planned to do was to walk the Golden Gate Bridge. You can rent bikes or walk across the iconic landmark bridge. But be prepared. We left Nob Hill at noon on a clear, sunny, near-perfect day. We arrived at the bridge about 20 minutes later, and you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face for the fog. So, needless to say, we didn’t walk the bridge because we couldn’t even see it as we stood at its entrance.
In typical San Francisco style, by the time we returned to our hotel and ventured up to the Top of the Mark, the fog had lifted, and the bridge stood beautifully off in the distance. So instead of a bridge crossing, we opted to enjoy a glass of red and a fancy mocktail called the “Cosmic” as we watched the bridge show off by highlighting a spectacular sunset amid a panoramic view of the city.
To learn more about San Francisco and start planning your trip, visit sftravel.com. All photography by Melonee Hurt.
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