If you live in San Francisco already, you don’t need me to tell you how fabulous the city can be if you know how to seek out adventure. This is true for families too, it just takes some extra sleuth-like skills to find activities that will be fun for the whole family. There are extra considerations – longer outings require more planning, snacks and the extra-large diaper bag but those experiences can really enrich your toddler’s life and the way they view the world around them. As a parent, you also want to find events that aren’t going to break the bank (pre-school is on the horizon, and girl, that ain’t cheap).
With that in mind, here are some of the most unique and toddler-friendly places to explore with your toddler this summer.
San Francisco is famous for its cable cars. One-way trips are $5 and you can purchase a day passport to travel around the city at your leisure. You can also ride a trolleybus or streetcar. The San Francisco Public Transport site is a great place to begin your trip planning.
If you’re driving and want to avoid thirty minutes in the car looking for parking, check out these interactive parking maps to find streets with free or low-cost parking, as well as timed parking and garage parking.
1. Pretend to be tourists for an afternoon
Sometimes, even the most familiar place can become brand new when seen through a new perspective. Go on a real adventure with your child by challenging them to pretend they are in a new place. What would they look for? What do they notice?
It’s also a great opportunity to learn more about the city you live in every day. Most ‘touristy’ activities involve the history of the city you’re in, and San Francisco is no exception. For an afternoon in the sun, here are some places where you can become the daring explorer out to learn all they can.
Wander through the numerous alleys of the oldest Chinatown in North America and check out the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie factory. Have tea and try some Dim Sum at one of the more than one hundred Chinese restaurants in the area. Great way to try new foods with your toddler, if they’re feeling adventurous!
This unique pier features street performers who perform daily and an abundance of sea lions (mostly during the winter, though). You can ride the Italian hand-crafted San Francisco Carousel and blink at the 1,800 twinkling lights. Perfect for a family photo op.
Aquarium of the Bay:
Located right near Pier 39, this gigantic aquarium is home to more than 20,000 marine animals, including sharks! Naturalists help explain the exhibits while they share fun facts about the various species on display. The aquarium offers a local discount that brings the cost down from $16.95 to $14 for children between 4-12 and from $26.95 to $23 for adults.
Golden Gate Park:
Botanical gardens, museums, and a free shuttle service can all be found at this gigantic 1,017-acre park. It has multiple park areas, playgrounds, hiking trails, archery fields, horseshoe pits and a Frisbee golf course. Admission in to the park is free, while the Botanical Garden costs $7 for adults and $15 for families (2 adults and 1 or more children). Cost for kids under 5 is free.
Enjoy some chocolate at Ghirardelli Square nearby at the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. Learn all about San Francisco’s seafaring history at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. The park is home to several historic ships and is run by the National Park Service. Tickets are $10 for adults and kids 15 and under are free to tour the ships with adults.
2. Head to the beach
Beaches are a main attraction in San Francisco, even on cloudy days. Baker Beach is known for spectacular views of the Golden Gate bridge (bring your camera). You might even see porpoises if you arrive early! Or if your little one loves to climb, explore one of the Cliffside hikes on the Coastal Trail.
Ocean Beach is a three-mile long stretch of sand and dunes with paved walking trails. Strong rip tides make it not safe for swimming. The white sand of Stinson Beach is popular with boogie boarders, windsurfers, kayaking and families (with areas safe for swimming).
3. Explore the ballpark on a Sunday
After every Sunday day game, weather permitting, kids under age 14 can run the bases and pretend to be baseball stars themselves. If your child would like to get an authentic signature from a San Francisco Giant, Sunday is the Giants official autograph day, where players, coaches and alumni will sign autographs (from the Bullpen Boxes in Sections 104/105 and 126/127) after the end of batting practice.
There is seriously no better time to catch a San Francisco Giants game because there are rare $3 discounted tickets available on Groupon. They don’t offer free tickets for children, and kids 24 months or younger are required to sit on the lap of an adult, so this deal is a steal.
4. Share some culture at a museum
When you’re travelling with kids, you want activities that are fully immersive. Luckily, San Francisco’s children’s museums are all about interactive experiences. Enjoy an afternoon at The Walt Disney Family Museum or Children’s Creativity Museum, or head to the Exploratorium. Each of these museums boasts unique, exploration-heavy experiences that will help your toddler expand their mind while giggling and having fun. It’s great for both of you to learn something new together and can help create vivid memories that last for years to come.