It's easy to find great adventures in San Francisco for kids. You just need to put on your walking shoes and know where to look. Leslie Crawford, mom of two and author of City Walks with Kids: San Francisco 50 Adventures on Foot, shares her tips on how to enjoy the sights and sounds of San Francisco on a walk with kids.
What's key when planning a walking tour with kids?
- It's the journey that's important, not the destination. Adults tend to be oriented towards getting to a specific point, but kids need to enjoy the journey. You may not get all the way to your planned end point, or your kids might decide to focus in on something that's not in the tour book.
- Set realistic goals for your walk. Your kid's legs are half as long as yours, so you need to be modest in your walking goals. The age of your kids plus their energy level will determine what you can accomplish.
- Make it an adventure. Don't say "Let's go on a walk." Instead say, "Let's go on a safari."
Is there an optimal age range for kids to enjoy walking tours?
Ages five to twelve tend to be optimal. At this age they can keep up and are less inclined to get bored. You can always carry or push a stroller with kids younger than five, but they might be too young to enjoy the sights and sounds. Kids older than twelve tend to roll their eyes at the thought of a walk.
Mixed ages can work well on a walk. There is so much in San Francisco for kids to do and see. It is not a challenge to customize a tour to specific ages and interests. Remember: Younger kids don't need a lot of separate activities, but older kids need to be occupied.
You can tailor the walk to your kid's age and interests. On a Fisherman's Wharf tour with a toddler you would want to avoid potentially scary stops like the Ripley's Believe It Or Not museum and the Wax Museum. Instead, you and your toddler can spend time across the street with the sea lions.
What are the important things to take with you on a walking tour?
Be sure to take drinks, snacks and something likes pens and paper to keep them occupied if you need to wait in line for a meal, an attraction or the bus. A fold-up bag will come in handy to collect treasures like a leaf or a rock that your child picks up along the way.
If you only had one day for a walk with your children, where would you go?
I would start at Pier 39 and then walk down to Fisherman's Wharf. These two areas are the combination of a city plus a theme park plus nature because of the water and sea lions. You can then enjoy Ripley's Believe It Or Not museum and the Wax Museum, a tour of the Boudin French Bread bakery and museum. The tour is only available on Wednesday through Sunday in the afternoon.
If you have more time, I would also add Ghirardelli Square. It's a long distance to walk there from Fisherman's Wharf, so you might want to take a bus. Once you get there, you can see chocolate made and share a sundae. Aquatic Park is across the street. It's the best beach for kids in San Francisco because there are no rip tides and it has good sand. Nearby is Chrissie Field, a great place for kids to run around. The Warming Hut at Chrissie Field sells wonderful organic peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and carrots.
If you have more time, you can take a cable car from Ghirardelli Square past Lombard Street, the well-known crooked street, and down to Union Square.
What are your other favorite walking tours?
- The Palace of the Legion of Honor. It has an incredible view, a spacious museum for kids and a good space to run around out front.
- The Mission Cliffs at 2295 Harrison Street at the edge of the Mission district is an indoor climbing wall. It's great for kids age five and older. After climbing you can walk two blocks to Café Gratitude for great vegetarian and raw food. There is a board game on each table that is fun for kids. I find that older kids love it, particularly the healthy "chocolate" milkshakes.
- Take the cable car to Nob Hill. At dusk walk over to Grace Cathedral for the indoor and outdoor mazes. Huntington Park is nearby. The cable car museum is about two blocks away. For a special treat later in the evening, go to the Tonga Room in the Fairmont Hotel. For "grown-up" fun you can order Shirley Temple cocktails for girls or Roy Rogers cocktails for boys. Be sure to ask for umbrellas in your drinks! After 8 PM the Tonga room becomes "Tiki Heaven" as it comes alive with thunder, lightening and a band that appears on the stage's lake.
Which walks are better in the cooler months?
I suggest the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. There is a walkway on the second floor that kids love. Be sure to visit the computer center for children. There is also a great gift shop. They can go ice skating nearby or you can walk over to the Sony Metrion to enjoy bowling or a movie. The Metrion theater is always showing a wide variety of movies and has an IMAX screen. If the weather is good you can walk over to the Yerba Buena playground to let your kids run around a little.
Any favorite walks for the warmer months?
In warmer weather, when there is no wind and the sky is clear, consider a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. This is where you really need to remember that it is the journey, not the destination. Instead of walking the entire bridge, walk out a bit and then return. It's great to have some facts at your fingertips to share with your kids:
- The bridge took four years to build.
- It is always being painted by 38 painters.
- It is called the Golden Gate Bridge because the "Golden Gate" was the name of the entrance into San Francisco bay.
- The bridge really isn't gold. It's painted International Orange.
Angel Island is another good choice for warmer weather. The ferry ride over has stunning views and the island is a good nature get away. There is a snack shop, but it is not always open to be sure to bring lots of snacks. You can ride the tram, rent bicycles and visit the old prison and museum.
Are some walking tours suited for kids or parents in wheelchairs?
San Francisco is very accessible by wheelchair, so most tours would be great for wheelchairs. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art might be particularly interesting because there is so much to see and do in one place.
More Information on Fun Things to Do In San Francisco for Kids
- Frommer's San Francisco with Kids
- Fodor's Around San Francisco with Kids, 2nd Edition: 68 Great Things to Do Together
- Kids' Adventures Around San Francisco Bay: Educational Places to Go, Things to Do, and Classes to Take in the North Bay, Peninsula, Silicon Valley, East Bay, and Santa Cruz
- Best Hikes With Children San Francisco Bay Area