If you’re visiting San Francisco with the family, whether your first time of your tenth, there are certain things you’re going to want to do to make it a fantastic experience. Here are six you shouldn’t miss.
There’s plenty of fantastic ice cream in San Francisco. But you must make a trip to Ghirardelli Square, to get ice cream sundaes at their old-fashioned fountain. Be prepared for lines to order, and to find seats inside. As you enter the store, an employee hands you a square of Ghirardelli chocolate to sample, and the menu will tempt adults and kids with towering sundaes dripping with hot fudge, sprinkles and other toppings. While they no longer make chocolate here, if you head to the back by the ice cream fountain, you’ll see how they once made the chocolate, something the parents and kids can ooh and ahh over together.
When visiting in summer, plan to spend your Sunday at Stern Grove. This free outdoor concert space is indeed in a grove, set down the hill where you’ll be protected from the wind, but still allowing the sun to shine through (if it’s indeed shining and not foggy). Bring a picnic or buy some food there. People arrive early (it’s right on the bus line) and stake out a spot. Entertain the children with kids’ activities ranging from singing to crafts to dance lessons, from noon to 1:00, and then the main concert starts at 2:00. They can run around and dance to the music, while you hang out with the locals, hearing world class music or even watching the San Francisco Ballet perform in California, as they do once a season.
Eight times a year, a different area of San Francisco closes its street to cars, turning one to four miles of that neighborhood into a safe and open entertainment zone on a Sunday. At Sunday Streets, You’ll find musicians, food stalls, various community programs, free activities and games and just plain fun. This event is geared toward families, who can explore the vendors and kid-friendly activities, while also enjoying an outdoor day without traffic.
San Francisco is famous for its sourdough bread, and while you’re at Fisherman’s Wharf, don’t forget to stop by Boudin’s. They have a large window on the street where you can watch them make sourdough creatures like crabs, alligators, teddy bears and turtles. They’ll even answer questions using a microphone that broadcasts outside, so the little ones can ask whatever they want. You can buy the breads inside, along with sandwiches and soup to eat there or take away. Soup in a bread bowl will be a favorite family memory, along with a take-home sourdough creature. Those Boudin animals make great gifts, by the way. You can also buy them at San Francisco International Airport.
The Exploratorium has always been a top U.S. science museum. But since it moved to its new location at Pier 15 on the Embarcadero in 2013, it’s even better than before. You won’t see everything in this hands-on play and learning space in one visit, as it’s so large. With demonstrations, outdoor mobile structures, gorgeous views and plenty of other things to keep you busy (like drinking out of a toilet water fountain), the kids won’t want to leave. It’s the perfect family museum, because both kids and adults will be entertained by the exhibits, and they can have fun doing them together.
This shopping center is not on most “to do” lists for San Francisco visitors. But it should be. You’ll feel like you are in Japan when wandering the indoor halls of this small mall on Geary Street, easily reached by city bus. Come hungry and eat at a sushi restaurant where a moat circles around the bar. The whole family will love grabbing dishes of sushi off the floating boats, and you’ll be charged per plate when you’re done. Explore other stores inside, a family favorite being the Pika Pika photo store, which lets you print photo stickers of pictures you pose for in booths. And of course, you can buy origami paper and Japanese toy trinkets at the various shops.