There’s no shortage of fun to be had in this gorgeous city with tons of exciting landmarks and family-friendly attractions. We have been to San Fran over 3 times before Vir was born and this time we were able to experience the city differently. My mom was here visiting us and so we planned to travel to San Fran for a 5 day trip this summer. We also did a road trip San Antonio t just few weeks before San Francisco and were glad to have so many different experiences and a big change in scenery. (Read more here)
One of the most important things about exploring San Fran is planning the places you want to visit in the city itself or downtown, and spend those days close by to avoid traffic.
We stayed at the Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel and it was such a great decision. Right in the belly of busy, high-rise downtown, the hotel is conveniently close to the famous Powell-Hyde cable car turnaround, bus tours at Union Square and public transport on Market Street. The interior of the hotel is unique especially the lobby which is so creative in designs and furniture elements. Since there were 4 of us travelling, we booked the 2-queen room suite. I was surprised to see that our room was so spacious compared to the hotels I have stayed earlier in NYC. The interior of the room provided such a relief from the city streets, especially loved the pastel colors like lavender, peaches and lilac colors apart from the fabulous sky line views. We always book hotels that serve a good breakfast spread or buffet and the Clift has a great selection of dishes that can’t be missed.
On our trip to SFO we also celebrated our 9th marriage anniversary and the legendary Redwood Room Bar in the Clift was the perfect and glamorous venue to enjoy drinks with my husband while Vir and my mom rested in the room. We were so impressed with the interior features -the original redwood paneling and enormous bar, which, legend has, was carved from a single redwood tree! The ambiance is so classic and rich, and I highly recommend going there!
Here’s what we did in San Francisco with a toddler!
Powell-Hyde Cable Car Ride: It was extremely convenient to take the cable car as our hotel the Clift was very close to the turnaround. We left in the morning at 9am to avoid the long lines. The Powell-Hyde cable car cruises from the wharf past the top of Lombard Street, through Chinatown, past Union Square and ultimately ends at Market Street downtown. Bring cash (exact change not required), so you can quickly pay the operator for your trip. You can buy a one-day pass for use on all the city’s public transportation ($20), or just a one-way cable car pass ($7) which we opted for. Vir was so excited all through the way, it was his second time sitting in a cable car (we sat in few on our tip to Portugal a year and half back)
Pier 39/Fisherman’s Wharf : It is a must do if you visit the city. It’s a captivating destination to visit with children. Travelers can easily spend a full day visiting. The famous sea lions that took up residence on the docks of Pier 39 in 1990 and now rarely ever leave. These creatures play, splash, and sometimes even fight, all while hundreds of tourists look on. It’s an amazing animal encounter that is hard to have in the busy city without visiting a zoo. We also did a boat tour( highly recommend doing one), few carousel rides shopping and had some delicious crepes.
Golden Gate Bridge and Sausalito : This was our second time back here and even though it was very foggy the day we choose to visit, we were able to get some fantastic clicks and views from the Battery Spencer.(just wait for the fog to pass, it comes and goes every few minutes) Vir took a nap on the drive and missed it but my mom enjoyed the postcard views and city skyline. We drove just a few minutes further north and found ourselves in the seaside city of Sausalito. This little seaside town in SF’s back yard has unbelievable scenery, protected “banana belt” weather, and a laid-back Mediterranean atmosphere. Apart from enjoying a stroll around the city, grabbing lunch at some boutique restaurants you can also enjoy the 30-minute Sausalito ferry ride. It is better, more interesting, and less expensive than tour boat rides. In fact, it is the second most exciting ferry boat ride in the world.
China Town: It’s easy to spend a day here, exploring the streets and alleys, browsing the shops and enjoying the authentic Chinese food. I have fallen in love with this area! The sights, sounds, smells and culture are just amazing!! Look down every ally for the talent of artist and murals. Try the foods! The shops are perfect for souvenirs. A must see! Walk through and just take it all in!
Stanford and Palo Alto neighborhood: Vir and my mom on this trip also got to visit my husband’s Grad school. This was a day trip where we spent our time at the Stanford campus, shopping at the college shop, exploring the campus and facilities. Deep was so happy to return to his school and share some fun memories from his past with Vir. This is a good trip for kids as there is splash pad in the schools, big parks to have a picnic and some cool spots and buildings. It is open to public. Pl check the website before you visit.
We had lunch at Palo Alto downtown and took a stroll around. Vir also participated in a small activity at the Apple store for kids, I don’t think he understood much (as it was 5 and up) but was very intrigued. Don’t miss grabbing a coffee at the gorgeous
Roaring Camp Steam Train Through Santa Cruz Redwood: We planned a road trip to Roaring Camp train ride, and it was one of the best things we did in a while with Vir. The Steam Engine added to the fun, as in modern times steam engines are obsolete and their hiss, puff and whistles adds extra excitement for kids. Train ride goes through Redwood forests, and train driver talked about some interesting facts about Redwoods. Train ride is not just a train ride but gets you closer to nature. I would recommend it for family with kids for sure. Love the setting of the place just like an old town with small shops and activities for kids. Recommend booking tickets ahead of time as it guarantees your spot and your choice of departure time; rides often sell out, especially in the summer.
Santa Cruz Boardwalk: We drove from San Francisco to Santa Cruz to spend 2 days there. And stayed right near the Santa Cruz boardwalk. What a great place to spend the day! There is no admission fee. The boardwalk has so many fun things to do, excellent food selection and access to the beach. My family had a great time here! Vir enjoyed some toddler rides while I went on a roller coaster ride!
Seymour Marine Discovery Center: We stopped at the discovery center on our road trip for 30 minutes. There are 2 giant whale skeleton exhibits that you can’t miss the blue Whale and the gray whale. The 87-foot blue whale skeleton is one of the largest skeletons of any kind, displayed anywhere in the world. These skeletons are outside of the center and can be seen for free. There is also an aquarium, touch pools and small marine exhibit inside, which was closed as we visited after 5 pm.
Capitola Village : One of the artsy, secluded spots close by, but away from the crowds of Santa Cruz. This is a wonderful little beach and small town. There are pastel colored houses next to the beach and many restaurants have outdoor seating looking toward them. The beach is small and paid parking is limited. We all enjoyed spending a few hours in the town and grabbing pizza and ice cream. Do visit if you have time.
Sand City : On our drive to Monterey we came across a spectacular sand dune and took an exit to see where this came from? These dunes are the highest found on California’s Central Coast. Me and my husband parked the car to hike the dune and check what’s the view like on the top. Once above the dunes, we saw a sky full of paragliders. Sand City is one of the prime spots in the state for paragliding. The winds are perfect, the launch area ideal — and the view is incredible. I wish we had more time and I would have loved to explore it more. For next time!
For our 5 day trip we had the comfortable, powerful and stylish Toyota Highlander Hybrid . I love that we made so many amazing memories with my mom in this car while exploring the city and neighboring areas. Supreme ride comfort, a smooth and punchy V6 drive train and spacious interior accommodations for people in the first two rows. This SUV has an upscale cabin with an abundance of safety features. We loved it !
Monterey, Carmel and 17-Mile Drive: It is must do for any visitor especially if you have time. This was our second time on the drive, and it was spectacular! The 17-Mile Drive is a road that passes through an exclusive neighborhood. And you must pay an entrance fee just to drive on it. You can spend close to 3 hours here. We made a few stops here and enjoyed the looking at Point Joe, Bird Rock, The lone cypress, seals and the restless sea among other things.
These fun things to do in San Francisco will only enhance your trip to a great city. Add some of these to your itinerary especially if traveling with kids and to the must do things in San Francisco and you will find yourself having so much to do!