City guide: San Francisco

Your one-stop city guide, packed with information on family-friendly hotels, restaurants, and local and unique attractions.

Rich Niewiroski Jr.
This article originally appeared on To learn more click here.

The City by the Bay has lured adventurers to its shores even before gold was discovered there in the 19th century.  Today, its reputation lies in its status as the epicenter of innovation.  The kids will love the sheer diversity of it all: if offers endless opportunities for enrichment and entertainment, from the great outdoors to its cutting-edge cultural institutions.  


Omni San Francisco
500 California St., San Francisco, CA
(415) 677-9494
Price: Rooms start at $250/night

The Omni chain is making a name for itself for its family-oriented amenities. What’s special here is the Kid’s Fantasy Suite. The room includes bunk beds, beanbag chairs, stuffed animals, games, toys and books, and connects to a deluxe king room for adults.  The hotel is located on a main cable car route, and you’re within walking distance from Chinatown, Union Square and the Embarcadero.

Hotel Del Sol
3100 Webster Street, San Francisco, CA
(415) 921-5520
Price: Rooms starting at $169/night

There’s a 50’s motor lodge feel to the Del Sol, but minus the orange roof and impersonal service.  Part of the Joie de Vivre mini chain of boutique hotels, the Del Sol know what families want when on the go: a complimentary continental breakfast, milk and cookies, and an outdoor heated pool.  Plus, you’re right around the corner from the Fishermans Wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Hotel Diva
440 Geary Street, San Francisco, CA
(800) 553-1900
Price: Rooms starting at $4,200/night

Not surprisingly, the Diva is located in the central shopping district of Union Square.  Be sure to request the Little Diva Suite; it’s a bright, pop-art haven with in-room karaoke, a Mac, gaming system, and lots of books and toys.  You can supervise from the adjoining adult room. Perfect for divas and divos.

Hotel Metropolis
25 Mason Street, San Francisco, CA
(415) 775-4600
Price: Rooms starting at $180/night

The Urban Explorers Kids Suite at the Metropolis offers is a huge space, accommodating up to 9 guests.  For the kids, there’s child-sized fiurniture, Legos galore, a Mac, and a chalkboard wall.  For you, there’s a kitchenette, business center, fitness center and rooftop deck.  It’s a win-win.

Hotel Radisson
250 Beach Street, San Francisco, CA
(800) 780-5733
Price: Rooms starting at $169/night

Fresh off a facelift in 2012, the Radisson is conveniently located on Fisherman’s Wharf.  The hotel courtyard is right on Pier 39, for an array of family-centered activities.  You’ll like the wall-to-wall mural of the Golden Gate Bridge in every room.

Fortune Cookies

Karen Neoh  –  Fortune Cookies

Pizza Nostra SF
300 DeHaro Street, San Francisco, CA
(415) 558-9493
Monday: Closed
Tuesday-Friday: 11:30am-2:30pm, 5:30pm-9:30pm
Sunday: 12pm-9pm
Price: $$
Age Range: Baby, Toddler, Preschooler, Elementary, Tween, Teen

San Franciscans can’t get enough of their ‘za, and with Pizza Nostra on the scene, it’s easy to see why.  Whether you prefer gourmet toppings, or the basic cheese and tomato, you can’t pick a bad pie here. The house-made chili-infused olive oil is exquisite.

The Blue Plate
3218 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA
(415) 282-6777
Monday-Thursday: 6pm-10pm
Friday-Saturday: 6pm-10:30pm
Sunday: Closed
Price: $$
Age Range: Baby, Toddler, Preschooler, Elementary, Tween, Teen

The Blue Plate offers first-rate classic American and rustic Mediterranean fare Kids will love the mac and drunken Spanish goat cheese, while you can kick it old-school with a Pabst Blue Ribbon.  If the weather is cooperative, sit in the outdoor garden.

Park Chow
1240 Ninth Avenue, San Francisco, CA
(415) 665-9912
Hours: Sunday-Thursday: 8am-10pm, Friday-Saturday: 8am-11pm
Price: $$
Age Range: Baby, Toddler, Preschooler, Elementary, Tween, Teen

Everyone seems to be touting local, healthy and affordable comfort food these days, but Park Chow gets it right.  Regulars rave about the chicken apple sausage and the pecan pie.

Q Restaurant and Wine Bar
225 Clement Street, San Francisco, CA
(415) 752-2298
Monday-Friday: 11am-3pm, 5pm-11pm
Saturday: 10am-11pm
Sunday: 10am-10pm
Price: $$
Age Range: Baby, Toddler, Preschooler, Elementary, Tween, Teen

The kids will feel right at home at this funky Richmond staple that was featured on Diners, Drive Ins.  Salads and burgers–especially the salmon burger– won’t let you down, but the mac and cheese with tater tots is their real claim to fame:  they’re cooked from scratch.

Cafe at Chez Panisse
1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA
(510) 548-5525
Hours: Monday-Saturday: 6pm-11pm, Sunday: Closed
Price: $$
Age Range: Baby, Toddler, Preschooler, Elementary, Tween, Teen

The cafe refers to the less expensive a la carte version of this pioneering eatery dedicated to the virtues of “slow food.”  Reviewers use words like “exquisite” and “superb” to describe the food, service and atmosphere, and the accolades continue to roll in.  


Musee Mecanique
Pier 45 Shed A, Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco, CA
(415) 346-2000
Hours: Monday-Friday: 10am-7pm, Saturday-Sunday, Holidays: 10am-8pm
Price: Free
Age Range: Toddler, Preschooler, Elementary, Tween, Teen

Teach the kids that “technology” does not have to mean “digital.” This privately-owned collection of gadgets includes mechanically-operated musical instruments and antique arcade machines. The coin-operated toys are absolutely uncanny!    

Golden Gate Fortune Cookies
56 Ross Alley, San Francisco, CA
(415) 781-3956
Hours: 9am-6pm (daily)
Price: Free
Age Range: Baby, Toddler, Preschooler, Elementary, Tween, Teen
Who doesn’t love a fortune cookie? In this tiny space in Chinatown, watch how fortune cookies are hand-rolled and stuffed from fresh dough into such complex shapes at breakneck speeds.  Feel free to take a snapshot of the bakers in action.

Alcatraz Island
Pier 33, San Francisco, CA
(415) 981-7625
Hours: Open daily, check ahead for ferry times
Price: Children (ages 5-11): $17, Adults (ages 12-61): $28, Seniors (ages 62+): $26.25
Age Range: Toddler, Preschooler, Elementary, Tween, Teen

A ferry ride to “The Rock” is a must-do when touring the Bay Area.  Although the locale may seem too bleak for kids, in actuality, the island is extremely kid-friendly.  Alcatraz is home to the first lighthouse on the West Coast, an impressive colony of nesting seabirds, and of course, the infamous federal penitentiary.  Be sure to take the guided tour of the cellhouse; you’ll gain a wealth of knowledge about the fascinating history of incarceration in America.

Muir Woods National Monument
Muir Woods Trail, Mill Valley, CA
(415) 388-2595
Hours: Open daily at 8am, check for closing times
Price: Children (ages 15 & under): Free, Adults (ages 15+): $7
Age Range: Toddler, Preschooler, Elementary, Tween, Teen

The most awe-inspiring redwoods you will ever see! Muir Woods is well-worth the half-hour drive to lush Marin County.  It’s best to visit in spring and summer; the shade afforded by the enormous tree can make it rather chilly in the fall.

3601 Lyon Street, San Francisco, CA
(415) 561-0399
Hours: Monday: Closed, Tuesday-Sunday: 10am-5pm
Price: Children (ages 4-12): $9, Juniors (ages 13-17): $11, Adults (ages 18+): $14
Age Range: Baby, Toddler, Preschooler, Elementary, Tween, Teen

Wired magazine calls this the “granddaddy of hands-on science museums.” You won’t be disappointed.  Located in the Palace of Fine Arts, the Exploratorium offers hundreds of science, art and human perception exhibit.  Learn about our elusive sense of touch at the Tactile Dome or understand mechanical elements like cams, levers and linkages in the Tinkering Studio.  One visit here is rarely enough!

Ghiradelli Square
900 North Point Street, San Francisco, CA
Hours: Open daily
Price: Free
Age Range: Toddler, Preschooler, Elementary, Tween, Teen

Originally a chocolate factory established by an enterprising Italian immigrant, the Square has become the national model for restoration complexes that feature restaurants, shopping and public squares. Take note of Kidsbash, a dance and music extravaganza held every June, the annual holiday tree and menorah lighting, and the Chocolate Festival each September..

Yerba Buena Gardens
750 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA
(415) 820-3550
Hours: 6am-10pm (daily)
Price: Free
Age Range: Baby, Toddler, Preschooler, Elementary, Tween, Teen

The whole family will love this urban oasis.  There’s a huge waterfall dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr., and tons of intriguing public artworks.  The 2-acre grass clearing is the perfect spot for a picnic.  Riding the carousel is a San Fran tradition!

221 Fourth Street, San Francisco, CA
(415) 820-3320
Hours: Wednesday-Friday: 1pm-5pm, Saturday-Sunday: 11am-5pm
Price: Children (ages 3-18): $6, Adults (ages 18+): $8
Age Range: Baby, Toddler, Preschooler, Elementary, Tween, Teen

Get into the spirit of Silicon Valley by spending a day at Zeum, a series of innovation labs that blend art with science.  The motto here is “creativity, collaboration and communication,” and every activity at Zeum addresses all three.  Make characters come to life by building one in clay and wire or film one in a Claymation move.  Best for children 5 and up, but there’s plenty for the toddler set, too.

Golden Gate Bridge Walk
Richardson Avenue and Marina Boulevard, San Francisco, CA
(415) 921-5858
Hours: Open daily
Price: Free
Age Range: Elementary, Tween, Teen

How about a stroll—or even a bike ride—across this 4200-foot Art Deco masterpiece? Breathe in the crisp air above San Francisco Bay as you traverse this legendary orange span!

Cable Car Ride
1201 Mason Street, San Francisco, CA
(415) 474-1887
April 1-September 30: 10am-6pm
October 1-March 30: 10am-5pm
Price: $5.00 per person, each way
Age Range: Baby, Toddler, Preschooler, Elementary, Tween, Teen

Pay tribute to Old San Francisco as you hop on one of these moving landmarks
Of the three routes, Powell-Hyde (to Aquatic Park) and Powell-Mason (to Fisherman’s Wharf) are the most scenic, and the easiest to catch from downtown.

Local uniques:

Cartoon Art Museum
655 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA  
(415) CAR-TOON
Hours: Monday: Closed, Tuesday-Sunday: 11am-5pm
Price: Children (ages 6-12): $3, Adults (ages 13-64): $3, Seniors (ages 65+): $3
Age Range: Toddler, Preschooler, Elementary, Tween, Teen

The perfect combination of education and fun!  The museum, located in the Yerba Buena cultural district consistently draws raves for its showcase of cartoon, illustration and animation arts.  Local parenting bloggers recommend registering for a Saturday workshop; you  and your grandchild can take the class together!

Lombard Street
Lombard Street between Hyde Street and Leavenworth Street, San Francisco, CA
Hours: Open Daily
Price: Free
Age Range: Toddler, Preschooler, Elementary, Tween, Teen

Walk or drive down the one-block stretch between Hyde and Leavenworth Street that ‘s billed as the “crookedest” street in the world. Touristy? Of course, but it’s still a thrill and a great spot for a picture.

Balmy Alley
60 Balmy Street, San Francisco, CA
Hours: Open daily
Price: Free
Age Range: Baby, Toddler, Preschooler, Elementary, Tween, Teen

Introduce the kids to some of the largest and most impressive murals in the country.  The first murals were installed in the mid 1980’s in response to human rights atrocities in Central America, and since then, artists have used the space to express the personal as well as the political.  Definitely take the guided tour run by  Schedule and prices on website.

All About Chinatown Walking Tour
660 California Avenue, San Francisco, CA
(415) 982-8839
Hours: Tours at 10am daily
Price: Children (ages 6-17): $20, Adults (ages 18+): $30
Age Range: Baby, Toddler, Preschooler, Elementary, Tween, Teen

San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia and the oldest in North America.  The best way to explore its history and culture is with All About Chinatown, whose stroller-friendly walking tour received a Talk of the Town News Customer Service Award for 2012.  

Ambassador Toys
186 West Portal Avenue, San Francisco, CA
(415) 759-TOYS
Hours: 10am-7pm (daily)
Price: Free
Age Range: Baby, Toddler, Preschooler, Elementary, Tween, Teen

Recently named the “Best Toy Store You Wish Had Been Around When You Were a Kid” by the Guardian’s 25th anniversary edition.  Parents, teachers and kids flock to this emporium year in and year out.