What to do with one day in San Francisco with kids

The kids had ski week last week – a west coast tradition in which the 1% goes to their ski chalets, and the rest of us either scramble for childcare or make the best of a random mid-winter week without school. We’re not big on cold-weather sports, or cold-weather anything for that matter. But our ski week coincided with Mark’s brother and family who live in Seattle so we decided to meet in the middle and spend the week in Sonoma County. On our way up, we took one day to see the sights in San Francisco.

Prior to our trip, I spent a lot of time googling “one day in San Fran with kids” and gleaned a lot of ideas. I thought I would share what we did.

We decided to stay at the Best Western Americania. I know the word Best Western doesn’t conjure up thoughts of a trendy boutique hotel but that’s actually how this felt. It had a very retro feel with great modern furnishings. Best of all, they had a larger family room that slept all 6 of us, so we didn’t have to split up into two rooms.

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The next morning, we had breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant and then set out on foot to walk to Chinatown. It was about two miles, but the weather was perfect.

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Our first stop in Chinatown was to tour the fortune cookie factory. This was a nice motivator to keep the kids walking. It was a quick but fun excursion.

We happened upon a street fair for the Chinese New Year, which made our time in Chinatown even more fun. The kids visited booths, made crafts, and got to see some traditional dragons on stilts.

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Jafta also had fun sampling the Chinese cuisine at many food stands. Here, he’s eating a shark fin dumpling. Made of artificial shark fin, apparently.

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After Chinatown, we took a 15-minute walk over to the Ferry Building, at the beginning of the Embarcadero.  Across from the Ferry Building there is a great playground for kids, which was a perfect break to get out some energy.

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Just across the way is the Justin Herman Plaza, which has a sculpture that is fun for kids as well.

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We let the kids play for a bit and then headed over into the Ferry Building for lunch.

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The Ferry Building has been converted into a foodie paradise, with food stands, gourmet shops, and restaurants inside. It reminded me a bit of Eatily in NYC, but with even more options. There are tables in the front and back of the building, but many people just stop and eat at each new place. Once again, Jafta was thrilled to try some oysters.

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After lunch at the Ferry Building, we decided to grab a cable car up to Pier 39. There are 40+ Pier buildings lining the Embarcadero and it’s a great walk, because there are many shops, restaurants, and museums along the way. Unfortunately, we had expended our walking energy so we thought the cable car would result in less tears.

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We took the cable car up to Pier 39 and honestly . . . this was my least favorite destination in San Fran. It’s just very crowded and touristy, with restaurants and shops that could be found in any city. I didn’t think it had much character, or any redeeming qualities. Nothing exciting for the kids, either. We walked to the end and walked right back out.

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After Pier 39 we walked along the waterfront park and made our way to Ghiradelli Square. It’s amazing how ice cream can motivate tired feet.

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I have to say, Ghiradelli Square was a bit of a let-down, too. The kids liked it, but they would have liked eating ice cream from a street vendor. I’m not sure what I expected, but it’s basically just a giant ice cream store with a really long line. Next time we will hit up a local creamery and avoid this over-priced tourist stop.

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After our $50 ice cream stop (no, I’m not kidding) we grabbed a bus back to our hotel. We had hoped to get to Golden Gate Park but the sun was setting, so we decided to skip it and head straight to the bridge for a photo op.

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And that was our day!

Family stops I would definitely recommend:

  • China Town
  • fortune cookie facctory tour
  • Sue Bierman playground
  • Justin Herman Plaza
  • food tasting in the Ferry Building Marketplace
  • strolling the Embarcadero
  • taking an old cable car

Stops I would skip:

  • Pier 39
  • Ghiradelli Square

Have you ever been to San Fran? I thought it was a really great family destination. I’m looking forward to going back.

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