Travel to San Francisco with 4 SMALL Kids

Updated on June 04, 2012
A.G. asks from Portsmouth, VA
14 answers

Hi Everyone,
We are a military family living in central California. My husband has a break in late June and we feel like we should venture north a bit and see San Francisco while we are are here. We are not intrepid travelers at all and we have four children ages 1, 2, 5, and 5. We are planning to spend 1-2 nights and the surrounding days in San Francisco.

We already have on our itinerary to go to the zoo, the childrens museum in Sausilito, and see the golden gate bridge. What other things are must dos and achievable with 4 little ones? If those are the biggest things to hit we will spend one night and two days and then camp the second night near Santa Cruz and spend the thrid day there in the boardwalk and state parks before heading home to Monterey.

Also where is a good reasonable place to stay? We'd like to keep it under $175 including parking, but we have a little wiggle room if we have to. Will we be missing out if we don't stay in the knob hill area, or is that part of the city too crowded for a family like ours with lots of little hands to hold and not much experience with the big city.. I'd love feedback from both locals, those who travel with kids, and anyone else that might have some ideas.

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So What Happened?

Thanks Everyone for your suggestions and keep them coming. We will definitely use the ergo for our littlest, maybe even have the 2 year old in a carrier too if strollers wouldn't be recommended. I had been planning to skip fisherman's wharf as we have our own version (albiet smaller) here in Monterey with super close views of sea lions. What about the cable cars - are those a must do??

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answers from Houston on

Whenever we travel I always use or for hotel rooms. I have stayed in 5 star hotels for $100 or less (we caught most of them on a low event weekend).

Here in Houston, we have something called CityPass, where you can buy a pass to popular attractions around the city for almost half the price of the total when you visit each one individually. I think you have 9 days to visit all the destinations. Try looking into seeing if there is a CP for San Fran.

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answers from Burlington on

When I used to live in northern california my mom and i got separated , and i was lost downtown in san francisco by myself. I tell you this not to scare you but to make you with your little ones. the reason i got lost, i was 12, was because of the find trolley operator. if you ride the trolleys they tell you how many can get on if they are nearly full. he told my mom to get on one side and for me to get on the other. after she already got on around the side i couldn't see he says nope sorry we are full and left me there, A KID. my mom had no idea what was going on until they got to the bottom, fisherman's wharf.eventually i found a cop and got back to my hysterical mother. san fran is a fun place but keep those kids at an arms length. if you look at reviews on google for hotels stays in san fran you can find a good place i'm sure.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Make sure you do Lombard Street. It's the super crooked road. You can walk down, but with 4 little kids, probably best to drive and have them peek out the window. Golden Gate Bridge is beautiful, too. You can walk it or drive across and park at the look outs and take pictures. If you're there on a Saturday, you can go to the Farmers Market at Embarcadero. It's pricey, but a fun experience and near the Bay.

Nob Hill is not a big deal if you have kids. Parking is terrible, and adults are more likely to enjoy it. Check out all the discount hotel sites like or or You should be able to find something.

Thank you and your family for your service! Have a fantastic time!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Fisherman's Wharf-great to just walk around, grab a bite to eat, maybe some souveniers & to watch the harbor seals who sun themselves on the docks. I think there is also an aquarium there.

I highly suggest having your youngest kids either in a carrier, like an Ergo, or on a harness backpack. There is a ton of traffic everywhere.

For a special trip, visit Ghiradelli Chocolate Factory. Yum!

We've never stayed at a hotel in the city, as we always go tothe Embassy Suites in Burlingame, which has free parking & free made-to-order breakfast. It is very close to SFO, in fact, you can see the runways right across the bay.




answers from San Francisco on

We love the CA Academy of Science in Golden Gate Park, they have a play area for very young children and sometimes story and craft times for young kids. If you get there just before opening time, you can usually park on the street for free - but know that a lot of the roads in Golden Gate Park are closed on Sundays. You can also sometimes get tickets at reduced prices at Costco but I believe they also have lower prices for military families. The Conservatory of Flowers is also fun, they have an exhibit called Plant A Saurus Rex right now about prehistoric plants, haven't seen it yet but it sounds really neat. I would personally skip the playground. The Japanese Tea Gardens are also really interesting and would be fun for little kids to explore. Check out their website, they are free at certain times of the day. The Cable Car Museum is also interesting, but don't go out of your way to get to it. I would skip Fisherman's Wharf, too crowded with the kids. We've stayed at the Hyatt Embarcadero Center and it's convenient to Union Square, public transit, etc. They had a good AAA deal that included breakfast and parking.
Your kids will LOVE the Bay Area Discovery Museum.
We also like the Marine Mammal Center and Point Bonita Lighthouse in Marin Headlands, but those would be secondary considering your time constraints...
I would do Santa Cruz in a day trip from Monterey and spend your time in SF, there's so much to do there.
Have fun!



answers from Dallas on

Definitely Fisherman's Wharf (Ghirardelli Square is at one end). However, if it's between there and the Boardwalk, the kids (older ones) will probably like the Boardwalk better.

You have a pretty ambitious schedule though, so by the 3rd day they may be done for!

And just for future reference, you live in the central coast area. Saying central alone invokes a very different region (much less appealing!) :)

Enjoy your trip, and thank you to your husband and family for his service.



answers from Salinas on

Whoever said Central CA is right, you're on the central coast of California, very different from Central CA (meaning the central valley).

I would skip Fisherman's Wharf, very touristy and crowded.
There is a great park at the far east end of Golden Gate Park. It's a playground but really fun with sand areas with flowing water for castles, tons of unique play equipment and a carousel. Golden gate park also has botanical gardens and lots of place to run and play on the grass and it's free.

Cable cars are fun but expensive and often very crowded. Do not take the ones from Union Square or Ghirardelli go to the Columbus St. turn around, much less crowded.

Since you're going to Sausalito, you might take the ferry. The kids will love it, it's cheap and they run constantly all day from two points along the Embarcadero, the Ferry Building or Fisherman's Wharf.

I would stay at least two nights in SF, maybe three. You can do Santa Cruz easily in a day trip from Monterey, it's only about 45 minutes and honestly the Boardwalk is the big draw for little kids. Beaches are fine but ours are better here on the Monterey Peninsula.

As for camping, don't miss Big Sur while you're here. It's the other direction so would require another trip but camping, nature and the drive itself is an experience not to be missed. Simply stunning!

Have fun neighbor!

PS- As for where to stay I've stayed too many places in SF to pick one. TRIPADVISOR.COM is your friend. I do not plan a trip without it. Lots of reviews from different people means when it all shakes out you get a good solid idea of what you're getting.


answers from San Francisco on

You already have a very full schedule with four little ones over just a few days!

I personally wouldn't recommend Fisherman's Wharf. It's super crowded and touristy, mostly shops and restaurants. I don't think your kids are going to be into that (other than looking at the seals.)

If you have time go to the main playground in Golden Gate Park, it is awesome! And there is a great classic carousel there.



answers from Sacramento on

I think most of my suggestions have already been made. I do have one that may seem a bit different, however. I would drive across the Bay Bridge to near the middle and take the exit off to Treasure Island. Just park at the entrance to the old Naval Station there and get the view of the city from that angle. It's so up close and awesome!



answers from San Francisco on

The Academy of Science is popular and very expensive. It might be $30+ per person. It's intended for 5 and up so the experience won't be useful for the 1 and 2 YO. I haven't been in a year or so but it used to be a long line to get in even first thing in the morning and no street parking. We went 2 times and it just isn't worth it in my opinion. I also don't think that the Japanese Tea Garden would be that appealing for young kids.

There is a new exhibit of Dinosaurs at the Hall of Flowers in GG Park. It looks fun but, as with most things in SF, it may not be geared to kids. It's hard to know.

Same with the Exploratorium - it's geared for maybe age 10 and up and it helps if the child can read.

The SF Zoo is great and, however, the Oakland Zoo is better. Also Chabot Observatory in the Oakland Hills is pretty neat. Your favorite will be Bay Area Discovery Museum, though. Totally kid friendly!

Cable cars are wonderful but it's a long wait to get on them and your kids are too young to enjoy them. The best CC route is the one from Powell/Market Turntable to Ghiradelli Square on the Powell/Hyde line. I think I took my daughters' on them around 4-5 years ago (ages 6 and 9) and they don't remember them.

Where to stay - Most places in Union Sq and Nob Hill will be upwards of $350/night. Think about a smaller place in the Outer Richmond district - Perhaps the Seal Rock Inn. Walk to beach and lands end. Lunch at Louie's or the Beach Chalet or the Cliffhouse.

Be careful about staying in downtown SF - especially Union Sq. If the room is cheap (in that area) the room is probably awful. And DO NOT stay in the Market St. area around 5-7th Street. Another more reasonable area are the hotels on Lombard Street. They are relatively safe but not as picturesque. A nice place to stay south of Market is the W but it's more expensive. Also, the Palace (2nd St. and Market) and the Hyatt Regency (at the base of Market St) are good and give you an urban experience. But they may be more than $175.




answers from Las Vegas on


I have only had friends stay here (about 10 years ago) and whenever we drive by it, it is often booked..
also see Yelp reviews for it.. It's right by the Zoo.... in fact, walking distance.. It always looks clean and cute on the outside..

Additionally, IF you go to Ghirardelli, which being a native I can say this. I personally don't think it's the best around, but if it's a must see.. then IF the main cafe is super busy, just go to the back of the square and there is a smaller cafe which most often is not too busy. There, my son and I will get a scoop of ice cream with hot fudge sauce... while the bigger sundaes look fancy, for a little one, sometimes you don't need so much.. plus, it's a bit cheaper to buy just the scoop... and without the wait..

If you go over to Chestnut Street, there is an Italian Deli I like called Luccas (not to be confused with the one on Valencia Street) I like this deli and what's fun is that IF it's a nice day, you can get your sandwich and then drive to nearby Crissy Field or Marina Pier and have a picnic and let the kids run around on the grass... bring a ball...
Oh and there's the Super Duper Burger, which in my opinion has a GREAT Chipolte Chicken sandwich, but moreover, a YUMMY soft serve.... They use Strauss Cream..

Also, check out <<< it's a cute park that has a carousel that is fun and the grounds of the park where the kids play is all rubbery and soft. that way, if a kid falls.. it's doesn't hurt as much..
It's an inexpensive way to have some fun..
After playing here, you could then drive up Mission to Guerrero and go to Mitchell's Ice Creamery.. It's always busy, but the line goes pretty quickly.. they have a small parking lot in the back... (it's NOT a sit down place) there have a wide variety of flavors.. These things aren't your A-typical tourist places perse, but it's fun to go where the locals go... right :)
Which IF you do make it over to the Mission, my favorite Taqueria is La Corneta.. why?? well it's consistently good, CLEAN and on Fridays and Saturdays , they have Mariachis playing.. Also, another source of good food and not too expensive... Although, parking can be a bit tough..

Well I hope you have a fun time!!!



answers from Sacramento on

We just went to the Academy of Sciences and it was great! I think it would be a good choice for your age range. You can get coupons on the internet, too. Also check their website because they have a free day once every other month or so. If you time it right you might make one.



answers from Minneapolis on

I like Fishermans Wharf too - I've stayed at the Best Western in that neighborhood and it was very nice.

Make sure to take time to ride the trolley's!




answers from San Francisco on

If you are going to the Golden Gate park area, you should check out the California Academy of Science! They have a "rain forest" area where beautiful exotic butterflies fly freely and may even land on your shoulder. It also has an aquarium but won't compare to monterey's but still quite nice. Nob Hill is not for kids... Personally, I'd skip the smaller neighborhoods for the local eateries. Most of them are small and not kid friendly--save that for whenever you and hubby can go alone (I know that's almost impossible with 4 little ones). Also keep in mind that parking is difficult and expensive in the city so keeping within your budget of $175 total/day may be hard. Depending on the area, even the meters are ridiculous and require at least $3 worth of quarters for an hour or two. One good thing about the meters is that you may now "pay online" through your smart phone (with credit card, of course), however the meters are not as fancy as the ones by the Monterey aquarium which you can merely swipe your card.

Cable cars are definitely an SF experience... Do them if you can, I haven't taken my kids on one yet because of the crowds and my laziness of having to fold up a stroller and loading them all up on to the car is frustrating. My kids are a bit older (2,6,9) but something about touristy crowds and small kids intimidate me... But that's just me :)

Totally agree with taking the ferry but know that the children's discovery museum is not walking distance from the Sausalito waterfront/where the ferry docks.

Oh! The SF Exploratorium is also great, not to mention its location (google images of the Palace of fine arts) you will have great photo ops! It's also by the GG bridge/Crissy Field. Great for flying kites.

Have fun!

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