Bunny watching the ferries dock outside the Ferry Bldg. Farmer's Market.
The emails I get most often are from parents who are visiting San Francisco and want to know what to do with their kids. Most of these parents have children two-years-old or under, because as we all know, that age seems to be the hardest to keep "occupied." And when you are traveling it's even more about tiring the kids out for a nap so they will sleep in the unfamiliar hotel or motel room.
In the past I've just sent one-off emails to people but after yesterday's email from my new friend V.B. in Seattle, I thought, "Why not just do a post?"
In just about any city you can walk and explore things or stumble upon a park. San Francisco is great for that, too. It's a fairly small city—about 7 x 7 miles—so you can walk and pass through many different neighborhoods. That's a great way to get to know the city. But sometimes you want a destination, so that is what I'm trying to provide here: a list of places to go (that are either free or cheap) where you can find snacks and a clean bathroom nearby.
When we moved from San Francisco to Portland, Bunny was two years old. Up until that point, I felt like I had exhausted every toddler activity in San Francisco. (Not really, but you know how it is.) Now that we are back and Wallie is two, we are re-discovering them again, and finding some new gems as well.
This list reflects the things that *I* like to do and is by no means comprehensive. (I like city hikes, not nature hikes and I avoid zoos whenever possible. Just don't like 'em.) San Francisco parents, please feel free to add your suggestions in the comments.
CITYMAMA'S FAVORITE TODDLER ACTIVITIES IN SAN FRANCISCO
Family friendly hotel:
Guide to fun activities updated daily:
- Being Savvy: San Francisco (the best of San Francisco for kids ages 2-6)
- Go City Kids—San Francisco (more of a calendar site)
Stroller policies on public transport:
- Fold up before boarding all buses.
- Fold up before boaring cable cars and hand to the brakeman in the rear of the car. (Board in rear.)
- Can be left open on BART. (I think)
- Fold up before boarding MUNI.
Some parks that are newish, enclosed (very important with a toddler) with decent bathrooms:
- The toddler park in the shadow of AT&T park (where the Giants play). I don't know the name but it's located on the Embarcadero just steps north of the stadium. Look for the tall, red and silver buoy-esque sculpture. This is a great park for the 2yo set. It's small, clean and totally enclosed. You can walk to various cafes and restaurants from here, and it's about a 20 minute stroller walk to the Ferry Building Farmer's Market. (Continue north along the Embarcadero and you will run straight into it.)
- Helen Wills Park, corner of Larkin and Broadway. Located in Russian Hill, this park is the perfect place to stop after exploring the shops and restaurants of nearby Polk Street. If you catch it on a Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday morning you'll be able to participate in one of the excellent, free music classes or playgroups.
- Julius Kahn Park. Located in the Presidio. Not much within walking distance so it's definitely a destination park, but it's a nice, new park in a beautiful setting. It is very close to funky Clement Street (famous for it's Asian markets, dollar stores and bargain shops, legendary second-hand bookstore [Green Apple], and many cafes and restaurants.) Explore Clement Street and then take a dim sum picnic over to "JK" Park.
- Rochambeau Park. For us, the best of both worlds: and enclosed toddler park AND and enclosed park for older kids...and they are separate! In a very residential part of San Francisco. Not much within walking distance but if you happen to be in the area, check out Rochambeau. In the Richmond District.
- Eureka Valley Playground. In the Castro, San Francisco's predominantly gay district. This park has just been newly renovated and is super-fun. Easy to get to via MUNI and lots to see and do in the area. (My girls love the all the rainbow flags in the neighborhood, it makes it seem magical.)
- The Children's Playground in Golden Gate Park: recently renovated.
Other things to see/do for not too much money:
- The Ferry Building (mentioned above). This is and isn't a great place for kids. It's great because there is lots to see and do. It's not because it can be crowded and the stores are schmancy and not always welcoming of children. If you go, get take-out from one of the many restaurants (or just buy some fruit for a snack) and sit in the rear of the building along the water and watch the ferries come and go.
- Carousels: There's one in Yerba Buena Gardens near the Metreon (and the convention center), and one in Golden Gate Park. (And, of course, those parks are worth checking out).
- Take a cable car ride up Hyde Street. Get off at Lombard Street and walk down.
- Go to the main library kids' section and browse through the books.
- Stroll through Chinatown and North Beach. Try to go in the
morning (esp. Chinatown) when it's not as crowded. (Nice, new Chinatown
park at the corner of Pacific and Powell)
- Walk through uber-trendy Hayes Valley (very funky shops) and stop at the new play area on Octavia and Oak.
- Go to the beach (bring warm clothes, just in case).
- Check out Japantown, especially the toy stores and Kinokuniya bookstore's kid section. Lots of open space to run around in the "plaza" area. We go here when it's raining.
Museums (kid-friendly). The Exploratorium is fun, but toddlers might get bored as its for older kids, instead try:
- Bay Area Discovery Museum
- Steinhart Aquarium (temporary location as of this posting check website, near Moscone Center)
- Randall Museum (children's natural history museum)
Museums (go as long as your kid can stand it and leave when the dirty looks start):
- SF MoMA
- Asian Art Museum (Highly recommend, it's small and do-able with a toddler. There is a playground across the street in the Civic Center)
- The DeYoung (in Golden Gate Park)
Have fun! And please, DO call it Frisco!*
*It pisses off the locals and I kinda like to be a shit-disturber like that.