We recently returned from a family trip to San Francisco. I started a list of places the family wants to visit and San Francisco was not on it. Wondering how we ended up there? Refer to the last bullet of my Money Saving Travel Tips article – Be open to destinations you might not usually consider. Essentially we ended up there because we were looking for somewhere to spend a few days post school and found a great flight deal. Neither my husband or kids had ever been there and well…it’s San Francisco so I was sure we could find plenty to do as a family. The city did not disappoint. We had an amazing time being tourists in San Francisco. The city has so much to offer, especially for families. Our list of must see/do include: California Academy of the Sciences at Golden Gate Park, Exploratorium, a Bay cruise, Lombard St (The Crookedest Street), and Pier 39. We also visited the Aquarium of the Bay, but we all agreed that we could have passed on that one.
We purchased the San Francisco CityPass for our trip. I got them at a discounted rate through Tickets at Work, a discount program offered through my employer that appears to be a partnership between Tickets At Work and many companies. I researched and debated between the CityPass, the Go card and the Explorer Pass which offer similar but different options and benefits. I’ll explain more in another post how and why I ultimately decided on the CityPass. The CityPass included admission to the California Academy of Sciences, Aquarium of the Bay, Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise, Exploratorium OR de Young Museum and a Cable Car and Muni Bus Passport. We made it to all of the attractions and used the Cable Cars multiple times. We stayed at the Hyatt Centric Fisherman’s Wharf which has a great location and was a good home base for all of our activities.
Academy of Sciences
This is an interesting place that you could literally spend all day at and probably still need another day to get through it all. It’s a museum, planetarium and aquarium all in one place. We actually did not see the full museum as the kids started to get tired, but we had a great time while we were there. The kids particularly enjoyed the 4 story rain forest where there are free flying birds and butterflies that sometimes get up close and personal. The Planetarium shows in the dome take you to another world. There were some things in the museum area that were interactive, but in general it required a lot of reading so younger children may not be as engaged in some of the exhibits there.
Blue & Gold Bay Cruise
We enjoyed the Bay Cruise. The kids asked to do it again (we didn’t). It was very windy and a little chilly, but the boat had both inside and outside seating which allowed us a reprieve from the wind when we wanted it. The boat gives you a close up look from the water of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and the Pier 39 Sea Lions. The cruise is an hour long which was a great amount of time for the kids. Just as they were starting to complain about its length, it was over :).
Aquarium of the Bay
We started not to go here. Since the California Academy of the Sciences has an aquarium and we have an amazing aquarium here in Atlanta that we have been to multiple times, I was thinking, been there, done that. But since we were at Pier 39 and it was the last thing left in the CityPass booklet, we decided to go take a peak. We ended up only spending about a half hour there. It is very small and doesn’t take long at all to walk through. There wasn’t much that made us want to linger. I think the most time spent was at the starfish touch area. If you’re short on time or low on energy, I would say you won’t be missing much by skipping over this activity.
I think this was the highlight for the boys. I don’t think I saw smiles as big anywhere else in San Francisco as I saw here. This place was
amazing! From the time you walk in, there are interactive exhibits. It focuses on every type of science you could think of – sound, light, engineering, living systems, you name it, there’s something related to it at the Exploratorium. There are indoor and outdoor exhibits and every single one has some element of interaction to it. I can’t say enough great things about this place. If we ever make it back to San Francisco on a family trip, we’ll definitely be visiting again.
This is a main tourist area at Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s where tons of restaurants, stores and attractions are located. It’s where the Aquarium of the Bay and the infamous Sea Lions are located. We had fun looking in the stores and my daughter did the bungee jump attraction which was surprisingly reasonably priced at $7 I believe. It’s a fun place just to hang out and have dinner. We ate at the Fog Harbor Fish House and it was great. See my lobster tail dinner in the photo gallery. We also tried Trish’s Mini Donuts – OMG, amazing. I wanted to go back and get more, but I knew I didn’t need them so I restrained myself. SO good. Anyway, Pier 39 (https://www.pier39.com/) is a must visit for any family trip to San Francisco.