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If you skip the fine art museums and upscale restaurants, you can have a fabulous time in San Francisco with kids in tow. It turns out that adults often enjoy the very same things that kids love to do. One fair way to make everyone happy is letting each member of the family or group pick one place they want to go. Here are some sure-things to get you started.

RELATED: 8 very Japanese things to do in San Francisco’s Japantown

Inside Alcatraz

Inside Alcatraz | Flickr CC: Dave Bloggs

Alcatraz Island

Sure, everyone knows about Alcatraz. And it is as good as it’s cracked up to be, so don’t miss it! A visit includes a scenic boat ride across the bay and a tour of the infamous cell blocks, as well as a spectacular view of the city from the island. Ask arangerabout the free Junior Ranger program, and be sure to eat before you go because food is not permitted or sold on the island.

Exploratorium | Flickr CC: Peretz Partensky

Exploratorium | Flickr CC: Peretz Partensky


Formerly across town in the Palace of Fine Arts, this vibrant museum is now ensconced in its new $300 million pier home over the bay, and now has three times more space to make learning as much fun for adults as it is for kids. To maximize your visit, we recommend walking down the museum’s center, then returning via the corridor through the south side.

Ghirardelli Square | Flickr CC: Prayitno

Ghirardelli Square | Flickr CC: Prayitno

Ghirardelli Square

After making your selection from the mouth-watering menu, take a seat in this atmospheric ice cream parlor and await the fulfillment of your ice cream fantasy. Special sundae concoctions include the Earthquake, which serves four or more people and consists of eight flavors of ice cream with eight different toppings accentedwith bananas, whipped cream, chopped almonds and cherries. Hot fudge sundaes, sodas and milkshakes are also available. If the line is too long here, check out one of their other outlets on the square.

Lombard Street

Lombard Street

Lombard Street

Kids of all ages love riding down this famously curvy one-way street, aka the crookedest street in the world. It’s just scary enough to be thrilling. Pedestrians be careful: Drivers must maneuver over a bumpy brick-paved road with eight tight turns while trying not to be distracted by the magnificent view.

San Francisco Fire Engine Tours & Adventures

This happy excursion takes you over the Golden Gate Bridge in a bright-red 1955 Mack fire engine. Children get a lesson in fire safety through original sing-along songs, and the whole family can bundle up in authentic, insulated firefighter jackets for the sometimes chilly ride in an open-air truck.

Pier 39 | Flickr CC: chrisjtse

Pier 39 | Flickr CC: chrisjtse

Pier 39

Among the kid-pleasing boutiques here is one that specializes in puppets and another that features magic items.Fast food options includeshot dogs, crepes, hot pretzels and waffle cones. Don’t forget a visit to the sea lions that have taken up permanent residence on the floating docks. Yet more diversions include an Italian carousel, an arcade and an aquarium.

Young Performers Theatre

This company is a combination of professional adult performers and young actors in training. It uses imaginative stage settings and costumes, and the short hour-long productions make a good introduction to theater for children ages 3 through 10. Past productions have included Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryAlice in Wonderland and The Secret Garden.

USS Pampanito | Flickr CC: Johan Wieland</a

USS Pampanito | Flickr CC: Johan Wieland

USS Pampanito

During World War II, this 312-foot-long submarine sank six Japanese ships and damaged four others. She also rescued British and Australian POWs from the South China Sea. A self-guided tour through her meticulously restored, cramped interior and a well-done audio narrative helps visitors imagine what it must have been like for men to be cooped up in this small space for months at a time.

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What kid doesn’t like noodles? Located in Japantown, this restaurant specializes in two different types that are both fresh, low-calorie, and easily digested: udon, which are fat and made with white flour; and soba, which are thin and made with brown buckwheat. Toppings include the familiar and exotic such as chicken, beef and shrimp tempura as well as raw egg, sweet herring and seaweed. Children might best like the Bullet Train plate consisting of cold noodles with shrimp-and-vegetable tempura (it is served on a ceramic replica of the famous Japanese train).

Dim Sum at Yank Sing | Flickr CC: kennejima

Dim Sum at Yank Sing | Flickr CC: kennejima

Yank Sing

Take the kids out for dim sum to experience brunch, Chinese-style. Wearing the crown as the first Hong Kong-style dim sum parlor in the city, this spot is now located outside of Chinatown but is as good as ever and ahead of the herd in some ways—they take reservations and the friendly servers will usually answer questions. Menu items are child-friendly and include cloud-soft rice noodles stuffed with a variety of meats, juicy Shanghai dumplings, sweet deep-fried taro balls, flaky-crusted custard tarts, and wedges of orange peel filled with shimmering orange Jell-O. Service is by cart, tray and menu.

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Tagged: California, Family time

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Carole Terwilliger Meyers
Carole is a Berkeley-based travel writer who most especially enjoys cultural and culinary travel. She contributes to an assortment of publications and is the author of 18 books. Carole oversees two websites, and, and she blogs at
Carole Terwilliger Meyers
- 2 days ago

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