2 Days in San Francisco with Kids

There is so much to do in San Francisco with kids, but if you just have two days to see as much of the City by the Bay as you can, here is a sample itinerary to help you plan your trip. We recently spent a week in California, visiting Sonoma, Monterey, Carmel, Big Sur, Cambria, Paso Robles, as well as 2 days in San Francisco. With a limited amount of time, and a CityPass in our pocket, we set out to explore as much as we could of one of my favorite cities. Along the way, we learned a few tips and discovered a few gems that will help you plan your own trip.

2 Days in San Francisco with Kids -- a sample itinerary of what to do with kids, tweens and teens in San Francisco if you just have two days.

At Vista Point, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco.

2 Days in San Francisco with Kids

Where to Stay

I recommend staying near Union Square. Here you are in the heart of the city, with easy public transportation options to anywhere you’d like to go, in a safe, busy, and well-serviced area for shopping and entertainment. On this trip, we stayed at the Hotel Nikko on Ellis St., but I’ve also stayed at the Westin St. Francis, right on Union Square, and the Sir Francis Drake, a Kimpton Hotel a block away. While the Hotel Nikko is more of a business hotel, it offered really nice size rooms to accommodate a family, surprising for a center-city hotel.

Where to stay in San Francisco? The Hotel Nikko is right near Union Square and offers large rooms for families.

Inside the Hotel Nikko

Day 1 – Morning

Start your day off with breakfast at Sears Fine Food, a San Francisco institution since 1938. They are famous for their pancakes, but we can attest that their french toast and Joanie’s specialty omelet (chicken apple sausage, cheddar and green onions) are also delicious and more than you can finish. When you are done, you’ll have a chance to see if you hit the jackpot by winning a free meal. This place is popular so you might want to book reservations online.

2 Days in San Francisco with Kids -- a sample itinerary of what to do with kids, tweens and teens in San Francisco if you just have two days. Start with breakfast at Sears Fine Foods.

Trying for a free meal at Sears Fine Food

Next, walk down Powell Street to the cable car turn around at Market Street. Line up and wait your turn to catch the Powell-Hyde Cable Car (look at the front of the car to see which line it is) toward Fisherman’s Wharf. Hopefully you’ll get lucky and get to hang off the side, but make sure little kids are safely seated.

Is CItyPass San Francisco worth it? We take a look at the real savings of using a CityPass or Go Card San Francisco when visiting with family.

Catching a ride on the Powell & Hyde line

Hop off at Lombard Street and take a look at the “Crookedest Street” before walking down the hill toward the cable car’s final stop near Ghiradelli Square. If you have chocolate lovers in your bunch, stop in at the Ghirardelli Cafe for a hot chocolate, early morning ice cream, or just a poke through the chocolate store. You may not see much that you can’t find at your local Target, but it is still fun.

2 Days in San Francisco with Kids -- a sample itinerary of what to do with kids, tweens and teens in San Francisco if you just have two days. Include a stop at Ghirardelli Square.

Chocolate lovers will appreciate a visit to the Ghirardelli store and cafe.

When you are done indulging, walk along the wharf until you get to the famous Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. This is a true ¬†tourist destination with every conceivable theme restaurant (Bubba Gump, The Rainforest Cafe…) and attraction (Ripley’s Believe it or Not…) possible.

Is CItyPass San Francisco worth it? We take a look at the real savings of using a CityPass or Go Card San Francisco when visiting with family.

Line up early for the Blue and Gold Fleet Bay Cruise

If you’d like to take a boat cruise to get a closer look at the Golden Gate Bridge, go immediately to the Blue and Gold Fleet or Red and White Fleet ticket counters and book the next departure. The later you go, the more crowded the boat will be, making it very hard to get a prime viewing location out front. You’ll also want to make sure you line up at least 30 minutes in advance of departure if you want to be up top.

2 Days in San Francisco with Kids -- a sample itinerary of what to do with kids, tweens and teens in San Francisco if you just have two days. A visit to Pier 39 to see the sea lions is a must do for any family trip.

Check out the fish market at Fisherman’s Wharf

Spend some time enjoying everything that Fisherman’s Wharf has to offer, especially its most famous residents at Pier 39, the California Sea Lions that call the docks home. The sea lions first came to Pier 39’s K-dock after the 1989 earthquake, and they have been a mainstay ever since. With up to 1,700 in residence at any time, you can just follow your ears and your nose to find them. Just keep in mind that they migrate from Vancouver to Baja, so their numbers vary by season and summer is not the best time to see them. We got lucky and spent an hour just watching them swim, sleep and play.

2 Days in San Francisco with Kids -- a sample itinerary of what to do with kids, tweens and teens in San Francisco if you just have two days. A visit to Pier 39 to see the sea lions is a must do for any family trip.

The famous Pier 39 sea lions

When you get hungry, there are certainly plenty of options, but definitely stop by Boudin Bakery and peek in the window to see the bakers in action shaping sourdough into crabs, alligators, teddy bears, and more standard shapes. You can have lunch at their cafe, or check out the food trucks on Jones Street, like the Bacon Bacon truck or Codmother Fish and Chips (supposedly the best in town.) Just down the street in Cannery Row, the Blue Mermaid is famous for its chowder.

2 Days in San Francisco with Kids: A Sample Itinerary. Be sure to include a stop at Boudin's bakery for their famous sourdough bread.

Day 1 – Afternoon

After lunch, it is time to move on. If you have teens, you might enjoy renting bikes and taking a ride up and over the Golden Gate Bridge, biking down to Sausalito, and then taking the ferry back to the wharf. With younger kids, continue along Embarcadero (you can take the F line if little legs are tired) to the Exploratorium. With a Bay observatory, tinkering room for hands on learning and fun, and so many exhibits to explore, kids will love this science/children’s museum.

If the kids still have the energy, or need a snack to refuel, walk a few more blocks along the Embarcadero to the Ferry Building, where you can pick up coffee, juices, ice cream, and other delicious snacks while browsing the specialty shops. Step out the back for gorgeous views of the Bay Bridge or walk a little further to see Cupid’s Span, one of San Francisco’s many outdoor art installations.

2 Days in San Francisco with Kids: A Sample Itinerary.

Bay Bridge and Cupid’s Span along the Embarcadero

Now it is time to head back towards Union Square. You can take the California cable car line, which starts just across the street from the Ferry Building, to Grant Ave. From here, walk downhill through Chinatown to the Chinatown Gate. After peeking into some of the import shops in Chinatown, head back to your hotel for some much needed rest.

2 Days in San Francisco with Kids: A Sample Itinerary. Be sure to include a visit to Chinatown.

The entrance to Chinatown at Grant Street

Day 1 – Evening

Once you’ve had a chance to refresh, it is time to head out for the evening. For dinner you might try modern asian at E&O Kitchen, casual American at Jasper’s Corner Tap and Kitchen, Italian at Scala’s Bistro, try for a celebrity chef sighting at Wayfare Tavern, or Japanese at Dojima Ann (be prepared to wait!), all in the Union Square area.

If you have older kids, you might plan to see a show or hop on board a nighttime City Sightseeing San Francisco bus for their 90 minute San Francisco Night Tour, which departs Union Square at 7:20 pm (check schedule for current timetable).

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2 days in San Francisco with Kids: A sample itinerary to help you plan where to stay, what to see and where to eat.

12 Comments on “2 Days in San Francisco with Kids

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  1. Wow you guys packed in so much! This has given me plenty of ideas for things to do myself in San Fran one day even without kids. I love the look of those Japanese Gardens which is something I never would have expected there.

    Great post! We were in San Fran with our toddler exactly this time last year. We found the playgrounds were fabulous – especially the one at George Moscone Fields in the Marina district. One of the highlights of our trip was the cycling across the Golden Gate bridge. We managed to rent a baby seat so my son could ride on the back of my husband’s bike. It sure was windy but what a great experience. Also Ghirardelli – nom nom!

      What a great experience! We were a little nervous about biking the bridge as my husband is scared of heights but I would love to do it sometime.

    Wow, that was two very FULL days! You hit many, many great spots. I second having a conversation with kids about homelessness ahead of a visit. There are so many great museums that are awesome for kids. The Disney Museum is cool!

    I’ll be out in San Francisco next weekend. I’ll have to make sure that I get in as much as you did. Thanks, this was really helpful.

      Good luck, it is really ambitious but doable. Go with the flow and edit as needed.

    We just ate at Jasper’s based on your recommendation. The food was fairly good, but the service we experienced was atrocious. Not family-friendly at all. Will try the other recommendations and check back in. Thanks

      Oh no! So sorry! Our service was attentive when we were there. I hope the rest work out better. Definitely check menus first as our 11 year old is a bit of a foodie.

    You saw the Bush Man! http://www.yelp.com/biz/the-bush-man-san-francisco
    Too bad you didn’t wait around to see him scare other people. My sister used to bring friends who were visiting from out of town down to Fisherman’s Wharf just to see them react to the Bush Man.. everyone generally has a good laugh afterwards..

      I didn’t know he was quite such a sensation!

    Looks like you had a fabulous time. I haven’t been back to SF in such a long time. Your post reminds me not only do I need to go back but I need to bring the kids. Nice photos too!

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