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San Francisco with Small Kids

It felt great to be back in the Bay Area. Last time I was there was in 2014, the year we moved to Switzerland. I've heard plenty of scary stories about how the city has changed (for the bad) since we left, so I must admit I was a little scared to go with our twins. Especially because Alexis was going for work and I was going to be alone with them during the day. But it turned out to be amazing. This was a trip to reconnect with friends we have not seen in person in a while (even friends from Switzerland who were in the area!), to eat great food, and to show our girls a glimpse of a city we once called home.

Our experience was wonderful. I never felt unsafe and didn't witness any of the crazy violent scenes I read about. But we did not stay in the city-city, and also we didn't walk at night, so there's that. We stayed in South San Francisco because it was convenient for Alexis to go to the office and moved either in Uber or by car. I recommend renting a car for flexibility. Parking in the city can be expensive, especially if parking in a safer spot, but to us it gave us peace of mind given the reports of car break ins in the city.

The girls were so involved in the activities we did. We always asked for their opinion on things to do and I think that makes a difference because they know what to expect. I was surprised when they asked to go to see the Redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument. They were so excited to see to tall trees in the woods, and even did the 1.5 mile hike without complaining (too much).

One thing we do to prepare the girls for a trip is buying books about the place which we start reading a few days before to get them excited

Here we share the best things to do with small kids in San Francisco (and nearby)

Day 1: The City

Boudin Bakery

Park at the lot near Boudin Bakery. Have breakfast there. Boudin Bakery is known for its famous sourdough bread and is recognized as the "oldest continually operating business in San Francisco". Breakfast was delicious, and even though it was busy by the time we got there, we didn't have to wait too long to find a table.

The girls enjoyed seeing the bread in different fun shapes and even had to eat a sourdough teddy bear.

Pier 39

Pier 39 is a fun place to walk with the family. There are several attractions for kids, food options, and interesting shops to buy souvenirs or something different. There's even the Lefty's, a store made for left-handed people. Everything in there is specifically designed for a lefty person- from scissors to can openers. For sure you will find something for that special lefty person in your life.

Aquarium of the Bay

Hours of Operation: 11 AM – 6 PM, Last Entry is 5:30 PM

Price: $31.64 Adults (13-64), under 3 years old are free

Also at Pier 39, you will find this fun and not too big but aquarium. It is interactive and kept the girls interested and entertained for almost 2 hours.

San Francisco Carousel

Carousels are cute and fun for kids ages 0-100. The carousel at Pier 39 ran for a decent amount of time, with nice kid's music and it didn't feel too crowded. I think we paid about $5 for both of them so it's not expensive compared to other carousels in the area.

Cable Car Ride

No trip to San Francisco is ever complete without riding a vintage cable car. This is a great way to just take a break and enjoy the city. We purchased a roundtrip ticket ($16 for adults, kids under 3 were free). Hop off at the very last stop, walked down the hill (carrying a sleepy 3 year old) until almost reaching China Town where we hopped again in a cable car to finish where we started.

Day 2: Museums and Bridges

We spent the whole day here for two reasons (1) it was raining and cold to do other outdoor things and (2) it is quite expensive to visit this museum ($50 for adults and 3 years and older pay $40 each) so we wanted to make the best out of it and took our time to linger on each exhibition. You could save an average of $3 per ticket when booking in advance. I do have to say this museum is very well curated. Lots to see, do, and learn from. It has different exhibits, but the aquarium and the natural rain forest habitat, with beautiful butterflies and other insects were my girls favorites. We planned to have snacks and lunch there. We saw penguins, learned about the evolution and dinosaurs, and had time to play in the playground.

Golden Gate and Vista Point

After spending the day at the California Academy of Sciences, we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge, and stopped at Vista Point to capture the memories in pictures

Day 3: Berkeley

We started the day with breakfast from Spruce Cafe in San Francisco. They don't serve proper breakfast (eggs or pancakes), but they have the best pain au chocolate I've had outside of Europe. Their coffee is also wonderful. There are some savory pastries available as well.

Adventure Playground

After breakfast, we headed to Berkeley. There is this amazing but quirky urban park that offers kids with opportunities to build, paint, climb, and slide. When I stepped inside I got a Scandinavian vibe. Almost like a kids version of Copenhagen's Christiania. And I wasn't too far off, because I researched the park after going there and was surprised to learn the park was opened in 1979, and it was based on the ideas of Danish architect Carl Theodor Sørensen, who had made use of scrap junkyards for playgrounds when Copenhagen was under occupation during World War II (Wikipedia sourced). Here the girls had fun painting, looking for nails with a magnet in order to exchange them for tools (hammers, saws, more paint, etc). The views of the park are wonderful since it's next to a bay where you could probably rent kayaks or paddle boards.

For lunch, I recommend stopping at Westbrae Biergarten. An outdoor bier garden with food options and areas for kids to play. Here we met my friend Mieka, who we met in Switzerland several years ago. She's a Berkeley local and if it wasn't for her, I wouldn't have found out about this place.

Day 4: Redwoods and kite flying

Muir Woods National Monument

The girls were so excited to see the redwoods! The park is about 1 hours north of San Francisco. I was nervous about going alone with them because I wasn't sure how long they could endure walking but I'm glad I took the chance. We took the shorter loop (about 1.5 miles) and they walked it like champs. Reservations are required and spaces filled up in advance. We wanted to go here the day before but it was sold out, so definitely book. The paths are stroller friendly, and even some areas are wheelchair accessible.

Flying Kites

The girls fell in love with some miniature kites with butterfly shapes at the Muir Monument souvenir shop and wanted to try them. I stopped at Crissy Field Beach. Beautiful views but the wind was too strong. Nonetheless, the girls enjoyed their kites, playing in the sand and soaking their feet in the freezing water.

Day 5: The Ferry Building & City Playgrounds

One of the last days in the city, took it easy. Went to the Ferry Building where we had Argentinian empanadas and ice-cream, then headed to a playground across the street from the Ferry Building. Shopping options inside The Ferry Building abound. From spirits to chocolate to mushrooms. Different restaurants and a nice view of the Bay.

I was impressed with how well maintained the playground is. Very clean, faux grass for extra padding, and swings and slides in good shape. Several benches for parents and sitters to sit as well.

Overall, we had a fun time in San Francisco. Having the opportunity to go back to the city, this time as parents of toddlers, gave us an opportunity to experience differently. We visited many of these places before, pre-kids, but for some reason, going again with our kids felt so different, almost as if it was the first time. Can't wait to go back!

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