San Francisco: Top Attractions

San Francisco
Alcatraz, San Francisco  (PhotoDisc)

It's easy to fall in love with San Francisco: surrounded on three sides by shimmering water, the city has rolling hills, a lively waterfront, cable cars, and lots of family-friendly attractions.

The Exploratorium
Kids can push, pull, talk, and listen to more than 700 interactive exhibits that teach them about science and natural phenomena. Find out how to move a 400-pound pendulum with a magnet, "freeze" your shadow, and watch the daily dissection of a cow's eye. A crawl through the pitch-black tactile dome forces you to get oriented by using your sense of touch. Your kids will be inspired by "The Nobel Prize: 100 Years of Creativity," on exhibit from July 14 through October 2, 2005.
The Exploratorium: 415.EXP.LORE,

San Francisco Fire Engine Tours and Adventures
Cross the Golden Gate Bridge in style, aboard a restored red, shiny 1955 fire engine. On the 75-minute roundtrip, which departs from the Cannery at Fisherman's Wharf, kids (and some adults) don jackets and helmets, jump in the truck, and go clanging down the street and across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito and back. Reservations required.
San Francisco Fire Engine Tours and Adventures: 415.333.7077,

FOOT! Walking Tours
FOOT! Tours, led by stand-up comics, mix humor, facts, and fast talk, turning history into family fun. Tell the guide a joke, and win a mint; pick the wrong answer in a multiple choice quiz, and get stuck with a "misfortune" cookie. On "Instant City, Just Add Gold: Greed, Glitter," the guide walks you through historic neighborhoods, pointing out blocks once bustling with gold assayers, plaques commemorating the Pony Express, and reciting ditties about roads formerly impassable in the mud.
FOOT! Walking Tours: 415.793.JEST,

Zeum, an art and technology center for ages eight to 18, teaches kids how to use technology to be creative. In the Animators Studio kids craft their own clay figures, script a performance, and use stop-action techniques to produce a cartoon. In the lab, budding stars perform karaoke, then put together their own music video using digital editing tools.
Zeum: 415.777.2800,

Alcatraz Island
A maximum-security federal penitentiary, Alcatraz, known as "the Rock," held Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, and other notorious criminals. Today, it holds a different sort of resident—tourists. Walking past cell blocks, you realize how little privacy inmates had and, when looking at the dark isolation cell, it's hard to imagine how prisoners endured. On the audio tour, hear inmates' tales against a background of prison noise. The Blue and Gold Fleet ferries transport you to the island.
Alcatraz Island: 415.705.5555,

Chinatown is so much more in San Francisco than in any other American city. It's rich in Chinese and Sino-American culture and food and larger than many others. As such, children get a birds-eye view of the influence this culture has had on San Francisco and the country itself. There are plenty of activities for kids. They enjoy munching the goods at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, Ross Alley, and strolling Grant Street to browse the Chinese groceries, tea rooms and souvenir shops. Introduce the family to dim sum for lunch and, from mid-July through mid-October, explore the Chinatown Market Fair Saturdays from six p.m. to 11 in Portsmouth Square. Along with vendors selling trinkets, silks, and other goods, each evening features lion dancing, martial arts, Chinese opera, or other cultural displays.
Chinese Cultural Center: 415.986.1822,

San Francisco Giants and SBC Park
At SBC Park, America's national pastime is played out against a spectacular Bay setting in a clean and modern baseball-only facility that is sheer delight for the baseball fans in your family. Call ahead for tours that take you to the press box, the Giants' dugout, and onto the field where their favorite stars get dirty. During games, SBC Park's Coca-Cola Fan Lot, an interactive play area, provides a place where children can run bases on a miniature diamond, whack Wiffle balls, and twist down two 56-foot-long curving slides.
San Francisco Giants and SBC Park: 415.972.2000,

Golden Gate Park
The question isn't "what is there to do at Golden Gate Park?" The question is, "what isn't there to do?" The 1,000-plus acres in this rectangular enclave situated in the western part of the city give plenty of room for locals and visitors to play. There are basketball courts, lawn bowling, an archery field, grazing buffalo, baseball fields, a windmill, and seven miles of bicycle paths that lead past waterfalls and gardens. The Japanese Tea Garden soothes with ponds, pagodas, and subtle arrangements, and the Conservatory of Flowers and the San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum are fragrant with blooms. It's so good you'll be tempted to buy a house right across the street so the kids always have a place to play. Just note that the eastern-side of the park borders notorious Haight-Ashbury, where potentially seedy elements hang out.
Golden Gate Park: 415.831.2700,

California Academy of Sciences
For the kids that love science and nature, and even for those that don't, treasure awaits at the California Academy of Sciences where the natural world is on display. In the Steinhart Aquarium meet penguins, piranhas, and pythons. Kids can find "Nemo," a clownfish, swimming in the 20,000-gallon coral reef tank, along with hundreds of other colorful beauties. Ant colonies star at the Natural History Museum and "Chocolate," running June 11 to September 15 explains how the sweet treat goes from bean to candy bar.
California Academy of Sciences: 415.321.8000,

San Francisco Electric Tour Company
No, this isn't another city tour with clanging bells and an overused speaker system. With the San Francisco Electric Tour Company, getting there is half the fun. Hop aboard Segways, self-balancing electric transport systems, and roll around the city and its meandering streets. Forget about falling down—it's impossible—or panting from going up San Fran's hills—not necessary—since the Segway does the work. The eight-mile-per-hour pace gives you plenty of time to admire Fisherman's Wharf, the Cable Car turnaround and Ghirardelli Square. Riders must be between ages 12 and 65 and weigh between 100 and 250 pounds.
San Francisco Electric Tour Company: 415.474.3130,

Published: 8 Apr 2005 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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