Travel: San Francisco with Kids

Hi, Renae again, sharing the ins and outs about traveling around San Francisco with kids in tow. We’ve been racking up airline miles and I’m learning all kinds of stuff shuffling around the country (especially in some big cities!), so I’m passing it along to you! Grab a cup of tea or coffee…I’ve got a lot of juicy travel tips intertwined! 

I had so many emotions on our San Francisco trip! We’d never spent much time in San Fran other than the hubs and I just passing through quickly en route to another gig so I was so looking forward to actually getting to spend a few days in such a notoriously cool city. Ya’ll, I had big plans and a list of places I wanted to see!

But I had some pretty terrible luck on our first day when my diamond fell out of my wedding band! I was really upset about it, but didn’t want our son to feel that energy. Our adventures on the road are where we actually get to spend time as a family and share some of our best memories so I certainly didn’t want it to keep us from enjoying our time together. (But believe me, I did zoom in on every picture I took and retraced my steps like a mad woman trying to find it.) This time Steve (my husband) was headlining the weekend at a club in downtown San Francisco in the financial district. Since I knew we’d be staying in the heart of the city and doing a lot of walking, I brought along a sturdy stroller.

I’ve gotten questions about what’s a good travel stroller and I can say we’ve gotten good use out of our Graco Breaze. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s compact, lightweight and inexpensive so it’s easy to travel with and I don’t mind so much if the airline throws it around. I loved the clip-in infant car seat option when Garrett was a baby and my back definitely appreciates the handles being higher than a typical umbrella stroller. I recommend traveling with a collapsible caddy with cupholders for things you want grab quickly like your phone.There’s lots of these on the market. They are super handy and hardly take up any space. This stroller passes the true test because with all the shoving, cramming and traveling it’s still holding up 2 years later.

I’m sure you’ve been on vacay and seen that family on the brink of a breakdown because they’ve tried to cram in every ride at the theme park and they’re hangry and exhausted. It’s a gift to get to experience all these cities and I want to be able to share all the best stuff with you so even though I should know better, I find myself making the same mistake. Life on the road can be exhausting if you don’t pace yourself.  I’m learning when traveling with kids it’s so much more enjoyable if you pick and choose just a few sites to hit. Instead of hitting the “best of” in each city, keep in mind your child’s age. And especially in bigger cities where you can spend lots of time in traffic, choose things near you so your time isn’t spent stuck in a car. This might mean being especially strategic about where you stay.

San Francisco offers so many amazing sites, I had a hard time choosing! But I found that focusing on places we could walk makes the experience so much more pleasant.

We actually spent our first day taking an easy morning stroll to the Ferry Building and picking up breakfast in the Ferry Marketplace. The farmers market and cuisine options at the Ferry Building are pretty top notch. You can get everything from flowers, to fresh baked bread, to mushroom gardens. On the weekends the market is massive, taking up all of the outside boardwalk as well. It’s a perfect activity for families

There were plenty of benches to eat outside while watching the Ferry boats come in -I was tempted to just hop on one and see where it took us.

Garrett preferred to feed his breakfast to the birds instead. And since I’m making an effort to let him lead the way instead of trying to hit every sight, that’s exactly what we did.

Across the street in Justin Herman Plaza local artisans had tents set up and we scooped up an adorable paper mache piggy bank decorated with comic cutouts. – I loved that it was hand made and such a fitting San Fran souvenir. I think we might have to start collecting piggy banks on our travels! Sue Bierman park is in the area too and offers a great playground that we enjoyed till nap time.

From the Financial District, Pier 39 is also within walking distance. Brace yourself for crowds, as it is a popular tourist destination even on a weekday. There’s a little something for everyone here with plenty of restaurants and sweet treat options. While you’re here, catch a glimpse of the Sea Lions that hang out on the north side of the pier. We hit up the carousel (of course!)

And we snagged a seat at an acrobatic show. The performer we saw, Orion Griffiths, was super talented and claimed to come from an actual British circus family. I was so impressed at the caliber of this street performance show. We didn’t stay here long because the crowds were a little too intense for me. But the show was definitely the highlight.

You can’t do San Francisco with a little one without getting on a trolley, so we got up early to catch one from Union Square (more on the amazing shopping here later)  to Fisherman’s Wharf. Some tips for the trolley: have cash, a compact stroller and go early because they get super crowded.

People say avoid Fisherman’s Wharf, but I’m glad we didn’t listen!

We grabbed coffee and a bite at Boudin Bakery and strolled Jefferson Street to Hyde Street Pier stopping to look at lobsters in tanks that would soon be in sandwiches. There’s tons to see and since we did it first thing in the morning it was a super pleasant stroll.

Hyde St Pier is home of the San Francisco Maritime Museum -the only National Park on water. We practically had the whole place to ourselves.

Garrett enjoyed running through and climbing the collection of ships. You can also get a good view of Alcatraz from the deck of the ferry ship. If your kiddo can sit still long enough, they also have a great tour here around noon. And if you’re brave enough to dip your toes in the cold water, there is a small beach here perfect for a quick dip.

San Francisco is a city full of great food. The competition in the city is so fierce almost every restaurant is pretty great. Someone recommended we try Scoma’s for lunch. It’s just off the main strip but right by all the fishing boats. It’s a white table cloth kind of restaurant, but still had a great kids menu and we’re happy to have us with our little guy. I love when you find a nice restaurant that still feels welcoming to a family. Scoma’s has awesome views and you can even peek in the windows of their fish cleaning station right across the street. We had to call it after lunch, as our little guy needed to get back for naptime, but if you’ve got bigger kiddos who can hang longer the Musique Menifee, an old style arcade is nearby..

Some cities like NYC knock the big public parks out of the ball park and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is another one. There’s so much you can do and see in the park including the California Academy of Sciences and the Japanese Tea Garden. We ended up taking a cab, which from our hotel in the financial district with city traffic was pretty pricey. But we spent the afternoon on the carousel (yes, another one!) and the playground here is large and perfect for kids of all ages.

When Garrett got bored of the playground we strolled to the Botanical Gardens and ran around the grounds here.

I wish I could share with you more wonderful restaurants in San Fran, but truth is most of our days end with dinner in the green room, squeezing in more time with Dad at the comedy club before he starts work. Our kid doesn’t have a set routine, he doesn’t sleep well in his own bed, and potty training while traveling is a challenge (this trip Little Man pooped while sitting in my lap at dinner with work friends), but if it’s a choice between splitting up the circus or keeping us all together, for me moments like these make it pretty obvious.

A couple more tips when doing San Francisco.

It’s chilly pretty much all year long except for September. Even in July fireplaces are still being used Crazy, I know! Depending on what time of year you go, you’ll need a heavier layer. But even in the summer you’ll still need to pack a little something. –or don’t and go shopping in Union Square! Tons of great stores in the area – including a great big Macy’s!

Also, I know some people think the big city red bus tours are obnoxiously touristy, but I say, don’t judge! If you’ve got kiddos in car seats, and you’re visiting a big city it’s a great way to see a bunch of places without spending a ton on cabs. Many of them allow you to hop on and off at your own pace. If you decide to go this route, check Groupon or Living Social ahead of time for discounted tickets.  There are some amazing sites we passed up on because we didn’t want to make the trek in a cab and a city bus tour might have made it more manageable with our little guy. So definitely worth considering.

Despite losing my ring, we still got out and enjoyed the San Francisco sites. It’s an incredible place, and there is still so much we didn’t see this time around, like the Bay Area Discovery Museum. I’m looking forward to hitting San Diego which is one of my favorite cities that I think does a stellar job of catering to families. Until then, you can follow #ourtravelingcircus on Instagram!






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  1. What an awesome piece. You make San Francisco look incredible!

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