San Francisco: Golden Gate to Family Adventure
San Francisco is one of the top tourist destinations in the United States. The "City by the Bay" is known the world over for its beautiful views, diverse culture, cable cars, and sourdough bread. What many may not know, however, is that San Francisco is also a great place for family activities.
One key to having fun as a family is doing activities that appeal to both kids and parents. Activities and attractions that cater solely to children can often be tedious for adults, and vice versa. Here, then, are some things that both kids and parents will enjoy doing while in San Francisco:
The San Francisco Zoo
Lions and tigers and bears, oh yeah, and lemurs, gorillas and 'roos! The San Francisco Zoo, located close to Ocean Beach, has a veritable ark of exotic animals. Upon entry, zoo-goers are greeted by giraffes, zebras and other African savannah dwellers. The zoo also has hands-on areas, including a barnyard petting area, a seasonal tropical bird feeding exhibit, and a reptile and bird-of-prey sanctuary. If you get hungry after watching the daily lion feeding, there are several cafeterias and food stands spread throughout the park-like atmosphere. There's also a train that passes by the polar, grizzly and black bears. The zoo even has a large play structure area where you can rest your feet while your wild animals climb the monkey bars.
San Francisco sits at the tip of a long peninsula and is surrounded on three sides by navigable waters. Families can take advantage of the city's rich nautical history by visiting one of the many maritime attractions, such as a ferry ride to Alcatraz, sailing the Pacific, kayaking in McCovey Cove, or pedal-boating in Golden Gate Park.
Pier 45 at Fisherman's Wharf is home to several impressive historic naval vessels that offer tours. The Balclutha has a definite pirate ship feel, with its huge masts, wood decks and spooky cargo holds. The S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien was named after the first American to capture a British naval vessel during the Revolutionary War. She made seven World War II voyages and supported the D-Day invasion at Normandy. The USS Pampanito is a submarine that made six patrols in the Pacific during World War II, during which she sank six Japanese ships and damaged four others.
Children sometimes find traditional art museums boring. Perhaps it's the "don't touch" rule, or the hushed ambience of most museums. Going to an art museum doesn't have to be an agonizing event for the kids, though. Here are two San Francisco museums that will stimulate your intellect and spark your child's imagination:
Exploratorium - Located next to the majestic Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina neighborhood, the Exploratorium houses all sorts of "cool science" exhibits. Experiment with light rays, smoke rings, sound waves and other marvels of human perception. Virtually all exhibits are hands-on!
Cartoon Art Museum - Located in the Yerba Buena Gardens, this is the only museum in the country dedicated to the preservation and exhibition of the cartoon art form. Although this is not strictly a "kids museum," much of the subject matter does appeal to a young audience. It may even inspire them to create their own comics! Adults, too, may appreciate seeing larger-than-life images of their childhood cartoon favorites displayed as contemporary art.
Few things evoke the idyllic feeling of youth like a merry-go-round. In a world filled with over commercialized theme parks filled with terror-inducing thrill rides, there's something charming and civilized about riding an antique carousel. Calliope music fills the air, kids choose their favorite animals to ride, and the world passes by at an easy pace.
There are several ornate carousels in San Francisco, including one at the San Francisco Zoo (free rides for members on every third Saturday of the month), one at Children's Playground in Golden Gate Park, and one at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
The Steinhardt Aquarium is America's oldest grand-municipal aquarium still in operation. Home to many forms of aquatic animals - fish, reptiles and penguins - this attraction is temporarily located near the heart of San Francisco's shopping district. As such, this aquarium is a convenient reward destination for your kids if they behave while you are shopping.
The Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39 is a "journey under San Francisco Bay." Although slightly smaller than the Steinhardt, it is an equally mesmerizing aquatic experience. The main attraction is a long underwater walkway, which is a transparent tunnel, surrounded by sharks, rays, and other peculiar sea creatures. There's also three touch pools where visitors are interact with rays, urchins and starfish.