The Golden Gate Bridge, watching the sea lions at Pier 39, sandy strolls along the Bay’s beaches – these famous San Francisco sights should make the top lists for any trip with kids. Even better – they are all free! Our recent Spring Break trip to the West Coast included some great gratis finds. Here’s a list of 10 must-dos (and one bonus for Star Wars fans):
- Walk the Golden Gate Bridge – a walk across this iconic suspension bridge is not for the faint-hearted, but it’s also not to be missed. Even if you’re nervous, taking a few steps on the pedestrian walkway is worth it for the view and experience.
- Wander around Golden Gate Park – the park is the home for several attractions that cost money like the San Francisco Botanical Gardens and California Academy of the Sciences, but there are lots of trails, sidewalks and playgrounds to explore. The Japanese Tea Garden was our
favorite stop– an exquisite traditional Japanese garden with peaceful koi ponds, pagodas, stone paths and a zen garden. Free if you arrive before 10am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. There is also a tea house where you can sit and sip, and pretend you’re in a park in Tokyo.
- Kick up the sand along the beaches on the Bay or on the Pacific Coast side. The coastline along both spots offer different views. Gaze at the Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito and Alcatraz Island from the beaches near Crissy Field. Or, get a view of the Pacific and big, crashing waves from Ocean Beach, accessible from Golden Gate Park.
- Walk or drive the Crookest Street in the World – Lombard Street. There’s no room to walk the street (only cars, and even then it is a tight squeeze), but you can use the stairs accessible at Jones St and Hyde Street and walk up or down this section of the street that has eight tight-turn switchbacks.
- See the sea lions at Pier 39 – leave plenty of time for this tourist favorite. These giant ocean-dwelling mammals occupy several floating docks and
are better than watching Animal Planet – they bark, fight and bite each other, swim, and sleep in the sun. It was hard to pry ourselves away from their funny antics.
- Chinatown – for a true feel and taste of China, there’s no better Chinatown in the U.S. Stroll the streets, scan the shops and chow down on some of the best cuisine this side of Shanghai.
- Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory – This is a quick trip to a tiny little shop in Chinatown that makes fortune cookies of all sizes and flavors (can be tricky to find – on Ross Ave, which is so small, it’s more like an alley, between Jackson St and Washington St.). Watching the workers make their creations is free as is a sample of the crunchy cookies, but you’ll likely not be able to walk out without buying a bag for yourself to enjoy later.
- Peruse the Painted Ladies – These notable and colorful Victorian houses are the backdrop for thousands of photos and dozens of films with a San Francisco setting (you’ll likely recognize them from Full House and Mrs. Doubtfire). They are located at Hayes and Steiner
- Climb to the top of Twin Peaks – these two mountain tops offer a beautiful panoramic view of the city. And offer a great work out!
- Palace of Fine Arts – The location of the 1915 Panama-Pacific Expo (like a World’s Fair), this gorgeous Art Deco space now serves as an exhibition space and theater. It’s well worth a walk around to see the beautiful dome, other structures and swans swimming in the pond. They offer lots of events – concerts, movies in the park, etc., so check out their Web site before you go.
BONUS: The Yoda Fountain at LucasFilms – We are HUGE Star Wars fans, so when we heard that a division of LucasFilm was located in The Presidio and that there was a Yoda fountain, there was no stopping us. You can also go in the lobby of LucasFilm and see some movie props like a life-sized R2D2 and a medal given to the heroes at the end of Episode IV: A New Hope (walkable to both Crissy Field and Palace of Fine Arts).