California Road Trip with Kids: San Francisco

california road trip with kids san francisco

Are you planning a California Road Trip with kids? Here is where our second Cali road trip kicked off!

Our Summer 2015 California road trip kicked off with three days in San Francisco. I love coming here – San Francisco was one of the first places I visited in the US.

During my 20s when I worked as a technology reporter, I spent a lot of time in the city, covering the emerging Internet industry. And I vividly remember staying with friends in the city for Christmas in 2004 – just after I’d been told I’d lost the baby I was expecting. So it’s pretty special to be here with Flea, who surprised everyone, including the doctors, when we returned home in January to find I was still pregnant.

Because we’ve spent a lot of time in San Francisco, we don’t really do a lot of the “typical” tourist stuff here – I’ve visited Coit Tower and Alcatraz many times over the years, and have no great desire to do them all again. They’re great if this is your first California road trip with kids. But there are some other things I think are also worth doing if you find yourself in the city with a family.

First up, we go shopping. Seriously. We love stocking up on t-shirts in Old Navy, and getting some new trainers at the Converse Store on Market St. Then there’s Gap, and Macy’s and … ooh, it’s just endless.

And it’s not just clothes. I completely ADORE browsing Williams Sonoma and Crate & Barrel, where I invariably find kitchen items I never knew needed to be invented – this weekend’s highlights included a cupcake pedestal (this is genuinely a thing), and a bowl with a hole in the side that you pull rosemary through to “de-leaf” it. Genius.


We got some culture at the SFMOMA and popped into the Jewish Museum, which has a really sad Amy Winehouse exhibition running this summer. And then to balance that out, we popped around the corner to the cinema at Metreon and saw Paper Towns, which was hilarious and brilliant and made me think I only ever want to see movies in US cinemas full of teenage girls for the rest of my life. The collective squeal at one specific point of the movie pretty much made my year.

On Sunday we checked out our favourite museum, the Exploratorium, a science museum that’s devoted to the concept of tinkering – its six zones are filled with games, gadgets and interactive experiments designed to help kids learn about the sound, light, force, geology and nature. It’s on the waterfront at Pier 15. It’s a bit like the Science Museum Wonderlab in the UK, if you’ve been.

If you go to the museum or find yourself nearby, DO eat your lunch or have a coffee on the deck, it has amazing views of the bay without the revolting crowds at Pier 39 a half mile down the waterfront.

The museum is a great place to spend a morning – the city is always cloudy and cool before lunch – and when you’re done, you can walk along the front past Ghiradelli Square (do stop for a Sundae here, they’re wickedly good) up to Pier 39.

For us, visiting the US means ridiculous levels of eating out – for breakfast, we recommend Pat’s Cafe in North Beach and Mama’s in Washington Square – you’ll need to line up here at weekends, but the amazing French toast is your reward for walking up the KILLER hill to get there (you’re also just around the corner from Lombard, which is exciting for being the world’s most winding street OR for being featured in Tales of the City, depending on your age and interests).

And it’s cheesy – quite literally – but we love visiting the Cheesecake Factory at the top of Macy’s in Union Square, which has killer views and a family-friendly menu. Where else are you going to find a chocolate and Oreo cheesecake that comes in at over 1,000 calories per slice?


If you’re kicking off your California road trip with kids in the city, see if you can delay collecting your car for a few days. I don’t use a car in the city – if you stay near Union Square (this time we were in the Marriott, which was perfectly good) you’re well within walking distance to the downtown shopping district, North Beach, Coit Tower and the piers. This year we also spotted that SF has a bike share scheme like London’s  – you can pay $10 a day and get unlimited use of the bikes for trips of up to 30 minutes – longer trips cost $4 per 30 minutes.

We only picked up our unexpectedly tank-like rental car as we were leaving the city. The porter at our hotel actually shouted at me, “You all alone? Driving? You brave lady! Australians very brave!” People here always think Northerners are Aussies, I’m not sure why. Anyway.

If you’re heading North (or have time for a detour) you’ll leave the city over the Golden Gate Bridge, which is weirdly exciting. This trip, though, we’re heading South, and making the two hour journey down the coast to Santa Cruz, home of surfing, vintage boardwalk rides and a weirdly high number of taco restaurants. I can’t wait!


13 thoughts on “California Road Trip with Kids: San Francisco”

  1. I jumped a bit at the calorie intake, but you know what? You are on holidays! As long as you walk ( and clearly you do) and keep a bit active, it’s worth it. I am dying to go to San Fran even more. Flea is super lucky to be having all these travel opportunities with you. We just got back from a river rafting 2 day trip, admiring the peaceful Czech beautiful nature. Isabelle is so happy here! x Enjoy!

    1. Well, the FIRST thing to note is that you can’t possibly eat a whole slice – Flea and I managed most of a slice between us 🙂

      San Francisco is lovely, and honestly, we just adore California, it’s the perfect place to be a kid. Sunshine, beaches, adventures galore! Hope you’re having a fabulous summer too x

  2. You could not have posted this at a better time! We are off to San Fran next month and I’ve been trying to figure out what to do- we went pre-kids which is quite a different kettle of fish 😀
    Will be eating much cheesecake and French toast- THANK YOU! Can’t wait for the rest of your road trip update x

  3. I also only want to watch films in cinemas full of American teenage girls. Because I still think I am one. Apart from the american bit. But… yeah.

    This is going to be such a fun trip for you both, can’t wait to read about the rest of your travels. We recently drove from San Diego to Santa Monica with the kids and it’s really made me want to go back and drive the rest of the coastline up to San Fransisco.

  4. The Oreo cheesecake is our favorite too! There was a Cheesecake Factory near our hotel in Waikiki that we couldn’t help stopping by a couple of times during our trip to buy a slice. Also I love San Francisco and next time will have a look at the Exploratorium which sounds fantastic.

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