Before taking a trip with Ellie, Mike and I scour the internet for free/cheap kid friendly spots in our destination. I appreciate seeing what’s worked for other families, so... in this post I’m sharing Ellie’s top 10 San Francisco spots. I’ve been to SF twice before, but never with a kid and I will say that it is definitely a fun city to explore with a toddler. If I can manage any other work funded trips, we will definitely be back again!
Ellie’s top 10
Yerba Buena Gardens (free): We didn’t actually make it here until the morning of our flight home when we had time to kill and nowhere to go. We wanted to find a place where we could exhaust Ellie before we got on the plane, so we decided to check out the gardens which were a short walk from our hotel. Ellie loved the fountains, especially in the east garden and upper terrace of the MLK memorial. The waterfalls in the MLK memorial were a bit loud for her though. Ellie’s favorite part was the children’s garden playground. There was construction on Howard Street so we entered from a random elevator in the side of a building on Folsom Street... it was a little odd, but it said we could get to the playground if we got in the elevator, so we chanced it! The playground was awesome, Ellie had a blast and I wished we had been able to spend more time there, but we had to cut it short because of our flight.
Joe DiMaggio Playground (free): I was able to tag along for this one. We took the streetcar up to Fisherman’s Wharf and this playground was on our route back to the hotel. Definitely a popular spot, with some cool playground equipment. The North Beach Library is right next door, which came in handy when Ellie needed to use the bathroom.
Fisherman’s Wharf (free depending on what you do): Ellie’s favorite spot in this area was right in front of the Musée Mécanique where there were picnic tables and lots of pigeons and seagulls. She ran around and chased them for a long time. She also enjoyed the sea lions and walking along the various piers.
Ghirardelli Square (free depending on what you do): Ellie loved the fountain with the mermaid statues so that’s where we spent most of our time. We also “played” cornhole (e.g., throwing bean bags around), splurged on a $5 scoop of chocolate ice cream, and chased more pigeons.
Koret Playground at Golden Gate Park (free + $2 carousel ride): Mike and Ellie took the subway to check out Golden Gate Park while I did conference stuff. She was into the wave sculpture that you could climb on (this kid loves to climb). They also took a carousel ride, which she loved.
Father Alfred E. Boeddeker Park (free): This playground was right by the hotel (we could see it from our room) and Ellie loved the bumpy slide.
Transit ($5 day pass for the adults): Ellie loved the streetcar and the bus. At home she occasionally rides transit, but not that frequently so it was definitely a novelty. The subway was a bit loud for her. We did not ride the cable car because it was $7/ride per person (including Ellie), which just seemed like way too much for something that was pretty similar to the streetcar.
Lombard street (free): We walked down Lombard street (on the sidewalk). Ellie didn’t seem to care much about the actual street but she did like walking down the super steep hill. There was also a person riding a skateboard down Lombard Street as we were walking down, which caught her attention.
Beacon Coffee + Pantry (we just used the bathroom...): We were on the bus headed back to the hotel when Ellie announced she had to pee... which I think a few people on the bus found amusing. So, off the bus we went, not really knowing where we were. We had Ellie’s travel potty but nowhere to set it up, not to mention it was windy and rainy outside so I’m not sure she would have actually used it outside. We walked a block or two from the bus stop and found this coffee shop. We didn’t buy anything so I can’t speak to their food, but I can say that they let Ellie use the bathroom, which is a win in my book! Of course, once we got into the bathroom she said she didn’t have to go... ARG! Next time we’re in SF, we’ll come back and get a drink!
Chinatown (free depending on what you do): We walked, a lot. We strolled through Chinatown on our way back to the hotel from Lombard street (and our earlier Ghirardelli/Fisherman’s Wharf excursion). We followed the sounds of drumming and found a parade going on so we took a break from our walking and watched for a bit.
Palace of Fine Arts (free if you stay outside): Honestly, I have no idea what’s inside this place but the outside is beautiful and has plenty of places for kids to run and explore! Granted, the weather was windy and rainy so I don’t actually think Ellie liked it! She did like looking at the swans/ducks swimming in the pond.
Wave Organ (free): Another thing that would have been cool had the weather been better. We were on our way out to the organ when the weather turned and it got really windy and rainy, so much so that it hurt our faces to walk in it. We walked all the way out to the organ to say we saw it and then turned right back around to find shelter. There were public restrooms nearby which was nice because Ellie had to go.
Alioto’s (pricey): We met some friends here for lunch one day and while I wouldn’t say it is toddler-friendly, I will say they did a good job accommodating us. They sat us in the back in a booth away from other people, gave Ellie some crayons, and didn’t say a word when we brought in a hot dog from another restaurant for Ellie to eat (because she really wanted one). So... if your kiddo can sit still and be entertained by crayons for a bit, this place might be okay. They also had some nice views. Generally speaking though, it was a bit fancier/pricier than I would normally take a toddler and the food was okay but in my opinion, not worth the price.