Dragging your kids to places you want to visit without taking their needs into consideration is a sure recipe for vacation disaster. A much better strategy is to pair adult-oriented attractions with kid-pleasing ones. Following are great places for kids to play near some of San Francisco’s famous tourist areas.
Powell and Market Street Area
Visits to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, or the Museum of the African Diaspora with children are made far more pleasant by the existence of Yerba Buena Gardens (between 3rd and 4th, Mission and Folsom) across the street.
This pastoral park has a large esplanade area where many free concerts and events are held as well as the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Gallery and Theater. There is also a dramatic fountain with pounding water and inspirational quotes from the speeches of Martin Luther King. At the edge of the park, the Metreon shopping and entertainment complex has movie theaters, a game arcade, and a variety of food options.
Across the pedestrian bridge over Howard Street, there is a historic carousel, an interactive bronze sculpture, and a hands-on arts and technology museum for children called Zeum. (Highlights of this popular kids’ attraction include a clay animation studio where kids can make their own characters and then shoot their own movies to take home on DVD.)
Besides an ice skating rink and bowling alley, there is Play Circle, an innovative circular playground. This privately built play area includes a climbing structure as well as a large tower with two extremely fast tube slides. For younger children, there is a multi-level sand and water play area and a low hedge maze.
Golden Gate Park
Fairly near the California Academy of Sciences (at 3rd Avenue and Lincoln Way inside Golden Gate Park) is a wonderful playground called Koret Children’s Quarter. Originally built in 1887, this recently renovated play area (formerly called Children’s Playground) is commonly thought to be the first public playground in the U.S.
Highlights of this beloved playground includes a large netted play structure, an area for sand play and sitting, a wavy climbing wall, and two thrilling concrete slides where older kids wait in line clutching large pieces of cardboard that will make their ride much faster. Right next door you’ll find the Golden Gate Carousel and a small food concession offering popcorn and hotdogs.
Located right in Chinatown (on Sacramento Street between Grant and Stockton at Waverly Place), Chinese Playground is a welcome break from the crowds for touring families with kids who need to roam. It features a climbing wall and play structure for older children as well as a pulley-operated sand play structure that will let younger children scoop, hoist and dump to their hearts content. Plenty of snacks can be found on Grant or Stockton.
Embarcadero at the Foot of Market Street
San Francisco’s 1989 earthquake was the inspiration for restoring the historic Ferry Building and developing the adjourning waterfront pedestrian path. Besides being a transit hub where you can catch ferryboats to outlying areas or the historic F-Market streetcar line, this large, steel-framed structure houses many enticing food and drink-related shops and cafes. This area also hosts a popular Farmers Market on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings.
Along the picturesque Herb Caen Way waterfront path past the Bay Bridge, there is a perfect playground for crawlers, early walkers, and children under the age of five. The small, nautical-themed, South Beach Children’s Play Area was built by an urban design and landscape architecture firm with community input. Highlights include a tugboat sandbox, a toddler-sized wave wall, and a small net climbing structure.
For older kids (as well as adults) who love baseball or thrilling 56 foot-long slides, there is AT&T Park a bit further south. When the San Francisco Giants baseball team is out of town, the public is welcome to enter the stadium to use the Coca Cola Fan Lot and Superslides.
Including fun for kids as well as adults ensures the most memorable family vacations.