If you’re planning a San Francisco vacation, you need a comprehensive guide book; this isn’t that. If you’re going to bring your kids with you, you need some key recommendations for accommodations, restaurants, activities, and services that have been vetted by best resource available: another guy with kids. Lucky for you, that’s exactly what Fatherly’s San Francisco City Guide is.
When it comes to The City By The Bay, that means the coolest playground nobody knows about, the best dim sum east of Beijing, and vacation rentals you’ll all be happy to come home to every night. All you need now are plane tickets and a few jokes about Tony Bennett’s heart that won’t land because your kids don’t know who Tony Bennett is.
Where To Stay
1625 Post St; 415.922.3200
Located near Japan Center in Cathedral Hill, this Tokyo-styled boutique hotel ups the exotic quotient with shoji sliding screens, a zen garden, an izakaya bar that should mesmerize the kids (unless your kids have already been to Tokyo, in which case they’ll be unimpressed). They offer family suites for $464 per night that have beds in multiple rooms and Japanese soaking tubs.
55 5th St; 415.543.8555
Just a short walk from Union Square, Zetta features in-room tech accouterments like Bluetooth speakers and G-Link connectivity to tether your phone or tablet to the TVs for live streaming. The rooms are huge by San Fran standards, with a $475 deluxe coming in at 300 square feet with 2 queen beds. Even the hotel game room is un-lame, with a giant Jenga game that will probably result in your kids demanding one for the backyard.
Handlery Union Square
351 Geary St; 415.781.7800
Smack in the middle of Union Square, Handlery’s been around since the 1920s but still feels totally current. The suites are enormous but so are their price tags, so go with a “premier” double queen room ($309 per night) as they fit the bill and most overlook the hotel’s chief attribute: downtown San Francisco’s best pool (non-drinking-and-girl-watching category).
Kid and Coe-Approved, Kid-Friendly Vacation Rentals
The Idora Residence
Sleeps 6; $400 per night
Perfect For: A little peace and quiet
A 15-minute drive southwest of downtown, Forest Hill is a quiet residential neighborhood that’s a well-located respite from the chaos of the city (or just the chaos of your kids in the city). The house has a backyard with a small play gym, 2 kids rooms, a crib, and a whole pile of toys. It’s also a short walk to a pair of Muni stations, so you don’t even need to necessarily rent a car.
The 14th Street Residence
Sleeps 5; $400 per night
Perfect For: Anyone traveling with a baby or toddler
Duboce Triangle is full of young families, surrounded by parks, and accessible to downtown via Muni street cars or BART. The house has a fully stocked nursery, is child-proofed, and comes with its own stroller (not to mention a location that’s nearly hill-free by San Francisco standards, so you won’t bust a lung using the stroller).
The 25th Street Residence
Sleeps 4; $349 per night
Perfect For: Anyone traveling with slightly older kids
Another neighborhood packed with young families, Noe Valley is walking distance to both the Castro and Mission, which can provide all-day outings without ever getting in the car. With a little advanced notice, the residence owners will even line up their teenagers for babysitting duty.
Where To Eat
525 Laguna Street; 415.252.9289; Lower Haight
Perfect For: Simple meat-and-potatoes meals that kids will eat
A mini-German beer hall with beer garden style tables, shareable schnitzel-y plates, and German suds in gigantic boots, Suppenküche is a great family joint, so long as you avoid it on Friday or Saturday late-night. That’s when it’s just filled with people drinking so much they’ll eventually do a gigantic boot.
Waterbar399, The Embarcadero; 415.284.9922
Perfect For: Date night with the Missus
If you’re going to have one date night while on vacation in San Francisco you may as well do it on the water, with spectacular views of the Bay Bridge outside and floor-to-ceiling fish tanks inside. You don’t have to score the night to Journey’s “When The Lights Go Down In The City,” but you better have a good reason if you don’t.
49 Stevenson St; 415.541.4949 or 101 Spear St; 415.781.1111; South Of Market
Perfect For: Signature versions of San Francisco’s signature dish
San Francisco is to dim sum what Milwaukee is kielbasa — the dish’s adopted American home. There are no shortage of great options, but only Yank Sing is Michelin-rated, with a James Beard Award for good measure. Don’t your kids deserve the best?
What To Do
Seward Street Slides
70 Corwin St, Twin Peaks
Located just off Market Street in the Castro District, the two long, steep, concrete slides built into the hill at the Seward Mini Park are a secret even to most locals. BYO cardboard and slide for free until your cardboard and/or jeans wear out. Fun fact: the slides were designed by a 14-year-old, which is probably why they’re even fun for you.
83 Marina Green Dr, The Marina
A gigantic concrete instrument built into the end of a jetty in San Francisco Bay, the Wave Organ produces actual organ-like sounds via waves interacting with a series of PVC pipes that pass through the structure. If your kid is old enough, it will inspire a fascination with the ocean; if your kid isn’t old enough, it’s the best place in San Francisco to make up completely false explanations for natural phenomenon (“I think it’s a whale with bad gas …”).
The San Francisco Zoo And The Beachside Coffee Bar And Kitchen
Sloat Blvd at the Great Highway; 415.753.7080 and 4300 Judah St; 415.682.4961; Sunset
Most guidebooks will tell you the San Francisco Zoo is a great place to take kids, because it is. But only a local will point out that one of the city’s great family restaurants is just up the street. After a morning of watching monkeys play with their food, you can take your monkeys to play with their food.
San Francisco is arguably the most digital-babysitter-finder-friendly sitter in the country, with huge databases on the national sites like Care.com and SitterCity.com, plus local resources like OnCallNanny.com and tons of solid recommendations at the Golden Gate Mothers Group.
San Francisco City Pass$94 (adults); $69 (under 17)
If you plan on hitting the major tourist attractions like Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Exploratorium, the Aquarium, and Twitter’s corporate headquarters, get a City Pass. It provides 7 days of passes to Muni buses, street cars, light rail and cable cars, plus Blue and Gold Fleet Bay ferries and even tickets to some of the attractions — all for a fraction of what you’d spend driving a rental car around — and don’t even ask about parking, which is both expensive and so hard to find that the real cost is to your sanity.