I am obsessed with America, the food, the shopping and the variety. I’ve travelled to the USA 5 times and I’m a big fan of San Fran. The city is voted amongst “America’s Favorite Cities” by readers of Condé Nast Traveler year in, year out.
Known for its diverse culture, fantastic scenery, unusual climate, outstanding city, great food, open minded and friendly people and many more, there is no match for San Francisco’s infinite charm.
We visited as part of our American road trip whilst on maternity leave, when George was 5 months old. Below are eight things you must do when visiting San Francisco. Due to its proximity to Silicone Valley, prices are rising so keep that in mind when looking at hotel / Airbnb prices.
Table of Contents
BOOKING YOUR TRIP
BEST TIME TO VISIT?
San Francisco is busiest during the months of June and August, so expect top find the waterfront, restaurants and accommodation busier. As always we recommend booking flights early when travelling with children. You might be put off visiting San Fran over winter due to the freezing temperatures but, it is an incredibly popular time for ballet and opera fans.
Visit in January and join millions of tourists in celebrating Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday. A 1.5 mile march with civil rights advocates, singers and performers. Embrace the vibe and learn more about the history and life of the iconic Martin Luther King and his message.
BEST TIME TO BOOK FLIGHTS?
The cheapest flights to San Francisco are normally found between November and March. If you book at least two months before your desired dates, you should find the best prices for your flight tickets. If you are flexible and can pick and choose practically any date of the year, then you’ll definitely find cheap flights to San Francisco at some point.
Depending on the time of year, prices vary from around £320 – £800 in peak season. I always use Skyscanner, for competitive rates for flights, car hire and accommodation. Before comparing them with Booking.com and AirBnB.
HOW LONG IS THE FLIGHT?
Average flight from London to San Francisco: 11.5 hours
US Dollars. Exchange rates vary, so be sure to check prior to your trip.The Bank of England has an extensive list that is updated every day. If you intend on using your credit charge, you may incur charges for payments and cash withdrawals. We often use the Post Office for our exchange or use ATM’s in our destinations.
READ MORE: A Beginners Guide To Flying With A Baby
SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL (SFO)
The easiest way to travel from the airport to the city is from the BART station. It’s located in the International Terminal, and you can take a free AirTrain from all terminals to the BART station. You will need to buy a ticket from the BART station before you travel, or you can book in advance and exchange your voucher for the correct ticket, which is kind of like a debit card which you keep for your time in San Francisco.
Another option is to get a taxi from outside of the airport. Remember that almost everyone in the US expects tips, and taxi drivers are no different. So make sure to give them one to save yourself a potentially annoyed driver. You can also take a shuttle or shared van from the airport, simply tell the driver where you want to go and he’ll add you to his route and tell you the price.
VISA / ESTA
An ESTA is an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation. Anyone wanting to visit America, who is not a resident, will require an ESTA. This includes your baby. The forms are very thorough, allow time to complete and for errors to occur. When you are asked for an address and point of contact, enter the details of your first night’s accommodation. Apply for your ETSA HERE.
We booked and rented a car for two weeks and arranged it all from our home in the UK. All airports have an area allocated to car rentals as it is common place in the States to fly within the country for holidays and work. Prices are affordable and petrol is cheaper than the UK. You can upgrade to switch the care when you arrive and are face to face with an employee.
When dropping off at the airport, an attendent will take the car and check it over before escorting you inside to a reception desk to finalised paperwork. A bus will then transfer you and your luggage to your terminal. Really easy and efficient. For our American roadtrip we used Avis. But shop around before booking to get the best deal.
THINGS TO DO
The National Park Service schedules activities to help you learn about Alcatraz Island, including lectures and special tours. The schedule board at the ferry landing gives the times. The only guided tour is the audio tour, but you can also pick up a self-guided tour book near the boat dock. You can get a look at what you’ll see on the Alcatraz tour by visiting the Alcatraz slideshow.
Many of the Alcatraz Island prison buildings are gone. Some burned during the American Indian Alcatraz occupation in the 1960s. The guard’s residences, deteriorated beyond repair, were torn down in the 1970s. If the hospital area is open during your visit, don’t miss it. It’s a fascinating look at medical care during the prison’s heyday.
£112 | Alcatraz Tour & Sunset Cruise
GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE
Visiting the world famous Golden Gate Bridge is a unique experience for everyone. Whether you hike, walk, bike, shop, take a guided tour, or just sit back and take it all in, there is something for everyone. If your baby or child is under the age of 1, you will not be able to hire a bike with the intention of carrying them in the back for insurance reasons.
The Bridge’s Welcome Centre offers merchandise and historical information and is free to visit and ask any questions! Open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
£32 | Rent a bike
Whale-watching in the San Francisco area, centres on the region around the Gulf of the Farallons, located around 25 miles offshore. Commonly referred to as the Whales cruise through a 20-mile wide ocean “highway.” Very young children may not be allowed for safety reasons, be sure to check with the provider before purchasing tickets.
Unless otherwise noted, all of these tours offer a whale sighting guarantee: they’ll let you go again at no charge. The kind of whales you’re most likely to see depends on the season, May – November = Humpback whales. December – May = Gray whales and killer whales. July – October = Blue whales.
£38 | Golden Gate Whale Watching Tour
GOLDEN GATE PARK
For such a compact and populated city, San Francisco sports a number of green spaces, including the famous Golden Gate Park. Most visitors are surprised by the sheer size of Golden Gate Park, which is 20% larger than New York City’s Central Park, consisting of over 1,017 acres of land.
Golden Gate Park is the city’s lungs and is more than just a giant patch of grass destined for picnics and frisbees. Where else can you see great art, ride a carousel, row a boat, observe American bison, stand in a Chinese pavilion, smell exotic flowers, and sip Japanese tea all in one day?
Free | Golden Gate Park | CLICK FOR MORE INFORMATION
CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCE
The California Academy of Sciences is a multidisciplinary science museum. With your ticket you get an aquarium, indoor rain forest, planetarium and world-class research facility! Excellent value for money and will keep the kids busy all day. Housing nearly 40,000 live animals and millions of preserved specimens, it is impossible for even the most energetic and curious child to get through everything and be bored!
£30 | Skip the Line California Academy of Science
MUSEUM OF MODERN ART
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is a nonprofit organisation. MOMA has seven floors of exhibits, which include photography, sculpture, paintings, neon installations, and short videos.
Many of the exhibits, including a series of Warhol pieces and other pop art, as well as German art from 1960 onward, are permanently on display as are painted panels by Mehretu and a sculpture by Richard Serra.
£12 | Museum of Modern Art
From amazing views and a sea of sea lions to chowder bread bowls and California wines, your visit to San Francisco starts at PIER 39. Kick off your visit by exploring two levels of dining, entertainment, shopping and attractions, all surrounded by unbeatable views of the city and the bay. Take it from the world famous sea lions: a visit to San Francisco starts at The PIER.
Blue & Gold Fleet is the premier provider of ferry and water excursion services on the San Francisco Bay for over 40 years. In addition to ferries that can take you to Sausalito, Tiburon and Angel Island, you can traverse the Bay to see the San Francisco waterfront on their famous Bay Cruise Adventure or learn more about Alcatraz Island on the Escape from the Rock tour.
K-Dock at PIER 39 is home to the world-famous sea lions. Since their arrival in 1990, they have been stealing the hearts of visitors around the world. These boisterous sea creatures haul out on K-dock year-round and are recognizable to anyone when they think of PIER 39. Sea lions are known for their intelligence, playfulness and noisy barking. You can view the sea lions anytime on our sea lion webcam here.
The Exploratorium is more than a museum; it’s an ongoing exploration of science, art, and human perception. Visitors of all ages can step inside a tornado, turn upside down in a giant curved mirror, walk on a fog bridge, and explore more than 650 hands-on exhibits. See for yourself why the Exploratorium is rated the #1 Museum in San Francisco!
Make sure you experience the tactile dome, a pitch-black maze that you have to navigate by touch (it’s worth the $20 premium on top of the $15 admission fee); blow the world’s biggest soap bubble, as big around as a beach ball; and dissect a cow’s eye.
£24 | Exploratorium: Skip The Line
HOP ON AND HOP OFF TOUR
Explore San Francisco’s most iconic attractions the fun and easy way on a hop-on hop-off bus tour. Ride aboard a comfortable, double-decker coach while listening to live commentary on passing highlights and city history.
Hop on or off at any of 24 different stops, including Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, Haight-Ashbury and North Beach. Alternatively, cruise across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito for fantastic views of the skyline and Alcatraz. Choose from several 1- or 2-day pass options to customize your time in the ‘City by the Bay.’
Embark at 24 San Francisco stops including Chinatown, Haight Ashbury, Lombard Street and Fisherman’s Wharf. Select a 1-day pass to Sausalito, or a 1- or 2-day City Loop pass Upgrade to the ‘2-day All Loops’ pass. This upgrade includes a trolley tour across the Golden Gate Bridge and a city night tour.
£36 | Hop On and Off Tour
PREMIUM OUTLET MALL
San Francisco Premium Outlets is located just 40 miles from downtown San Francisco in California’s oldest wine region; the Livermore Valley. Shop at over 180 iconic brands and designer names while enjoying Northern California’s beautiful weather in the state’s largest outdoor outlet shopping centre.Arrive early to snag the best bargains!