Top attractions to see in San Francisco
- Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA). Located on 3rd street in between Mission and Howard, this grassy knoll studded with ultra modern buildings showcases a commanding view of San Francisco's skyline. From the contemporary art center presenting films to performance and visual art, there's something for everyone in the family to enjoy. Prices vary and are dependent on your family's preferred activity (http://www.ybca.org).
- Exploratorium -- What colors are most pleasing to your brain? See how your gray matter reacts to different stimuli at this amazing children's museum of science and human perception. The pitch-black Tactile Dome teaches kids to develop their sense of touch ($17/person). Exhibits, including art events, lectures, films, excursions and more, captivate kids with everything from magnetism to music. Parents will find it hard to have their kids willingly leave. Prices are $9 kids (ages 4-12), $11 for youth (ages 13-17) and $14 for adults (ages 18 and over). First Wednesday of the month is free (www.exploratorium.edu)
- Chinatown -- Known as the largest Chinatown in America, your family can explore this fantastic and unique part of San Francisco one of two ways, either on a bus or by foot. With walking tours, you can visit various attractions, such as the Fortune Cookie Factory, Chinatown Alleys and Portsmouth Square, which is the original part of the San Francisco Chinatown. Stop in for Dim Sum at any of the packed restaurants you see along your way and ask for the kids' chopsticks. You won't want to miss out on this part of San Francisco on your vacation (www.sanfranciscochinatown.com).
- Bicycle or in-line skate in Golden Gate Park. On Sundays, the main road in GGP is closed to cars and "two wheelers" take over. Your family can rent skates and bikes for kids and adults, either for an hour or for the day. Stop in for tea at the Japanese Tea Garden, or take time to smell the roses (or other bloomers) at the Conservatory of Flowers. The new bronze-clad DeYoung Museum is here and so is the Academy of Science. On weekends, you'll see break or swing dancers on the esplanade in front. Also, don't forget to take a walk down Golden Gate Bridge, which is free daily (www.goldengateparkbikeandskate.com/).
- Cable Car. Kids love to ride the cable cars while examining their workings. Avoid the crowd at the Powell Street turnaround and catch a ride halfway up the hill towards Nob Hill. The California line is more of a local route. The Cable Car Museum on Mason Street is definitely worth a stop; admission is free here (www.sfcablecar.com).
- Angel Island. Rent a bike and cruise around Angel Island, where your family can enjoy lovely views from 8 miles of traffic paths. A basic rental is $10/hour or $35/day. It's a cheap, beautiful activity to enjoy on vacation (www.angelisland.com).
- Bay Area Discovery Museum. If you planned on not renting a car for your vacation, you might want to rent one for a day to visit this museum with your kids. This remarkable kids museum brings the arts to life in 3-D and interactive exhibits for kids 2-10. Admission to the museum is $8 for children (ages 1-17) and $10 for adults. Afterwards, stop by Sausalito for a little look at this quaint seaside town (www.baykidsmuseum.org/).
- Barbary Coast Trail Walking Tour. Follow the brass rivets in downtown sidewalks and head straight into the past for a raucous tour of SF life in the Gold Rush Days. Free admission (www.barbarycoasttrail.org).
- San Francisco City Guides. These offer free walking tours of SF, neighborhood by neighborhood. Explore anywhere from the GG Bridge to the Fire Department, the Ferry Building to Fisherman's Wharf (sfcityguides.org).
- Free day at museums. Most of the major museums offer a free day every month. Ask the SFCVB at the Powell Street BART station kiosk at the Powell Street BART station for more information. The Chinese Culture Center, San Francisco Fire Museum, Cable Car Museum and National Maritime Museum are always free.
- The Wells Fargo Museum. The museum is located inside of the Wells Fargo Building in the Financial District, and it presents an interesting historical look at the old stagecoach days.
- In the summer, Yerba Buena Gardens offers a packed schedule of free dance, music, and art performances (www.ybgf.org).
- Free concerts. Look out for free concerts (outdoors in the summertime) by the world-renowned San Francisco Mime Troupe and others, along with music at the Golden Gate Park Bandshell.
- Leave time for the unexpected. San Francisco is full of street musicians and performers, from African drummers to Peruvian pan-pipers to beat boxers. Kids will be captivated.
- There's more to San Francisco than just the city proper. Marin County and the East Bay (Berkeley-Oakland) offer many kid-friendly activities and neighborhoods with less big-city stress and lower prices.