San Francisco with a toddler

July 9, 2019
San Francisco with a toddler leaning against a mural in the Mission District

Are we mad taking our toddler on a long haul holiday?

I had lots of ideas about parenting until I became an actual parent and realised its not always as easy as you think. Which is why I questioned if we were mad to take our toddler son on a long haul flight to San Francisco?

However, we wanted to go before our son turned two (and avoid having to buy him an adult price ticket…) so decided to go for it. I travelled a lot as a child, which is why I don’t find it too daunting. However, I completely appreciate travel is not easy; mentally as well as financially.

I also downloaded every episode of Peppa Pig…

What to do in San Francisco with a toddler 

I used to try and race round cities to cram in as much as possible so I could spend the rest of the time sitting back and people watching with a beer in hand.

Funnily enough, my toddler isn’t really up for watching the world go by. I’ve also learnt that it’s just not possible to rush with a toddler either. There are practicalities involved with what they can do because either their legs get too tired or the terrain isn’t suitable for a buggy.

Which is why this will probably be the first guide to San Francisco ever that doesn’t feature Alcatraz… Next time…

It’s also important that he enjoys the holiday too. We always try to do at least one activity a day, which is just for him. Luckily for us, he loves parks and let’s face it, most of them are free. Win, win, all round.

Even though San Franscico is hilly as anything, it’s such a wonderful city to be in. Everything is quite compact so you feel like you do a lot with minimal effort – which is perfect when travelling with a child.

So here are five things to do in San Francisco with toddler

1.Sea lions at Pier 39

My son is an animal fanatic to the degree that his first word was ‘dog’ (not Mummy…) so he loved looking at the sea lions at Pier 39. I wasn’t hugely enthused by Fisherman’s Wharf itself and found it full of tourist tat. But equally, I’ve also been to far worse places in my life as anyone who’s ever been in Leicester Square on a Saturday night can testify.

San Francisco with a toddler sea lions at Pier 39

Eat the clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl at the Boudin Bakery Cafe.

2. Mission Dolores Park

I don’t know about you – but I can find parks quite tedious and feel that I’m trying to enjoy being there, rather than actually enjoying it. I’m hoping this is a universal parenting experience…?

However, Mission Dolores Park is a game changer… It’s in the Mission district so go and see the murals first. Incredible views. Surrounded by beautiful houses. Great playground design. Plus lots of people relaxing and drinking beers on the grass to people watch (whilst keeping my beady eye on my child obvs).

San Francisco with a toddler Mission Delores Park

For post park refreshments, check out Bi Rite Creamery, which I’m told is the best ice cream in San Franscico. It was delicious.

3. Cable cars

Other than winding streets, is there anything more San Franciscan than the cable cars? We got the cars from Union Square and looked out of the window at Nob Hill and Lombard Street.

We went early in the morning on a week day after reading that the queues were large at other times of the day. There were still queues at Union Square but we made it on without too much of a wait.

San Francisco with a toddler cable cars

Take coins with you as it’s cash only. Luckily for us, it’s pretty cheap as we were not prepared…

4. Golden Gate Park

For a spot of peaceful restoration, head to Golden Gate park. It’s quiet and has over 1000 acres of park land so our son was able to scamper freely without me worrying about cars (he hasn’t yet grasped the green cross code..). There’s a lovely playground and it’s a nice way to spend a couple of hours.

Golden Gate park

Take a picnic with you and enjoy time in nature.

5. Sausalito

I know Sausalito isn’t technically San Francisco but indulge me in this okay… A standard San Francisco activitiy is to hire bikes and cycle across the bridge. Well, that wasn’t doable for us but I still loved Sausalito. It’s quaint, I loved the houseboats and it’s one of those places where it feels nothing bad could ever happen. I appreciate that sounds like the starting sentence of a Steven King novel…

Sausalito with a toddler

Enjoy a drink in one of the cafes on the waterfront.

Getting around

We used the MUNI and local buses, which were easy enough with a buggy and a toddler carrier. Drivers are patient with you. I can only assume they thought we were quaint…

We also walked a lot and it was infinitely doable although I would suggest getting a bus up some of the hills.

Walking ideas:

North Beach and the Beat area: City lights bookstore / Language of the Birds / Jack Kerouac alley / Cafe Trieste / China Town

Mission and Castro: 24th street for Mexican bakeries / Balmy Alley murals / Mission Delores Park / Castro street / Harvey Milk plaza

Picture postcard landmarks: Haight Ashbury for the old hippy area / Painted ladies

San Francisco with a toddler Golden Gate bridge

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