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SAN FRANCISCO is defined by its rolling hills and gravity-defying streets, so what better way to start your first full day in the city than with a ride on one of the historic cable cars that trundle up and down them? Hop on one of the CABLE CARS (they actually look more like vintage trams) that run along the Powell/Hyde line from the turnaround on Union Square in Downtown San Francisco up to Fisherman’s Wharf; if there’s a long queue, walk up Powell Street and get on at the next stop – drivers always leave a little room to pick up passengers on the way. Standing on the sideboards gives you the best views, but younger ones will have to hold on tight. The cable car stops for a quick photo opportunity at LOMBARD STREET before trundling on to its final destination. It’s worth hopping off here, however, and actually walking down this famously crooked street; at the bottom, walking on for a block and then turning left onto Jones Street will bring you out onto the bustling piers and waterfront markets of FISHERMAN'S WHARF.

There’s time to explore the Wharf later on, but for now, head round to PIER 33 (it’s a 15-minute walk or you can pick up an F-Market streetcar from the corner of Jones & Beach streets). Boats make the short trip across San Francisco Bay from here to ALCATRAZ the infamous island prison that for thirty years in the mid-twentieth century housed some of America’s most notorious criminals. The brilliant audio tour, narrated by former guards and inmates, chillingly brings The Rock to life, and your kids can try out some of the prison’s compact cells for size, hear tales about Al Capone and the Birdman of Alcatraz and contemplate the (very few) daring escapees who, once they’d managed to break out, still had the icy, choppy, shark-infested waters of the Bay to negotiate. Tours [departures every 30min or so from 8.45am to 3.50pm | $39.90, under-12s $24.40, under-5s free] often sell out, so book your tickets online in advance.

Back on dry land, walk round Fisherman's Wharf to PIER 39, an unashamedly touristy cluster of souvenir shops, clam-chowder restaurants and children’s attractions that range from a flight simulator to a musical staircase designed by the man who made the floor piano in Big. One thing you definitely shouldn’t miss here is the honking colony of SEA LIONS that hang out on the dock at the end of the pier (they’re on the left-hand side – just follow the noise!). 

In the afternoon, catch the BART south to THE MISSION, San Francisco’s oldest district (the city was founded at the Mission Dolores church in 1776) and one of its most interesting. The neighbourhood’s strong Latino flavour is reflected in the variety of colourful murals that line BALMY ALLEY, a small road south of 24th Street, between Treat Avenue and Harrison Street; it’s just over five blocks east of 24th St Mission BART station. After admiring the ever-changing street art here, walk back west along 25th Street to try one of La Taqueria’s super burritos, a huge over-filled tortilla that was invented in San Francisco.

TOP TIP Baseball brings Americans together in a way no other sport can, and watching a SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS game is a real family event – even if you’re not a big fan of the game itself, the jangling organ music, the pretzel sellers hawking their wares, the traditional sing-song during the seventh-inning stretch are all worth the trip alone. The Giants play at Oracle Park, accessed from 2nd & King on the E-Embarcadero streetcar line; the season runs from the end of March to September, with tickets starting at around $13, depending on the opposition.



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