San Francisco is one of the places I have always wanted to visit, and when we took our family vacation to San Francisco this summer, it didn’t disappoint. It was as beautiful as I imagined it, and there was so much to do in San Francisco with kids that we were able to pack in a lot of fun. Now that we’ve been, I speak for the family when I say we can’t wait to visit again.
This post is sponsored by Mazda.
Family Vacation To San Francisco
After we decided to head west for a family vacation to San Francisco, we knew we had to get a car. With a baby in tow, there was no way we could rely on public transportation or Uber. We wanted the freedom to explore and room for all of our stuff – our family of five doesn’t travel light.
We settled on a Mazda CX-9, which ended up being perfect for our family’s needs. On paper it looked like a great car with all the space we needed, but I admit to being a little nervous as I had never driven a Mazda. But I need not to have worried, the car had everything we needed and more.
In the Mazda CX-9 loaner we were able to explore San Francisco as a family, and with the freedom to roam we packed a mini road trip into our family vacation to San Francisco.
10 Things To Do With Kids In San Francisco
If you ask Sissy (age 5) about her favorite part of our family vacation to San Francisco was, she will tell you Muir Woods. We were all amazed by the majestic trees. Only a 30-minute drive from the city, it seems like a world away.
Tip – Kids can earn a Junior Ranger Badge (free) by filling out a booklet while they explore. Just ask for it at the ranger station.
Seeing The Golden Gate Bridge
Harbor Cruise To Alcatraz
Although I have always wanted to visit Alcatraz, we decided a visit to the prison would be too much for our younger two. So we compromised. We took a harbor tour that went right by Alcatraz, so we were able to see Alcatraz (and listen to some history over the speakers). It was a bit chilly on the boat, as you can see, but it was a beautiful day and we even went right under the Golden Gate bridge.
Tip, bring a jacket.
San Francisco Cable Cars
Although we had the ability to drive around town, it wouldn’t be a trip to San Francisco without a cable car ride. So we headed down to Union Square to catch a cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf. Riding on the cable car was totally worth the hour wait – even the kids agreed. Bucket list, check!
Tip, leave one person in line and while the other person wanders around some of the nearby stores with the kids to kill time.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
While in San Francisco, we couldn’t resist making the short drive down to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Not only do our kids love aquariums, but we knew they would get a kick out of visiting the aquarium from Finding Dory. The aquarium didn’t disappoint. We ended up spending a full day at the aquarium and it was one of the many highlights of our trip.
Tip – check out my best family tips for the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
17 Mile Drive
Everyone we told about our plans to visit Monterey insisted that we take the 17-mile drive, and the were absolutely right. The coastal view along the 17-mile drive is spectacular. We hoped in and out of the car more times than I can count to take in the sights. Our favorite spot was seal rock, but the seals weren’t the only wildlife at that stop we also hand fed squirrels.
Tip – If you have time, continue 10 miles south of Carmel by the Sea to Big Sur to see the Bixby Creek Bridge. It is incredible.
The kids weren’t as excited as mom was to see the Full House house, nonetheless, they thought the Painted Ladies were pretty cool to look at. And it gave my Florida girls a chance to walk up a San Francisco hill. A quick stop, but defiantly worth a photo.
Tip – There is also a playground in the park across the street from the Painted Ladies. It’s a great place to stop to have a picnic and let the kids run around for a bit.
Although most of our trip was about exploring a new city, we did take one afternoon for the kids to burn off some energy at the Exploratorium. With more than 650 hands-on exhibits, our kids ran from one thing to the next exploring everything in their path. Their favorite – the magnetic sand.
Learn more about the Exploratorium here.
Drive Lombard Street
There’s no point in having a car in San Francisco if you don’t drive down the crookedest street in the world, but we nearly missed it. Every day we said we would see it the next day. Finally, I put it in the Mazda CX9 GPS and said, “Let’s go now.”
Tip – It’s crazy busy, so if you want to take good pictures, you will have to park a few blocks away and walk to it. We just drove, but it was totally worth it.
From the moment someone told Sissy about seeing California Sea Lions at Pier 39, it was all she could talk about. Finally, we made it to the pier. Unfortunately, July is out of season for sea lions so there were only about a dozen to see. Luckily, Sissy didn’t know any different and was still amazed.
Tip – The carousel was a kid highlight. The cost is $5 for one rider or $10 for three riders.
Traveling With Kids
Traveling for the first time as a family of five made it necessary to have a big car and a lot of space. The Mazda CX-9 proved to be a perfect fit for our family. The second row is wide enough to accommodate an infant car seat and two booster seats, which allowed all three kids to sit in the middle row. Having the kids in one row meant we could fold down the third row for added trunk space. Since we don’t seem to ever be able to travel light, this was perfect. Everyone was comfortable and happy.
Of course the car’s tech was also important to us, and while it came with all of the bells and whistles we would expect (bluetooth, navigation, satellite radio, etc) what was really cool about the Mazda CX-9 was the head-up display navigation. Since we don’t know our way around San Francisco at all, we had to rely on GPS. Wit the heads up display, we could see each turn displayed on the windshield without having to look down as well as the speedometer ad gas gauge. It was really cool, and a defiantly plus for road tripping families.
While Mazda wasn’t on my radar prior to our trip, I will absolutely look into the CX-9 or another Mazda when it comes time for a new family vehicle. Without a doubt it fit all of our needs for this vacation.
Our first vacation as a family of five was a success. We made tons of great memories with the kids, checked off items on our bucket lists and explored a beautiful city. As for those who might ask about traveling with a five month old, she was the perfect traveler — easier than the big kids in many respects.
The big question on the way home from San Francisco was, “Where do we go next?”