little kids, big city: a guide to hanging out with little ones in san francisco

My adorable four year old nephew, Joseph, came to visit this weekend. About two months ago, he packed his toys in his wagon and started walking out the front door at his parents house in Sacramento. On his way out, Joseph told his mom he was "going on vacation to visit Aunt Meg in San Francisco," so we decided to plan a weekend for him to come! I have been so excited since then, counting down the days for my fun slumber party with Joseph.

Over the past couple months, I've been thinking about what fun, kid-friendly things we could do around the city. I wanted to make sure he would have the best weekend ever! Here are the items from our itinerary that Joseph liked best, along with pictures, that would be fun ideas to do with nieces, nephews, your kids, friends' kids, cousins, siblings, etc.:

Day 1

The Golden "Great" Bridge I got Joseph a "Good Night San Francisco" book from the Good Night Moon series a couple years back. Ever since then, he always talks abouts the major landmarks in the city that the book references, like Lombard Street, Coit Tower, the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, etc.; except Joseph has always called the Golden Gate Bridge the "Golden GREAT Bridge" since then and it was too cute for anyone to correct him, so my family calls it that now too! On our way into the city, we made sure to bring him over the Golden Great Bridge. He absolutely loved to hear that people come from all over the world to drive over it and take photos of it. When he heard that he smiled and said, "I'm soo lucky!" He loved that he could see the Bay Bridge from it too. Just as most little boys love trains, they love bridges too! He says next time he comes to visit, he wants to walk on it.

Joe DiMaggio Playground

Joe DiMaggio Playground in North Beach was renovated and finished about a month ago. It's one of my favorite parks in the city now, always crowded with little kids and their parents on the playground area, basketball and tennis players on the sport courts, and people hanging around and socializing or playing on the bocce ball courts. Joseph absolutely loved the play area. All the playground equipment is brand new, with vibrant colors. This park also has the view going for it. There are views of telegraph hill and Coit Tower on one side and russian hill on the other. Here are a few photos from the day:

Ghirardelli Square

Joseph loved Ghiradelli Square. Not only could he watch the cable cars while running around on the big grassy area, but we were also able to go down to the beach and see cool views of the bay. He loved that you could see a pirate ship (a boat called Balcutha) and the "Golden Great Bridge" (as he calls it.) We also got him some yummy chocolate ice cream, and the sugar rush was real... be warned!


Most of us who live in San Francisco hate the MUNI (the public buses), but for kids who live in the #burbs, riding a bus is "so cool!" It's also convenient since kids can't take ubers or taxis without their car seat, but are able to safely ride the bus. Kids under 5 ride for free on MUNI too, and adults cost $2.25. Joseph had a blast riding the 45 from Cow Hollow to North Beach up and down Union Street over Russian Hill, one of the many hills that give this city its charming character.

Gioia Pizzeria

For dinner, we took Joseph to Gioia Pizzeria in Russian Hill on Polk Street. Dinner at 5:30 PM is a much different scene there than I'm used to; we found lots of other families with kids there too, so it was a perfect spot. I wasn't sure how kid-friendly many of the restaurants in San Francisco were, but Gioia was great. They gave him a kiddo placemat with markers to color on it. Despite getting markers all over his face, he had a blast and in my biased auntie mind, is the next Picasso. They also served his milk in a plastic sippy cup, which was very convenient as he can be a mess! He loved the pepperoni pizza here, but the slices are huge so only needed one slice.

Get ready for bed

Joseph thought it was so cool to get to actually have a sleepover in San Francisco. He was so excited for his bubble bath and the slumber party at Aunt Meg's that he was too energetic to go right to bed, so he got to stay up a littleee late as a special vacation treat. He was such a good boy and all smiles!

Day 2

Cable Car Rides

There is usually a huge wait, so we did this first thing in the morning, and hopped on at Green and Hyde. Joseph, like most little boys, is obsessed with trains. I mean ob-sessed. I knew he would absolutely love the cable cars. He rode them last year when he was three and came to the city for the day, but at that age, he was a little bit scared. This year, he was the perfect age to completely enjoy it! Kids under 5 ride free, and adults are $7. Here are the schedules and routes. You can also check out the cable car museum on Mason Street, which seems like it would be a hit for little kids too, especially little boys. I'm hoping to bring Joseph there on his next "vacation" to San Francisco.

MyMy Since most kids wake up really early, it's a great opportunity to go to an awesome pancake spot that usually has an hour plus wait, like MyMy or Mama's, since you're going to be up anyways. We went to MyMy on California and Larkin today. They have the BEST savory pancakes, which I definitely recommend trying (get the Chive Potato Pancake with Crispy Crumbled Bacon & Gorgonzola), but for kids they also have fruit pancakes, french toast, and classic egg dishes. Joseph absolutely loved his blueberry and banana pancakes. The only downside of this place for kids is that they don't have kid-sized dishes, so he barely made a dent. You could definitely split a dish here.

Blue Barn on Polk Street We've been to Blue Barn a few times with Joseph and his sisters already during different visits. It's great for kids because they have kids size dishes like grilled cheese and PB&J sandwiches. At the Polk Street location, there's plenty of seating and it's pretty loud so you don't have to worry about kids being quiet in a restaurant.

Lafayette Park One of the nicest parks in the city, hands down, is Lafayette Park. It's located in the upscale neighborhood of Pacific Heights, overlooking amazing mansions with a view of the bay. It has lots of green grassy areas for kids or dogs to run around in and has a massive playground area that resembles a castle. There were tons of kids playing, and Joseph made friends pretty easily to play hide and seek with, which gave me a little break from chasing him!

Steward Street Slides The secret slides of San Francisco, called the Steward Street Slides, are located in the Castro neighborhood. They consist of two slides that are about 4 stories high. The slides are made of cement, so you ride down them sitting on a piece of cardboard to get more speed. There are a ton of cardboard pieces at the foot of the slide, so no need to bring your own. It goes super fast and is fun for both kids and adults, as you'll see below! 😇

Simply Walk Around All these activities were so fun, but one of Joseph's favorite thing we did was just walk from place to place. Although he enjoyed riding MUNI a couple times, he really liked that we could walk almost everywhere! Since it's a lot of walking, he often used Joe's shoulders as a seat, but when he walked around he loved to talk about how steep the hills were and how far he walked. I kept asking if his little legs were too tired, but he always said his "little legs" were strong!

He told Joe and me that he had the "BEST. WEEKEND. EVER." Success!! All this fun wore the little guy out. We had a quiet and relaxing car ride back to drop him off.

#kids #tourist #sanfrancisco #northerncalifornia #northamerica


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