San Francisco the perfect destination for Chicago families

They could have danced around the pier for hours. It was a characteristically foggy and chilly summer day in San Francisco, but our kids, Julie and Johnny (4 and 7 at the time) didn’t seem to care. There’s just something magical about a big city on the water.

Whether it’s the fresh ocean air, the seals lounging on the rocks off the pier or the incredible topography, San Francisco is truly one of our favorite cities. We have visited family in the bayside city quite a few times, but we always manage to find a different adventure. We do, however, have a few favorites: clam chowder in a bread bowl, Ghirardelli chocolate (with caramel) and a ride on a trolley car.


There are plenty of great, family-friendly lodging options. Staying near Fisherman’s Wharf is ideal because almost everything will be walkable or close to transportation. It’s all about location in San Francisco. Here are a couple options:

  • Argonaut Hotel

To truly experience San Francisco, stay at the Argonaut, a charming boutique hotel on the San Francisco Bay. Everything is nautical at this hotel, which is housed in a historic warehouse. Located in the lobby is the Maritime National Park Visitor’s Center and Interactive Museum, as well as the Blue Mermaid Chowder House and Bar.

  • Courtyard Marriott Fisherman’s Wharf

This Courtyard Marriott is located in the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf and just a couple blocks from the nearest cable car stop. One-bedroom suites are available at the hotel.


  • Boudin at the Wharf

Yes, it’s touristy. But, in our years of traveling to San Francisco, we have yet to find a better bread bowl or chowder. It’s just that good. Get to Boudin at the right time and you might be privy to a bread-making demonstration.

  • Ghirardelli Square

You can’t visit San Francisco and skip Ghirardelli Square. Of course there’s the lure of chocolate, but there’s much more to Ghirardelli Square, which dates back to the late 1800s. Once home to the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory, Ghirardelli Square has morphed into a complex of shops, restaurants, and of course, the Ghirardelli Chocolate Manufactory and Soda Fountain. Walk into the store and kids and adults will be delighted by the free samples and the countless flavors and variations of chocolate. The assorted chocolates in the trolley container make for a great souvenir.

  • Off the Grid

Where else can you find tacos, sushi, chicken wings, Chinese dumplings, burgers and gyros in one place? Off the Grid in San Francisco’s Marina District is pure food heaven. A giant festival of food trucks, Off the Grid is a place to gather, hang out and eat and drink as much as possible. Meander from food truck to food truck and taste anything and everything you want. The servings are relatively small so you can experience a wide variety.

The San Fran Experience

  • Take the trolley

What says San Francisco more than the cable cars rolling up and down the hills of the city? Your kids will never forget their ride on the San Francisco trolley, which just happens to be a convenient form of transportation as well.

  • Fisherman’s Wharf

I can’t think of a much better way to experience a city than to eat, shop and play downtown on the waterfront. San Francisco is especially unique. Gazing at Alcatraz, the kids were amazed by stories about the island that once housed prisoners. And they were fascinated by the hundreds of barking seals lying on the rocks.

  • Lombard Street

Driving down crooked Lombard Street is truly an experience. The drive is slow as cars try to maneuver around the sharp curves. Looking out the back car window, Julie and Johnny were transfixed by the steep zig-zag of the street.

  • Golden Gate Park

Considered San Francisco’s backyard, the 1,000-plus-acre Golden Gate Park features playgrounds, trails, lakes, gardens, museums and entertainment venues. Hike, bike, play ball or just explore the massive park in the middle of the city.

  • Coit Tower

Standing 210 feet high on Telegraph Hill, the tower is one of those must-do tourist attractions—kind of like going to the top of the John Hancock in Chicago. It’s just something you have to do. From the Coit Tower, the Golden Gate and Bay bridges are visible. We took the scenic route by climbing the Filbert Street stairs and passing through the Grace Marchant Garden where we spotted plenty of unusual flowers, birds and butterflies.


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