Would we enjoy San Francisco with teenagers in tow? Would the teens enjoy San Francisco with us in tow? Could we find cool things to do in San Francisco with teens? Turns out that visiting San Francisco with teens was every bit as good as we had hoped it would be.
What to do with Teenagers in San Francisco
San Francisco was one of our favourite cities to visit before children, but visiting with teenagers is a whole new ball game. No idling in cute cafés or hanging out in hip bars. We know that visiting cities with the teens can work well, as our visit to Berlin proved. Here’s what we got up to with our San Francisco CityPASS in hand.
Escape from Alcatraz
Riding the cable cars and visiting Alcatraz were top of our San Francisco wish list. Not surprising really, as I think that they are at the top of most visitors’ wish list. Do not just turn up and hope to hop on the next boat to Alcatraz. Book ahead and book early. You can book up to three months in advance. We visited in July, I was on the website as soon as midnight ticked by and still all the tickets for the first boat in the morning were sold. We booked for the second boat, opting for early to avoid the rush.
Is a visit to Alcatraz worth it? YES, this was my third visit and it is still just as amazing as the first time. You get an audio tour which is one of the best of its kind. Former inmates and jailers tell you about life in the prison. On a fine day the views are stupendous: on a rough day you appreciate just how cold and cut off Alcatraz is.
Play on Pier 39
Pier 39 has something for everyone. Our CityPASS booklet told us that if we showed it at the California Welcome Centre they would give us a clutch of discounts at various Pier 39 outlets. The lovely lady behind the desk also handed both teens a $10 card to be used in the Player Sports Grill and Arcade. Sealions had been top of my list to see at Pier 39 but now we had a new prime destination. Mr CW and I sat down and had a drink overlooking the Bay whilst the teens played Mario Kart and air hockey.
Lunchtime now and the Fog Harbor Fish House offered a discount with the voucher pack. I chose clam chowder served in a huge bread bowl and everyone else opted for fish and chips. Our table overlooked the bay, we always enjoy eating seafood looking out to sea.
Sealions first came to Pier 39 in the aftermath of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Their sudden appearance caused much consternation to the fishermen based on the pier. Within a year 300 seals had taken up residence, now thousands call Pier 39 home. To mark the 30th anniversary of the arrival of the seals all manner of celebrations are planned, including a statue competition that aims to enter the Guinness Book of Records as the “World’s Largest Statue Contest”.
Cruise under the Golden Gate
I confess that I was doubtful about the Blue and Gold Bay Cruise, after all we had just been on a boat to Alcatraz. It was included in the CityPASS and so we clambered on board. How wrong I was. We sailed past Alcatraz and up toward the Golden Gate Bridge. The views are stunning. In fact we sailed right up to the bridge, turned round underneath it and headed back. Not only do you get amazing Golden Gate views, you also get a real sense of San Francisco as a great maritime city, vast container ships slide by, sail boats zip past, this is a busy shipping lane.
Aquarium of the Bay
Seen one aquarium and you’ve seen them all. That roughly summed up my opinion of aquariums as we stood outside the Aquarium of the Bay. Both teens pointed out that we could jump the queue with our CityPASS and that they liked an aquarium. Once again, I admit I was wrong. The marine life of the Bay Area is explained and on show in the Aquarium of the Bay. I would visit again purely to see the jellyfish. We also took part in an art activity that resulted in a linoprint of an octopus. When the teens were small I used to pretend that taking part in such things was for their benefit. Now they take part to keep me happy, maybe that was always the way it was.
Ride the Cable Car
The San Francisco CityPASS comes with a 3 Day MUNI pass that enables you to ride on the iconic cable cars as often as you want. Be warned that you will queue for a long time at either end of Powell/Hyde and Powell/Mason lines. We rode the California/Van Ness line and were able to jump on at any stop we liked without queuing.
Ride a vintage Street Car
Cable Cars are not the only iconic vintage transport in San Francisco. There are numerous street car lines around the city but the F line has vintage buses. The F line runs from Castro to the Fisherman’s Wharf. Even better there were no queues for the cute street cars.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Way back in the mists of time the San Francisco Museum of Art was where I saw my first ever Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo paintings. Taking the teens to SFMOMA was on my list of must do’s. Whilst the teens were not as blown away by Diego and Frida as I was, we all enjoyed creating our own art with a Lightbox and a camera. Shamefully I cannot remember what this was called or locate it on the museum plan. Suffice to say all four us were utterly adsorbed for the better part of an hour!
Explore Street Art in the Mission
Whilst we were in San Francisco we arranged to meet Phoebe from Lou Messugo blog who was visiting with her teenage family. Where to meet with someone that you have met only online and your families not at all. We hit on a day of discovering Street Art in the Mission. Strolling around the Mission area proved the perfect way to spend a day with teenagers in San Francisco.
Visit the oldest building in San Francisco
Mission Dolores is the oldest building in San Francisco and the one which gave the city her name, aka Misión San Francisco de Asís was built in 1782 from traditional adobe. Next door is an altogether more ornate basilica constructed in 1913. Why Mission Dolores? After all Mission of Sorrows is not a particularly cheerful name for a church. Well it was named after a nearby lake.
Take in a Show
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was preparing to open when we visited. However Mr CW really, really wanted to see the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, we booked tickets online from the UK and spent an evening at the Symphony. I think that it would be fair to say that this was not the teens favourite evening of our Californian holiday. Not a cool thing to do with teens in San Francisco. Mr CW and I loved it.
San Francisco CityPASS
What do you get with the San Francisco CityPASS? You get a 3 day Cable Car and Muni Bus ticket, I always like a travel pass when visiting a new city as it makes hopping on and off public transport hassle free. You also get entry into the California Academy of Sciences, which I hear is fantastic but we opted to explore the Street Art in the Mission instead. The Aquarium of the Bay and the Blue and Gold fleet bay cruise is also included. On top of that you can choose either the Exploratorium or the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. There is also an option that doesn’t include the transport pass. An adult pass (children over 11 count as adults) costs $94 but, for everything that we did, it would have cost $121.25. We were gifted two passes, ordinarily I would not have chosen to do either the bay cruise or the aquarium but absolutely loved both of them.
Is the San Francisco CityPASS worth it? If you want to do the things included in the ticket yes. If Alcatraz, China Town and cycling across the Golden Gate are on your list top of your list then don’t bother.
DISCLOSURE: CityPASS gave us two San Francisco CityPasses, all views and a new found fondness for cruises round the bay are my own.
On our Californian road trip we visited Yosemite and stayed in a Tent Cabin, not something we have done before and we were a bit bemused as to what we would find. After Yosemite we headed North to Lassen Volcanic National Park every bit as spectacular as Yosemite with fewer people and more volcanoes. Our journey was inspired by the many books I have read about California over the years.