Two Days in San Francisco, California: Family Friendly Itinerary

San Francisco, California: Two Day Itinerary

San Francisco, California is a majestic waterfront city nestled among steep, rolling hills perched on a rocky bay.  The magnificent Golden Gate Bridge spans the bay with many other landmarks dotting the city.  From Alcatraz, the famous island prison, to vintage cable cars still ferrying passengers up and down the steep hills, colorful Chinatown, and the vibrant waterfront along the Embarcadero, there is so much to see and do.

We visited San Francisco back in 2012 with three young kids and more recently in 2022 with just 16-year-old Ava and my mom.  There is a lot to do for all ages and we’ll share things to do with young kids vs. teens in our itinerary below.

When we visited

October 2022, our fall break from school.  We found this to be a great time to visit San Francisco, due to lovely temps and low crowds.  The weather was awesome with clear, blue skies and comfortable temps in the 60s.  We never did see Karl, the name of the ubiquitous fog that frequently rolls into the Bay Area, shrouding the Golden Gate Bridge!

Where we stayed

At the beginning of the trip we stayed at the Ritz Carlton San Francisco.  At the end of the trip we had one night before a very early morning flight so we stayed near the airport at the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront.  Both were great places to stay.

Before our trip, I had heard a lot of negative reviews on San Francisco as of late.  I’m happy to report that was not our experience at all.  We found the city clean, vibrant, and wonderful to explore.  Our experience now was the same as when we visited in 2012:  San Francisco is a fantastic city to visit! 

Below, we share how to plan out two great days in San Francisco.  This itinerary is great with older kids and/or teens, however younger children will enjoy a lot of the activities as well.  We will include some alternative things for the younger crowd as we make our way through the itinerary. 

DAY 1

  • Chinatown
  • Fisherman’s Wharf & Pier 39/Musée Mécanique
  • Great views of the Golden Gate Bridge
  • Sausalito
  • Lunch:  Scoma’s of Sausalito
  • Alamo Park
  • Dinner:  Seven Hills

Begin your first full day in San Francisco by walking through colorful Chinatown, the largest Chinese settlement outside of Asia, taking in the brightly colored buildings, markets, and people scurrying about their day.  It’s like being transplanted to China for a few blocks! 

Vibrant Chinatown

When we were here in 2012, we also stopped by the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory.  While fortune cookies are actually not traditionally Chinese, they have become a staple in American Chinese restaurants.  The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory has been making fortune cookies by hand since the early 1960s.  Currently, they offer tours, unique flavors to sample, as well as custom cookies.  At the time we visited in 2012, we just popped in to watch them making the cookies and stuffing fortunes into them.  One could snap photos if you put money in the tip jar.  We did this which got us “free” samples as well as a few pics.  It was a quick stop but the kids loved it!

The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory

From here, continue walking down to Fisherman’s Wharf.  As you make your way to the Embarcadero, you’ll see numbered piers jutting out into the bay.  Make your way to Pier 39

Pier 39

Here you’ll find typical touristy places such as souvenir shops and ice cream parlors as well as seeing the famous resident sea lions basking in the sun…and fighting one another!  They are very territorial as they fight one another for space on the floating docks.  Kids especially find this entertaining!  Seeing wildlife in their natural habitat is always exciting.

While here, a quick visit to Musée Mécanique, located at Pier 45, is a neat place to check out.  Imagine old arcade games from the last century, including antique pinball machines, contemporary video games and everything in between.  The best part about this museum is that it’s free.  But the nostalgia factor is priceless!

Next, it’s time to seek out some great viewpoints of the Golden Gate Bridge.  There are many places on either side of the bay to view the bridge.  Below, we share where we have actually taken in the views and will share photos from each area:

  1. Baker Beach
  2. Fort Point
  3. Crissy Field
  4. Fort Baker

Let’s start with Baker BeachI don’t recommend this one with small kids!  While the beach is enticing, it is notoriously too rough to swim in.  Also, there are sections of the beach that are clothing optional.  I had read about this ahead of time but completely forgotten about it when we first got there.  Imagine my surprise, taking my mom and my 16-year-old daughter here!?  Both of them found it absolutely hilarious and a bit eye-rolling, but thankfully they took it in stride.  They stayed close to the north end, near the entrance, while I walked the expanse of sand to get closer views of the bridge.   While I did get some great views of the bridge, I would say skip this viewpoint with younger kids!

Baker Beach | Golden Gate Bridge View

Fort Point is a great place to view the Golden Gate Bridge up close.  We enjoyed taking in the views here as they offered lovely up close views with a nice walking path along the way.

Fort Point | Golden Gate Bridge View

Crissy Field is another great spot, just east of The Golden Gate Viewpoint.  When we visited back in 2012 we came here.  The kids found the large expanse of sand fun to run in while viewing the bridge.  This is my favorite viewpoint of the Golden Gate Bridge with small kids.

Crissy Field | Golden Gate Viewpoint

Fort Baker provides great views of the Golden Gate from the other side of the bridge in Marin County.  This is a great place to stop for views on the way to Sausalito or Muir Woods.

Foggy Fort Baker | Golden Gate Viewpoint

Another great way to see the Golden Gate Bridge is from on it – while riding bikes!  A fun activity is to rent bikes and ride across it!  We wanted to do this but with my mom in tow we opted to just ride across it in an Uber on our way to Sausalito.

Sausalito, located right across the bay from San Francisco, is a great place to spend an afternoon.  Here you’ll find great waterfront dining, shopping, and galleries.  To get here, you can self-drive (finding parking might be difficult, however) or take the ferry if the ferry times work for you.  We took an Uber here as we had a lunch reservation following our time at The Golden Gate Viewpoint.  

While here, we enjoyed a great lunch at Scoma’s Sausalito, a cozy seafood restaurant right on the bay.  We watched sailboats float by, kayakers paddling, and the city of San Francisco sparkling in the distance.  Our lunch was delicious, especially if you love seafood.  I enjoyed my chicken dish and Mike and Ava raved about their seafood lunch.  Afterwards, we strolled around town, stopping in some shops and ending our time here with ice cream.  

Heading back to the city, we had one more stop, Alamo Park.  You might recognize this scene:

The famous Painted Ladies

If you’ve seen the TV show Full House then these houses, collectively known as The Painted Ladies, may look familiar as they are featured in the opening credits.  Not only are these houses a beautiful representation of Victorian architecture, but the sprawling city of San Francisco behind it makes for a beautiful view.  

While here, we enjoyed watching a commercial being filmed and of course the entertaining people watching that comes from urban parks.  We grabbed coffee from a food truck and chilled for a bit after a busy day of sightseeing behind us.

After visiting Alamo Park, we headed back to the hotel to relax for a bit before our dinner out.  Dinner this evening was at Seven Hills, a cozy neighborhood Italian restaurant.  In my opinion, it is better suited for older kids/teens.  I don’t recall a children’s menu but even if so, the ambiance seemed better for older ones.  We thoroughly enjoyed our meal here!  The food was delectable, service outstanding, and wines paired were perfect.  After our dinner, we enjoyed a drink in the hotel lobby to cap off our first day in San Francisco.

DAY 2

  • Alcatraz
  • Lunch:  Hillstone
  • Cable Car
  • Exploratorium
  • Golden Gate Park

Today begins with an exciting adventure to a former prison!  You’ve likely heard of Alcatraz, located on a rocky outcrop in San Francisco Bay. 

Alcatraz

Alcatraz has quite the storied past.  The imposing fortress began as an island prison, holding many notable people over the years, such as Machine Gun Kelly and Al Capone.  It finally shut its doors as a prison in 1963.  After that, it was occupied by Native Americans for two years.  The US National Park Service acquired it in 1972.  Today, visitors are ferried back and forth from the mainland to the island to walk through the prison and see this infamous place up close while listening to audio from one-time inmates, guards, and others give their commentaries.

Interior of Alcatraz

The last menu posted in the dining hall

We recommend getting tickets to Alcatraz ahead of time on the website or it could very well be sold out for your dates.  There is only one way to get there, via a ferry, ran by the National Park Service.  Your ticket will include the ferry, entrance to Alcatraz, and audio tour.  Click this link to be taken to the website.

A great place for lunch following a visit to Alcatraz is Hillstone.  We enjoyed our meal outdoors, taking in the sights and people watching from our perch outdoors.

You’ll see the famous cable cars clanging away as they haul up and down the hills of San Francisco.  Cable cars were invented here about 150 years ago and were named a National Historic Site in the 1960s.  

Cable cars still ferry passengers up and down the steep hills of the city

One can ride them still to this day, of course, but if you prefer more modern modes of transportation there is a great spot to get a photo op:  The Powell and Market Streets Turnaround.  When we visited in 2012 we saw a couple cable cars parked here and got a quick photo op approved by the driver!

The kids on a cable car

If with younger kids, now might be a good time to visit the Exploratorium.  This interactive museum is perfect for kids as they are encouraged to touch, play with, maneuver, and experiment to their hearts content.  Definitely a museum unlike any other, it’s a great place to hang out indoors.

If the weather is good for some outdoor time, consider visiting Golden Gate Park.  This park features a lot of events throughout the year, so be sure to check the calendar on the website ahead of time.  Otherwise, one of the park’s most popular places to visit is the Japanese Tea Garden – a serene place to explore Japanese architecture, enjoy a cup of Japanese tea, and of course take many photos of this beautiful place.

DAY 3

  • Muir Woods

A visit to Muir Woods to see the coastal redwoods is another “must do” if visiting San Francisco.  Visitor count continues to rise so there is now a parking reservation required.  My suggestion is to book the first slot of the day for lowest crowd levels, which you can do on this website.  This also works if you are planning to head north out of town.  When we visited, we headed to Sonoma after our time in San Francisco, so visiting Muir Woods early that morning on the way to Sonoma worked best for our schedule. 

Our kids loved the soft walking paths due to the fallen pine needles and the earthy, pine smell of the redwoods as we explored this park.  We opted for just a few short trails and plenty of photo ops before we were on our way.  If you can’t make it further north to the even bigger redwoods, this is perfect!

Giant trees and giant slugs in Muir Woods!

We found San Francisco to be a clean and walkable city with so much to see and do.  Give the city at least two days to explore before venturing further afield.

Read more!

Our visit to San Francisco was part of a larger central California trip.  For the full guide and itinerary be sure to check out The Ultimate One Week Central California Itinerary.

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