A Healthy Family Getaway to San Francisco
- Written By:Christina Valhouli
A successful family vacation, as with life, is all about finding the right balance. The best family trips somehow manage to keep all ages engaged, happy and if you can throw in a little healthy eating and exercise, even better. One destination that delivers all of that is San Francisco.
It’s easy to fall in love with the city by the bay, thanks to its beautiful Victorian homes, atmospheric fog and the clang of the cable cars chugging up the impossibly steep hills. Tap into the city’s history with a stay at the San Francisco Palace Hotel. This city icon debuted in 1875 and is a member of the Historic Hotels of America. Parents will appreciate details like the luxurious guest rooms and craft cocktails at the Pied Piper, home to the Maxfield Parrish painting "The Pied Piper of Hamelin.”
Staying at the Palace is also an opportunity to give kids a little history lesson. Thomas Edison and Charles Lindbergh were celebrated with banquets here, and President Warren G. Harding died at the hotel in 1923. If jet lag strikes, head to the pool in the early hours and watch the sun rise through the glass domed ceiling before tucking into a breakfast in the opulent Garden Court. The kitchen will whip up mouse-ear shaped pancakes for kids while adults can tuck into Dungeness crab benedict.
If this is your first family trip to San Francisco, seeing its icons such as Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge are a must. The boat ride out to Alcatraz Island is half the fun of the trip, but advanced reservations with Alcatraz Cruises is essential. The audio tour of the former penitentiary is superb as it contains interviews with former inmates and guards to bring it alive, but don’t miss Alcatraz’s unexpectedly beautiful gardens. Just around the corner from the penitentiary is the Future ID exhibit, held at Alcatraz’s New Industry Building through October 2019. The exhibit showcases artwork created by and with people with convictions, and explores the concepts of second chances and stories of transformation.
San Francisco offers plenty of options for the whole family to squeeze in some exercise disguised as sight-seeing. Although you could drive over the Golden Gate Bridge, get everyone’s heart rate pumping by renting some wheels from Golden Gate Bridge Bike Rental and cycling across it. Other ideas for breaking a sweat include walking up some of San Francisco’s impossibly crooked and steep streets. Lombard Street is the most famous, but Filbert between Leavenworth and Hyde has a 31.5 percent gradient. In lieu of a Stairmaster, walk up the 163 steps of the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps which depict a sea to stars mosaic.
When you need a break from the hustle and bustle of city life, slip on sneakers and hike out to Lands End in the northwest corner of San Francisco. The coastal trails wind around rocky cliffs among cypress and eucalyptus trees. You’ll be rewarded with perfect views of the Golden Gate Bridge and near the edge of the trail is a rocky labyrinth with views of San Francisco bay.
If you’re planning to do plenty of museum hopping, it pays to buy a City Pass which includes unlimited rides on a cable cars as well as admission to family-friendly venues like the Exploratorium. Located on Pier 15, the Exploratorium offers fun for all ages with its hands-on tinkering exhibits that explore science, art and perception. You can dance with your shadow, try your hand at stop-motion animation and see what happens when you bite down on a straw while listening to music (hint: the music travels more efficiently).
Another winner is the California Academy of the Sciences, a combination natural history museum and planetarium that has gained LEED platinum status for sustainability. Designed by Renzo Piano, the Academy is famous for its living roof, which is covered in about 1.7 million native plants and mirrors the local landscape. The vegetation also helps to heat, cool and insulate the building. You could spend days here taking it all in but a few highlights are the indoor coral reef, the penguin colony and the four story rainforest that’s home to butterflies, spiders and plenty of reptiles.
San Francisco offers endless options for family friendly meals and pick-me-ups. For a coffee break with a twist, try Café X, a coffee shop that is helmed by a robot. Just place your order via your phone or tablet and the white robot will execute it perfectly. The robot will even wave after it has made your coffee. For a quick lunch, Mixt offers farm fresh salads and grain bowls but also has a kids menu. With its sleek décor and dim lighting, E&Omay not look kid friendly but it is; staff hand out packages of Wiki Stix (bendable wax and yarn sticks) to pint sized diners. The menu is Asian fusion so expect fire roasted edamame, chicken satay and butternut squash dumplings.
An easy and delicious option near the Exploratorium is the pier side Coqueta. This Spanish restaurant serves elevated tapas but is laid back enough to bring the kids. The cured meats are ideal for simpler palettes but the menu’s bolder choices include an open face sandwich with Iberico lardo melted over sea urchin, along with classics like wood grilled octopus and poached prawns. You’re on vacation, so order a beautiful cocktail like the barca gin-tonic, crafted with fresh grapefruit juice, garnished with thyme and served on top of a giant, rough cut ice cube – perfect for toasting your healthy family getaway to San Francisco.