KidTripster Teen: Top 13 must-dos in the “City by the Bay”
San Francisco, San Fran, the “City by the Bay” - no matter what you call it, this city is a popular destination for good reason. There’s something for everyone, including intrepid teens. From the bustling city to the quiet beaches, I’ve spent a lot of time here exploring. I’ve come up with my top 13 picks for activities and places to visit that are sure to be please your hard-to-please teenagers.
KidTripster Tip: Since traffic is usually pretty bad, opt for public transportation. Muni Transit includes buses, historic streetcars, Metro light rail, and the famous cable cars. Download the app for electronic tickets or buy and load a Clipper Card. BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) can connect you to areas outside the city center, including Oakland and San Francisco International Airports. Use a Clipper Card or buy tickets at the ticket vending machines. Make sure to carefully read the electronic signs, because it can be tricky knowing which side of the station is the right one for your trip.
Photo courtesy: Umer Sayyam
1/Take a Segway tour
Your teenager may say that a Segway tour sounds dorky and lame; I admit to having the same thoughts before I tried it. But I’m here to tell you that a tour with Electric Tour Company is a must-do. It’s a little pricy, but if you’re going to do one thing in San Francisco, spoil yourself with this little adventure. Riding a Segway is super easy; the friendly staff walks you through the basics of riding safely. The Electric Tour Company offers seven different tours ranging from 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 hours. I did the Fisherman’s Wharf tour from Ghirardelli Square to North Beach down to Fisherman’s Wharf and then to the Municipal Pier, which has amazing views of the city skyline and bay. The ride includes quick breaks for exploring and taking pictures. I promise that you won’t regret doing this ride; in fact, I learned that it’s impossible not to smile while riding a Segway! All riders must be at least 12 years old and weigh at least 100 pounds. Cost: 1-1/2-hour tour $55; 2-hour tour $75.
KidTripster Tip: Request Devo as your tour guide. He’s very outgoing and knowledgeable about the city. He even takes you to Ghirardelli Square for free chocolate samples!
Photo courtesy: Electric Tour Company
2/Visit The Rock
If your teen likes intriguing crime stories, then plan a visit to Alcatraz. Alcatraz is located on an island in the bay and served as a federal prison from 1933 to 1963, housing some of the country’s most infamous criminals like Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Alvin Karpis. You can take a self-guided audio tour that tells the stories of such inmates, as you walk around the prison and explore the mysteries hidden within the cells. Online tickets for the 2-1/2-hour boat and audio tour should be purchased in advance, because they do sell out quickly. Cost: Youth (5-11) $30.95; Youth (12-17) $44.95; Adult $44.95; all minors must be accompanied by an adult.
Photo courtesy: Marcello Rabozzi
3/Eat your way through the Ferry Building
The Ferry Building is a great place to go for lunch. Located on the Embarcadero and at the end of Market Street, the building has a huge clock tower out front. Inside, you’ll find a multitude of restaurants, perfect for picky eaters. Sample local olive oil or get a scoop of ice cream at Humphry Slocombe on the north side of the building. Outside of the building, you’ll find ferries traveling to other parts of the Bay Area. Click here for restaurant suggestions at the Ferry Building.
KidTripster Tip: To get to the Ferry Building via BART, get off at either the Montgomery or Embarcadero station and walk down Market Street. It’s about a 8-minute walk from the Montgomery station and 5-minute walk from the Embarcadero station.
4/Get struck by cupid's arrow
Situated along the Embarcadero, Cupid’s Span offers a great view of the Bay Bridge from behind its giant yellow bow and red arrow. The sculpture was created by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen in 2002. Inspired by the belief that San Francisco is the home port of Eros, the arrow is meant to depict Eros shooting his arrow into the earth, thus making it fertile. It’s a great spot for pictures of the Bay Bridge.
5/Pose for selfies at Coit Tower
Another perfect spot for your social media selfies is Coit Tower. Located at the top of Telegraph Hill, the tower has a grand, 360-degree view of the city and bay. It was built in 1933 to recognize Lillie Coit, a woman who broke gender traditions as a firefighter supporter in 1858. Visitors can purchase a ticket in the gift shop that allows access to the top of the tower. When you’ve finished snapping photos, make sure to walk down Filbert Steps. The steps run from the bottom of Coit Tower to Sansome Street and allow one to get lost in a jungle-like garden between homes. The steps do get a little steep, so make sure to wear good walking shoes. Tower cost: Youth (5-11) $2; Youth (12-17) $3; Adult $6.
Photo courtesy: Sasha Zvereva
6/Engage your social consciousness through art
Clarion Alley is a secret gem, hidden within the Mission District. The alley is part of the Clarion Alley Mural Project and allows artists to create socially-provocative public art. The murals change regularly, giving visitors something new to view. It’s a great spot to take teenagers and help them learn about current social movements.
KidTripster Tip: Take the BART to the 16th St. Mission station. Clarion Alley is only a few blocks away.
7/Walk the bridge
No trip to San Francisco is complete without going to the Golden Gate Bridge. If you’re interested in crazy cool views, walk the entire span; it’s only 1.7 miles to the end and back. The best place to park to be able to take photos and walk across the bridge is the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center. Stop in and buy your “I walked across the Golden Gate” merchandise.
Photo courtesy: Rita Morais
8/Admire the Golden Gate Bridge from a distance
The Presidio is a former U.S. Army fort within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The historic buildings are painted white and red with brick, perfectly contrasting with the luscious green grass of the park. I recommend visiting the park on a sunny day to fully appreciate the gorgeous views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. I recently discovered that one of the best views is behind the Presidio Visitor Center, hidden from the main street.
9/Learn the story behind The Mouse
The Presidio is home to multiple museums and historic buildings, including The Walt Disney Family Museum. Here you can learn about Walt Disney’s life before and after the success of the movies and theme parks. The museum has original sketches and merchandise from Mickey Mouse’s beginnings. While I do recommend going to this museum, I don’t suggest bringing younger kids. The exhibits require a lot of reading and aren’t hands-on. A younger child would most likely get bored and run straight to the gift shop. But for teens who appreciate history, the museum is truly fascinating.
KidTripster Tip: Don’t use Mapquest to get here; it will direct you downtown. Remember, this museum is located at the Presidio.
Photo courtesy: The Walt Disney Family Museum
10/Hike with ocean views
A breathtaking spot along the west coast of the bay, Lands End is the perfect place for an easy hike that rewards you with great ocean views. The visitor center is very educational and has a small cafe. Go down the steps off of the parking lot and explore the remains of the Sutro Baths, which were once a saltwater swimming pool complex in the mid-1890s. Lands End also has a small beach with public access. Right down the street from the parking lot, you’ll find Cliff House, an oceanside restaurant known for its tasty brunches.
KidTripster Tip: Make sure to bring a windbreaker, as it’s very breezy here. If you have young kids with you, be careful along the small rock walkways of the Sutro Baths; the wind is strong, and the pools tend to be filled with standing water.
Photo courtesy: Esther Cuan
11/Eat seafood at Fisherman's Wharf
A must-visit for any tourist is Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s also the place to sample fresh, San Francisco seafood, like crabs and oysters. Streets are lined with seafood shops. Sometimes, fishmongers will bring out their latest catches to show off to people walking by and allow them to take pictures. If you’re not a fan of seafood, there’s plenty of souvenir shopping here, as well. Fisherman’s Wharf offers views of the bay, the bridges, and Alcatraz. And keep your eyes out for barking seal lions along the water.
Photo courtesy: Shen Xin
12/Take in the carnival atmosphere at Pier 39
Continue down from Fisherman’s Wharf along the Embarcadero, and you’ll reach Pier 39. A famous tourist destination, the pier is a lively place full of shops, restaurants, street performers, and lots of people. At the end of the pier, teens gravitate to the arcade.
Photo courtesy: San Francisco Travel Association
13/Eat free chocolate at Ghirardelli Square
Ghirardelli Square is the ultimate destination for chocolate lovers. Once the actual Ghirardelli chocolate factory, the square is now home to several Ghirardelli stores, cafes, and boutiques. The best part? The free chocolate samples! The Ghirardelli stores are lined with employees handing out free seasonal chocolates to everyone who walks through. The stores offer huge assortments of their traditional chocolate bars, and the cafes create mouth-watering chocolate milkshakes, sundaes, and desserts. Indulge, you’re on vacation!
Maggie Vanoni is a college sophomore from Portland, Oregon. She’s currently attending the University of Oregon, where she’s majoring in journalism with hopes of becoming a professional magazine writer. Maggie loves spending time with her family and exploring, especially along the Oregon Coast.