I’m not a big fan of exploring a new city from my car, especially not big cities, like New York and San Francisco. The buildings are tall and I’m so focused on navigating the streets with my iPhone that I don’t get to really see what’s all around me. So, a sightseeing tour is always a must-do for me.
Since we had just one day in San Francisco over the summer, we opted for a hop-on, hop-off sightseeing bus tour with Gray Line that we arranged with Viator, which allows you to easily book hand-picked tours and attractions in must-visit cities around the world (often at a very good discount, too).
We had a 48-hour sightseeing pass, which I always think is a good buy if you plan to be in a new city for several days. We actually planned to spend more time in San Francisco (hence, the 48-hour pass), but a flat tire slowed us down in San Jose. Such is life…
Our passes enabled us to explore all the bus loops, including the San Francisco City Loop and the Sausalito Loop. Since it was the first visit for the kids, we focused on the city loop, hopping off at typical first-time sights, like the Golden Gate Bridge, Alamo Square and Chinatown. As a bonus, the guides were fabulous.
It was partly cloudy the day we arrived in San Francisco and picked up our tickets at Fisherman’s Wharf, but naturally by the time we got to the Golden Gate Bridge, it was cloudy and windy. We sat on the top of the open-air double-decker sightseeing bus and I remember having my hoodie zipped all the way to the top!
We basically crossed over the Golden Gate Bridge, made a quick stop to take it all in and pick up new passengers, then immediately turned around and crossed back over the bridge. We were off to see more sights, like Golden Gate Park, City Hall and Haight-Ashbury, as well as a favorite sight for my 12 y.o., Alamo Square.
Given you can still watch re-runs of Full House on cable, it was a must to stop at Alamo Square (along with 50 or so other visitors snapping the same photos of the houses). I couldn’t believe how many photos my daughter took or how much interest she had in Alamo Square. There’s also a playground and a public bathroom at Alamo Square, so it was a good stop for the other kids, too.
We got back on the bus and were very hungry by this point, so we took in more sights and got off in Chinatown for a sit-down dinner at a Chinese restaurant, of course. The menu was very different from our local Chinese restaurant down the street, but the food was equally delicious.
If you plan to take the kids to San Francisco, here are five quick sightseeing tips from me to you:
1. Take a Sightseeing Bus Tour. It’s an easy way to get around the city and you’ll be able to learn a bit about various attractions around town, too. Plus, it’s a great way to get your bearings before venturing off on your own around the city.
2. Opt for a 48-Hour Sightseeing Pass. Gray Line has a 48-hour sightseeing pass. Since San Francisco is so big, I highly recommend going for the 48-hour option in order to see more of what you want to see.
3. Plan Your Sightseeing Around Meals. We hopped on our sightseeing bus after lunch, so when we arrived at the stop in Chinatown, about mid-way through the tour, it was time for an early dinner. That worked out perfectly since there was a lot to see in and around Chinatown, as well as plenty of restaurants.
4. Get Off the Bus at Least Once or Twice. It can be tough for kids to sit for a lengthy bus ride, so check out the routes ahead of time and plan out where you want to stop. Alamo Square and Fisherman’s Wharf are great stops to get off the bus and walk around as a family.
5. Look for Discounts. When traveling as a family of six, it can get costly when looking at sightseeing bus tickets for all of us, which is why I like to buy tickets through Viator. They have lots of great tours and activities on their website, all at a great discount for travelers.
If you are heading to the San Francisco area you may also want to check out this list of 20 free things to do with kids in San Francisco!
Disclaimer: My family and I received free Gray Line sightseeing passes from Viator while in San Francisco. However, all opinions expressed in this article are my own.