At first sight, the Financial District, Pacific Heights, and Telegraph Hill do not seem to be the most kid-friendly neighborhoods in San Francisco. But they each have museums, monuments, as well as art and architecture that will have your children asking for more! Explore these neighborhoods on foot by following these short itineraries below.
Who knew the Financial District was home to one of the best child-friendly museums in San Francisco? The Wells Fargo History Museum is actually located at the exact location where the Wells Fargo bank first opened for business in 1852. You can’t miss its beautiful stagecoach in the window. Inside, children will play a free scavenger hunt and learn about the Gold Rush, the banking system, and ways of communicating during that time. Eventually, they will make their way upstairs where they will ride the play-stagecoaches and pretend to go on an adventure, never wanting to leave. Let them have fun upstairs while you take your time downstairs exploring the museum quietly. Note that the museum is closed on weekends.
When you can finally convince your children to leave the Wells Fargo Museum, tell them it is time for some cool stencil art and snacks. They will rush out the door, head up Commercial Street till they reach Grant Street and see one of the only two Banksy art pieces in the city. Children will love to learn that English artist Banksy’s identity is only known by a lucky few, and that no one has ever seen him make his art – it just appears one day. This particular painting on Commercial Street is protected by a plastic panel. (The irony of a graffiti being covered will not be lost on the adults.) It shows a doctor using a stethoscope to sound a heart and is is painted on the wall of Eastern Bakery, supposedly the oldest Chinese bakery in the US, making it the perfect excuse to grab a snack (cash only). Mooncake anybody?
If you are in the mood for a Banksy hunt, the other stencil in the city is in the Mission District and portrays a bird on a tree.
The Pacific Heights neighborhood promises more undiscovered fun including another museum that will soon become of your family’s favorites: the Fire Department Museum. Make sure you call before visiting as it is not always staffed. The museum is small but packed with artifacts and old fire engines. The highlight of my children’s visit: ringing the bell on one engine (and yes, it is allowed and sadly encouraged by the docent), the fire alarm call box (you can still find them in the streets, they work!), spotting the spelling mistake on the cracked bell by the door, and the free plastic helmet that they got as a souvenir.
Got a headache from the bell ringing? Time to relax. Park your car just a couple of blocks away in front of the Swedenborgian Church and enter the cutest rustic church with fireplace, wooden chairs, and paintings for a moment of silence and rejoicing.
As you exit, go up Lyon and Broadway Streets till you reach Billionaire’s Row. The name says it all. That part of Broadway Street boasts grand homes and mansions. Take a walk along the street while you comment and share opinions with your children about what makes a particular home appealing (or not). My favorite: the very modern home of Larry Ellison on 2850 Broadway. Spot the anatomically correct robot sculpture somewhere in the street. (Hint: it is a boy!)
I know already your children’s favorite home. It is located 2 blocks away at 3022 Washington: Old Firehouse number 23 has been converted in a family house. With it is quaint facade, its tower that used to hang the hoses to dry, and when you tell your children that there is indeed a fireman pole inside, get ready to hear that they want to move there. Sorry, parents: you missed your chance when it was purchased for $3 million dollars in 2010.
When starting your journey of Telegraph Hill, park at the corner of Filbert and Sansome streets and walk up the stairs leading to the Coit Tower. While making your way uphill (it is not very long), have your children look for the parrots for the Telegraph Hill. They will most likely see none as it looks like they have flown to quieter grounds in recent years, but the search will keep them busy from whining about the stairs!! When you arrive at the tower, take a look at the murals inside. They describe life in California in 1934 and are another fun way to learn about California history outside of the classroom.
Because the trees have not been trimmed, you will not have a great view of the Bay if you stay at the foot of the tower. To have a 360 degrees view of the Bay, take the elevator to the top of the tower. Tickets are $2 for kids and $7 for adults, with reduced fees for residents. Buy your tickets at the gift shop inside the tower.
Photo credit: For more information & photo license info on the Pacific Heights Fire Dept. Museum, visit www.san-francisco-tourism-tips
Check out Lydie Thomas’s book on San Francisco: Your Guide to Visit San Francisco for Free