Cable cars - Cable cars were invented in San Francisco in 1873, and taking the kids for a ride on the cable cars is a "must do." It's an exhilarating sensation as the cable car grinds up the steep hills, reaches the top, then slowly descends. If you really listen, you can hear the cables "humming" under the streets of San Francisco.
There are three cable car lines: Powell-Hyde, Powell-Mason and California St. Both Powell lines start at Powell and Market (near Union Square), and end up at Fisherman's Wharf. (The turntable for Powell-Hyde is on Hyde St.and Beach St., Powell-Mason is at Bay St.and Taylor St.) The California St. line runs east-west.
There are often long waiting lines at the cable car turntable on Powell St. To avoid the crowds, you can go north up Powell St. and hop on in front of the St. Francis Hotel. Or, take one of the historic streetcars to Fisherman's Wharf, and return on the cable car. The California St. cable cars are less crowded, but also afford a stunning view of San Francisco from Nob Hill.
Cable Car Barn and Museum
- If you're riding the cable cars to Fisherman's Wharf, be sure to stop off en route at the Cable Car Museum, where kids can see the winding machinery for the "endless" cables in action! Watch the huge wheels turn the cables that the move under the street (the cars grip the cable to go, let go to stop). This free museum also has cable car models, vintage cable cars, old photos and a gift shop( good selection of cable car souvenirs).
Union Square - Union Square started out as a sand dune, was dedicated a public park in 1850, and was named "Union Square" on the eve of the Civil War. The square, with grassy spots and cafes, is the perfect place to sit and relax.
– In December, look for a large Christmas tree and ice skating rink, kids skates are available for rent.
Westin St. Francis
– Every year in the hotel lobby, Westin St. Francis has a sugar Christmas tree, with elves, presents and toy trains.
Nob Hill - In the 19th century, railroads and mining were big money makers. Wealthy nabobs built fancy-schmancy mansions on Nob Hill. The mansions were incredible to behold, but most of them burned in the 1906 earthquake. Only the big chunky brown Flood mansion still stands today - you can't miss it.
- You can ride the California St. cable car or hike up to Nob Hill - it's good exercise. At the top, there's stately Huntington Park, with a charming fountain, playground
with swings, play structure and sandbox.
Fairmont Hotel San Francisco
- In December, the Fairmont Hotel has a lovely Christmas display in the lobby, with large decorated Christmas tree and gingerbread house, snowmen and fluffy white bears, toy trains running round and round.
- Step into Grace Cathedral, a Gothic-style church. The bronze doors to the cathedral are replicas of the "Gate of Paradise" doors at the Baptistery in Florence. Near the entrance is an outdoor labyrinth (there's also one inside the church). Like the labyrinth at Chartres, people traverse the labyrinth as a spiritual walk. The church nave has lovely stained glass windows, murals depicting scenes from San Francisco's history and an altar made from Sierra Nevada granite and California redwood. Ask at the cathedral about the schedule of music events.
Asian Art Museum - San Francisco has always had a vibrant Asian community, and this museum is a super introduction to the arts and cultures of Asia. Check out Japanese suits of armor, swords and masks, guardian lions squishing their enemies, Chinese ceramic horses and camels, Bronze Age daggers and bells, Javanese puppets and krises, sculptures from Hindu temples in India (especially Shiva the destroyer, waving his many arms and surrounded by a lots of demons). And don't miss one of our favorites, a 3,000 year old bronze rhinoceros!
Historic Streetcars - The historic streetcars, the F line, are another way to see San Francisco. Market Street was once bustling with streetcars, and today kids get a little history as you ride down Market, to the Ferry Building, along the Embarcadero to Fisherman's Wharf. The F line operates vintage streetcars that used to run in San Francisco, as well has other U.S. and foreign cities. On Market St., look for old fashioned streetcars in orange, green, blue and yellow, maroon and black, and hop on!