How to Visit San Francisco With a Kid on Foot

How to Visit San Francisco With a Kid on Foot

Someone recently asked me for recommendations of places and ways to see real San Francisco plus with a kid. My first response was to visit the Mission because it has so much culture, great food, and lots of cool murals. I then realized that I had started a blog post a while back to document a walking tour through the city with my nephew.

Murals in The Mission

We completed a 5 mile trek over his spring break a few years ago and it’s still a great way to visit many neighborhoods. My 5 year old son has walked a similar route so it’s not that difficult. The Google maps route says 6.1 miles walking but 1.3 miles is on the cable car if you choose to ride one. You’ll need about 6 hours to complete this journey, stopping at a few places along the way to peruse.

The itinerary and Google maps route:

  • North Beach Garage
  • Food in North Beach
  • Washington Square
  • Coit Tower, Telegraph Hill
  • Jack Early Park
  • Musée Mécanique, Pier 45
  • Exploritorium (optional for you, we didn’t go in)
  • Ferry Building, Embarcadero (optional for you, we didn’t go in)
  • 100 California Street, Financial District
  • Bob’s Donuts, Polk Gulch
  • Bernal Heights Swing
North Beach

Our day actually started by driving over to Alamo Square to take pics in front of the Painted Ladies. If we were early risers, we could have done a little more but whatever. We drove into the city and parked at the SFMTA North Beach Garage in North Beach across from the police station. Since my nephew loves Mexican food, we grabbed ‘to go’ lunch at Taqueria Zorro, which happens to be open till 2am on Fridays and Saturdays BTW, and headed over to sit on the grass lawn at Washington Square Park, right in front of the famous Saints Peter and Paul Church. It has served as the home church and cultural center for San Francisco’s Italian-American community and has been featured in many movies scenes. On your trip, I recommend ordering pizza ahead of time on your phone from Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, home of 13-time World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani, and then enjoying it at the park. Tony’s has been ranked in the Top 50 Best Pizzas in the World and separately in the United States, as well placing on top of many other lists. Their gluten free Detroit ‘Motorhead’ pizza and gluten free Grandma 535 degree ‘Grandma the Butcher’ pizza are OUTSTANDING. My husband loves their 1,000 degree coal fired New Yorker pizza. You can read my Yelp review of Tony’s. Another option is having brunch or lunch at Mama’s on Washington Square. There may be many tourists there plus a long line, but it’s a little gem.

Coit Tower

Once your belly is full, take a walk along Greenwich Street up to Coit Tower on top of Telegraph Hill. There are many stairs to climb up to Coit Tower. Walk around the inside of the tower to see the beautiful murals depicting life in California during the Depression lining the inner walls. You can pay the nominal fee to check out the view from the top. We decided to do this since I had never done it before. You’ll get a spectacular view. Then walk back down the stairs that brought you up to Coit Tower and turn right down Telegraph Hill Blvd. Loop around to Lombard St and then make a right onto Grant Ave. We went by Jack Early Park along the way but it’s not really a park. It’s more like a small lookout point. You can skip this but some people really like it. We continued to Musée Mécanique at Pier 45, Fisherman’s Wharf, to check out their old penny arcade game. We opted not not play and decided to return on another day since we thought it would be more fun with other people. From here, you can pass Pier 39 or walk around there, and then continue down The Embarcadero. A mile from Musée Mécanique, you will pass the Exploritorium. We stopped by to play with the outdoor exhibits and walk around the back of the building. If you start the day off early, you can add this stop to your visit. Kids and adults alike love the Exploritorium. You can also run into the lobby to use their restroom like we did.

Jack Early Park

As you walk on The Embarcadero passing the piers, you can make your way to the Ferry Building. There are signs to read the history of the waterfront along the way. Where you see the “Public Shore” signs, you can duck behind the buildings to walk right along the water. As an FYI, there’s a public restroom in the building of Pier 3. We didn’t actually go into the Ferry Building on this trip, but you can visit the Ferry Building to stop into cool stores, restaurants, bakeries, and ice cream shops. Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream is a maker of gourmet ice cream and Mariposa Bakery offers gluten free baked goods. On Saturdays, there’s a Farmer’s Market around the outside of the Ferry Building.

Cross the main thoroughfare to Market St. Go past the Hyatt Hotel and make a slight right onto Drumm St, then turn left up California St and find the signs to catch a cable car ride up to Polk Gulch. If there’s a long line, walk up a little further to the next stop because the conductors only pick up a few people at each stop. It’s only a 30 minute walk if you choose to walk up California St instead, which is totally doable, but I warn you, it is uphill.

Around Christmas time, you can get off at Powell St to visit the Fairmont Hotel for their life sized gingerbread houses. They are a huge hit with everyone. Or if you are in the mood for an early evening cocktail, you can go to the Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar at the Fairmont. Think upscale tiki bar that’s also a restaurant. There’s a pool in the middle of the place, and tropical rain, thunder, and lightning storms will roam over the water while a band plays on a floating boat. My son thinks the rain display is really cool. The Tonga Room was just listed as one of the most unusual places to dine in the world.

Bob’s Donuts, Polk Gulch

Once up the big California St hill, you’ll start to go down and that’s about where you should get off – at Polk St. Take a right onto Polk or in other words, go north on Polk. You can stop by the shops but you definitely need to visit Bob’s Donut and Pastry Shop. They’re famous for donuts, probably made popular by the after bar folks, but nonetheless, worth a stop. We popped in for a donut or two for my nephew. Continue down Polk St until you reach Broadway. Make a right on Broadway and walk through the tunnel. My nephew thought it was too loud and scary through the tunnel so you can take Pacific Ave instead which is the path I included in the Google directions. Then walk back to the car in North Beach.


If you feel like doing some more exploring, another option is to head into Chinatown and walk around there. If you choose to do this, take a right onto Grant Ave instead of heading to the car. Grant is the main street in Chinatown where you’ll see red lanterns as you get closer to the center.

Bernal Heights

We ended up leaving the area and heading out to the Bernal Heights Swing that I had heard all about. It’s south of North Beach off the 101. We drove up to Folsom St and parked over there. You can also park over by the Cortland St neighborhood to stop by to pick up something at a local coffee shop or wine shop before walking up on one of their stairways. Check out this Bernal Heights website for walking paths. I used to live off Cortland St and loved the neighborhood. It has friendly people, gardens, and neat little stores, restaurants, coffee shops, and bars. From the parking, we walked for a bit up to the swing. That little swing makes you feel like you’re swinging into the actual city as you look out over the hill. It is actually a really cool swing and was an awesome way to round the trip through the City by the Bay.

The Bernal Heights Swing