Doing the Golden Gate Boogie
Little cable cars still run halfway to the stars, and some young people still wear flowers in their hair. But the City by the Bay has changed. With the bulging technology belt just an hour south, San Francisco has become home to more techies than hippies, very well paid techies. As a tourist, you are just as likely to leave your wallet here as your heart, unless you take the time to sniff out the dozens of free, only-in-San-Francisco things you can do in this celebrated city. Here is a short list to get you started.
Golden Gate Bridge
Driving across San Francisco's famous suspension bridge will cost you a pretty penny, but leading the family on an adventurous trek across is absolutely free. The east sidewalk of Golden Gate Bridge (Hwy 101, San Francisco, CA) is for pedestrians. It's a thrill to feel the Pacific breeze blowing your hair as you look out at the famous skyline, the sailboats in the blue bay and Alcatraz Island.
The round trip trek is just over three miles and well worth it for bragging rights and views. But if you have very young children or you just don't think the kids can make it a full three miles, go halfway and come back.
Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park (501 Stanyan St., San Francisco, CA) is a vast urban park (over 1,000 acres) with enough free fun to keep any kid happy. It runs from Stanyan Street all the way to the Pacific Ocean, and groups together vast grassy fields, picnic areas, ponds with ducks, buffalo herds, running tracks, casting pools for fly fishermen, a playground and flower gardens. You'll find free weekly concerts and big events like Hardly Strictly Bluegrass (autumn) and Shakespeare in the Park (summer) that will cost you a total of zero.
Ocean Beach (Great Hwy, San Francisco, CA) is just at the base of Golden Gate Park, the wide, white-sand beach wedged up against the wild Pacific. Remember that in San Francisco, summer looks a lot like winter and the water, though appealing, never gets warm enough for a pleasant swim. Still, on sunny afternoons in any season you can hang out on Ocean Beach while the kids build sandcastles, watch surfers or search for sand dollars.
Yes, it's a tourist attraction but that doesn't mean you shouldn't hike or drive down "the crookedest street in the world." Lombard Street (1000-1099 Lombard St, San Francisco, CA) is a San Francisco tradition, but if you are driving, pick your time carefully or you'll spend it waiting in a line of cars. Weekends are especially crowded. Walking down is just as fun, and the kids have time to take selfies.
If you want to see the City by the Bay spread out before you in all its glory, drive or hike up to the top of Twin Peaks (501 Twin Peaks Blvd. San Francisco CA), a wonderful vista point situated in the geographical center of San Francisco. The 922-feet peaks offer stunning views of San Francisco and beyond. You'll see how the San Francisco Bay circles the city, and, on a clear day, the four bridges that cross it.
You can head up to Twin Peaks in any season, since the weather doesn't vary greatly around the year. But try to pick a clear day and if it's windy, be sure each kid has a warm jacket.
From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. World traveler, professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.