Budget-Friendly Travel with Toddlers in San Francisco

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San Francisco city skyline
Even if you are not interested in Alcatraz it’s worth taking the ferry ride across just for these views of the city skyline.

Travels with an energetic toddler – how did San Francisco measure up?

If I’m honest I had considered the San Francisco part of our trip as a necessary evil en route to Mexico. Turns out it was a highlight.

We departed New Zealand at 7.35pm, for the 12 hour flight which we expected would mean Dylan would sleep almost the entire flight. He slept for a while, and then he was awake but calm for the rest of the flight. Flying at night with a dimmed cabin helped keep his crazy toddler energy at bay.

Airport Transfer

I have double standards when it comes to car seats and travel. In Mexico we just have to hold him tight and hope for the best. But for some reason – most likely other parents –  when we travel in the Western world I always book a car service with a guaranteed car seat. I knew we would be tired and cranky after our flight so this time we booked with KCS Car service – which had excellent Yelp reviews. Our driver, Romeo, was waiting at arrivals and helped get our bags to the car. He had bottled water and snacks for us to refresh and Dylan fell asleep right away. We really appreciated the narrative throughout the drive, he really loves his city and his passion was infectious.

Dylan running green grass Pier 39
My favourite destinations are where we can let him run!

The Hotel

Mainly due to the price, we booked a motel on Lombard Street. The Coventry Motor Inn was excellent value ($96 + tax for Sunday to Thursday nights – weekends cost more).

We realised when we checked out that it is possible to rent a fridge for an extra $5 per day, which would have been great to know in the beginning. We survived without the fridge though.

The room had a King Sized bed which made for easy co-sleeping and a massive sitting area with a full table and chairs. This was great for playing and colouring.

I can also attest to the comfort of the bathroom, which became my office as soon as Dylan fell asleep at night, the Wifi signal was excellent in the bathroom and I managed to research, type and submit a 2000 word essay from the comfort of the bathroom floor.

My (not so) glamorous San Francisco office!
My (not so) glamorous San Francisco office!

The Playground

Wonderful childrens playground
The wonderful Adventure Ship play area for toddlers at George Moscone Park – image courtesy of Chris Roberts Photography

The hotel’s location was fabulous for a holiday with young children. It is about 500 metres to an excellent library and children’s playground at George Moscone Park, Moscone Fields.

This playground was the highlight of Dylan’s trip for sure – it had a dedicated play area for under 5’s, plus a fun area for the older kids.

There were plenty of swings and sandpits weave all through the play structure. It was also completely fenced. What surprised me the most was the number of toys that are left there for anyone to play with.

There were plenty of fire engine and digger type toys for the sandpits, which kept Dylan happy as he is obsessed with heavy vehicles. We went there every day and he could easily spend two hours playing in the sandpit or on the slides.

The library next door to the playground runs storytime for pre-schoolers and tourists are welcome to join. There is no charge for this – here is the link to the Marina Library for times and information.


Dylan in the bike seat with his daddy in San Francisco
Loving the view from the back of the bike.

The Supermarket

At this location, we were a ten-minute walk to Safeway Supermarket. I found the groceries to be reasonably priced, and they had a great selection of organic fruit and vegetables.

Make sure you check the back of your receipt as this Safeway store regularly has 2 for 1 meal vouchers for the Ihop on Lombard Street – which is a toddler-friendly meal option. I actually can’t believe I’m admitting that, but life changes when you have a toddler.

The Coffee

The coffee at Bereka on Lombard was fabulous. Its traditional Ethiopian drip style and you can request different strengths. We went with the number 4 which annihilated my caffeine withdrawal headache and made a pleasant change from the milky monstrosities that pass for coffee in the other cafe’s we visited. Seriously San Francisco, a single shot of espresso is standard in a 12oz – what’s that about?

If you work online or need somewhere to access wifi and your partner is on babysitting duty – I recommend Espresso Roma on Fillmore St, the coffee was drinkable but the wifi and workspace was excellent. Lots of power outlets and window seats to aid with procrastinating.

The Shopping

If you are into shopping check out Union Street and Chestnut St, they are both beautiful streets filled with boutiques and places to get sweet treats. Make sure you check out the Apple Store on Chestnut St, The iPhone 5S is more than $400 cheaper in the States than NZ. I am waiting for our upcoming Florida trip to grab mine, in the hope that the iPhone 6 has made an appearance and the 5s gets a little cheaper.

My Top San Francisco Toddler Travel Tips

There are a million blog posts about travel with toddlers in San Francisco, so I won’t add to the overload of information.

It was a beautiful day to take the cruise to Alcatraz.
It was a beautiful day to take the cruise to Alcatraz.

I do have a few tips though:

1. Get the very first ferry to Alcatraz – we booked three weeks in advance for the 8.45 am ferry which meant we got to experience Alcatraz and still be back in time for the midday nap.

Dylan stealing a kiss from a Gorilla at the Rainforest Cafe - a highlight of our trip.
Dylan stealing a kiss from a Gorilla at the Rainforest Cafe – a highlight of our trip.

2. Eat lunch at the Rainforest Cafe on Jefferson St at Fishermans Wharf. It’s worth it for the entertainment value alone, this place is decorated like a rainforest (surprisingly), with the ceiling decked out as a forest canopy, and it has mechanical elephants and tigers which growl occasionally. There are loads of fish tanks to keep your kids entertained until your meal arrives.

Cycling over the Golden Gate Bridge with Dylan in the baby seat
Cycling over the Golden Gate Bridge with Dylan in the baby seat

3. Sports Basement in Crissy Fields rents bikes with excellent baby bike seats for cycling the Golden Gate Bridge. Plus they are the closest bike rental to the bridge, which helped minimise time bubs was in the seat. Cycling the Golden Gate Bridge has been on my bucket list for a long time but I wasn’t sure we could do it with Dylan. Once he got the hang of it, it was a very enjoyable experience (and a good workout)

Overall the Marina/Cow Hollow area was perfect for our stopover with a toddler in San Francisco. On the days he was happy in his stroller we could walk to Fishermans Wharf through the Fort Mason area in under an hour and there were plenty of open spaces for him to run around safely. I truly recommend this area if you are considering a trip to San Francisco with your little one.



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3 thoughts on “Budget-Friendly Travel with Toddlers in San Francisco”

    • Hi Bethaney, thanks for stopping by. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon, I just hope you get better weather than us, it gets incredibly windy on the bridge! San Francisco is such a great city with kids. We can’t wait to get back there.

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