kids sitting in cx-9
Posted on 04/11/2019

3-Day Family Vacation to SF with Littles and a Big Kid

Adventure/ Home Page/ Travel

We wanted to travel somewhere as a family during the big kid’s spring break but weren’t feeling ready to take all three kids on the airplane together just yet so we opted for getting some things done at home then venturing on a 3-day vacation in San Francisco. The only problem was that our kids have such different needs and interests due to their ages (newborn, 2 and 8) so I needed to plan a trip that would entertain all the kids. We’re not big fans of crowds because it’s harder to maneuver around with a stroller — or when chasing a runaway toddler — so we skipped things like Pier 39 and shopping in Union Square and went for a few of my favorite areas instead and some well-planned activities instead.

This post contains affiliate links. Mazda CX-9 and activities mentioned were provided for review. All opinions are mine alone.

mom and baby standing by open door of a Mazda CX-9 in SF with Golden Gate Bridge in the background

Day 1: San Francisco Zoo and Presidio

We packed up the Mazda CX-9 I received to review, the luggage, stroller, car seats, and kids and spent most of our first day was spent driving to SF. It should take about 1.5 hours to get there, but thanks to lighter than normal traffic and our need to stop every 30 minutes so the baby could get a car break, it took 3 hours. Thankfully, we were in a clean and comfortable car that allowed the kids to sit together so that my big kid could help with entertaining the two littles. Otherwise, it would have taken 5 hours haha. My eldest’s Bubblebum inflatable booster seat easily fit between the infant car seat and convertible car seat, which was huge, too. Once we arrived, the first thing we did was drop our luggage off at the hotel. After that important detour, it was off to the San Francisco Zoo!


Tip: Don’t leave any luggage or bags in your car while in SF because car theft is on the rise in California. We saw a lot of “park at your own risk and take your valuables” signs as well as one that illustrated how it only takes a thief 30 seconds to break into your car. (On our drive home we even saw a minivan with a smashed in window and my daughter commented how there was a car seat in the car.) I haven’t been to SF in years (and I sued to live here) but all these signs were new since I’d been last.


SF Zoo playground

San Francisco Zoo

Before this trip, I’d never been to the SF Zoo but I’d heard only good things about it and drove by it nearly every weekend when I used to live in an apartment by the beach over there. This was a great activity for all three kiddos.

Kids’ Experience: Our newborn and tot simply stared in awe at the animals and really enjoyed the carousel ($4 per ride), while the 8-year-old liked learning the facts about the animals. Both the 2-year-old and the 8-year-old had fun at the giant playground with different climate and creature sections. By the end of the day, our tot wanted more and the 8-year-old started saying she was bored.

Adult Experience: My husband and I enjoyed the walk around the zoo and appreciated the shady areas for when it gets too hot. We were really impressed with the food at the zoo’s cafe — they had a great burger and some really tasty garlic fries done right. I would recommend packing your own lunch for the kiddos, though. It was about $9 for a kids meal consisting of applesauce or fruit, a drink and either Kraft mac & cheese or Smucker’s Uncrustables.

giraffe at San Francisco Zoo

Presidio

Presidio is one of my favorite places in San Francisco. My very first apartment was in the Presidio when I drove to Skywalker Ranch for work (and occasionally worked from the LucasArts building). In just that area alone, you can experience both woodland hiking and a sandy beach. I love the smell of the trees and all of the old buildings there. Every time I’m in SF, it’s a must-stop spot for me. We park at LucasArts to visit one of the three Yoda statues originally created for George Lucas then get a Starbucks and take in the view. You can see (and easily walk to) the Palace of Fine Arts from this spot.

Kids’ Experience: River loves water so he was really taken by the Yoda fountain. Both kids loved running through the courtyard to Starbucks and walking down to the little stream/pond area.

family photo at yoda fountain in the presidio

Day 2: Bay Area Discovery Museum and Exploratorium

Both the Bay Area Discovery Museum and Exploratorium moved locations in recent years and I’ve been meaning to check them out ever since. I went to the Exploratorium when it was at the Palace of Fine Arts and it was a lot of fun.

Bay Area Discovery Museum

Kids’ Experience: The kids had a blast at this museum. There was a ton to do and so many fantastic outdoor experiences — bubbles, musical instruments, pirate ship wreckage, trails, a foam block pit. My 8-year-old really enjoyed all of the outdoor exploration activities as well as the art studio where she created her own zen garden then added her name to the wall in a room where anything and everything can be painted. Since she loves science, we also checked out the tech build areas but they seemed to be geared toward kids a bit younger than her at that time. River had a blast in the toddler soft play space and following his sister on the mini trail at the back of the museum space. Both kids loved the fun, tasty and decorative meals at the cafe —especially the veggie tots! Savannah had a butterfly-shaped turkey sandwich and River had a piano key sunflower butter and jelly sandwich. (Food prices were fantastic as well.)

Adult Experience: Seeing how the museum integrated education with play — like a soft paly/jumpy area with a water theme and fish in the ceiling or outdoor stream water play area complete with toy turtles and fish— made me so happy. Since my toddler is so into everything wherever we go it was great to go somewhere that he could be as curious as he needed to be without having to say “no” to him all the time. We really liked that the kids were so excited about their healthy meals at the museum too.

kids playing in water play are at discovery museum

Exploratorium

Kids’ Experience: The bulk of the Exploratorium was perfect for my 8-year-old, but my 2-year-old was really only happy with the last section of the museum where there’s a tornado simulator and some neat water features. I think my tot was a bit too young but we all still had fun. My daughter is really interested in science so the different talks and experiments were perfect for her. We listened to a talk about a cow eye (with a real cow eye!) and got to see some very neat installations. The color experiments were her favorite.
Adult Experience: We really liked how there are so many different learning areas so that there’s something for everyone.

exploratorium color science

Day 3: California Academy of Sciences

Kids’ Experience: We happened to go to the California Academy of Sciences right at the start of Dino Days (ends May 5) where the courtyard is full of animatronic dinosaurs as well as dino-related activities and crafts. Savannah tried her hand at making a dinosaur puppet while River uncovered fossils in the sand pit. River was in major awe of the dinosaurs — especially the T-Rex and Savannah really liked seeing the butterflies in the Rainforest area.

Adult Experience: My husband was determined to check out the Planetarium because he’s never been and was super excited to get to see it this visit. I liked that there were crafts for the kids inside and some fun hands-on activities outside for Dino Days. I did a sleepover at the museum with Savannah when she was about 4 and haven’t been back since so it was great to see all the new things they have.

kids looking at dinosaur at California Academy of Sciences

On day three we drove the Mazda CX-9 home and unpacked the car so it was ready for the next day’s adventures (a Tinkergarten class).

For more details about the trip, check out my Instagram Story Highlights, here.

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