San Francisco: 5 cool things to do with teens

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Keeping your teen’s attention on family trips can be challenging! Everything is BORING and things are UNCOOL if mum suggests it.


Keeping your teen’s attention on family trips can be challenging! Everything is BORING. Heaven forbid you suggest something you think they would like because it will automatically become UNCOOL just because mum suggested it.

We visit San Francisco often, and I know it better than London. As a young adult it was one of the first cities I lived and worked in. I have fond memories and would like my children to have them too.

My goal for our recent trip was to have the girls earn a new appreciation for the “city by the bay”. They are all nearly all teens (one is still 12 – but she acts like a teen!) so we focused on food and shopping.  

I also let them pick some cool places they would like to visit. This is what they came up with!


My girls love riding the cable cars up and down the hills in San Francisco.


5 cool things to do with teens in San Francisco


1. Ride the Cable Cars

I’m in two minds about the cable car. There’s nothing like hanging off the side and making your way up and down the hilly streets of San Francisco. My girls love it. But the lines can be very long (check out my tips for avoiding the cable car lines). I’m not one for waiting in queues, but the girls, however, thought it was well worth it. One of the lines goes passed an apartment on Washington Street where lived just out of university – and the girls think that it the coolest thing!


My 12-year-old’s perspective

Cable cars are a really fun and iconic ways to get around San Francisco. It was quite a long wait but was definitely worth it. Once you catch one, you can ride the line to the end. It’s really eliciting, especially when you hold on to the poles on the outside and with the steep San Francisco streets it feels like a rollercoaster!


San Francisco is extra special by water, in addition to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, there’s the Bay Bridge, Alcatraz, Angel Island and the stunning skyline!


2. Take a Bay Cruise

As in most cities near water, a boat tour is a great way to get another perspective. San Francisco is extra special by water, in addition to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, there’s the Bay Bridge, Alcatraz, Angel Island and the skyline and lots of sail boats. The Blue and Gold tour is one hour and goes passes by all of the above (you can opt for the 30-minute rocket boat instead). A recorded tour guide talks though each one and my oldest daughter wrote down lots of notes to help them on her summer geography project.


My 13-year-old’s perspective

I really enjoyed the cruise around the San Francisco Bay. The views were spectacular! We saw the Bay Bridge, Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and the city skyline. Throughout the journey there was a running commentary which was very factual. It was very helpful for a school project I am doing for geography. Did you know there used to be cannons on the Golden Gate Bridge? The boat was 3 stories and we went up to the top deck which was exhilarating (but cold). If you go, bring a coat – and a camera to capture all those tourists sites on film!


We could have spent the whole day at the Exploratorium – there is so much to do there!


3. Check out the Exploratorium

My daughters really liked this museum as tweens, but they are absolutely fascinated by it as teens. We could have spent the whole day there (as it was were were there for 3 hours.) I shouldn’t even call it is a museum, it’s more of an experience. There’s a map – but it is only of the main themes: My youngest (12) was so fascinated by the Give and Take Experiment she has decided she wants to study psychology.


My 15-year-old’s perspective

The Exploratorium is an exciting and interactive museum which is suitable for all ages. I say this because I remember going when I was a lot younger and thoroughly enjoyed it then – yet we went again and I still really enjoyed it and found it interesting in a different way as now that I am older I can understand more. There are hand-ons exhibits that relates to physics, biology, psychology, geography, chemistry, maths and art – all my GCSEs! Whilst learning something new I had a great time going around all the exhibits and doing different experiments and games.


The California Academy of Sciences is a must see if you are visiting San Francisco.


4. Explore the California Academy of Sciences

The California Academy of Sciences is a must see if you are visiting San Francisco. It combines a natural history museum, planetarium, aquarium, research and education programmes all under one (living) roof. The purpose is to engage all ages and backgrounds on two of the most important topics of our time: life and its sustainability. The exhibit changes frequently, and each time we visit we see something new. They also have become Earthquake experts!


San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest outside of Asia. My girls enjoy walking around and shopping for gifts for their friends back in the UK.


5.  Walk around Chinatown

San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest outside of Asia! In addition to the large amount of cool places to eat, it’s the perfect place to walk around and shop for small (affordable) presents to bring home to your friends!


Top Tip: Bike the Golden Gate Bridge

Teens would love to bike the Golden Gate Bridge and take the ferry back! Read how my nephew Jack (age 18) enjoyed the day with his family!


We stayed at the Hotel Union Square – right in the middle of all the action!


Where we stayed: Hotel Union Square

Hotel Union Square is a boutique hotel in San Francisco smack in the middle of the action in Union Square. It’s upscale – but very affordable. It’s an older building with lots of character — it reminded me a lot of my first studio apartment in San Francisco when I lived their as a young adult just out of Uni.

Apart from very slow wifi (sort of unbelievable in the heart of the social media capital of the world) and housekeeping knocking on our door at 8 am — we really enjoyed our room. It was large (two queens and a rollaway) and light and airy. Rooms are tastefully updated with modern features and lots of Cost Plus white. You could easily spend a week here, even with 5 in a room. The best part was walking outside and being right in the middle of Union Square. The cable car turnaround was half a block away, Uniqlo and Urban Outfitters across the street. We easily walked to Chinatown and North Beach. 

Tips: Take advantage of the free wine hour (5 -6 pm) and the free earplugs – even not he 6th floor we could hear the bustling city below. You can park in the lot next next (pricey) or leave your car at the Ellis-O’Farrell Garage garage (next door) for half the price. There’s no restaurant, but it partners with the iconic Tad’s Steakhouse and will bring food to your room.




Visit California If you are visiting California this should be your first point of call, make sure to order the free brochure 

Hotel Union Square 14 Powell St, San Francisco, CA 94102 +1 (415) 397-3000 

San Francisco CityPass 900 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94102, USA +1 888-330-5008

Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise Pier 39 Pier 41, San Francisco, CA 94133 +1 (415) 705-8200

Exploratorium Pier 15, The Embarcadero & Green St., San Francisco, CA 94111 + (415) 528-4444

Aquarium of the Bay 2 The Embarcadero & Beach St, San Francisco, CA 94133

California Academy of Science 55 Music Concourse Dr, San Francisco, CA 94118 +1 (415) 379-8000


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Disclosure: Visit California paid for 50% of our hotel stay and CityPass supplied 2 CityPasses. All opinions are my own.








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  1. 14/10/2017 / 16:00

    You’ve certainly enthused me to return to California after reading your post. I visited a San Francisco a few years ago and have fond memories of some of the places you mention.

  2. 09/10/2017 / 21:57

    This is a great post ! San Francisco looks wonderful – another place I think I have to add to my growing bucket list!

    • 14/10/2017 / 07:00

      I know I’m biased since I get up near there, but it is one of my favourites. It’s small enough to be manageable, yet full of exciting and vibrant things to do. The people have so much energy. Take me back now!
      Susanna recently posted…Hawai’i: The Westin Maui and Ka’anapali BeachMy Profile

  3. 09/10/2017 / 03:47

    We were in SFO a few weeks ago with a tot and a baby. So interesting reading this from a teen perspective.

  4. 08/10/2017 / 21:27

    Letting kids choose what to do is definitely the way forward. We get to see some interesting stuff that way too, and they can’t moan it’s boring! 😀 Great post x

  5. 08/10/2017 / 15:10

    Just the most perfect, relevant post for us – now we just need to get to California!

  6. 08/10/2017 / 14:41

    A great list for exploring San Francisco. I’ve heard the Exploratorium is good for kids of all ages with plenty to keep you occupied all day. I would love to sail around the bay too, although the trip to Alcatraz does give a little taste!

    • 09/10/2017 / 08:17

      My girls liked the Exploratorium when they were little, but as I said in the post it’s even more relevant now they are older. I think it’s one of our all-time favourites places to visit!
      Susanna recently posted…San Francisco: 5 cool things to do with teensMy Profile