Striking a balance between adult satisfaction and a child's glee can be difficult while traveling; it's not uncommon for parents to have to choose between vicariously experiencing their little ones' happiness or hiring a sitter to pursue their own enjoyment. Unless, that is, they're in the rare city whose offerings are capable of simultaneously pleasing people of all ages. San Francisco is such a city. Here's what to do with the family there.
1. Bark right back at the sea lions of Pier 39 (www.pier39.com). Though the attraction's shops, eateries, and performers are interesting enough, the greatest audience builds for the lively marine creatures which have owned the K dock since the early 1990s. After taking in their endlessly amusing antics, visit the nearby Aquarium of the Bay, which recreates the San Francisco Bay's unique underwater habitats and presents touch tanks for tots who want to feel a stingray.
2. Take a ride on one of the city's iconic cable cars (www.sfcablecar.com); it's an undeniably magical feeling riding up and down the city's steep hills along with the ringing bells. A favorite route is the Powell-Hyde Line, which connects the Financial District to Aquatic Park. Along the way, kids will be thrilled to see "the barn" (the operational powerhouse), as well as Lombard Street's famously crooked section. The last stop, everyone will be happy to learn, is a skip away from Ghirardelli Square, where you'll get what we'll bet is the best hot-fudge sundae you've ever had.
3. Get hands on during a visit to the Exploratorium (www.exploratorium.edu), a museum dedicated to stoking the imagination of young scientists by way of fascinating exhibits like "The Science of Baseball" and "Mind," an exploration of psychology catered to kids.
4. There's no better place to catch a baseball game by the bay than at the Giants' newish AT&T Park (http://sanfrancisco.giants.mlb.com/sf/ballpark/index.jsp). If the game and the panoramic views lose the kids' interest (fat chance), there's also a speed-pitching cage, the Little Giants whiffle ballpark, and the Coca-Cola Superslide.
5. Golden Gate Park (www.sfgov.org/site/recpark_page.asp?id=17796) is larger than New York's Central Park, and a one-stop victory for parents looking to do it all in a day. There are gardens, museums, lakes (with pedal boats available for rent), even a bison pen. A major highlight is the newly redone California Academy of Sciences (www.calacademy.org), a spectacle of living things and natural wonders that you'll have to see to believe.
6. Kiddies like playing "cops and robbers"? Good. Take the game to its logical conclusion by booking 'em a ticket to Alcatraz Island (www.nps.gov/alcatraz). The former federal penitentiary requires a memorable boat ride out to the imposing "Rock," includes an eerie walk through the cell block, and evokes tales of notorious inmates like Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, and the Birdman. Bonus points: A trip here is likely to ensure that your little one will henceforth walk the straightest of paths.
7. Every child loves a zoo. The San Francisco Zoo (www.sfzoo.org) draws on 80 years of experience to bring together an impressive variety of rare species, exhibits, and learning programs, making for a thoroughly enjoyable family experience. The Fisher Family Children's Zoo presents interactive ways for kids to get close to animals -- they can hug a sheep or pretend to be a meerkat.
8. The Yerba Buena Gardens (www.yerbabuenagardens.com/features/gardens.html) are a children's oasis in the midst of urban SoMa (the sometimes-gritty district south of Market Street). Kids can run through grassy open spaces and gardens, slide down a 25-foot tube slide, or ride a carousel that's almost a century old. There's also a hedge labyrinth, an amphitheater, a bowling alley, and an ice-skating rink.
9. San Francisco's Chinatown (www.sanfranciscochinatown.com), home to the largest Chinese community outside of Asia, is a treasure trove of stimulating sights, smells, and sounds. Short of flying your family east, this is the best way to immerse your kids in another culture and imbue them with a worldliness that extends well past San Francisco's city lines.
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