SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco is that rare vacation spot that offers urban exploits with a taste of woodsy outdoors nearby. We took our daughter, a few months shy of 3 at the time, for a four-day trip and met a new side of the city we fell in love with years prior. The highlights:
Golden Gate Park: This place could eat up your entire vacation, what with the aquarium, planetarium, zoo and more. But we only devoted a day, so we stuck to the Koret Children's Quarter, home to a huge playground — the nation's first, in fact, built in 1887 — and a gorgeous carousel where kids under 5 ride free. Take a map (go to sfgov.org for a good one).
Fisherman's Wharf: Tourist trap, yes. But the street performers, the sea lions, Pier 39 (with a double-decker carousel) and the Boudin Bakery — where you can watch the bakers craft their famous sourdough — make the crowds and the T-shirt hawkers tolerable. We ended each day with an evening trip to the Wharf, usually capped off with ice cream from one of countless vendors.
Cable cars: Head to the turntable at Powell and Market streets, the starting point for two of the city's three cable car lines. Hop on either line (Powell-Mason or Powell-Hyde) for a seatbelt-free ride up and down those famously steep hills, a real treat for kids used to being locked and loaded into strollers and car seats and bike seats and anything else that moves their little bodies.
Muir Woods: Across the Golden Gate Bridge, less than an hour's drive from downtown, this majestic national monument offers a peaceful respite from the din of the city. Giant, centuries-old redwood trees (some as tall as 200-plus feet) tower above, and the walking paths are paved and level — perfect for budding nature lovers.
A final note: Plan on the weather stinking, no matter what time of year you go. Take a cue from the locals: Ignore the cold, fog and rain, and love the place anyway. But do pack warm clothes.