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In The Streets of San Francisco

San Francisco, USA

Golden Gate BridgeAlthough these days you’ll meet decidedly fewer people with ‘flowers in their hair’ than the Scott McKenzie song promises, San Francisco is certainly a city full of characters. The city is famous as one of the great gay capitals of the world, for example. But what is often overlooked among San Fran’s more decidedly adult claims to fame is just what a great place it is for families.

A cruise with kids to San Francisco can be great fun. A few cruise lines use the city as a start point, but more often it’s used as a featured destination for western seaboard cruises that have started further down the California coast. Kids will love San Fran because it’s so obviously and visibly different from other US cities. From your first view of the place – which, if you’re arriving from the sea, will probably be dominated by the iconic vista of the Golden Gate Bridge - you and your family will be struck by what a distinctive place this is.

Trolly Cable CarOne pastime that is definitely San Franciscan in flavor, and which the kids will love, is traveling on the trolleys. If you just want to jump on one of the city’s historic trolleys for a ride, there’s no need to spend a long time carefully planning a route. The San Francisco Trolley Hop is a guided trolley tour carefully designed with families in mind. The best place to hop on to the tour is probably at Union Square. It will take you through Nob Hill, North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf, as well as the city’s famous Chinatown area. There are several points along the route where you can hop off and explore, eat or shop – just remember to retain your tickets, and hop back on another passing tour tram when you want to move on to another destination!

AlcatrazOne area that you may wish to focus on exploring is Fisherman’s Wharf. This is one of the most historic areas of the city, getting its name from the days when the economy of San Fran – and, indeed, of much of the California coastline – was based on the fishing and canning industries. Although a fishing industry remains, Fisherman’s Wharf is these days a center for tourists rather than tough trawler men. It’s in a central location, close to Alcatraz, the Maritime Museum and the Cable Car Lines, there are great views across the bay. It’s a great place for kids because the streets are often dotted with magicians, musicians and artists who earn a few extra dollars by entertaining the crowds.

Fisherman’s Wharf is also a great place to find a place to eat. You can try examples of a huge range of world cuisines in this part of town, but the focus is on seafood. You can sample all kinds of weird and wonderful fish and crustacean in the restaurants and seafood bars of Fisherman’s Wharf, ranging from UK-style fish and chips (the city historically had a large Scottish population) to excellent sashimi. But probably the best seafood available in the area is the kind of hearty traditional fare that has characterized the city’s cooking for a century or more: dishes like Dungeness crab and clam chowder are served here as they have been for decades, and the robust textures and flavors on offer are one of the distinctive experiences of San Francisco.

If you and your kids are really interested in delving into San Fran’s murky past, you can take part in one of the city’s regular ghost hunts! The hunts start at the Queen Anne Hotel, at 1590 Sutter Street. They run nightly, between 7pm and 9pm, and at the time of writing cost $20 per head. And boy – they sure are scary! The hunt takes the form of a journey through the city’s historic Pacific Heights area. The guides are an excellent source of information on the city’s many ghosts, and excellent at creating a creepy atmosphere as they lead you through the Victorian neighborhood in the dim light of the evening. The hunt organizers even promise to teach you how to catch a ghost! Bear in mind that the Ghost Hunt takes the form of a walking tour, so sensible footwear and clothing is advised. The hunt is also not recommended for kids under the age of eight – we don’t want anyone having nightmares!

San Francisco DowntownFrom the cruiser’s point of view, San Francisco is a great city to explore. Although it is American through and through, it can feel quite foreign and exotic – a characteristic it shares only with New Orleans among other US cities. Disembarking from your ship on to a San Francisco quayside is, in many respects, like walking down the gangplank into another world!

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