Debbie Abrams Kaplan

The Westfield San Francisco Centre has some surprisingly excellent food.

Several restaurants at the Westfield San Francisco Centre take a gourmet approach to fast food.

A mall food court doesn’t usually inspire great cuisine. Wipe those visions of greasy Chinese food, cardboard pizza, and mediocre ice cream out of your mind. If you’re shopping at Westfield San Francisco Centre (865 Market Street), near Union Square’s Hotel Nikko or Kensigton Park Hotel, try out some local fast food that’s kid-friendly and gourmet to boot.

Out the Door: This Vietnamese restaurant is brought to you by famed chef Charles Phan of the Slanted Door. Sit down or get take-out — including wine and beer — and enjoy shaking beef or chicken claypot with ginger and cilantro.

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The Santa Cruz Boardwalk

The Santa Cruz Boardwalk

Warm summer weather and vacations often equal thrill rides and hot dogs on a stick. While San Francisco isn’t known for theme parks (the same way a certain Southern California city certainly is), you can get your fill by renting a car for the day and heading to the coast. The roller coasters that is. Here are three Bay Area amusement parks to consider.

Santa Cruz Boardwalk (Santa Cruz, CA): Set on the Pacific 

Ocean, this traditional boardwalk has free concerts in addition to the rides. Come for a few hours or the whole day, while trying out the historic 1911 Looff carousel — It has one of the few “brass ring” machines left in the country. You can lean over from your wooden carousel horse and grab a ring, then toss it into a clown’s mouth a few seconds later. The Boardwalk has rides for all ages.

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The Alamo Square Playground has kid-size versions of San Francisco’s famed Painted Ladies

Sometimes a kid just has to be a kid. After visiting San Francisco’ indoor museums and cultural attractions, head outside, to the playground. Here are three awesome play areas near the sights.

Chinese Playground (Sacramento Street, between Kearny and Grant): Take a break from the knick-knack shops and the dim sum restaurants and head to this urban playground. The pagoda-roofed play structure makes you realize you’re not in Kansas anymore – you’re in Chinatown. Best for the younger set, this play area features a large sandbox, various slides and a wobbly wooden bridge. It’s easy walking distance from the Hilton San Francisco Financial District. Read More »

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Kabuki Hot Springs in Japantown

You don’t have to go to Japan to experience a Japanese bath. Head over to Japantown, near the Kabuki Hotel and the Best Western Tomo. The Kabuki Hot Springs (1750 Geary Boulevard) is different than any spa you’ll find in San Francisco. Read More »

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Great America theme park in Santa Clara

Try something new in San Francisco this spring. Here are three fun, family attractions opening this spring in the Bay Area.

Great America (5001 Great America Parkway, Santa Clara): If the kids are into theme parks, Great America in Santa Clara opens on March 28. In addition to the roller coasters and other “thrill” rides, they’re debuting the new Planet Snoopy area for the younger set. If staying in San Francisco, you’ll need to rent a car to get there. Staying at the Hotel Palomar gives you easy access to the freeway, while still staying in the heart of San Francisco, though you might also want to check out Oyster’s picks for the best kid-friendly hotels in San Francisco. Read More »

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The Candy Barrel at Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco

The Candy Barrel at Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco

“Like a kid in a candy store…” — It’s a cliche, but such an apt one. While in San Francisco, get the feeling by visiting these three sweet shops.

The Candy Barrel (333 Jefferson Street, Fisherman’s Wharf): Every time we go to Fisherman’s Wharf we pass by this store. Like its name, candy flows out of barrels — lots of salt water taffy in flavors like buttered popcorn, banana cream, caramel green apple, chocolate chip, and coconut. If you’re not into taffy, there are plenty of other treats to woo you. The Sheraton Fisherman’s Wharf Hotel is a short skip away. Read More »

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Salted caramel ice cream from Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco

Salted caramel ice cream from Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco

Rice-A-Roni may be the San Francisco treat, but you won’t find people licking cones of it in the City. Instead, head to one of San Francisco’s homegrown ice cream shops for a sweet treat after a day of sightseeing.

Mitchell’s Ice Cream (688 San Jose Avenue): You’ll find plain vanilla and chocolate at this Noe Valley ice cream institution, around since 1953, but it would be a shame to pass up Mitchell’s unique flavors, like grasshopper pie, Mexican chocolate, tropical fruit, halo halo, Kahlua mocha cream, ube (purple yam), sweet coconut, avocado, and lychee. Prepare to take a number and wait. And wait. The store is small. The line is long. But it’s worth it. You won’t find a hotel in close distance, but try the Hotel Nikko near Union Square for a central spot. Read More »

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The Beat Museum in San Francisco

The Beat Museum in San Francisco

San Francisco has an alternative kind of vibe. So while you’re here, visit some alternative kinds of museums.

The Beat Museum (540 Broadway): North Beach is the home to City Lights Bookstore, founded by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. History remembers him for standing trial for obscenity, after publishing Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl.” You can see a signed first edition of the book he published at the Beat Museum, also in North Beach. Along with it, you’ll find a wacky collection of memorabilia from Beatniks like Jack Kerouac, including Kerouac bobble heads, old issues of Playboy that feature Kerouac, and a 1961 check Kerouac wrote to a liquor store. Plus, you have to love a museum with a phone number like this: 800-KER-OUAC. The Campton Place Taj Hotel is close by. Read More »

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Angel Island in San Francisco

Angel Island in San Francisco

There’s a reason the Bay features so prominently in the region’s moniker. The San Francisco Bay connects San Francisco to the East Bay, South Bay and North Bay. How best to see it all? Get on a boat, of course!

Sausalito Ferry: The Golden Gate Ferry runs boats to Marin, including quaint Sausalito. It’s such a good time that the prestigious Society of American Travel Writers voted it the second most exciting ferry ride in the world. From the boat, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge, the Berkeley Hills, Alcatraz, and San Francisco. Rent a bike from Bike and Roll in North Beach or Fisherman’s Wharf, and cycle over to the Ferry Plaza to catch the boat. Some people take the ferry one way and then bike the other, to experience the Golden Gate Bridge two ways. Try the Hotel Vitale near the Ferry Plaza as a base. Read More »

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Double helix climbing structure at the Lawrence Hall of Science at Berkeley

Double helix climbing structure at the Lawrence Hall of Science at Berkeley

As a hub of science and technology, it’s not surprising to have so many related museums in the San Francisco Bay Area. Most are outside of the City, but if you’re a fan, you’ll rent a car and get there.

Lawrence Hall of Science (Centennial Drive, Berkeley): This monument to science sits atop the Berkeley Hills. You’ll drive through University of California at Berkeley’s campus and the football stadium, snaking uphill until you get to the top. Just try and keep the kids from climbing on the giant strand of DNA sculpture outside the museum, or off the slippery stone whale. Let them have their fun, while you ogle the view of San Francisco (and check out the campus below). Then head inside to check out the hands-on biology lab or the fun exhibits on planets, math, forces shaping the Bay, Kapla blocks, and more. Read More »

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