For many people, San Francisco is synonymous with the Golden Gate Bridge. But ‘the city by the Bay’ is a vibrant city that offers so much more. In fact, it has a plethora of attractions jam-packed into a 7-mile radius that can entertain even the most experienced city explorers.
Thanks to the San Francisco All-Inclusive Go Card, we were able to spend the day across the city, starting in Fisherman’s Wharf and ending in the Chinatown District watching the celebrated Chinese Lunar New Year Parade.
Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!
Fisherman’s Wharf is a great place to start exploring San Francisco with teens, given its proximity to the rest of the Piers (especially Pier 39). For our visit this time, we began our tour at Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum, a quintessential “odditorium” full of curios and exhibits ranging from entertaining to downright bizarre.We opted to begin there because of its proximity to Fisherman Wharf’s “Museum Row” — Jefferson Street.
We were greeted at the front entrance by a host of characters dressed up in rock band attire, from the serious and gigantic animatronic representing Robert Wadlow (reportedly the tallest living human ever, at 9 feet tall) to the small, imprisoned-in-a-birdcage Ancient Egyptian Alypius.
Ripley’s prides itself on the bizarre, and the museum was no exception; alongside supposed “shrunken heads” and decorated ram skills, guests can see oddities and sculptures from topics ranging from the Space Race to pop culture to official portraits carved on the face of a nickel. It’s a great place to spend some time for families and couples alike when visiting the Wharf, showcasing some of the best of “Keep San Francisco Weird.”
Autism Travel Tips
The museum has some dark rooms and exhibits that may not be appropriate for younger kids.
Avoid visiting in the middle of the day, holidays and weekends when it gets quite crowded.
Madame Tussauds, like Ripley’s, is a staple for tourists across the world, and San Francisco is no exception. Most of us have been to or at least heard of Madame Tussauds — the famous wax museum. According to our guide, it is the only place where you can see Tupac Shakur in the same room as Elvis Presley, across the hall from Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln.
The San Francisco branch of Madame Tussauds stands unique not only for its wax sculptures but because of its combination package with the San Francisco Dungeon next door, an exclusive tour exposing the seedy criminal underbelly of San Francisco life, from the start of the gold rush to the turn of the 20th century.
The venue features a unique way for parents and adults alike to learn more about the forgotten elements of San Francisco history, such as the widely documented practice of “shanghai’ing.” Pronounced “Shan Hai ing ” was a criminal but profitable practice of kidnapping unsuspecting people to work as sailors against their will. That influx of newcomers helped turn San Francisco into a bustling metropolis (and a hotbed of crime) in the 1800s.
Autism Travel Tips
Most exhibits can’t be touched so parents should prepare their kids to behave accordingly.
San Francisco Dungeon
The Dungeon is a unique experience that takes guests through history as a walking tour from one exhibit to another, and a memorable stop for any visitor to Fisherman’s Wharf who wants to learn more about history’s forgotten crimes and intrigues.
Autism Travel Tips
Parents should be aware that this venue features areas of dense darkness and “eerie atmosphere which can be uncomfortable for some.If parents decide to go, they should bring noise canceling headphones for kids with any noise sensitivities.
Chinese New Year Parade
San Francisco boasts the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest Chinese community outside of Asia. So, it’s no surprise the city takes its Chinese New Year Parade quite seriously.
This annual festival that is celebrated in February features a phenomenal parade that draws in the crowds. It was easy to see the civic pride San Franciscans share in celebrating their multicultural heritage. The Parade at heart belongs to the people, but the local government takes it as a fitting way to promote community outreach.
Our favorite moment was when the San Francisco Police Department gave the little children next to us sheriff badge stickers and stopped for photo opportunities.
Autism Travel Tips
Parents should stock up on snacks and encourage their kids to use the bathroom early, as it can be quite difficult to find an open bathroom or water fountain within walking distance.
Additionally, the parade is quite loud, not only from the police sirens but from parade-goers launching firecrackers that sound like mini explosions.
Depending on how many days you purchase on the card and how you wish to pace yourself while touring the city, this card may save you some money. We used the card for one day and were not in any rush to see too many attractions, so we ended up visiting only three spots.What we liked was the fact it was easy to use, and we didn’t have to wait in any lines to purchase separate tickets for each location.
What we really liked was the fact it was easy to use, and it saved us time. Since we travel with our son who is on the autism spectrum we didn’t have to wait in any lines to purchase separate tickets for each location.
All in all, these three activities are just a part of the hundreds available to San Francisco visitors available on the card.There are many more interesting and exciting attractions to see around the city that we hope to explore on future visits.