Autism, travel, parenting and mental health

Navigating Your Spectrum in San Francisco

Navigating Your Spectrum in San Francisco

San Francisco is one of my absolute favorite places to visit in California. It has beautiful scenic views and lots of activities for everyone. We took our kiddos three years ago when everyone was younger and we still managed to have a fabulous family trip! Traveling with kiddos comes with finding activities that everyone can enjoy. Luckily San Francisco has lots of very family friendly spots, and many of them are perfect for people on the spectrum. Here are some amazing places for families in SF, and some tips for navigating your spectrum while there!


The Exploratorium was one of my kiddos favorite places on this trip. It is a Science Museum with lots of interactive and educational exhibits. The kiddos were able to touch, play and thoroughly explore everything. They interacted with different sensory exhibits, with lights, sounds and smells. We didn’t push them to try anything and just kind of let them explore at their own pace. Tip: Bring ear protection! It is a kid friendly science museum, its loud and can get crowded in certain areas. We were there on Memorial Day weekend, so it may be less crowded normally. Note: Exploratorium is located on pier 15 so its further down the way from Pier 39(Fisherman’s Wharf). But you can walk, or take a bicycle taxi if you want to save your feet the trouble.  


Aquarium of the Bay 

Located on Pier 39 is Aquarium of the Bay. It is a wonderful way to enjoy time with some sea life! My kiddos loved seeing all the different animals and learning about the animal life in the waters just outside the doors. There is lots to see, and do at this aquarium, including a shark tunnel and touch pools! Tip: If this is your kiddos first experience with a touch pool go slow and stay vigilant! It took my sensory seeker 5 mins to warm up to the idea of putting his hands in the water. And it took my sensory sensitive kiddo 2.5 seconds to shove both his hands in, and try to grab a Bat ray by the wings and pick it up out of the water. 


We finished out our short trip with a day at the beach! We chose Crissy Field Beach, this beach was great because it is located next to the Golden Gate Bridge. My kids associate the bridge with San Fransisco, (thanks Lilo and Stitch, and Inside Out), so spending the day with the view of it was special for them. My anxiety wouldn’t have been able to handle walking across the bridge with them, so this was a great way to view the bridge. All of my kiddos love the beach, so we had toys, snacks and a change of clothes with us. This area is huge, and is located close to the Palace of the Arts. Tip: Always bring extra clothes to change into, in case your kiddos are sensitive to wet clothes with sand in it. There is lots to see within the area, so if your loved one on the spectrum doesn’t enjoy all the sensory that comes with going to the beach, there is a trail around the whole beach so you can still enjoy the views!

Make your trip adaptive

I think Fisherman’s Wharf is one of the best locations for everyone in the family. It has everything from restaurants, to aquariums and even a carousel. There are also spots to watch sea lions bask in the sun, and a park if your kiddos need some space to play. We spent a whole day there enjoying all the sites, sounds, shops, and food! There is plenty to do and see without spending too much in the shops. We only did a two day trip, because we were unsure how everyone was going to do. I wish we would have stayed a little longer to see some more sights, because everyone did great. When planning a trip to San Fran, focus on what kinds of things you would like to see, and then focus on what kind of adapting you will need to do for your kiddos. Such as, if you would like to see the Painted Ladies (the gorgeous houses in the Full House intro), they are conveniently located across the street from a park! Find opportunities for everyone to explore safely, and remain comfortable. 

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