Kids in San Francisco
Expats moving to San Francisco will find that the city has plenty of activities and sights to see with children; with museums and parks designed specifically with kids in mind. Public transport within the city centre is adequate, but having a car to get around will make life easier for expats planning on venturing into the Bay Area.
Most kids love eating pizza and hamburgers, and there is plenty of American food available at very affordable prices. There is no chance of getting hot and bothered either, with California’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean ensuring that there’s always a cool breeze to accompany the sunshine and blue skies.
Schooling and education in San Francisco
The public education system in San Francisco is in a financial crisis, with many parents opting for private schools within the city. Moving out to the suburbs along the Peninsula to live within a good school district is a top priority for families wanting a public education. Greatschools.org is one useful central resource for researching schools and academic results in San Francisco. School district boundaries are strictly enforced and properties within popular districts come at a premium.
The school year commences in September and continues through to the end of May in the following year. Students then enjoy a three-month summer break with family vacations, summer camps and a lot of rest and relaxation at home.
Children attend elementary school from kindergarten to grade five, then move on to middle school for grades six, seven and eight. High school follows for grades nine through 12. Age cut-offs depend on each district but there is a tendency to ‘redshirt’ boys, where boys are being held back from starting school until they are six years old. This makes them older in high school and more likely to perform better at school sports. This in turn increases their chances of a sports scholarship to college, which can be prohibitively expensive for many families.
Homeschooling is a popular alternative and there are strong networks to support this in the Bay Area such as SFkids and the Berkeley Parents Network.
Entertainment for kids in San Francisco
There are many theme parks surrounding San Francisco such as California’s Great America, Six Flags and the Boardwalk at Santa Cruz. Playgrounds are rarer, but the Yerba Buena Gardens is a great place to visit and has the Children’s Creativity Museum right next door.
Most kids love the boat trip to visit Alcatraz, and the self-guided audio tours are very interesting for older kids as they describe jail life, including stories from real inmates. Visiting the seals at Fisherman’s Wharf is also a lot of fun.
Cycling over the Golden Gate Bridge is a popular activity, and a visit to the Exploratorium is a must for those who like hands-on science activities. There are many museums in San Francisco and Golden Gate Park has Japanese Tea Gardens, playgrounds and open spaces as well as the California Academy of Sciences. A trip to the beach along the west side of the peninsula can be fun, but the water is often too cold for swimming.
Many libraries offer a Discover and Go programme where library members receive discounted or free tickets to museums and attractions. Purchasing season passes for theme parks is also very cost-effective.
It only takes a short drive to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city to go hiking in the redwood forests at Muir Woods, visit strawberry farms near Half Moon Bay, or explore the tide pools at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve.
Parent networks in San Francisco
The Bay Area Parent magazine is a wonderful resource for newcomers as it lists a variety of children’s activities. The Berkeley Parents Network is a very strong email network with regular newsletters and a website for advice and reviews. Yelp is a consumer reviews website and is very handy for locating good playgrounds, swimming centres and children’s activities.
Baseball is the city’s favourite sport and many children play in a local sports team. Boy Scout and Girl Scout clubs are also popular, and are another good way to meet parents in the neighbourhood. Meet-up groups are a common way to find other parents online. Expats who become a member will receive invitations for outings and events.
With Silicon Valley attracting many families to San Francisco, there is a strong pull towards technical kids’ activities, such as robot-making, Lego building and computer game design classes.
Challenges for parents and kids in San Francisco
San Francisco is a very busy city so walking the streets can be tricky with a stroller or young child. There are lots of hills and children can tire easily. Public transport is satisfactory and is being improved, but it can be difficult wrangling kids and strollers onto trams and buses. Cars are the best way to get around and the child restraint laws are fairly strict. Kids under 12 years of age are recommended to stay in the back seat and kids eight years and under should use a booster seat unless they are taller than 4.9 feet (1.45 m).
There are beggars and homeless people on the city streets, and while most of these people are harmless, they can be frightening for children. An infamously dangerous area is ‘The Tenderloin’ which is along Geary Street, Van Ness Avenue, McAllister Street and Market Street, adjacent to the tourist areas.
There is a good variety of food available when eating out as a family, with Mexican food and traditional American food being favoured by kids. There is generally less awareness of food allergies and many foods contain peanuts and gluten, for example, without any warning signs on menus.
The people in San Francisco are exceptionally friendly and children are generally very well-mannered. It is not uncommon for a child to shake hands with adults when being introduced, and children to use adult's formal names when in conversation such as, “May I have a glass of water please, Mrs Rook?”. It can be intimidating for some expat children to shake hands with strangers, so discuss this and practice with them.
Due to the popularity of living in San Francisco and the Bay Area, housing is extremely expensive and rental prices are high. Many families need to live an hour away from the city to afford a home and commuting to work is common.
Overall, there are very few challenges in San Francisco. It is a great place to raise children with its warm climate, endless museums and natural beauty.