While preparing for our San Francisco CA trip, I searched high and low to find a highly rated, economical tour that my kids would enjoy. The Chinatown and North Beach Family Adventure offered by City Clues Adventures and Tours was the perfect match for our family.
Chinatown and North Beach San Francisco Family Adventure
City Clues Adventures and Tours is a locally-owned company that offers unique scavenger hunt style San Francisco adventures geared toward families. While my husband was busy at a conference, my teenage son Berkeley, tween daughter Ellie, and I knocked two items off the list of 10 Things To Do in San Francisco With Kids with the Chinatown and North Beach Adventure.
San Francisco’s Chinatown
We met our tour guide, Beth, and two other families at a church just inside the gates of Chinatown. After introductions and ground rules, Beth split us into two teams. Our family was one, and the other two families worked together since they were friends. Beth gave each group a list of clues to solve and a time limit of about 45 minutes before we would get back together.
At 9:30 a.m., the tourist portions of Chinatown were just awakening for the morning, and the streets were empty as we headed off on our adventure. The clues sent us looking for things like the Chinese flag, a picture of a United States president, Chinese cooking ingredients, and medicinal herbs. Not only did we have to find the item, sometimes we had to ask a person a question or do something fun. Our favorite clue sent us searching for a mural of the Chinese Zodiac. Once we found the mural and identified our sign, we had to act like that animal. Berkeley takes great pride in being a Golden Dragon – the luckiest sign in the Chinese Zodiac. Ellie is a Horse, and I was born in the Year of the Monkey. The kids had a big laugh seeing me act out my sign.
When our quest was complete, we met the rest of the group at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. Located in Ross Alley, just a handful of workers fold fortune cookies by hand with the aid of a small machine. Since 1962, this tiny little factory has shipped cookies all over the world. Let me tell you – if you like fortune cookies, you will love sampling them when they are freshly made.
With Beth in the lead, we continued our tour through Chinatown. We visited a butcher where, to Ellie’s dismay, cooks were picking out live chickens to become that night’s dinner. Less horrifying was the piece of dragon eye fruit that Beth handed out for us to taste.
Beth led us to a small Buddhist Temple hidden in one of the alleys. She taught us a brief lesson in the religious practices of burning incense, leaving offerings, and Ellie’s favorite part, moon blocks. Moon blocks are small crescent-shaped pieces of wood that are curved and painted red on the yin side and flat on the yang side. After thinking of a yes or no question, you shake the blocks in your hands and throw them on the floor. Ellie tried the blocks several times to see if the gods approved of her question (one block lands red side up and the other red side down), if the gods were angry (both blocks land red side up) or the gods were laughing at her (both blocks land red side down).
Our journey through Chinatown ended at the Jack Kerouac Alley. named after the famous Beat Generation writer. The walkway has engraved poems on the ground written in both English and Chinese. We entered the alley from Grant Avenue in Chinatown and came out the other side on Columbus Avenue in North Beach, the Italian section of San Francisco.
North Beach in San Francisco
North Beach is known for its great Italian Restaurants and as the birthplace of beatniks. It is also the home of San Francisco’s strip clubs. My cousin and I discovered this when we got lost in Chinatown as young teens. Thankfully, the part of North Beach covered in the tour includes only fully-clothed people. Since my husband is a library director, it was no surprise that our family loved the “Language of Birds” public art installation at the corner of Columbus Avenue and Broadway. Books fly like birds across the traffic median with their covers open like wings. Etched onto the ground are words that fell from the pages. We played a game where Beth called out words and phrases, and we searched the ground to find them.
She then handed out the next set of clues, and we were off to explore North Beach. We had an unimaginably hard time finding different types of pasta in a store window. Oddly, finding underwear for squirrels was quite simple. The North Beach hunt, and the tour, officially ended at Washington Square Park where we played a card game identifying San Francisco landmarks.
Even if you have never visited San Francisco, you have probably seen pictures of the most crooked street in America. Beth challenged us to hike Lombard Street, and my reluctant teen son shocked me by jumping at the change. I had already logged about six miles on my Fitbit, so the thought of climbing a bunch of stairs didn’t excite me. But when your teenager wants to do something, you do it.
What I didn’t realize was that the crooked part of Lombard Street was at the top of the hill, and we were at the bottom. The climb just to get to Lombard Street just about killed me. By the time we got there, I was done. All I could do was slump to the ground and wish for a bottle of water to fall from the sky. So I sat while Beth led my children and the rest of our group up the final ascent. I had a change of heart after cooling off and catching my breath. I started to climb the 250 stairs while watching cars, bicycles, and Segways ride slowly down the eight hairpin curves.
My children were shocked when they saw me reach the top of the climb, and my entire tour group cheered for me.
Totally worth it.
The Chinatown and North Beach and Chinatown Family Adventure is the perfect tour if your family is seeing San Francisco in One or Two Days. We can’t wait to return to San Francisco and try the other adventures offered by City Clues Adventures and Tours.