Teens can be hard to please, and vocally critical to boot. At the same time, they're not quite ready to find their own fun entirely without guidance -- especially while on vacation in an unfamiliar city. While the whole family can enjoy climbing Coit Tower or riding a cable car to Fisherman's Wharf, taking time out of your trip to schedule an activity especially focused on your teenager can be a vacation lifesaver.
San Francisco has a plethora of movie theaters. Teens interested in big budget blockbusters can visit the Metreon or the Westfield Cinemas downtown or the Kabuki Theaters in Japantown. The Metreon offers IMAX movies as well. San Francisco is also home to several repertory theaters such as the Castro and the Roxie, which offer a year-round calendar full of vintage Hollywood classics, quirky documentaries, foreign films and art house fare. In the Richmond neighborhood, you'll find the Balboa offering a slate of similar offbeat films. If your teen is a fan of truly strange cinema, a trip to Offbeat Films in the Mission is a must. Screenings from their collection of rare film ephemera happen on Thursday and Friday nights.
The Haight -- once ground zero for the Summer of Love and the hippie generation -- now hosts high-end shoe shops, boutique fashion and vintage clothing stores. Also here are Amoeba Music, a cavernous former bowling alley filled to the brim with unique sonic finds, and Booksmith, one of the last great independent bookstores in the city. In the Mission District, you'll encounter one-of-a-kind stores like Paxton Gate, which sells animal bones, carnivorous plants and other curios, and The Pirate Store, which is actually a front for a community youth writing organization. Don't miss the retail offerings downtown near Union Square, where teens can try out the full department store experience at Macy's or Nieman Marcus, or check out the flagship stores of brands like 7 For All Mankind, Fluevog and Swatch.
San Francisco's famously mild climate means that it's easy to spend the whole day outdoors. Golden Gate Park is the jewel in the crown of the city's outdoor offerings. Teens can visit the bison enclosure, rent a bike and ride the trails, stroll the Japanese Tea Garden or ride on the vintage carousel. Teens might also want to hit one of several beach spots in the city -- Ocean Beach directly west of the city and Aquatic Beach to the north near Fisherman's Wharf are two prime spots. It's often too cool to swim most of the year, but teens can picnic and sunbathe until the fog rolls in. For the very best urban people-watching, teens can take a picnic to Dolores Park in the heart of the city and relax surrounded by hundreds of others doing the same thing.
Museums After Dark
Some teenagers may roll their eyes at the idea of visiting a museum during the day -- but ask them to do the same after dark and things get a little more interesting. The De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park offers all-ages activities every Friday night. You can tour the galleries filled with fine art from all eras, including innovative exhibitions by artists like Keith Haring and Jean Paul Gaultier, or listen to a live band. The ultimate after-dark experience is the Alcatraz Night Tour. Watch the sun set behind the Golden Gate Bridge as you prepare to hear about the history of this famous prison, including its ghostly inhabitants. Any teen with even a smidgen of Goth to them will thrill to this spooky tour.