aquaticparkWhat beats a ship-in-a-bottle? A real live ship, of course! At the Hyde Street Pier, six floating historic vessels are anchored for public view, including Alma, a scow schooner, Eureka, a four-story, 1890 ferry, and Balclutha, a real-life square-rigged ship, the likes of which are immortalized in bottles. A day spent down at the pier playing pirate is a worthy day indeed.

When you’re ready for a change of scene, you can check out the colorful murals at the Aquatic Park Bathhouse Building, shaped like a ship, view the video games of yesteryear at Musee Mecanique, or head over to the beach at the end of the pier, where the kids can turn all the sailors’ lore into their own make-believe journeys upon the beach’s shipwrecked rowboat.

Go: From October – February, before the summer crowds arrive.

What to see: As part of the San Francisco Maritime Museum, the fully restored ships can be seen close up, and you and the kids can even climb aboard and take the wheel for an easy $5. Guided tours include fascinating tales of seafaring adventures and stories about stowaway kittens that are sure to captivate young listeners.

Free activities come up regularly at Hyde Street Pier, including Small Craft, a tour of small boats at the floating dock, and Animals of Hyde Street Pier, where you’ll discover the living creatures housed at the end of the dock. Look out for arts and crafts projects as well.

Possible lunch spots: Choose between grilled cheese, burgers, pb & j, or spaghetti from Capurro’s kids’ menu, and grab some fresh local seafood for yourself, as you enjoy the nautical ambiance. Las Margaritas in the Cannery is also a good kid-friendly spot, but the food can be hit or miss. If you’re up for a short walk, try local-favorite Darrens Cafe, which serves breakfast anytime and great pho. (no website). For dessert, hit up Ghirardelli Square for a hot fudge sundae or a treat from local fave Kara’s Cupcakes.

How to dress: In comfy, warm clothes (as long as it’s not a fleece emblazoned with a San Francisco logo)  –you’ll be outside a lot–and walking shoes.

Need to know: Parking fees in Ghirardelli Square are astronomical. Bring lots of change for the meter and look for parking along Van Ness or in front of the South End Rowing Club.

Bonus: Peekadoodle Kids Club’s indoor play space is a warm & welcome oasis in the winter months. The Buena Vista is a San Francisco landmark and arguably serves the best irish coffee in the city. Enjoy a steaming cup to go while you watch the crazy Dolphin Club swimmers brave the frigid bay water sans wetsuits.

Online: Check calendar for special kids ship tours.

—Renee Rutledge