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Room for the Kids

With some luck and a little planning, the family trip to San Francisco will be something you and your kids will always remember... in a good way. Finding the right lodgings can go a long way toward making your vacation a success.

Start with the practical stuff—the equivalent of eating your vegetables before you get dessert. You'll want to find something with enough room, so look for places with full suites (more than one discrete room with a door between rooms) or junior suites (with an extra sitting–dining area) so the kids can play on their own without getting underfoot. Cow Hollow Motor Inn and Suites has apartment-size quarters, and the Fairmont Heritage Place's spacious apartments can fit a large family. Hotel Diva tapped into the hip kiddo market by crafting luxe quarters for the playground set; imagine a bunk bed draped with colorful bedding, stuffed animals, toys, a Wii, and a karaoke machine. If you can't afford a suite, places with big closets (such as the Chancellor) can help with the clutter of toys, strollers, and the like.

Motels with parking right outside your door (like those on Lombard Street) can help you clear clutter, too, as well as reduce the schlep factor coming and going. Many hotels contract with babysitting services, and some have child-friendly furnishings in certain rooms. Places with kitchens or kitchenettes (such as the Beresford Arms and the Laurel Inn) will make meals and snacks easier, and if you can afford it, room service is a great mess-free way to feed the group—just shove the dirty dishes into the hallway and call down to have them removed. Some expensive hotels, such as the Ritz-Carlton, have Club Levels with continuous food service all day. This option costs extra but can actually save you money on meals and snacks.

Now for the fun! Any place with a pool will probably be a hit if your kids can swim. Video games can also while away the hours if absolutely necessary. The Seal Rock Inn has a play area with a small pool, Ping-Pong table, and badminton court, and it's close to the beach, which can be fun if it's not too cold. Ask if your hotel has special welcome amenities for kids, such as the toys and games offered by the Hilton, Four Seasons, Argonaut, and Omni; complimentary kids' snacks (such as cookies and milk at the Omni and the Hotel Del Sol); or a library of games, movies, and snacks for kiddos at the Fairmont Heritage Place.

The Fairmont has a wonderful "Doorman for a Day" program that lets kids don an official pint-size doorman's cap to greet guests and blow a whistle to hail a taxi while Mom and Dad capture the moment with a camera supplied free by the hotel (kids get to keep the whistle). Kids staying at the Golden Gate Hotel like to ride up and down on the antique "birdcage" elevator and play with Pip the cat or Humphrey the friendly golden retriever. Enough fun for you? This is just a sampling—you'll have to find the rest on your own!

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