Top 25 Things To Do in San Francisco with Kids

Photo courtesy of the Bay Area Discovery Museum
Photo courtesy of the Bay Area Discovery Museum

With its famously steep hills, iconic sights, and many kid-friendly attractions, San Francisco is chock full of family fun. Unique thrills like a ride on the clanging cable cars, a ferry trip across the bay to visit a fabled island prison, amazing experiential food spots are some of the only-in-San Francisco experiences that kids and adults will love. Hands-on museums, a bayside aquarium, and enormous parks round out the family fun.

Read on to discover our best bets for family fun on a trip to San Francisco. And for more Bay Area fun, check out our list of things to do in Silicon Valley with kids

1. Pier 39

Take in the sights and sounds of specialty shops, restaurants, sweet shops, and a two-tier carousel on Pier 39. Make your way to the end of the pier for a breathtaking view of the bay and maybe spot some sea lions sunning themselves. 

Aquarium of the Bay. Photo courtesy of the aquarium=

2. Aquarium of the Bay

Press your nose to the glass tanks at this aquarium to get up close and personal with bay-area marine life, including sharks and rays, jellyfish and octopus, and playful river otters.  

3. Ferry Building Marketplace 

Nosh on local fare at the historic Ferry Building Marketplace at the foot of bustling Market Street, where more than 40 local vendors operate. Faves include Cowgirl Creamery, Gott's Roadside, Recchiuti Confections, and Blue Bottle Coffee. On market days, the plaza out front features food trucks and colorful displays of California produce at the farmer's market. My kids loved poking around Book Passage, an indy bookseller with a well-curated children's section and many titles by local authors.

4. Exploratorium

Tinker with more than 650 exhibits at the Exploratorium on Pier 15 for an inside look at science, art, and human perception. Kids can build their own bridges and electric circuits, discover optical illusions, and drink (clean) water from a toilet. My kids were fascinated with the inner workings of clocks and pinball machines and could have spent an entire day tinkering. Afterward, enjoy a waterfront meal at Sea Glass, the attached family-friendly restaurant with water views and local fare. 

5. Fisherman's Wharf

Sample the seafood and souvenir shops at Fisherman's Wharf, the city's historic fishing industry hub-turned-tourist attraction. Note the clean, public restrooms halfway down the pier.

6. Alcatraz

Gaze across the bay at imposing Alcatraz Island, or book a ferry ride to "The Rock" for a tour of the notorious federal prison.

Photo courtesy of the Bay Area Discovery Museum

7. Bay Area Discovery Museum

Board the ferry for a ride to Sausalito and take in the majestic bay views, along with waterfront shops and dining. Spend some time at the Bay Area Discovery Museum, an interactive, 7.5-acre indoor and outdoor adventure in art and science designed for kids ages 6 months to 10 years old.

8. Golden Gate Park

Meander through this park to get to Koret Children's Quarter, where the kids can climb rope towers and a wave wall, or ride the nearby carousel. Bring some cardboard to ride the famous concrete slide or head to Stow Lake for paddleboats. 

9. California Academy of Sciences

Investigate a four-story rainforest, an underwater coral reef, and faraway galaxies at the California Academy of Sciences. My youngest, who recently studied the rainforest in kindergarten, loved climbing down from the canopy to the understory and forest floor. Don't miss the earthquake simulator for a demonstration of the wall-shaking quakes San Francisco has experienced.

10. Ocean Beach

Dip your toes in the chilly Pacific at Ocean Beach, a 3.5-mile stretch of shore on the city's western edge. Dine at Beach Chalet at sunset to enjoy sweeping ocean views.

Alamo Square. Photo courtesy of San Francisco City Parks

11. Alamo Square

Bring your "Full House" fans to Alamo Square to see the pastel-colored Painted Ladies, the quintessential San Francisco row homes with Victorian charm. A dual-level playground in the park is an added bonus. 

12. Children's Creativity Museum

Doodle, sculpt, invent, and create music at this children's museum, a hands-on, multimedia experience that celebrates innovation and creative expression.

13. San Francisco Zoo

Visit this zoo with young animal lovers to see hippos, giraffe, bears, and penguins. Ride the Little Puffer steam train through the 100-acre zoo or hike the wildlife trails. 

14.  Dolores Park

Soak up some sun while the kids clamber through the huge playground and grassy fields at this park in the Mission District. 

Coit Tower. Christopher Michel via Flickr

15. Coit Tower

Climb to the top of Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill for unparalleled views of the city. Check out the WPA murals painted inside in the 1930s.

Kids will be fascinated by the Cable Car Museum. Photo by kinukovv via Instragram

16. Powell-Mason cable car line

Ride a cable car through Chinatown or the less-crowded California Street line. Take your transportation-loving kids to the Cable Car Museum to see how those clanging cars have been working since the 1870s. 

17. Ghirardelli Square

Spend time at this renowned former chocolate factory, where you can stroll around the fountain, browse in the gift shops, or grab a bite to eat. My boys found a kid-sized picnic table and some smooth rocks to play tic-tac-toe while my daughter and I shopped for some gifts. 

18. Ghirardelli Chocolate

Stand in line for a taste of decadent chocolate or a mega ice cream sundae and at one of the original Ghirardelli Chocolate shops. 

19. Lombard Street

Take in the view from the top of Lombard Street, the city's most famous crooked street with eight steep switchbacks, then walk down the stairs built into the sidewalk. 

20. Crissy Field

Hike the shoreline on a stroller-friendly trail through Crissy Field and up to Fort Point for a closeup of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. 

21. Golden Gate Bridge

Hold hands as you walk across this iconic bridge and stop in at the welcome center to learn about the amazing history and engineering of the bridge. If your kids are old enough, or brave enough, rent bikes and pedal across the bridge. 

Palace of Fine Arts. Photo courtesy of the California Park System

22. Palace of Fine Arts

Stroll around the domed rotunda of the Palace of Fine Arts and surrounding gardens. 

23. Walt Disney Family Museum

Visit this museum for a glimpse into the personal life of the man behind Mickey Mouse. Screenings of classic Disney movies are held most afternoons. 

24. San Francisco Giants Game

Root for the San Francisco Giants during a day game at Oracle Park. The stadium is beautiful on a sunny day, with views of the bay. Don't miss the giant baseball glove and huge slides inside a Coke bottle at the children's play area behind left field.

25. SubPar Miniature Golf

If you miss any monuments, play a quick round of mini golf at this course in Ghirardelli Square, where each hole is built to resemble a San Francisco landmark. My sons loved the break from sightseeing and thought the mini-monuments were pretty cool. 

Know Before You Go

The weather in San Francisco is mild year-round, albeit foggy and unexpectedly cool in summer, especially in the evenings. We lucked out with a few sunny days in early July, although the temperature in San Francisco was 15 degrees cooler than it was in the surrounding area, so pack sweaters and light jackets for the kids.

Getting around San Francisco with kids was easy using Uber and the Muni streetcar that runs along the Embarcadero. We stayed near Union Square and did a lot of walking. 

Unless noted, photos by the author

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