3 Days in San Francisco with Kids: Ultimate Itinerary by a Local Mom

There's so much to see and do in San Francisco with kids. Cable Car by Vasile Cotovanu via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
There's so much to see and do in San Francisco with kids. Cable Car by Vasile Cotovanu via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
2/25/24 - By Nicole Findlay

San Francisco with kids in just three days may surprise and delight you with all there is to do and see! Sure, the city is pretty expansive and has tons of attractions. With a perfect itinerary, you can have an ideal mix of adventure and relaxation without missing the most iconic hot spots in San Francisco with kids. 

As a mom in San Francisco, I love sharing my favorite city with fellow families. This San Francisco with kids itinerary includes notable landmarks like Alcatraz and Fisherman's Wharf, but it also has hidden gems, incredible family-friendly restaurants, and gorgeous outdoor spaces. 

If you've got more than three days in San Francisco with kids, explore the Presidio Tunnel Tops, embark on family-friendly urban hiking trails, and find some hidden gems in our Free Things To Do in San Francisco with Kids Guide


Visiting San Francisco with Kids: A Few Words About This Itinerary

Getting Around San Francisco with Kids

Despite its many hills, San Francisco is a very walkable city. This three-day itinerary is created with exploring on foot in mind, with a little public transportation mixed in. I mean, who doesn't want to ride a cable car? So wear comfortable shoes, bring a water bottle, and maybe some snacks. Let’s get started! 

Pick and Choose Your San Francisco Itinerary

With so many fun and unique things to do in San Francisco with kids, families can stay busy from morning to night, but only if they want to. Want more time relaxing at the beach? Or a little more time exploring the wonders of Golden Gate Park? Adapt these itineraries to what makes the most sense for you and your little ones. 

San Francisco with Kids: Embarcadero 
Explore the Embarcadero. Photo courtesy of Nicole Findlay 

Day 1 Itinerary: The Ferry Building to Crissy Field

Breakfast at the Ferry Building

Open since 1898, the Ferry Building is a super fun place to explore. Whether you wander inside the halls or outside along the waterfront, it’s beautiful and bustling, and every little nook and cranny smells so good! There are a ton of culinary options here. My family always opts for Mariposa Bakery. They offer delicious, sweet treats like cookies, cupcakes, pastries, etc., and they have plenty of options for kiddos with food allergies. 

If kiddos are excited to start their adventurous day in the city, don't stay at the Ferry Building long. I recommend grabbing a coffee to-go while walking along the waterfront toward Pier 39. The sidewalks are large, with plenty of room to push a stroller. Plus, the views along the Embarcadero are spectacular.

Before you hit Pier 39, you might want to make a quick playground stop. There's a small playground at Sue Bierman Park across the street from Pier 1. It's cute and has plenty of benches to sit, relax, and drink that coffee while little ones go wild.

RELATED: Exploring San Francisco's Presidio Tunnel Tops with Kids

San Francisco with Kids: Sea Lions at Fisherman's Wharf 
Kids will love San Francisco's famous sea lions. Photo courtesy of Nicole Findlay  

Pier 39

Pier 39 is touristy, but it’s also pretty cool. Families can easily spend the entire afternoon here. My favorite time to visit Pier 39 is first thing in the morning while the pier is quiet. There’s a coffee shop here, too, which opens well before the shops (Biscoff Coffee Corner). While strolling the pier in the morning, you’ll hear seagulls and world-famous sea lions instead of the hustle and bustle of tourists. For families that prefer a livelier atmosphere, stay until lunch, especially on a weekend. 

The pier spans two levels and is full of attractions, including rides like the 7D Ride Experience, the Bay Plunge, and a beautiful carousel. Other fun attractions include escape rooms, Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze, an arcade, daily street performers, and even the Aquarium of the Bay. Shops line the pier, like Build-A-Bear Workshop, Christmas in San Francisco, and Krazy Kaps, to name a few. There are also plenty of gift shops, candy stores, and restaurants. 

Lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf

Speaking of restaurants on Pier 39, you can’t help but inhale the scent of fresh fried seafood and clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls as you make your way down the wooden pier. A few local favorite dining spots are Fog Harbor Fish House (they have a kid’s menu) and Lappert’s Ice Cream Shop. The end of the pier is where the real magic is. The views of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the famous San Francisco sea lions are picture-postcard-worthy. 

RELATED: Family-Friendly Urban Hikes in San Francisco 

San Francisco with Kids: Alcatraz 
Ferry over to "The Rock" for some impressive history. Photo by Gina Ragland 


Next on the agenda is one of San Francisco’s most popular attractions — Alcatraz. The small island and former prison in the San Francisco Bay is interesting for all ages. Take the ferry operated by Alcatraz City Cruises on Pier 33. The boat ride is about 12 to 15 minutes. Advanced tickets are recommended, especially during busy travel months.

Allow about 3 hours to explore the island. Kids will love the fascinating history of former famous prisoners and the scavenger hunt, part of the Junior Ranger program. Keep in mind that Alcatraz is not really stroller-friendly. A baby carrier for little ones will make the trip much more accessible. 

Fisherman's Wharf

After an afternoon exploring Alcatraz, meander around Fisherman’s Wharf. While it’s full of tourist shops selling t-shirts, sweatshirts, magnets, and other souvenirs, kids will enjoy the atmosphere. Musee Mecanique will provide tons of entertainment for kids. Just bring some change and watch the kiddos enjoy retro arcade games. 

There are a few iconic restaurants here, too. Try Bistro Boudin, or at least walk up to the second floor to see sourdough bread animals and bakers in action. The Codmother Fish & Chips is another famous spot. For a meal on a budget for the entire family, there's always In-N-Out Burger. It's the only In-N-Out location in the city of San Francisco. 

RELATED: Guide to Riding Cable Cars with Kids: Everything You Need To Know 

San Francisco with Kids: The Buena Vista  
An SF spot where the whole family can dine. The Buena Vista photo by Lena Corazon via Flickr 2.0

Dinner near Ghiradelli Square

You’ve probably heard of Ghiradelli chocolate. Ghiradelli Square is where it all started for the famous chocolate company. Located on the waterfront at the far end of Fisherman’s Wharf, this popular square is a super sweet place to visit in San Francisco with kids.

The Ghiradelli Chocolate Experience Store will not disappoint! Plus, there’s a Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop, Subpar Miniature Golf, Gameday VR, which has virtual gaming stations and escape rooms, the Cartoon Art Museum, and plenty of kid-friendly restaurants, like the San Francisco Brewing Company. The Buena Vista is a personal favorite. Kids will love the cheeseburgers and pasta while parents can sip world-famous Irish Coffees. 

Crissy Field

For really adventurous families, keep traveling along the coastline. It’s 2.2 miles to Crissy Field. It’s walkable for those with older kids, but alternatively, take the bus (30 toward the Presidio) from the corner of North Point Street and Larkin Street. It takes about 20 minutes. Crissy Field is a beautiful beach with calm water and stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Day 2 Itinerary: Union Square, Chinatown, North Beach

Breakfast in Union Square

A family-favorite restaurant and a fantastic way to start any day in Union Square is breakfast at Lori’s Diner. Located on Sutter Street, this 1950s-style diner is classic fun. The black and white checkered floor, red booths, jukeboxes, and old-fashioned cars are a hit with all ages. Expect traditional meals, like waffles, pancakes, and omelets. 

If you want to walk off the large portions from Lori's, kids will love the immersive Yerba Buena Children's Garden. The play structures are right near the LeRoy King Carousel and the Children's Creativity Museum. Speaking of museums, SFMOMA is across the street from Yerba Buena Gardens, and children 18 and younger are always free.

Salesforce Park is also a close walk to these kid-friendly attractions. Take the free gondola ride to this urban oasis. There's a children's play structure, gorgeous gardens to explore, stroller-friendly walking paths, and kids will love the bus fountain. There's also tons of seating for the family to take a break and rest your feet. If you need a caffeine fix while at Salesforce Park, Andytown Coffee Roasters is atop the park. 

Union Square is also the perfect place to go on an iconic cable car ride. There are two lines to choose from here: the Powell/Hyde line and the Powell/Mason line. Catch both at the corner of Powell and Market Streets. The Powell/Hyde line ends at the intersection of Hyde and Beach Streets. The Powell/Mason line ends at Taylor Street and Bay Street. Equally fun, hop on for a memorable ride on San Francisco’s favorite mode of transportation. 

RELATED: Chinatown with Kids: Best Things To Do in Chinatown, San Francisco 

San Francisco with Kids: Chinatown 
Delicious food and culture await in Chinatown. Photo courtesy of Nicole Findlay 

Lunch in Chinatown

Just a few blocks from Union Square, families will find the Dragon Gate that leads to Chinatown. Located on the corner of Grant Avenue and Bush Street, snap a photo in front of the famous gate before heading up Grant Avenue. Families can easily spend the entire afternoon in Chinatown. From playgrounds to shopping and the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, there's tons to do in Chinatown with kids

When traveling in San Francisco with kids, playgrounds are always a big hit. In Chinatown, parents can choose between the Willie "Woo Woo” Wong Playground, Portsmouth Square Park, and St. Mary’s Square. The Willie “Woo Woo” Wong Playground is likely the most popular. It’s colorful, muti-leveled, and has playground equipment inspired by Chinese mythology. Portsmouth Square Park lets families peek into local culture, and St. Mary's Square offers a little serenity in the middle of a busy city. 

Kids will also likely love the shops in Chinatown. Full of treasures and trinkets at reasonable prices, little ones will find unique souvenirs to take back home. A family favorite here is the Bargain Bazaar on Grant Avenue.

While exploring Chinatown, keep your eyes peeled for incredible murals and stop for a bite to eat at one of the neighborhood's many kid-friendly restaurants. Try City View for dim sum, R&G Lounge for variety, Yin Du Wonton Noodle for noodle soups, and Eastern Bakery for something sweet. 

From Chinatown, walk through Jack Kerouac Alley to admire more street art. At the other end of the alley, you'll find yourself at the entrance of City Lights, the most famous bookstore in San Francisco. And now, your adventure in North Beach can commence. 

Dinner in North Beach

The only problem with visiting North Beach is deciding where to eat. There are simply too many places to choose from. A few favorites include Original Joe's for pasta and Tony's Pizza Napoletana for some of the best slices in the city.

While in North Beach, there are also a few more kid-friendly activities for little ones. While there’s a small playground in Washington Square, older kids will like the two-acre Joe DiMaggio playground. Next door to the playground on the corner of Columbus and Lombard is the North Beach Library. This is a cute spot for some quiet time before dinner.

Day 3 Itinerary: Golden Gate Park to the Inner Sunset

Breakfast at Beach Chalet

Golden Gate Park should be on everyone’s radar when visiting San Francisco with kids. It’s too beautiful to pass up! For a day exploring the greener side of the city, start the morning at Beach Chalet. Fuel up with delicious breakfast food and gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean. You’ll need a lot of energy to explore the park’s over 1,000 acres of open space.

After breakfast, walk up John F. Kennedy Drive toward Blue Heron Lake (formerly Stow Lake). Along the way, you'll spot the Dutch Windmill surrounded by gorgeous tulips (when in season in the springtime), buffalo grazing in a paddock, and Spreckles Lake, where you can sometimes spot model boats floating on the water. 

Lunch at Blue Heron Lake

Arriving at Blue Heron Lake will make your jaw drop. It’s beautiful, and there’s so much to explore. Rent pedal boats or row boats for a fun water adventure, encircle the lake via a paved path, or cross one of two stone bridges to check out the dirt path around the lake's inner island. This is our family's favorite spot in Golden Gate Park. 

The inner circle lets families cross a stone path near a waterfall, have a snack in the ornate Chinese Pavilion, and climb a rocky staircase to the top of Strawberry Hill, where you’ll find gorgeous city views. 

Luckily, Blue Heron Lake has a snack bar, perfect for re-fueling before venturing through the rest of Golden Gate Park. You'll find burgers, hot dogs, salads, and more. There are plenty of benches to dine with lake views.

RELATED: Visiting Golden Gate Park with Kids: Everything You Need To Know 

San Francisco with Kids: California Academy of Sciences 
The California Academy of Sciences will entertain kids for hours. Photo courtesy of Nicole Findlay

The eastern part of Golden Gate Park has several museums and gardens. Check out one or more before dinner in the Inner Sunset: 

  • San Francisco Botanical Gardens - This beautiful and tranquil space is 55 acres. There are over 8,000 different types of plants here. Families can stick to wide, paved paths or opt for narrow, windy dirt trails. A highlight here is the pond in the center of the gardens, where you'll spot fish and turtles.
  • Japanese Tea Garden San Francisco - The arched drum bridge in this five-acre garden is sure to be a hit. Little ones will also love the stepping stone paths, native Japanese plants, and beautiful koi ponds. The Tea House is a wonderful spot to relax, enjoy a hot cup of tea, and admire the peaceful surroundings.
  • The de Young Museum - The de Young is especially fun for little ones on Saturday mornings when they offer free creative hands-on programs to learn more about art. While here, check out the observation tower, which offers 360-degree views of San Francisco. 
  • California Academy of Sciences - One of the most popular attractions in Golden Gate Park, the Academy of Sciences features an aquarium, a planetarium, a rainforest, and a natural history museum. There’s a Curiosity Grove for the smallest tykes and an outdoor Wander Woods for all ages to explore the natural world. 

If you need to burn off even more energy before dinner, check out Koret Playground. The largest playground in Golden Gate Park has a giant concrete slide, a towering rope tower, a historic carousel, and multiple play structures.

Dinner in the Inner Sunset 

As the sun starts to set, head to the appropriately named Inner Sunset neighborhood via 9th Avenue for a bite to eat. There are a few great pizza places here. Our favorites are Pasquale's, a casual pizzeria, and Fiorella, a trendy Italian restaurant that offers small patrons a color-me-in menu and a set of crayons.

While in the Inner Sunset, pop into Green Apple Books on the Park, an independent bookstore with a nice kid's section at the back of the shop.

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