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The 10 Best Things To Do in San Francisco with kids!

The 10 Best Things To Do in San Francisco with kids!

There are so many fun things to do in San Francisco with kids, it’s easy to see why many visitors leave their hearts there! The little cable cars do seem to climb halfway to the stars as the song suggests. As they go, they pass rows of charming old Victorian homes situated in diverse hilly neighborhoods.

Kids of all ages love exploring these areas as well as San Francisco’s many family-friendly parks, museums, and activities. Parents also enjoy that their kids are learning through experiential fun!  

The cultural, traditional, and quirky live side-by-side around the San Francisco Bay and the locals wouldn’t have it any other way. Here are our picks for the best things to do in San Francisco with kids.

Fun Things to do in San Francisco with Kids

1. Walk Across the Golden Gate Bridge

Walking across the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the best things to do in San Francisco with kids

The lonely call of the fog horn is common around the Golden Gate Bridge, but the view is ever-changing. Clear and sunny days often get interrupted by “Karl the Fog”, as San Franciscans refer to the famous area weather system.

One of the most beloved bridges in the world, The Golden Gate is flanked by stunning Golden Gate National Parks on each end.

A walk across the structure is an easy activity for all abilities and hiking levels. But, it can also be a chilly experience so dress in layers!

Viewing platforms on the span provide a perspective of San Francisco visitors won’t get anywhere else. They also reveal a dazzling view of Fort Point, the Civil War era fortification nestled under the bridge platform. To learn more about this iconic landmark, sign up for free guided walking tour at the Bridge Plaza.  

You can also opt to take a cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge.

There are nearly a dozen national parks in the Bay Area. Read about them all in our guide to National Parks Near San Francisco

2. Discover Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39

You can't head to San Francisco with kids without a visit to Fisherman's Wharf
K Dock at Pier 39, Photo by San Francisco Travel Association

Fisherman’s Wharf is the best place to get clam chowder in a bowl fashioned from a round of San Francisco’s world-famous sourdough. The area also has a few attractions to enjoy while you’re walking off that filling meal.

Before the Golden Gate Bridge existed, the Hyde Street Pier and Maritime National Historic Park was an automobile ferry terminal connecting San Francisco and Marin.

At Pier 45, Musee Mechanique traces the arcade experience back to the early 1900’s. Moored next to it is the USS Pampanito, a World War II submarine open for self-guided tours.

But the most unusual sight is to be found on the K Dock at Pier 39. Hundreds of sea lions lounge on former boat slips. Watching them fight over precious space on the docks is endlessly entertaining.

Learn more about these creatures at the Aquarium of the Bay. Want to get out on the bay? Well, the Blue & Gold Fleet offers cruises out of the Bay.

Both Aquarium of the Bay and the Blue & Gold Fleet Cruise are included in the San Francisco City Pass. CityPass will save you 44% on admission to some of San Francisco’s most popular family attractions. Trekaroo is a trusted CityPass affiliate.

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3. Visit Alcatraz

One of the best things to do in San Francisco with kids is visit Alcatraz
Alcatraz , Photo by San Francisco Travel Association

Alcatraz, also referred to as “the Rock,” was home to some pretty nefarious types during its tenure as a federal prison. Al “Scarface” Capone and Robert “Birdman” Stroud were among the more than 1,500 convicts who did hard time there.

But, did you know that the Rock also served as a Civil War fortress, a bird sanctuary, and the home base of the first lighthouse on the West Coast? It was also where the American Indian Red Power movement took root, occupying the then abandoned prison for over 18 months.

Tours of Alcatraz focus on the cell blocks, including solitary confinement, which you can experience for yourself, as well as colorful stories of daily life on the island. Just book well in advance as this tour is extremely popular!

4. Ride a Cable Car

Ride a cable car in San Franciso with kids
Powell Street Cable Car, Photo by Kristine Dworkin

The three remaining routes of San Francisco’s iconic cable car system — two routes running from downtown near Union Square out to Fisherman’s Wharf and a third along California Street — are a “must-ride”, taking visitors up and down San Francisco’s infamous steep hills.

After their ride, families can learn more about the world’s last manually operated transportation system at the Cable Car Museum.

Filled with historical exhibits and examples of old cable cars, it is considered a working museum because part of it houses the cable car power source, which drives the cables, as well as the car depot. It’s a visit that comes at the best price too — free!

San Francisco made this list of the best mother daughter trips to take with your child.

5. Don’t Wait for a Game to Visit Oracle Park

Oracle Park is home to the San Francisco Giants
Coca Cola Fan Lot, Photo by Kristine Dworkin

Home to the 2014 World Series champions, the San Francisco Giants, Oracle Park has many family-friendly attractions your kids will enjoy. Luckily, you don’t have to visit the city during baseball season to take advantage of them!

When the Giants are away, the Coca-Cola Fan Lot is open to the public at no charge. Your kids can take to the Coke bottle-shaped super slide and play around the 26-foot high replica of a vintage 1927 four-fingered baseball glove, They can also hit balls and run the bases at the Little Giants Park, a smaller version of Oracle Park.

6. Snap Selfies with Instagrammable Street Art

Mission District Murals in San Francisco
Mission District Murals, Photo by San Francisco Travel Association

San Francisco is loaded with Instragrammable art your teens will want in their feeds. The Mission, North Beach, and Chinatown all have large outdoor galleries of murals.

There are also staircases! San Francisco has several staircases that are frequently featured in social media selfies. There’s the dazzling mosaic that is the 16th Avenue Steps. The Hidden Garden Steps feature embossed tiles forming psychedelic butterflies and floral patterns.

The gorgeous pop of design on the Lincoln Park Steps was a neighborhood effort to repair a neglected staircase at the eastern edge of Lincoln Park. 

The city’s newest urban art project is Art Trail SF. It traverses the city’s central neighborhoods, from Hayes Valley to Alamo Square, through the Lower Haight and along the Divisadero Corridor.

Notable stops include the Painted Gentlemen, a rotating gallery of murals adjacent to the iconic row of Victorian homes known as the Painted Ladies.

7. Get Back to Nature in the Presidio

Presidio Park San Francisco Warming hut
The Warming Hut, Photo by San Francisco Travel Association

Presidio Park San Francisco is the perfect natural escape in the middle of the city! The largest US national park in an urban area, it’s home to a myriad of butterfly species, birds, and native plants. San Francisco’s oldest neighborhood street also runs along a tidy row of officers’ homes on this former military base.

Read about 15 great hikes near San Francisco

Down in Crissy Field, a former airstrip beside the San Francisco Bay, families now fly kites and play with their dogs. Kids explore Battery Chamberlain and other artilleries that dot the coastline near Baker Beach.

The Presidio also has one of the most imaginative park spaces ever created. The Presidio Tunnel Tops — a park constructed on top of highway tunnels — connects the Presidio’s historic center to the Crissy Field waterfront.  This area offers sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge and ample picnic space, including an area with barbecues, a campfire circle, and an outdoor playground called the Outpost, where kids can enjoy self-guided experiences in areas for building as well as exploring art and science. 

Enjoy a picnic in lush meadows and along breezy headlands. Take to secluded hiking trails that wind through cypress, pine, and eucalyptus forests.

One of my favorite hikes is the portion of the coastal trail leading to Land’s End and ultimately Ocean Beach. The Presidio is also home to Lucasfilm, the creator of Star Wars, and the Walt Disney Family Museum.

The Walt Disney Museum is part of the San Francisco CityPass.

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Read about 9 great experiences Presidio Park has to offer families.

8. Check Out Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park Windmill
Golden Gate Park, Photo by Kristine Dworkin

Golden Gate Park attractions are cultural, horticultural, and downright surprising. Who would expect an American metropolitan city park would have bison living it? A small herd has roved the park’s 35-acre Bison Paddock since the late 1800s.

Visitors can rent bikes and paddle boats. They can also snap photos with beautiful backdrops like Strawberry Hill, an island with a waterfall, or picturesque Stow Lake.

A walk in the Japanese Tea Garden includes pagodas, stone lanterns, Koi ponds, and Zen gardens as well as refreshments in the tea house.

Don’t miss the Conservatory of Flowers, a masterpiece of Victorian architecture topped with a stunning glass dome. It’s home to aquatic species, carnivorous plants, Dahlia and Rhododendron gardens, and more.

On the western end of the park, two Dutch windmills sit side by side. Once responsible for park irrigation, they now shadow the Beach Chalet, a charming restaurant with amazing ocean views.

9. Have Your Pick of Kid-Friendly Museums

A visit to San Francisco with kids must include a stop at the Exploratorium
Exploratorium, Photo by Kristine Dworkin

San Francisco has many museums with hands-on, kid-friendly experiences. The MOMA, Palace of the Legion of Honor, and the de Young Museum offer family tours. They’re often followed by art projects led by professional artists.

The California Academy of Sciences is an epic exploration of science, ecology, astronomy, and the ecosystem. Learn about earthquakes and animals living in California at the Randall Museum. Kids can make their own stop-motion films and produce music videos at the Children’s Creativity Museum.

The Exploratorium takes advantage of its close proximity to San Francisco Bay to explore the effects of wind, water, and tides. In fact, it is filled with science, ecology, and biology experiments your kids will want to experience so be sure you have a full day to devote to it.

Discounted admission to both the California Academy of Sciences and Exploratorium are part of the San Francisco CityPass.

10. Explore Unique Neighborhoods

Chinatown in San Francisco
Chinatown, Photo by Kristine Dworkin

San Francisco’s vibrant neighborhoods hold old-world charms and traditions while embracing modern ideals.

If your visit falls in late June, don’t miss the LGBTQ pride celebrations in the Castro. They culminate in the Pride Parade, one of the most colorful celebrations you’ll ever witness. 

The Haight Ashbury neighborhood evokes images of free-spirited 60’s hippie culture. It is also filled with great thrift shops.

For a bustling cultural experience, head to Chinatown. This is the place to eat wonderfully authentic Chinese food and shop in stores filled with all sorts of unique treasures.

Enjoy family-style Italian dining and gelato in North Beach. Hike the staircases of Telegraph Hill in search of the area’s famous parrots. Take in the city views around Coit Tower.

Get a taste of Latin culture in the Mission District. This is another district where sampling the cuisine is part of the fun.

Traverse the eight hairpin turns of the “Crookedest Street in the World,” Lombard Street.

Play Japanese arcade games and snap a group shot in a green screen photo booth with outlandish backdrops. Both activities are among the entertaining surprises in Japan Town.

Where to Eat in San Francisco with Kids

Ferry Building Marketplace San Francisco
Ferry Building Marketplace, Photo by San Francisco Travel Association

Attack a Margherita pizza at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana or devour a clam and garlic pie from North Beach Pizza. Feast on delectable tacos, burritos, and tortas from El Farolito, El Toro Taqueria, or La Taqueria; three beloved Mission District establishments.

Then cast off guilt about carb consumption at Tartine Bakery. Gorge on a sundae at Ghirardelli Square, San Francisco’s preeminent chocolate outpost. 

Boudin Bakery is the place to partake of classic San Francisco clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl and kids go crazy for the Shrimp Packets and Mongolian Beef at House of Nanking.

Should you find yourself on Market Street around the Embarcadero, be sure to visit the Ferry Building Marketplace. Located in the historic Ferry Building, it’s the city’s largest farmers market. It’s also the permanent home for local artisan producers like the Mariposa Baking Company, Cowgirl Creamery’s Artisan Cheese, Humphry Slocombe, and Dandelion Chocolate.

Where to Stay in San Francisco with Kids

Here are some great, family-friendly hotels located near iconic San Francisco sites:

Hilton San Francisco Union Square

Hilton San Francisco

The Hilton San Francisco Union Square is a classic home base for families enjoying retail therapy in Union Square. It is also within walking distance of a majority of San Francisco’s live theater performances and adventures on the city’s waterfront.

Kids love the pool at this hotel. Parents love the convenient grab-and-go gourmet marketplace just off the lobby. The Herb N’ Kitchen offers fresh, seasonal food throughout the day.  

Stay in the San Francisco Presidio

Lodge at the Presidio
The Lodge at the Presidio, Photo by Kristine Dworkin

There are two hotels to choose from in the Presidio. Located at opposite ends of the main post, both hotels are not just kid-friendly, they’re dog-friendly as well! The Inn at the Presidio is a cozy 22-unit hotel designed for socializing and reading. There are several gathering points for guests – a living room, mess hall, and spacious porches. Books were everywhere.

Its sister property, the Lodge at the Presidio, is the closest hotel to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. The views of the bridge are so spectacular, you’ll feel like San Francisco opened its Golden Gate just for you! 

The Hotel Zephyr in Fisherman’s Wharf

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Hotel Zephr, Photo by Kristine Dworkin

Part clubhouse, old-school game room, hang-out pad, and all-around fun, the Hotel Zephyr is adjacent to Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39.

Families enjoy challenging each other to pool, backgammon, and shuffleboard in the Game Room. Watch the fog roll in from the hotel’s outdoor area, the Yard. While you’re out there, why not also learn the art of Tubular Ping Pong?

Day Trips from San Francisco with Kids

Your family will become very familiar with the term “micro-climate” during your travels around the San Francisco Bay Area.

This means that you may wake up to 67 degrees in San Francisco but you could encounter a temperature dip just across the bay or a large increase as you go inland. A little preparation will go a long way in making sure your family is comfortable for seeing the sights. 

Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore
Point Reyes National Seashore, Photo by Flickr/ Sandip Bhattacharya

Made up of more than 70,000 acres, Point Reyes National Seashore has more than 70 miles of hiking and horseback riding trails as well as numerous hike-in campgrounds.

Wild coastal beaches and headlands, estuaries, and uplands make up the peninsula of this preserve. It is a great place for watching the gray whale migration and observing raptors and shorebirds and seeing elephant seals basking on the beach. 

In addition, there are opportunities for learning more about the San Andreas Fault, and 16th-century maritime history, and to set off on your own searches for oyster shells and sand dollars.

Microclimate tip: Summers are often cold and foggy in Point Reyes, while winters in this area are generally clear. All family members should bring a jacket or sweatshirt that can be tied around the waist as the day warms up.

Muir Woods National Monument

Muir Woods is a great day trip from San Francisco
Muir Woods, Photo by Kristine Dworkin

Often described as a pilgrimage, not an excursion, Muir Woods is a majestic collection of redwood trees 400 to nearly 1,000 years old. Douglas fir, maples, tanoaks, and red alders sprout up in the sprays of light that squeeze in between the redwoods’ huge trunks.

Wildlife like owls, deer, chipmunks, and woodpeckers play and live among their branches and roots. Flat easy trails loop through the park and several of them include ways to cross Redwood Creek, which flows all year long.

Microclimate tip: Ocean moisture creeps up over the headlands and spills over into the protected valley where Muir Woods is located. The daytime temperatures rarely climb past the low 70s.

Consider bringing a sweatshirt or light jacket that can be tied around the waist, even if you visit in the summer months. A visit in the winter months could require toting a warm jacket or an umbrella.

Sausalito/Tiburon/Angel Island

Sausalito California
Sausalito, Photo by Kristine Dworkin

Sausalito offers opportunities to explore marine life and enjoy the San Francisco cityscape from across the bay. Families particularly enjoy the Bay Area Discovery Museum. It is filled with all sorts of exhibits, play areas, and fun educational things to do.

Fifteen minutes down the road, is the picturesque town of Tiburon. Here you can catch the Angel Island Ferry and get out on the bay. Angel Island State Park is a gorgeous 10-minute sail away. Sweeping views, hiking and biking trails, and other outdoor adventures waiting for you!

Microclimate Tip: Dress in layers! It can get breezy on the bay, but it could be very nice too so be prepared to shed or layer clothing according to what the weather dishes out.

Napa Valley

Napa Valley Winery
Castello Di Amorosa, Photo by Flickr/Jim G

It may be a place more immediately connected to fine wine and culinary arts, but the Napa Valley has attractions that are family-friendly, too!

Read about 10 Fun Things to do in Napa with Kids

Kids love to watch the Old Faithful Geyser erupt, pretend they are knights or ladies at Castello di Amorosa, and conduct geological studies in the Petrified Forest.

Approximately 78 wineries offer family-friendly features on their tours that include grape juice and coloring books for the kids.

Microclimate Tip: Napa’s climate is considerably warmer than San Francisco, often by as much as 10 to 15 degrees. So, pack sunscreen and head out to enjoy a typically clear, comfortable day.

Kristine Dworkin