14 Things To Do With Kids in San Francisco
A tech hub, a center of immigration for centuries, and a city blessed with a dramatic location between mountains and ocean. San Francisco is many things. It's a cultural metropolis and a Mecca for fans of the great outdoors, and visiting San Francisco allows you to experience more new and exciting things than some other cities can offer in a lifetime.
If you're visiting San Francisco with kids, you'll be glad to know that you won't struggle to keep little ones occupied. While some of the city's top attractions might be of limited or zero interest to your offspring, there are others — both hidden gems and famous locations — that offer kids so much fun, they'll never forget their time in the City by the Bay. Check out some of these fun things to do in San Francisco with kids, and you'll be glad you made the trip to the West Coast for some unforgettable experiences.
Of course, scenic grandeur and high-flying tech don't come cheap. Like any great city, San Francisco is in some respects a victim of its own success. People want to be here, and so a trip to the city can be very expensive. However, you can also find plenty of free things to do in San Francisco, making it easy to travel on a budget even with your family.
And don't forget to drop off your bags at a San Francisco luggage storage spot. The lighter you travel, the easier it will be for you and your family to enjoy the San Francisco Bay Area and all the kid-friendly attractions the city has to offer.
Okay, so no one could accuse Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39 of being undiscovered gems. In fact, this area is one of the most popular and heavily touristed in the whole of San Francisco. However, that's part of the fun. Seeing the famous resident sea lions is a thrill for any kid, though if you get downwind of them, the smell might be the thing you remember most. Fisherman's Wharf is also chock full of candy shops, amusement arcades, rides, restaurants, and just about everything you could possibly need when looking for things to do in San Francisco with kids. Plus, the views out over the ocean are impressive enough by themselves.
Visiting Fisherman's Wharf and its famous sea lions is a quintessential activity to do in San Francisco with kids, and even without them. This famous tourist trap is more or less unavoidable, so you may as well give in and enjoy it.
Another of the city's most famous attractions is one of the best things to do in San Francisco with kids. The brooding prison of Alcatraz, set on its isolated island in the San Francisco Bay, is an unforgettable place to visit. And although the stories of the criminals that once called the place home might be a little scary for younger kids, older kids will get a thrill out of the audio tour and the cells that have been preserved just the way they were when the prison was in use. Plus, the views from the island of the city skyline and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge are almost worth the cost of the ticket by themselves. The Ferry Building is only a short walk from Pier 39, so you could easily combine two of the best things to do in San Francisco with kids into a single day. Really, though, both of these famous attractions deserve a whole day to themselves.
For something much quicker, but still fun, take the kids to the most crooked street in the world. Lombard Street, located in the Russian Hill district of San Francisco, is a real thrill to visit, lined with gorgeous gardens and offering an incredible view of the city. If you want to drive the street, be warned that there can be long lines of cars to do this on the weekend, so it might be a better option to walk. Plus, both you and the kids will get plenty of exercise that way.
Natural History Museum
What is it with kids and dinosaurs? That's a mystery that may never be solved. But at San Francisco Natural History Museum, dozens of other mysteries of the world will be explained to you and the children in a way that feels more like fun than something educational. This institution, part of the wider Academy of Sciences, is undoubtedly one of the best things to do with kids in San Francisco, and may also give you a new appreciation of the wonder and grandeur of the world in which we live.
Academy of Sciences
If you're visiting the Natural History Museum anyway, you may as well explore further in San Francisco's incredible California Academy of Sciences. This Californian treasure boasts a planetarium, an aquarium, and even its own rainforest. Kids will love interacting with the sharks and stingrays in the aquarium, and those with a scientific curiosity will have their minds blown by the wonders of the cosmos in the planetarium. Don't miss Claude, the white alligator who resides in the aquarium and is one of the most famous residents.
Ride a cable car
It doesn't get much more San Francisco than this. Depending where you want to go, riding a cable car can be a convenient way to get across San Francisco. But more than that, it's a huge amount of fun.
San Francisco's cable cars are an icon of the city and an important part of its history. They also provide incredible views from the city's many hills and offer an unforgettable way to travel. Two lines run between Union Square and Fisherman's Wharf, making them potentially a good way to get to some of the city's top tourist attractions. There's also a third line that runs along California Street, and is generally less busy than the other two.
Hanging off the side of the cable cars as they roll through the traffic of the city is a unique experience, and you can't really say you've been to San Francisco unless you've taken a cable car ride. If you can't get enough of the cable cars, don't forget to visit the free cable car museum, where you can learn more about this unique method of transit and how it has evolved along with the city around it. The cable car museum is a great way to learn more about this iconic part of San Francisco.
Children's Creativity Museum
The name of this attraction gives it all away. If you're looking for things to do in San Francisco with kids, you can't afford to neglect this place. The Children's Creativity Museum celebrates creative expression in kids. Check out the animation studio where your kids can make their own animated movie. There's also a music studio and an Imagination Lab that gives your kids all the tools they need to express themselves in fun and creative ways. This is one San Francisco attraction that you may have to drag the kids away from.
San Francisco Zoo
When looking for things to do in San Francisco with kids, you can't go wrong with a trip to the zoo. Located close to the ocean, the zoo is home to charismatic animals like penguins, hippos, and gorillas. Kids will have a great time interacting with the animals, and there's also a miniature steam train that will take you through the zoo, along with playgrounds for younger kids.
Golden Gate Park
If you're visiting San Francisco with kids, sooner or later you'll probably find yourself looking for a way to let them burn off some energy so that you can get some peace and quiet. Fortunately, the famous Golden Gate Park is a fantastic place to do that. Located in the middle of the busy city, Golden Gate Park is an oasis of green space and tranquility and has many walking paths where you can stretch your legs and get some fresh air. The park also contains Stow Lake, where you can rent a paddleboat or electric boat and go exploring on the water. For a touch of Zen tranquility, check out the Japanese Tea Garden. There are also plenty of great playgrounds for younger kids to play, and expansive green lawns are ideal for a family picnic. Plus, Golden Gate Park is home to the California Academy of Sciences, so you can combine the two together into an active and educational family activity. Golden Gate Park is as popular with locals as it is with tourists, so you'll be getting a true San Francisco experience when you visit here.
Eureka Valley Recreation Center
If the kids still have far too much energy for your liking, take them to the Eureka Valley Recreation Center. Located in the vibrant Castro district of the city, Eureka Valley provides a child-friendly oasis in an area usually better known for more adult activities. With a 38 foot slide, tons of swings, a baseball diamond, and a kid's activity center, along with periodic classes for both children and adults and an adult fitness equipment area, the Eureka Valley Recreation Center is an awesome place to visit with young kids, but will also give you a workout too if you want one.
Walt Disney Family Museum
Few things on earth have the same hold on children's hearts and minds as the work of Walt Disney. Of course, the Disney Corporation is synonymous with California, so it's no surprise that San Francisco offers a Walt Disney Museum. Located in Presidio National Park, which is worth a visit by itself for its hiking trails and incredible views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Disney Museum tells the story of the legendary founder of this media conglomerate and celebrates the ongoing success of the House of Mouse. The museum also hosts screenings of classic Disney movies in the afternoons, which is a great way to keep the kids occupied for a couple of hours while you enjoy everything the city has to offer.
Bay Area Discovery Museum
Of course, you cannot visit San Francisco without making a trip to the stunning Golden Gate Bridge. And if you cross the bridge, you'll find yourself surrounded by hiking trails and stunning views. You may even find yourself in the charming artist's colony of Sausalito. If you do, you're in luck. The town is home to the Bay Area Discovery Museum, one of the best things to do in San Francisco with kids. Dedicated to art and science, this museum is designed with kids in mind, aimed at children from infancy to 10 years old. Interactive exhibits allow kids to test their creativity and problem-solving while they learn more about the world.
As a cultural hub of the region, San Francisco has a range of museums that are ideal for both kids and adults. To learn more about where to go, check out our guide on the best museums in San Francisco.
Julius Kahn Playground
San Francisco has a ton to offer, but if you find yourself hankering for a little taste of Europe, head to the Julius Kahn Playground on Spruce St, San Francisco. This popular playground is well known to the parents of San Francisco, who bring their kids here to enjoy a Parisien-style playground modeled after the Luxembourg Gardens. The kids may not care about that, but they will appreciate the swings, slides, climbing frames, and other activities. Plus, the park also offers incredible views of the Golden Gate Bridge, making it a great place to unwind and let the kids blow off some steam.
San Francisco has some truly amazing museums aimed at kids, and the popular Randall Museum is another example. Devoted to science, the Randall Museum offers hands-on exhibits that will let kids climb aboard a caboose or touch starfish in the aquarium area. The museum also features a STEM lab and a ceramic studio, making it a great option for both younger and older kids to learn more about the world through play and express their creativity.
What are the best family activities in San Francisco?
There are so many great things to do in San Francisco with kids that it can be hard to narrow it down. If your kids love to learn, the Randall Museum, the California Academy of Sciences, and the Bay Area Discovery Museum are all excellent choices for educational fun that doesn't feel anything like school. On the other hand, if your kids tend toward the more rambunctious end of the scale, open areas like Golden Gate Park or Ocean Beach are perfect places to let them burn off some energy. Of course, you can't go exploring San Francisco without taking a ride on the cable cars or visiting the Golden Gate Bridge. Fortunately, these are all great things to do in San Francisco with kids.