25 Fun Things to Do in San Francisco With Kids
Today’s the day, folks. Today we hand in the keys to Matt’s San Francisco apartment.
We’re closing the door on a big chapter of our lives, and I’m not quite sure how I feel about it!
If you’ve been around here for any amount of time, you know that we visit San Francisco quite often. That’s because Matt took a job there 4 1/2 years ago (precisely 3 weeks before Evelyn was born). Not ready to compromise on our life in Omaha, we settled on a strange proposition for Matt’s new work schedule: one week in the Bay Area, one week at home.
We had no idea what it would mean for our new family, but it had adventure written all over it. Now, nearly 5 years and countless trips back and forth later, it’s time to say goodbye to our time in San Francisco!
Over the years, San Francisco has become like a second home to us. We’ve explored almost every little neighborhood in the city with kids in tow and ventured out for day trips around the Bay Area. We knew the day would come when we’d no longer be able to visit so easily, so we took full advantage of the opportunity to stay.
San Francisco will always have a special place in our hearts, and of course we will be back! But for now, I thought I’d share our favorite spots in the city by the bay that we’ve been so lucky to know over these past 5 years.
Here’s 25 fun things to do in San Francisco with kids:
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1. Stroll the Japanese Tea Garden | Tucked inside Golden Gate Park, not far from the busy California Academy of Sciences, the Japanese Tea Garden is a calming escape with a rich history of it’s own.
Stroll the zen gardens and experience the pagodas, arched stone bridge, and koi ponds before stopping at the tea house inside the garden.
2. Bike the Golden Gate Bridge | There’s no more iconic symbol of San Francisco than the Golden Gate Bridge, and there’s no better way to see it than by bike!
Ride along the waterfront and take in Crissy Field before trekking across the 1.7 mile bridge! Sound scary to tackle with kids? Not at all! We recommend Golden Gate Bridge Bike Rentals, and have lined out exactly how to plan your trip in this post.
3. Learn Something New at the Exploratorium | This interactive science museum located along the Embarcadero is fun for kids and adults of all ages. Most of the exhibits at the Exploratorium are geared towards kids at least 4 years old, but there’s still plenty for toddlers to tinker around with (and kids 3 and under are free!). Skip the line and buy your tickets in advance here.
4. Eat Your Heart Out at the Ferry Building Marketplace | What would a trip to San Francisco be without a trip to the Ferry Building? Inside you’ll find loads of merchants selling everything from pottery to cakes to donuts on a stick.
We find the Ferry Building to be the perfect place to stock up for a picnic: usually involving some cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, a sweet treat from Miette, and wine from the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant. There are plenty of tasty sit down restaurants in the Ferry Building too (Hog Island Oyster Co. is a must!), and on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, the marketplace expands for a full outdoor farmers market.
5. Admire the Views from Twin Peaks | If you find yourself with a rare clear day in San Francisco, make your way up to Twin Peaks! The winding road and quick hike to the top of one of two highest points in San Francisco will reward you will views over the city and bay.
6. Explore Lover’s Lane in the Presidio | One of my favorite hidden gems in San Francisco, just off Lover’s Lane you’ll find Andy Goldworthy’s Wood Line, a winding path that leads down a wooded hill in the Presidio. You have to see it with your own eyes to really appreciate the beauty.
7. Be Amazed at the California Academy of Sciences | Another science-meets-children’s museum, the Cal Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park is a popular place among families. Here you can experiences an underground aquarium, earthquake simulator, indoor rain forest, living roof, and more!
8. Go on a Street Art Tour in the Mission | In San Francisco’s eclectic Mission District, you’ll find a mix of history, culture, art, and world-class hipsters. But two of the best things you can see there are two alleyways full of colorful murals: Clarion Alley and the lesser visited Balmy Alley.
If you want to better understand the history behind the murals you’re looking at, I recommend joining a street art tour like this one.
9. Tinker around at Musée Mécanique | For a cheap thrill not far from Fisherman’s Wharf, check out Musée Mécanique. This “museum” houses over 300 vintage arcade games, from fortune tellers to pinball and old timey peep shows (not kidding!). This quirky gem is totally San Francisco, and also absolutely free! (minus all the money you spend to play)
10. Play all day at the Bay Area Discovery Museum | Traveling with toddlers in tow? Then you must visit the Bay Area Discovery Museum, a true children’s museum just across the Golden Gate Bridge. Here you’ll find interactive exhibits in art, nature, science and more! The shipwreck playground is a fast favorite.
11. Go Shopping in Union Square | One of those classic bucket list places in San Francisco, we usually hit Union Square for some people watching after riding the cable cars. Hit up the nearby Museum of Ice Cream for sensorial experiences and Instagrammable photo ops galore. (just be sure to purchase tickets in advance)
12. Admire the Golden Gate from Baker Beach | Tucked behind the Presidio, Baker Beach offers a quiet respite from an otherwise busy city. It doesn’t hurt that a trip to the beach also includes a sweet view of the Golden Gate.
Just don’t expect too many sunny, beach days. Despite being California, those are a rarity in SF. Instead, bring a sweater and enjoy the sounds of the crashing waves.
13. Climb the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps | In the Sunset District, not too far from Golden Gate Park, you’ll find the colorful mosaic tiled steps. Something always draws us back to them, and whenever we’re in the area, we have to stop. Make some time to see for yourself.
Tip: Once you reach the top of the steps, keep going to Grandview Park. The views from the top are just stellar!
14. Chill Out at Dolores Park | In the vibrant Mission District, Dolores Park is the place to spend a Sunday afternoon. We like to start in croissants from Tartine Bakery or ice cream from Bi-Rite Creamery, then relax hillside while the kids play at the playground.
15. Ride a Cable Car | If you go to San Francisco and you don’t ride a cable car, did you even go to San Francisco at all!? Yes, it’s hard to get a seat. Yes, the lines are long. But yes, it is worth it! For the best experience without the wait, hop on first thing in the morning.
And if you’re on the Washington-Mason line, consider a stop at the Cable Car Museum to learn all above this most quintessential form of San Francisco transportation.
Read More: The Best of San Francisco in 48 Hours
16. Take a Photo on Lombard Street | This street claims to be the “crookedest in the world”, and while I’m not 100% sure that’s true (there is another street across town that I’ve read is “crookeder?”) it still is pretty and just oh so San Francisco with those hills.
17. Enjoy the Views from Battery Spencer | If you cross the Golden Gate Bridge by car, surely stop to take in the views at Battery Spencer. The earlier you visit, the better chance you’ll have at finding a parking spot – which can be especially scarce in the winter months. But if you can snag a spot, you’ll never look at the Golden Gate Bridge the same way again.
18. See the Sea Lions at Fisherman’s Wharf | Fisherman’s Wharf has become touristy as all get out, but if you stop for one thing, make it the sea lions! Just be warned that these guys take off during the summer months, so you’ll only find a few stragglers left behind.
19. Climb to the Top of Coit Tower | In between the embarcadero and Chinatown, Coit Tower looks out upon San Francisco from the hilltop. Getting there can be tricky, though not totally impossible, on foot. For an easier experience, park in North Beach and walk up from there.
20. Eat Dim Sum in Chinatown | Though Chinatown has lost it’s spark for me over the years, one worthwhile reason to visit is for some good dim sum! We haven’t tried many, but are fans of Great Eastern Restaurant, where you can order everything some simple newbie classics to super authentic Chinese dishes!
21. Sail to Alcatraz and Tour the Rock | Alcatraz should be on every family’s San Francisco bucket list; it’s just a wild place! The self-guided audio tour will give you all the creepy feels. Tickets sell out well in advance, so be sure to book ahead at Alcatraz Cruises – the official ticketing site for visiting Alcatraz Island.
22. Admire the Painted Ladies at Alamo Square | Another perennial favorite, it wouldn’t be a trip to San Francisco without a picnic at Alamo Square. Sure, your kids will have no idea of the significance of this place in your childhood, but who cares: you didn’t come here for them!
But seriously, there is a pretty cute little playground on the northest corner on Alamo Square, so grab an iced coffee from the resident mobile coffee truck, Lady Falcon Coffee Club, and let the kids live a little too.
23. Stop and Unwind at Koret Playground | Speaking of playgrounds, one of the most epic playgrounds in SF can be found in yours truly, Golden Gate Park. While you’re there, head to nearby Haight-Ashbury to get a taste of this birthplace of the 1960s hippie movement.
24. Spend the Evening at Spark Social SF | Feel like a local at this food truck park located in the Mission Bay neighborhood. You’ll find a rotating selection of 10-15 trucks at Spark, each with their own unique offerings. A permanent bar, picnic tables, and free yard games make it a fun way to spend the evening.
While you’re in the area, stop by Stagecoach Greens Mini Golf or the Mission Bay Kids’ Park: both an easy win for parents.
25. Stroll through the Conservatory of Flowers | If you make a trip to Golden Gate Park, include a stop at the Conservatory of Flowers. This quiet gem is lesser visited than most other park spots, but houses an impressive collection of aquatic and tropical plants inside its giant greenhouse.
Read More: How to Spend a Rainy Day in San Francisco
What are you favorite things to do in San Francisco with kids?
planning a trip to san francisco?
Here’s a few final tips…
- Search for cheap flights with Skyscanner.
- You can get by pretty well by walking and public transportation if you stick to the touristy areas. But if you want to explore more off the beaten path, definitely rent a car. You’ll find the lowest rental rates with RentalCars.com
- If you don’t rent a car, Uber is still the best for quick rides.
- Find family-friendly Airbnbs in the Mission District or the Marina (two of our favorite neighborhoods).
- Or compare hotel prices with Booking.com.
- Book top-rated guided tours and activities in advance with Viator.
- Be prepared for anything with travel insurance from World Nomads.