What to Do with Kids in San Francisco
What Not to Miss
Take a cable car to guarantee that getting around is at least half the fun for kids when it comes to sightseeing in San Francisco, as we’ve got a moving National Historic Landmark to climb these famous hills. Hop on beside the grip operator on an open air cable car that goes ring-a-ding-ding as it navigates its turns, offering stunning bay views along the way.
Discover more fun ways to tour the town. Hop-On, Hop-Off double decker open-top sightseeing buses take you everywhere at your own pace for just one ticket. An ever- popular bike ride across the majestic Golden Gate Bridge is at the very top of the list for so many of the city’s 17 million visitors a year.
And, when nothing else but the world’s tallest trees will do, a deluxe motorcoach tour will pick up and drop off at your hotel for an incredible visit to Muir Woods National Monument. You can even ferry back from Sausalito, called the world’s second-best ferry ride.
We like to describe the City by the Bay as a giant playground adventureland...especially when you know where to look. Here’s our to-do guide for those grownups lucky enough to accompany a fun-loving child to San Francisco.
Pier 33 on The Embarcadero
San Francisco, CA 94111
Want to take a selfie behind the cellhouse bars, anyone? During its 30 years as a maximum security prison, Alcatraz Island was the last place anyone wanted to go. Since the famous penitentiary known as “The Rock” closed in 1963, folks of all ages are interested in having a look...and getting away again! Step inside a tiny jail cell, find out what caused a riot in the dining hall, see how one escape attempt outsmarted the guards. Hear fascinating, true stories from inmates and wardens and take a guided tour of the island from a National Park Service ranger. Get there on the official ferry cruise. Feeling really bold? Join the Alcatraz at night tour.
Beach St. at The Embarcadero
San Francisco, CA 94123
Eat, drink, play, shop, and have a conversation with the barking sea lions. PIER 39 is San Francisco’s #1 attraction. Clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl is the signature treat, but local Dungeness crabs and fresh-shucked oysters are hard to resist. If ice cream and a spin on the two-tier carousel is more your child’s style, Ben & Jerry’s is on the pier. Have lunch at the Hard Rock Café and get onto the water aboard a Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise or a speedy Rocket Boat departing from the pier. At Aquarium of the Bay visitors get to explore what's below San Francisco Bay and also meet sharks, bat rays and octopuses.
Pier 15 on The Embarcadero
San Francisco, CA 94111
Touching is allowed, playing is encouraged and curiosity is a way of life at the Exploratorium. Dedicated to making learning fun through hundreds of inventive hands-on exhibits, kids can find themselves reflected upside down in a giant mirror, wandering through a tactile dome, predicting tidal movements and building a personally designed marble run. In a new expanded location right on the bay, the Exploratorium has a restaurant with great views.
California Academy of Sciences
55 Music Concourse Drive
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, CA 94118
From the reaches of outer space to the depths of a coral reef dive, kids love discovery at the Cal Academy in Golden Gate Park. It’s a planetarium, an aquarium, a natural history museum and home to 40,000 animals all in one. Feed the penguins, get shaken up in an earthquake simulator and let fragile butterflies land on your arm inside a four-story rainforest. From toddlers to teens, find age-appropriate activities for family visits.
Golden Gate Park is on the Hop-On, Hop-Off City Tour bus route, where the Japanese Tea Garden, Conservatory of Flowers and De Young Museum (with a free observation tower) are located.
San Francisco Zoo & Gardens
Sloat Blvd. at The Great Highway
San Francisco, CA 94132
What’s open 365 days a year, covers 100 acres along the edge of the Pacific Ocean, cares for 1,000 animals through its 85-year-old conservation program and hosts educational animal encounters throughout the day? You don’t even have to leave the city to spend the day at the zoo, where an antique children’s carousel and a miniature steam train are ready to ride.
Walt Disney Family Museum
104 Montgomery St. in the Presidio
San Francisco, CA 94129
It’s about Walt, the man, the genius and his craft. Created by Walt Disney’s daughter, this is the story of the man “who raised animation to an art” long before computers were dreamt of. In an historic building in a park overlooking the bay with beautiful Golden Gate Bridge views, bring hiking shoes along as well. Get to San Francisco’s largest park on a free PresidiGo shuttle from downtown.
But Wait, There's More!
More kid-friendly attractions at Fisherman’s Wharf include Madame Tussauds, San Francisco Dungeon, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and Musée Mechanique to play the vintage arcade games. Would-be pirates and future sailors will appreciate the collection of authentic 19th century vessels and a WWII submarine at Hyde Street Pier.
For future urban planners and mechanics, note that the free Cable Car Museum is really a working barn where you can see the actual mechanisms at work.
San Francisco is also home to some of the nation's best playgrounds - check out the Helen Diller Playground at Mission Dolores Park and the Koret Children's Playground & Carousel at Golden Gate Park (bring cardboard for the concrete slides). Pack a picnic and relax in the sunshine while the little ones run wild.