Are you planning a trip to San Francisco? After 9 years of living there I share the best things to do in San Francisco with kids from toddlers to teens.
The City by the Bay is one of my favorite cities in the world. The beautiful views, the architecture, the quaint neighborhoods with their own distinct feel, the abundance of amazing restaurants, and the glorious fog. I first fell in love with San Francisco’s windy cool summer air when I was 10 years old visiting my cousins for summer break. I vowed I would live there someday. And I did, for almost 9 years.
It is during that time that San Francisco cemented itself into my heart and soul. Seeing the city from the air or as I cross the Bay Bridge makes me feel like a kid with a crush, butterflies in my belly with my heart beating faster. No matter how far I go, or how long I stay away, it will always be one of my favorite places in the world.
In the past 9 years, I have been lucky enough to re-discover this fabulous city through my son’s eyes. Through our yearly visits, we continue to rediscover new things so check back again to find out the most epic things to do in San Francisco with kids.
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Map of Things to Do in San Francisco with Kids
15 Epic Things to Do in San Francisco with Kids – Toddlers to Teens
1. Fisherman’s Wharf & Pier 39 is One of Our Favorite Things to Do in San Francisco with Kids
One of the top things to do in San Francisco with kids is a visit to Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. No matter how many times we visit the city, this is still always high on the priority list. If it’s not the end point of our cable car ride, it’s to check out the sea lions (again!) at Pier 39 or to get a junior ranger badge at one of the national park sites.
Fisherman’s Wharf is a tourist hot spot, and for good reason. There are some great attractions at Fisherman’s Wharf for everyone in the family to enjoy, it’s the starting point for tours on the bay and has some of the best seafood in the city. Don’t forget to check out Musée Mécanique while you are there for some fun old school arcade games and a look back in time through machines.
2. Riding a Cable Car is a MUST Do with Kids in San Francisco
No matter how many times we have ridden the iconic cable cars up and down the hills of San Francisco, it’s something my son wants to do again and again. There are three different cable car lines servicing the city. The most popular lines are the ones going from Union Square to Fisherman’s Wharf, the Powell-Hyde line and the Powell-Mason. The third line is the California line which takes riders up and down California Street from the Financial District (Market Street) through Chinatown to Van Ness. Download a map before you venture out.
Our recommendation is to grab one from Union Square, head down to Fisherman’s Wharf for the day and then take the other line back up. If you don’t want to wait in line at either Union Square or Fisherman’s Wharf, walk up a few blocks and catch one as it passes by. Make sure to buy your tickets online via the Muni Mobile App to avoid the need for cash.
If your kids can’t get enough, head over to the Cable Car Museum where you can see the winding wheels that pull the cable cars along in the city!
3. Golden Gate Park Offers Many Great Things to Do with Kids in San Francisco
We could spend days and days exploring the large expanse of Golden Gate Park that stretches from the edge of the Haight-Ashbury District all the way to the ocean. We have a few favorite go to’s that we always try to fit in, but there is even more to explore depending on the age of your kids and the time that you have available. Some top things to do in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park with kids include the concrete slides at Children’s Playground (Koret Playground), saying hi to the buffalo at Bison Paddock and cruising around the Japanese Tea Garden.
If you have lots of time to explore the park, hit up the California Academy of Sciences which is another great San Francisco museum that will keep the kids enthralled. Or spend some time exploring the park by foot or bike. A fun way to explore the park is to look for fairy doors! Search online for several different fairy doors that can be found in the park. Here’s one near the Japanese Tea Garden.
4. The Exploratorium is a Fun Hands-On Place to Visit in San Francisco with Kids of All Ages
If you have limited time in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Exploratorium should be one of your first stops. I know.. you won’t be outside soaking up all that SF has to offer, but it is one of the best children’s science museums out there. We have been several times and discover something new and exciting every time.
For young children, it can be overwhelming as it’s usually crowded, but even so, they will have a ball running from each hands on exhibit to the next. The wonderful thing about this museum is that it grows with your child. The older they get, the more they will understand and get out of this exciting center. This should be a must do on your list of things to do in San Francisco with kids.
5. Lounge with the Locals at Mission Dolores Park While in SF With Kids
San Francisco has so many amazing parks and play areas for children that it is difficult to narrow it down to just a few. Dolores Park in the Mission District was, during my years in SF, not a playground for kids, rather one for grownups. Hipsters, families (more of the pet variety) and everyone in between would make their way to the large grassy mounds on sunny days to lounge around basking in the sun. Since it’s remodel a few years ago, there is now a great playground there as well making it even more of an attraction for families needing some downtime.
Our routine is to take the Muni Metro to the park or BART to the mission, grab a burrito at Taqueria Cancun and head over to the park for lounging and people watching.
6. The Golden Gate Bridge is One of Our Favorite Things to Do in SF
Kids, young and old are always entranced by the Golden Gate Bridge. The first question will enviably be “But why is it red/orange?” To quell your child’s thirst for information and exploration, head over to the Bridge’s Welcome Center where you will find indoor/outdoor exhibits providing detailed information about the bridge and its history and operation. There is also a gift shop here along with a small cafe. A few times a week, free walking tours also leave from the visitor center.
The bridge is 1.7 miles long from one end to the other, which makes walking the entire length with smaller kids a little bit daunting since you will have to return as well. If your child is old enough, considering renting a bike to go across. However, note that the bridge gets busy, so is not the best place for new bike riders since during the weekdays bicyclists and walkers share the same eastern path.
If walking or biking across isn’t feasible for your family, head across in your car. Stop off at the eastern view point before making a detour to check out the western side as well where there are beautiful views of the bridge and city in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Note there is a one way car fee when returning to San Francisco.
Tip: While in the area, make sure to check out the Bay Area Discovery Museum as well to get an insight into the bridge with hands on activities.
7. Visiting the Murals in the Mission with Kids in San Francisco is a Great Family Activity
Calling Los Angeles home these days, we are no strangers to street art, however we still love to make a visit to the Mission to check out the latest works of art at Balmy Alley and Clarion Alley. Both Balmy & Clarion are each a block long alley filled with tons of murals displaying the community’s history and current community concerns in picture form. Clarion Alley is between Mission Street and Valencia Street, while Balmy Alley is between 24th and 25th Streets parallel to Treat Avenue and Harrison Streets. If you want to delve deeper into the history of the murals and the neighborhood, join a weekend tour with Precita Eyes Mural Arts Center.
If you are hungry, there are tons of great places around to sample. We love the pupusas at La Santaneca de la Mission, burritos at El Farolito (a favorite late night snack too!) as well as old school diner food from St Francis Fountain.
End your street art visit off with a little play time at the cute 24th Street Mini Park located at 24th and York Street. Open the gate and head right in to enjoy the murals and mosaic tiled snake. Be aware that during the summer and hot days, if you press the green button on the post near the bushes, water will spray out soaking your kids!
8. Explore Lands End & the Sutro Baths for a Nature Fix in San Francisco with Kids
One of our favorite quick nature fix things to do in San Francisco with kids is at Lands End and the Sutro Baths. The Sutro Bath ruins are located at the end of Golden Gate Park with views stretching out to the ocean and up towards the Golden Gate Bridge. In times of old, the Sutro Baths were a local hotspot with 7 swimming pools at varying temperatures. The pools could accommodate 10,000 people at once.
From the Lookout Visitor Center there is a dirt trail (or dirt stairs) leading down to the former bath houses. I have done this with my toddler, but definite care is needed as some of the paths close to the baths are slippery. If you want more of a hike and less exploration, hop on the California Coastal Trail walking towards the Golden Gate Bridge for some beautiful views. Walk as far as you want and turn back to return to your car or catch an Uber home if you have gone too far!
Tip: Dress in layers. You never know what the weather will be like when you arrive. It is typically quite windy here as well, so wear hats that won’t fly off or tie your hair back.
9. Experience the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco’s Presidio Park
A newer addition to the scene (for us!) is the Walt Disney Family Museum. My husband and I were married in the Presidio so we often return to this area just to check it out and that’s how we happened upon the Disney Museum. While we do not consider ourselves Disney fanatics (even though we have had season passes for Disneyland for 5 years!), this is a fun museum to explore. While there is a ton to see and read here, kids of all ages will surely find something to attract their attention.
Check the daily movie listings and considering adding that on to your admission. Don’t miss the large scale model of Disneyland which will keep everyone busy for a while, especially if you have visited Disneyland!
10. Visit the Painted Ladies from Full House at Alamo Square
OK, this is mostly for the grown ups since most kids won’t even have a clue what Full House is. I was lucky enough to live here for much of my time in San Francisco, so for me it’s a coming home of sorts. Regardless, it’s a fun place to visit to check out the beautifully adorned Victorian homes that have been kept just as beautiful as they were in olden days. The large grassy hill will allow the kids plenty of time to run around and get out some energy to continue on your day out. There is also a small playground here if you have little ones.
Hungry? Check out Eddie’s Cafe or grab a slice of pizza on Divisadero. There are a ton of new eateries here that there is is sure to be something for everyone.
11. Experience Epic Views over San Francisco at Twin Peaks
One of the best things to do in San Francisco with kids is to get a lay of the land by spying out the wonderful views across the city. There is no better place for this than Twin Peaks. If you don’t have a car, you can skip this, as it may not be easy to get an Uber back down. Twin Peaks, is named for the two 900+ foot high summits. The grassy hilltop park is a popular spot with hiking trails leading up the windy peaks where you can get a 360-degree view of the entire Bay Area.
12. Drive down Lombard Street – the Curviest Street in San Francisco
The quintessential thing to do in San Francisco with kids or without is to visit the curviest street in the city, Lombard Street. This beautifully kept street is such a treat for visitors young and old. Our recommendation is to park at the top, spend some time taking photos before walking down. Once you have seen it from all the angles, walk back up and drive down for the slow moving car experience down the world’s most curviest street.
For visitors without a car, you can take a cable car to the top and walk down. From here, you can venture to Fisherman’s Wharf or catch a cable car back up towards downtown.
If you are up for more action look across the way from Lombard and you will see Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill. This is a great spot to get another view of the city and the bay.
13. Alcatraz Island is a Top Thing to To in San Francisco With Teens
Another great thing to do in San Francisco with kids is to get out on the water and visit Alcatraz Island. For families with young kids, I would give this a miss unless they are in carriers and can manage the windy cool temperatures on the island. However, those with older kids will love this half day adventure across the water. Alcatraz is filled with interesting history, offering an insider look at one of the country’s most notorious prisons. The audio tour is very informative, but the hit for most kids is locking themselves in the cells. Let’s hope that is the closest any of them ever come to a real jail cell!
— Did you know that Alcatraz is a United States National Park Service site? There are 10 in the Bay Area alone!
14. Chinatown is One of the Best Things to Do in SF with Kids If You Love Adventure
San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the best things to do in San Francisco with kids to introduce them to Asia without having to fly across the oceans! Of the many Chinatowns I have visited around the world, this is one of the most authentic areas providing visitors a great view into how life is in China. You might see a truckload of dead pigs going to market, fish in buckets on the sidewalk and so much more.
The best thing to do here with kids is to visit a fortune cookie factory to see how they make fortune cookies and try your hand at doing it yourself.
15. Get Your Hippy Vibe On in the Haight-Ashbury
While Haight-Ashbury may not be the ideal stroll for families with young kids, teens will love checking out the home of hippy! There isn’t a ton to do here other than walk around the streets, soaking up the atmosphere, it always has a cool edgy vibe that hippy at heart families will enjoy. The shoe stores are amazing as are some of the vintage shops, so be sure to pop your head in if you have time.
BONUS: Children’s Creativity Museum in Yerba Buena Gardens
The Children’s Creativity Museum at the Yerba Buena Gardens has quickly risen to one of the top things to do in San Francisco with kids. This museum has been around for many years and continues to reinvent itself to be relevant to the current times. Fun for children under 12 years old, this interactive museum has a variety of hands on exhibits in the arts and technology. A great morning if the parents need some down time and the kids need time to be kids!
BONUS #2: Have Toddlers? Check out the super fun Presidio Heights Playground
San Francisco is a great city for families in that every neighborhood has their own playground with it’s own vibe. After years of exploring all the different playgrounds in the city, during the toddler years our son loved the Presidio Heights playground the most. It has a very local community feel with play toys, sand box, fake grass and more. If you have toddlers, check it out!
For many visitors it’s a little nerve wracking to drive in San Francisco. Even though the city is easy to access via public transportation, I still find it much easier to drive especially with children in tow. Parking in general is pretty easy, however you MUST pay close attention to all of the parking signs. In most neighborhoods parking is limited to 2 hours and tickets are very common. The areas that I would not drive if I could avoid it would include Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf. Parking here is difficult on the street and lots are quite expensive.
If you want to explore the city on the public transport system, download the MuniMobile App so that you can purchase your day passes or individual bus fares through the app. Check out this complete transit guide to plan your way around the Bay Area during your next visit.
Where to Stay in San Francisco with Kids
This is the number one question I get about visiting San Francisco with kids is where should we stay? While there are a ton of hotels in the city, my top recommendation is to book an Airbnb. (If you haven’t signed up yet, use this link for $31 off your first stay!). The best neighborhoods for booking an Airbnb are: Noe Valley, Hayes Valley and the Marina/Pacific Heights areas. In terms of the most convenient for sightseeing, I would recommend Hayes Valley. It is close to Market Street where you can get numerous buses and streetcars as well as near to Van Ness Blvd which also has a great number of bus routes.
Noe Valley however is a cute area with tons of family friendly places to eat, a Whole Foods and is close to Dolores Park which kids will love. This area is accessed easily by one metro line, however I would recommend a car if you stay here.
A few hotel recommendations to get you started are below, but check out Booking.com’s map as well to see many other options that are available during your stay.
The Seal Rock Inn is a quirky, old school motel located near Lands End. Family rooms are available and you are close to the beach, however we highly recommend you have a vehicle if you stay here.
The Holiday Inn is always a good bet when traveling. We like the location in Nob Hill near the Cable Car Museum for families, however, there is also one at Fisherman’s Wharf.
This Japantown hotel offers space, amenities and a relatively central location out of the hustle and bustle of downtown. Again, we recommend a car if you stay at this hotel, although you can easily get around from here using taxi’s and uber.
Where to Eat in San Francisco with Kids
San Francisco isn’t necessarily a kids paradise in terms of eating in that many restaurants are quite small, which makes maneuvering with strollers and car seats a bit cumbersome. But in general I have found everyone to be very helpful and welcoming. A few of our favorite places to eat with kids are below. That said, there are a TON of great places in this city, so if a place looks good, give it a try!
Stinking Rose in North Beach
This iconic North Beach institution is a fun family atmosphere that offers great Italian food as well as great fun. Plan to go to the Stinking Rose early if you have small kids as there can be a long wait on the weekends or even some week nights.
Mac’D in the Marina
Yes, this is a restaurant specifically dedicated to macaroni and cheese, brussel sprouts and french fries. Mac’D is my dream come true. If only my son liked cheesy pasta as much as his momma!
Tonga Room at Union Square
The Tonga Room is a pricy experience, but an experience to be had for sure. This Polynesian inspired restaurant is nothing but fun for everyone in the family. It is always a favorite for visitors to San Francisco.
Clam Chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf
You cannot visit San Francisco and not try out some clam chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf. There are a ton of different options, but for families, we recommend trying the fan favorite Boudin. Go ahead, get it in a bread bowl while you are here! For families looking for a little higher end eatery check out Scouma’s for some of the best chowder in San Francisco.
Toast Eatery in Noe Valley
If you are staying in Noe Valley, our favorite place for classic diner food is Toast Eatery. This cozy restaurant is super family friendly and offers all the diner favorites for breakfast lunch and dinner.
Taqueria Cancun in the Mission
Locals will tell you that this city is known for its burritos. And every single resident has their favorite place to go for it. My favorite is Taqueria Cancun. Their avocado salsa is the best. Another local favorite is El Farolito which is hopping in the wee hours of the morning!
Need a bribe to keep the kids going? What about homemade marshmallows and hot chocolate at Dandelion Chocolate.
ChaChaCha in Haight Ashbury
Looking for something different in the Haight? Check out Cha Cha Cha. This cuban inspired restaurant is so fun and offers tapas (small plates) to encourage everyone to try everything. Some favorites are the plantains and black beans, potatoes, and of course the jerk chicken. There is also a location in the Mission if you are in that neck of the city.
Marnee Thai in the Inner Sunset
If you are at Golden Gate Park looking for some delicious eats, hope over to the Inner Sunset for a variety of options. My long time favorite in this neighborhood is Marnee Thai. Kids will love the chicken satay and adults will love everything else.
Day Trips from San Francisco with Kids
Even though there is so much to do in San Francisco itself, there is also a ton to do in the immediate areas surrounding the city. Some of our favorite day trips are just a hop skip and a jump from the city and well worth it even on a short visit. For my national park loving son, his favorite thing is to check out all the local national monuments and recreation areas. There are 9 national park sites easily accessible from San Francisco.
The top thing to do in San Francisco with kids is always to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. If you are going to do this, make a day of it by visiting the Golden Gate National Recreation Area for a quick hike and to earn your junior ranger badge while also getting epic views of the city.
Continue on a little further to Point Reyes National Seashore for more beautiful sea views and an opportunity for another park ranger badge!
If you still have more time, continue to Muir Woods to visit some amazingly beautiful redwoods and clock in another park ranger badge.
Day Trips South of San Francisco
What is new in the Bay Area that we need to check out? Share with us your favorites below.
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