33+ Top Kid’s Activities in San Francisco

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Looking for fun things to do in San Francisco with kids?

We loved our recent seven day trip to San Francisco and were pleasantly surprised by how kid-friendly this city is.

Down below we are sharing our best tips on what to do in San Francisco with kids including information on two awesome hotels we stayed at, advice on how to get around, suggestions on delicious places to eat with kids and how to book a trip to San Francisco.

When we visit a destination, we go deep and wide. We want to experience what is unique to the area. We’re not just visiting another museum or playground you can find in any town. We find the fun and unique attractions to share with you.

Family things to do in San Francisco
The Bay Bridge, San Francisco – good spot for family photos

The bay area reminds us a lot of our home back in Sydney – it’s a city on the water, with an iconic bridge, it has several bays, a large Asian influence, and delicious fresh seafood.

Craig and I first took a trip to San Francisco way back in 2006 (pre-kids) and loved exploring it then as a couple, but visiting San Francisco with kids this time was so much fun too!

You’ll be happy to know there are plenty of family activities in San Francisco to keep all members of your family entertained, of all ages. Our girls loved exploring San Francisco and experencing a city with natural beauty, fun attractions, incredible food and great views.

It was a treat for them after spending months in the wilderness areas of Utah and then coming straight from Yosemite National Park. It was the exciting city break they needed.

So let’s get you started on our list of things to do in San Francisco with kids.

Table Of Contents
  1. Stay on the Right Side of the Cells at Alcatraz
  2. Ride the Cable Cars
  3. Sea Lions at Pier 39
  4. Zip around in a GoCar
  5. Walt Disney Family Museum (get inspired)
  6. Cross the Golden Gate Bridge
  7. Ride the Hop On Hop Off Bus
  8. Take in the Spectacular Views from Coit Tower
  9. Shop in Haight-Ashbury
  10. See the Painted Ladies, Alamo Square
  11. Get your Selfie on at the Museum of 3D illusions
  12. Famous Lombard Street (drive or walk down)
  13. Play at the Exploratorium Science Museum
  14. Pose with the Murals in the Mission District
  15. Mission Dolores Park
  16. Meet Your Fave Celebrity at Madame Tussauds
  17. Explore Chinatown with kids – food and murals
  18. Private San Francisco Walking Tours
  19. City of Lights Bookstore
  20. Jack Kerouac Alley
  21. Play and Picnic at The Presidio Park
  22. California Academy of Science Museum
  23. Lands End Trail – great San Francisco hike with kids
  24. Bike the Golden Gate Park
  25. Visit Baker Beach
  26. Seward Street Slides
  27. Visit the Redwoods at Muir Woods
  28. Eat Delicious Ice cream from Bi-Rite Creamery
  29. Pancakes at Dottie’s True Blue Cafe
  30. Taste Chocolates and Cheese (AND wine) at Ghirardelli Square
  31. Eat the Best Chocolate Croissants in the USA
  32. Smitten Ice Cream
  33. Eat more delicious chocolate croissants Tartine Bakery
  34. 3-Day San Francisco Itinerary
  35. How to Save Money on San Francisco Attractions
  36. Getting Around San Francisco
  37. More USA Cities
  38. More Northern California Content

Stay on the Right Side of the Cells at Alcatraz

Visiting Alcatraz Island - one of the best things to do in San Francisco with kids
Visiting Alcatraz Island with kids

Fun or scary? Let your kids decide what this family activity really is.

No matter which they choose, I’m sure fascination will be a part of their Alcatraz experience – as well a commitment to stay on the right side of the law.

We believe Alcatraz Island is one of the best things to do in San Francisco and was surprised by how much Kalyra (our 11 year old) enjoyed it – both our kids had curious questions after it.

They were both interested to learn more about what really happened to the two escapees when our friend told us the next day. They’ve recently discovered they did in fact escape successfully and made it to somewhere in South America.

They also couldn’t get over that the warden and guards children lived on the island (and loved it) and there was NO WAY they’d ever do that with prisoners right next to you.

Walking into those prison cells and feeling what the prisoners would have experienced was quite unnerving and Savannah (our 7 year old) was understandably a little freaked out.

Alcatraz Audio Tour

Family things to do in San Francisco
The Alcatraz audio tour

The Alcatraz audio tour is exceptional.

They have managed to create an authentic experience with real sounds in the background, like clanging cell doors and footsteps as former inmates and guards recant stories and explain what life was like on Alcatraz.

Conditions would have been brutal with the wind cooing off the chilly water. But I guess, on a fog free day, they would have had good views at least.

I love experiences that have my children talking about it for days after it. You know they gained something important from it then. They found it one of the most fascinating San Francisco family activities.

Alcatraz is one of the most popular things to do in the bay area so book your tickets online in advance here. You can also check out various package tours that include Alcatraz by clicking here. 

Why not do an Alcatraz Night Tour and combine it with a Muir Woods tour and Sausalito Day Tour. We’ve heard the night tours are AWESOME. And Muir Woods is one of our favorite things to do in San Francisco region. You need transport to get there. This tour makes a lot of sense.

Ride the Cable Cars

Cable Cars - one of the best things to do in San Francisco with kids
Don’t miss the cable cars

Finally, after a week of exploring the city, we found time to take our kids on the famous cable cars.

They’d been hearing the bell clang, watching it go up and down those hilly streets and even learning about how they worked on our private walking tour (more on that down below).

We took the cable car to extreme thrill levels by letting the girls stand on the side – is there any other way to ride a cable car in San Francisco?

I was freaking out a little but trusted they were responsible enough to hold on tight and not fall off. You’d have to be monkeying around a lot to come off.

I enjoyed riding inside the cable car watching the driver work the brakes, the lever and the bell, and then spent the last five minutes off the side once a space opened up.

Our kids think the cable car was one of the most fun things to do in San Francisco with kids.

Hot Tip: 

Lines for the cable car can be long. Time it for first thing in the morning.

The Powell-Hyde line tends to be less busy than the other lines. We jumped on just near Ghirardelli Square in Fisherman’s’ Wharf and lined up for about 30 minutes.

The cable car is expensive at $7 a ride so be sure that you go from one end to the other and make the ride about the journey rather than getting around San Francisco.

We had a 3 day MUNI pass on our City Pass that covered it. The San Francisco Sightseeing Pass now includes a 1 day Muni passport which includes cable car rides! (see more on this down below).

And if you’re really into this, check out the Cable Car Museum in Nob Hill.

Sea Lions at Pier 39

Family things to do in San Francisco
Sure is a lot of sea lions in San Francisco – kids will love it

We’ve seen so many sea lions before, including swimming with them in South Australia, that the girls weren’t super excited about the sea lions of San Francisco.

As I find these animals so cute, playful and funny I enjoyed watching them bark, wrestle, sleep and swim in the waters just off Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf.

They have taken over several of the docks here. And if you are not experienced with seeing sea lions in the wild, add this to your list of best things to do in San Francisco with kids. 

Hot Tip: Other Pier 30 attractions

Your kids might also love:

  • 7D Flyer
  • Mirror Maze

Pier 39 is full of those touristy kitschy things. We didn’t hang around for too long, but we did those activities as it was included on our Sightseeing Pass didn’t cost us any extra and the girls really loved it.

Video: Top Attractions in San Francisco with Kids

Click play to watch the fun we had visiting the Top attractions in San Francisco. You’ll love the Museum of 3D Illusions.

Zip around in a GoCar

Go Car San Francisco - fun family activity
Such a fun family activity in San Francisco

Driving around in a GoCar is one of the top things to do in San Francisco area with kids that you may not have thought of.

Actually, when you see these small yellow cars zipping around the streets you may think it’s not kid-friendly at all. But our girls had a blast and it was one of the top San Francisco family activities they were most looking forward to.

It was part of our Sightseeing Pass and we only had an hour included with that. I didn’t feel that was enough time. We left in peak hour traffic so got held up with that and didn’t get to jump out of the car.

I’d recommend hiring a car for more time and doing the longer routes around the Presidio and Golden Gate Park.

It really was a fun way to get around and are pretty easy to drive.

Check all GoCar deals on Get Your Guide and book in advance.

Top Tip:

This is probably NOT something to do in San Francisco with toddlers! Whilst there is no age limit, there is a weight limit of 30 lbs minimum.

Also, check whether your car insurance or travel insurance policy covers excess vehicle insurance for a motorbike, which is what the GoCars are classified as.

This is one of those unique San Francisco attractions for sure – I don’t think I’ve seen this anywhere before.

Walt Disney Family Museum (get inspired)

The Walt Disney Family Museum is fun for kids in San Francisco
Walt Disney Family Museum – fun for kids

The Walt Disney Family Museum is dedicated to the life, perseverance and imagination of Walt Disney, creator of some of America’s and the world’s’ most beloved animations, most notably Mickey Mouse – the mouse that started it all.

The museum features gallery and exhibits that showcase his early cartoon drawings movies, and models of Disneyland.

I especially enjoyed hearing about his ‘failures’ and determinations to succeed and sitting on the park bench that helped plant the Disneyland seed.

While watching his daughters ride the carousel in Griffith Park in LA, Walt began to dream of a place where parents and kids could enjoy rides together.

See a problem, Create a solution. I love Walt Disney!

When we visited the new exhibit dedicated to the mouse that started it all had recently been opened. It’s worth a visit to learn more about Mickey and even try your hand at drawing him. I was impressed with the girls efforts.

Top Tip:

If your children enjoy creating and using their imagination, you may want to visit The Children’s Creativity Museum. It’s a hands-on space that allows children to imagine and create in a multimedia environment. 

Kids of all ages can design their own clay motion animations, pretend to be a rock star in the music studio, or invent a new machine.

Cross the Golden Gate Bridge

Hop on hop off bus popular San Francisco attraction with kids
A classic family San Francisco moment

We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge on the open air Big Bus, in a luxury Audi, and by driving our very own truck (Ford F250).

Crossing one of the world’s most iconic bridges is quite the thrill for everyone. Our kids found it most fun on the open air bus – although extremely windy and cold.

This made the Big Bus worth it for me and the ticket was included in our Sightseeing Pass so a no brainer to use it as a way to get around the city and see the sites (see more on this bus down below).

I also loved seeing it through the front and roof windows of the Audi on our private driving tour of the city.

Cycling across the bridge is another wonderful way to experience the Golden Gate Bridge and you can’t miss the views from these places:

  • North Vista
  • South East Vista
  • Baker Beach
  • Overlook near the batteries

If you are long on time and energy, I suggest cycling all the way to Sausalito for lunch and maybe check out the Bay Area Discovery Museum, then catch the ferry back.

The real adventurous families could cycle all the way to Tiburon even!

Ride the Hop On Hop Off Bus

One of the best things to do in San Francisco with kids
Hop on Hop off bus, San Francisco

What young kids don’t like riding on the top of a big double decker bus? Especially driving across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge!

We like starting a visit to a new city by doing these hop-on-hop-off buses as it gives you a nice overview of the city and allows you to see some cool places you may wish to return to.

It can also help you save on transportation fees as they typically take you to the most iconic San Francisco points of interest.

And they are usually included in the Sightseeing Pass which is also why we jump on these buses and suggest you add this activity to your list of things to do with kids in San Francisco bay area.

Take in the Spectacular Views from Coit Tower

San FRancisco views from Coit Tower
Views from Coit Tower

I visited Coit Tower on my solo trip to San Francisco and instantly regretted not doing it on our family vacation.

The views from Coit Tower are absolutely stunning, especially if the typical San Francisco fog has risen and the blue sky is radiating. When that happens, you’ll see views that will make you think you’ve landed on a Greek island. (Check out this Reel)

Coit Tower is a 210-foot white, fluted tower in the Telegraph Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. It’s surrounded by Pioneer Park, which was established in 1876 on the former site of the telegraph station.

It costs $10 to go to the top of the tower for the views, but it is worth it. You’ll get 360-degree unobstructed views of San Francisco city and bay area – all the way out to the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, Alcatraz Island and Angel Island.

You may enjoy the murals downstairs on the walls telling the story of life in California during the Depression.

Pioneer Park, at the bottom of the tower has nice gardens and seating areas and trails. I absolutely LOVED the gigantic gum trees around here. As if San Francisco didn’t’ remind me of Sydney enough.

I’ve been told there are parrots along the paths in Pioneer Park, which younger kids especially will love I did not see any but was not paying attention.

Shop in Haight-Ashbury

One of the best things to do in San Francisco with kids
Older kids will love shopping in Haight Ashbury San Francisco

If you are looking for cool things to do in San Francisco with teens, and they like shopping, put the Haight-Ashbury district on your list of what to do in San Francisco.

This neighborhood is the birthplace of the 1960’s counterculture movement and draws a diverse crowd looking to soak up the vibe.

Upper Haight Street is a hodgepodge of vintage clothing boutiques, record shops, bookstores, and casual, eclectic restaurants.

Whilst our eldest is not quite a teenager (yet), she’s been wanting to buy a pair of Doc Martens boots with her own money for a while, and we convinced her to wait as buying a pair in Haight-Ashbury would be pretty cool.

Bordering Golden Gate Park, this neighborhood also features many colorful, well-preserved Victorian homes and is just a fun place to walk around.

The Japanese Tea Garden and Stow Lake is in Golden Gate Park near here as is Ocean Beach – a long wild rugged beach.

See the Painted Ladies, Alamo Square

Painted Ladies San Francisco things to do with kids
The Painted Ladies

Thanks to the TV show Fuller House and Netflix reruns, the Painted Ladies may be something everyone in your family will love. Our girls became fans of this hit TV show set in San Francisco thanks to Fuller House.

They loved visiting the Painted Ladies on Alamo Square and watching these famous colorful Victorian homes, figuring out which one is “the house.”

Here’s the truth: None of them!! These were just used as opening San Francisco homes. The Fuller House “house” is actually in Pacific Heights.

It’s mind boggling to see the amount of people enjoying a picnic and drinks and just sitting watching the houses.

But it’s one of those free things to do in San Francisco once!

Get your Selfie on at the Museum of 3D illusions

Museum of 3D illusions is a unique San Francisco attraction
The kids will have a blast at this Museum in San Francisco

Instagram cameras at the ready!

The Museum of 3D Illusions will give you multiple backdrops and set changes to make your Instagram photos pop.

At the Museum of 3D Illusions they’ll even tell you where to stand with a circle camera on the floor indicating how you can create the perfect 3D illusion.

You’ll have artists from all over the world contributing to your set.

Just be aware there are plenty of people behind you waiting their turn – so sweet and snappy please!

What I love about visiting the Museum of 3D Illusions with kids as it’s about less about creating the perfect shot for likes but fostering their imagination and creativity.

The girls had a blast at each piece of artwork coming up with ideas on how to act to fit in with the artistic piece.

It is a bit pricey as far as San Francisco kids activities go, $25 for adults and $12 for kids, but the kids are sure to remember it as one of the most fun things to do in San Francisco.

And much cheaper then buying all those props for your Instagram shots.

Famous Lombard Street (drive or walk down)

Lombard Street - drive down it with children
Drive down Lombard St

A must do in San Francisco is famous Lombard Street in the Nob Hill District.

Known as the most “crookedest street in the world”, Lombard’s 27 degrees was too dangerous for cars to drive down it so they added in a series of 8 hairpin turns.

It’s now filled with tourists walking, driving and biking down to get their Instagram shots of the quarter mile downhill stretch lined with gorgeous gardens.

You also get great city views of Fisherman’s Wharf and Alcatraz from the top of the street.

It’s much harder to take photos and videos when you drive down it, although it is a cool experience in San Francisco with kids not to miss.

Hot Tip:

Expect long lines waiting to go down. Photos will probably be better if you can walk it but watch out for cars.

It’s one of the San Francisco top attractions for a reason so expect a lot of people.

Play at the Exploratorium Science Museum

San Francisco kids activities Exploratorium Science Museum
A cool museum to visit with kids

We’ve done plenty of these hands on science museums and almost didn’t go here, however, The Exploratorium down at Pier 15 is one of the best Bay Area attractions for families.

But I was worried it would be too similar to what we have done before, but this was a very unique place with cool experiments that foster exploration and curiosity.

Sadly, we went an hour before closing time so had to race through it. You definitely need a few hours at the Exploratorium.

I LOVED the summer exhibit they had on Self, Made.

There were amazing experiments to give you greater insight into yourself and how to fit into a world that may feel so different and often uncomfortable.

Hot Tip:

As you can find these museums everywhere (probably in your home town) I would not include it in your San Francisco vacation if you are short on time and money, as it’s not an overly unique to San Francisco culture and history.

However, I do think it’s one of the fun places to visit in San Francisco with kids if you can make it work. Our girls LOVED it!

Another museum that focuses on science and interaction is the Randall Museum. Or the Children Creativity Museum.

The Exploratorium is included as an option in the City Pass You can choose either the Exploratorium or the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Pose with the Murals in the Mission District

Mission District - fun activity for kids in San Francisco
Mission District Murals – fun activity for kids in San Francisco

The interesting Mission District (an evolving neighborhood with Latino roots and hipster vibe) could be called a virtual outdoor art gallery full of vibrant murals and street art.

There are hundreds of walls and fences throughout the neighborhood showcasing colorful works of art featuring various themes.

Best viewed on foot, we took a stroll along Clarion Alley, between 17th and 18th streets, and Mission and Valencia streets. Clarion Alley is known for community and arts activities and often depicts themes of social inclusiveness.

More than 700 murals have been created since 1992, speaking to community concerns of social, economic, and environmental justice.

Our girls enjoyed posing in front of the colorful murals and also learned some important life messages.

Balmy Alley in the Mission District is also where you’ll find more vibrant street murals.

Mission Dolores Park

Mission Dolores - place for kids to play in San Francisco and great views
Mission Dolores – amazing San Francisco views and place for kids to play

Whilst in the Mission District, head to Mission Dolores Park located on a hillside between Dolores and Church streets and 18th and 20th streets.

This park is one of San Francisco’s most beloved gathering spots: a hotbed for public rallies, marches, and clean park initiatives. It offers fantastic city views, open space for the kids to play (including a kid-friendly playground), and prime people watching.

It’s a wonderful place to visit in San Francisco with kids.

Hot Tip:

Also in the Mission district, grab an ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery and pastry at Tartine Bakery (see our section down below on places to eat in San Francisco with kids).

There’s also great coffee at Four Barrel Cafe (375 Valencia st), and plant based Mexican food at Gracias Madre, 

Meet Your Fave Celebrity at Madame Tussauds

Madame Tussauds One of the best things to do in San Francisco with kids
Great place for kids to learn about San Francisco culture

Can you get more touristy than Madam Tussauds?

Typically not what is at the top of our list of family vacation activities when visiting cities.

In fact, I only went to my first one a few months before this in Los Angeles. This was my second one! I actually really liked this one as it told the San Francisco story well and had pretty cool interactive museums.

We got to jam with Janis Joplin, Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix! Plus fight Muhammad Ali and sit next to Al Capone in Alcatraz.  You can’t get better than that.

Madame Tussaud is a top attraction on the San Francisco Sightseeing Pass so a no-brainer to go if you get the Day Pass.

Explore Chinatown with kids – food and murals

Chinatown is a great place to visit in San Francisco with kids
A vibrant and colorful place for family photos

As the biggest Chinatown in the world, and the oldest in the USA, this is one of the best things to do in San Francisco with kids from a cultural perspective as they will feel like they have been transported to China.

Chinatown is bustling with markets, restaurants and small alleyways.

Wander the streets and admire the pagodas and murals depicting Chinese customs, culture and beliefs.

The kids will definitely want to visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in Ross Alley. They have been making fortune cookies by hand since 1962.

You can watch the ladies making the cookies and inserting the fortunes, sample some or buy your own box of cookies.

Be sure to check out more of Ross Alley while there. Once a notorious and dangerous street as the location of the Tong Wars. It’s also the location for scenes from Karate Kid II and Big Trouble in Little China.

And get a little insight into Taoism at the Tin How Temple hidden on the 4th floor of an apartment building on Waverly Street.

It is the oldest Taoist temple in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and one of the oldest still-operating Chinese temples in the US.

Chinatown is one of the most family things to do in San Francisco, especially if you use it as an opportunity to take vibrant family photos.

Private San Francisco Walking Tours

what to do in San Francisco with kids - private walking tour
Inside the Ferry Building

If your kids are like our girls, they love walking tours. They love the stories and characters and history they learn about.

City walking tours are a fantastic way to engage kids and help them connect to a destination and a real life learning experience. WAY better than learning about it from a textbook, or even a museum.

We joined one of the private walking tours of San Francisco with our Australian friend, Michael Glass, who owns Boutique Traveler.

He’s lived in San Francisco for 8 years and has gotten to know the city on a deep level.

And he has done a lot of research into the history of San Francisco, in particular two huge events that completely changed the city: The Gold Rush Era and the Earthquake of 1906.

We learned so much on one of his San Francisco Walking Tours – fascinating stories and insights that we never would have learned on our own.

Like why they rushed to save the whisky distillery in the great fire, where the old heart of San Francisco used to be, the oldest Chinese restaurant in San Francisco, how some of the buildings were built on old whaling boats, and where delicious food can be found!

This walking tour made San Francisco that much better.

IT’s also great to have a tour guide on hand to help snap family photos. We got so many good ones on this tour!

private walking tour of San Franscisco
Michael shooting our kids at Baker Beach with Golden Gate Bridge in background

I’m sure like us, you rarely get a photo with every member of your family in it. This is such a special way to create lifelong memories of your trip.

All you have to do is relax and enjoy it and perhaps strike a Kung Fu move or two.

UPDATE: our friend is no longer running these tours (Thanks COVID!!) but I found another private walking tour option here that gets good reviews. We still highly recommend this San Francisco activity!

Video of our Private Walking Tour of San Francisco + Alcatraz

Click play below to watch our video.

What did you think? Cool walking tour huh?

City of Lights Bookstore

City of Lights Bookstore San Francisco
City of Lights Bookstore

This is a great thing to do in San Francisco if you’re traveling with a teen especially!

City Lights Bookstore was founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin and became became an instant gathering place for readers, writers, artists, and activists.

This bookstore is synonymous with Beatnik culture, showcasing the Beat Generation’s writing works and is best known for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howland Other Poems.

City of Lights is one of the most famous independent bookstores in the USA and has the most comprehensive collections of any bookstore in San Francisco.

City of Lights Bookstore 2nd floor
Second floor Beatnik World

Across three floors you’ll find new-release books from major publishing houses as well as harder-to-find, specialty publishers.

They also have a children’s book section, with selections for the children who are activists!

While here pop outside and enjoy…

Jack Kerouac Alley

Jack Kerouac Alley San Francisco
Awesome murals

Named after the famous writer, Jack Kerouac, this small alley is filled with murals and poetic wisdom from the greats starting from Confucius at the East side of the Alley (which is in Chinatown) moving down to Mayou Angelo down the west side of the alley.

While it’s fantastic for your literature loving teen, younger kids will love the vibrancy of the street art!

Play and Picnic at The Presidio Park

presidio park san francisco
Main Parade Ground during

Oh yes. The Presidio Park quickly became one of my favorite places to go in San Francisco, particularly after seeing all you can do there.

Common utterings from me on our San Francisco trip was,

“Wait, this is also part of The Presidio?

Odds are you may have not heard of it Presidio Park. It’s a national park in an urban landscape and forms part of the greater Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

You can read our full post on the Presidio Park San Francisco.

These are the top things to do with kids in Presidio (they will love the quiet escape from the madness of the streets of San Francisco)

  • Ecology Trail
  • Woodline in lovers lane
  • Presidio Picnic
  • Walt Disney Museum
  • Julius Kahn Playground
  • Crissy Field
  • Yoda Statue at the Letterman Digital Arts Center Go into the lobby of Lucas films to also see Darth Vader. Can you find the small statue of chew backer

You can check out a free Presidio Explorer Backpack for the kids to use to help learn more about the park.

It contains an adventure map and cards that lead you to fun discoveries. Magnifying glasses, binoculars and compass are included.

California Academy of Science Museum

The living roof on the California Academy of Science
The living roof on the California Academy of Science

Many people recommended the California Academy of Science as one of the San Francisco family attractions, and I’ll admit it does sound awesome.

However, we did not visit California Academy of Science as we found it expensive, costing our family $210 to visit for the day.

Considering we travel full time and are immersed in the world of nature, science and natural history every day, we didn’t feel this was worth our money.

But, for you, this San Francisco children’s museum may be completely different. I’d highly consider it on a return trip to San Francisco with kids, if we had more budget.

Why is it so popular?

It’s an aquarium, planetarium, rainforest, and natural history museum in the heart of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and known to be a “powerful voice for biodiversity research and exploration, environmental education, and sustainability across the globe.”

The California Academy of Science includes:

  1. Morrison Planetarium (within a 75 foot dome)
  2. Steinhart Aquarium:  one of the most biodiverse and interactive aquariums in the world. home to nearly 40,000 live animals, representing more than 900 unique species
  3.  Osher Rainforest: neotropical rainforest stretches 90 feet high with 1,600+ live plants and animals
  4. Kimball Natural History Museum: interactive displays highlighting the uniqueness of our planet in surprising ways. 

It’s most noted for its living roof, which is a 2.5 acre rooftop of rolling hills and fields and plants, offering a home to local wildlife and helping to keep the building sustainable.

Top Tip:

Head over to the 9th Floor of the De Young Museum and see the roof from their free observatory deck.

You won’t be able to walk around it, however as mentioned the girls experience plenty of living environments. I do wish all homes were built with this on top.

The California Academy of Science Museum is included in the City Pass. We only had two of these, and still found the price of two tickets too expensive to justify it. You can find out more about the City Pass here.

Lands End Trail – great San Francisco hike with kids

San Francisco family activities - hiking the lands end trail
Lands End Trail – those views!

Looking to escape the congestion of the city? The The Lands End Trail is part of the Golden Gate Recreational Area and is one of my favorite places to visit in San Francisco.

This area reminded us so much of Australia with its rugged coastline trail, views of the bay and Golden Gate Bridge, and trees and wildflowers.

It is a tranquil and pretty spot to get out in nature and stretch your legs, and you’ll feel like you’re in a small coastal town.

It’s a 3.4 mile return trail, but we only walked a short way as we were short on time. I recommend going further down to the Lands End Labyrinth which looks super cool!

Bike the Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park

In the 1870s’ more than 150,000 trees were planted on 1,000 acres to create a city park.

Golden Gate Park is now one of the largest urban parks in the United States, stretching more than 3 miles from the sea to the Panhandle. It’s easy to get lost in this verdant park with its wooded network of trails, gardens, lakes and museums.

The neighborhoods surrounding Golden Gate Park are worth exploring more for their diverse and award winning restaurants including Richmond, Sunset and Haight Asbury.

Hiring bikes is a great way to explore the park for a couple of hours up to a whole day if you like.

On the weekends they close part of the main thoroughfare which makes it a safe and more enjoyable ride. Although there are many trails off road which are just as good. Just watch for pedestrians.

There is plenty of places to visit in the Golden Gate Park on your ride.

  • Koret Children’s Quarter has colorful slides, swings, rope climbing structures, an authentic carousel from 1914
  • The Botanical Garden has more than Has more than 8,000 species of plants
  • Japanese Tea Garden is a serenity place to sip on a cup of green tea. Craig and I loved visiting here on our San Francisco trip pre-kids.
  • The aforementioned California Academy of Science and De Young Museum is also in the park.

There are even buffalos in the western end of the Golden Gate PArk

Visit Baker Beach

Baker Beach

If your kids need a bit of beach play time, Baker Beach could be a worthwhile stop. But, wouldn’t be a place I’d recommend to hangout for a whole beach day. I couldn’t imagine that’s one of those best things to do in San Francisco, ever?

Too cold, too windy, dangerous water conditions. I also found the sand pretty dark and yucky and there was a bit of trash around.

Thankfully, our girls picked up a lot of it – the good Junior Rangers they are. There are picnic tables and grills here, which adds to the attraction of some family beach time out

The best reason for visiting is stunning view from Baker Beach of the Golden Gate Bridge against the Marin Headlands.

You can also admire the houses perched on the cliffs at Sea Cliff. The big brownish red one at the end is Jack Dorsey’s house, owner of Twitter. You can also see it from the Lands End Trail from the China Beach side.

Be sure to drive through the gorgeous Sea Cliff neighborhood after to look at the million-dollar homes lining the cliff face.

Seward Street Slides

We didn’t make the Seward Street Slides, but we had several people recommend it to us as one of the places to visit in San Francisco that the locals love.

Two long, steep concrete slides, designed by 14-year-old Kim Clark, are the main event in this community garden.h

It says to bring a piece of cardboard and wear sturdy pants and enjoy the thrill. All adults must be accompanied by children!

Visit the Redwoods at Muir Woods

Muir Woods - One of the best things to do in San Francisco with kids
Muir Woods is the prettiest of San Francisco family activities

If you’re looking for San Francisco kids activities that involve nature, don’t miss immersing yourself in the green world of the redwood forest in Muir Woods National Monument.

Muir Woods is one of the unique San Francisco attractions – well it’s just outside of the city, so it’s one of the top attractions near San Francisco. You can easily visit Muir Woods in just a couple of hours.

Our girls learned so much about the redwoods through the Junior Ranger Program at Muir Woods.

These are magnificent trees and you may want to hug a few. Redwoods are the tallest living thing and have very shallow roots that would be the equivalent to your big toe. Such a fun fact.

Do the easy 2-mile loop walk.

Start on the right hand side of the trail beside the serene and pretty creek and then at the end go left and up the hill to take the more slightly elevated trail back.

This will give you a great overlook from the canopy and will end up joining with the creek trail. Then take advantage of the many seats along the way to pause and soak up their beauty.

Thankfully because of the parking permit situation the crowds here are managed and it’s not too busy.

Top Tip:

You MUST ensure you book your allotted parking time online before venturing to Muir Woods. You will not be allowed to enter unless you have done this. You can reserve your parking spot here.

Entrance to the park is $15, or is covered on an America the Beautiful Annual national Parks pass. Highly worth it if you intend to visit several federal lands on your USA trip.

Video of Muir Woods, San Francisco

Click play below to watch us walk amongst these giants.

Aren’t they just incredible trees?

Defintiely make time to go see them.

Read More:

San Francisco in a Day: A solo Mother’s Relaxed Adventures
Where to stay in San Francisco – 26 hotels form budget to luxury

Eat Delicious Ice cream from Bi-Rite Creamery

There are several places to get ice cream in San Francisco with kids of all ages that adults will love too, but many Bay Area locals will agree that you can’t beat a cup of Bi-Rite Creamery.

You’ll find them down in the Mission District, or if you see the ice cream truck go by be sure to wave it down.

One of the best things to do in San Francisco with kids
Bi-rite creamery – delicious family activity in San Francisco

Our friend Michael took us there on his private driving tour. You cannot beat local tips and being driven straight there.

He recommends the salted caramel and honey lavender. I thought my coffee toffee was the ultimate.

Hot Tip: 

If you’re checking out the Painted Ladies in Alamo Square, go to the Bi-Rite location on Divisadero and Hayes street where there’s typically less of a wait.

Pancakes at Dottie’s True Blue Cafe

Dottie's - One of the best things to do in San Francisco with kids
Fantastic kid friendly restaurant in San Francisco

For big helpings of American breakfast favorites, including huge pancakes, take your kids to Dottie’s True Blue Cafe (they have gluten free pancakes too which was a win for us adults).

This is a local’s fave, and there’s always a line. We got there early and had a 40 minute wait, but anything that’s good and popular with the locals is busy in this city.

By the time we walked out with full tummies, the line up had doubled and was down the street.

It is located in a bit of a sketchy area of the Tenderloin District (not the best area of San Francisco) although we felt comfortable enough.

Consider getting an UBER straight to the door, but we walked from our Kimpton Hotel in Union Square (more on this hotel down below).

Taste Chocolates and Cheese (AND wine) at Ghirardelli Square

Ghirardelli Square san francisco family activities
Ghirardelli Square – making all family members happy

There is something for all members at the family at Ghirardelli Square.

It was my favorite area of Fisherman’s’ Wharf and didn’t feel as touristy as Pier 39 and the main hub of Fisherman’s Wharf.

Ghirardelli Square is the site of the old Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory. It’s now a combination of retail and dining, but there is a Ghirardelli store and ice cream bar to satisfy your chocolate cravings.

You can order them a sundae from the ice cream bar (expect a wait on the line here) or pick your favorite chocolate flavors and fill up a to go sample box (line much shorter).

Hot Tip: 

Just up from the store is another Ghirardelli ice cream bar that sells the same thing but has much smaller lines!

With chocolate box in hand, walk through the middle of the square and past the fountain to The Cheese School. Order a platter of local cheese and a glass of wine and find a seat in the glassed conservatory and admire the views over the bay and a slight glimpse of the bridge.

This was perhaps my favorite twenty minutes of our entire San Francisco trip and nothing you will find on any other things to do with kids in San Francisco list.

You are welcome.

But wait, it doesn’t stop there

Head on over to the San Francisco Brewery for local samplings of craft beer and burgers and chicken wings for dinner.

Eat the Best Chocolate Croissants in the USA

Places to eat in San Francisco things to do with kids
YUM. One of those top things to do in San Francisco with kids

Who cares about giving the kids a chocolate croissant treat? Well, this is one delicacy you’ll push your kids out of line for!

The chocolate croissants at Arsicault Bakery were named best in the country. Yes you heard that correctly.

Thanks again to Michael from Boutique Traveler for sharing it with us so we could share it with you. You’ll probably not see it on any other list of best things to do in San Francisco with kids! 

That’s why we travel like we do. You are welcome.

I’m gluten free and couldn’t resist a bite. OMG. I could have easily demolished the whole thing but exercised restraint. Move over Paris you have some competition!

Hot Tip: 

Get there as close to opening as possible as the pastries sell out early!

Open 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Smitten Ice Cream

One of the best things to do in San Francisco with kids -eat ice cream
Choose your favorite ice cream in San Francisco

Oh go on then! Since you’re in San Francisco for longer than a day, you can have more ice cream.

Another locals fave with the kids in San Francisco, and big kids who also love ice cream!

Robyn Sue Fisher is a lifelong ice cream freak from Stanford University who started selling her Smitten Ice Cream out of a Radio Flyer wagon in 2009.

Her homemade ice cream was made to order, flash-frozen at the time of sale with liquid nitrogen in her own ice cream machine that was powered by a battery pack she built out of an old motorcycle battery.

Due to the smaller-sized crystals achieved with liquid nitrogen, the ice cream was ultra-creamy. She uses only unprocessed, real, locally sourced and sustainable ingredients.

Using social media, she alerted her fans to the flavor of the day and the wagon’s whereabouts.

Today she has three shops in SF and one in Oakland.

Eat more delicious chocolate croissants Tartine Bakery

Tartine Bakery San Francisco with kids
More delicious croissants

Yep. Our local friend and tour expert Michael came up with another winner.

Tartine Bakery has the second best chocolate croissants in San Francisco (behind Arsicault Bakery) and he’s not wrong.

Not just croissants on offer here, but a great all-round bakery using organic ingredients providing the makings for breakfast pastries, hot pressed sandwiches, and coffee.

If you were to know our kids, they love bakeries, and they give this one a tick of approval.

3-Day San Francisco Itinerary

We’ve mapped out your 3 day trip to San Francisco, including what we think are the unmissable San Francisco attractions and give you a time frame to enjoy them, plus a handy map to help you get around!

How to Save Money on San Francisco Attractions

The City Pass saves travelers 42% or more on combined admission to San Francisco’s top attractions.

Pricing $94 adults and $74 children age 5-11. It’s valid for nine consecutive days and includes:

  • California Academy of Science
  • Non our bay cruise
  • Aquarium on the Bay
  • Exploratorium or SF Museum of Modern Art
  • and 3 unlimited MUNI bus and cable cars.

But, I much prefer the San Francisco Sightseeing Pass as it includes more diversity in their attractions and more local tours.

We only used the MUNI from the city pass. We’re not big museum people so it wasn’t a win for us. And I don’t like how the bay area attractions are chosen for you.

Getting Around San Francisco

getting around san francisco
  • MUNI buses are good for cheap city wide travel. There are over 50 routes. Google Maps is best for helping you figure out what lines to take to your destinations. You can buy and use tickets through the Muni app. Fare is $2.75 for adults $1.35 for kids. You can buy day prices. You need exact fare. Cash only.
  • Cable Cars are best for tourist thrills and capturing views. The Cable Cars will help you navigate the San Francisco steep hills. Lines: Powell-Hyde, Powell Mason, and California st $7 one way; $21 day pass
  • The BART is best for East Bay exploration. The Bay Area Rapid Transport connects San Francisco t5o the Easter and southern sides of the aby and beyond.
  • San Francisco Bay Ferries are best for North Bay exploration.
  • Ride and bike share are best for setting your own schedule. Lyft and Uber can help you get to where you want to go quickly and easily. May be cheaper for group travel.
  • Bay Wheels Bikes are docked on the city streets and require an app to use.
  • Clipper Card is the all-in-one transit card for the Bay Area you can load it with cash to ride on Muni, Bart, Caltrain and ferries.

Be warned, this city has a lot of hills, and can get windy!

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What Bay Area kids activities can you recommend? Or if you still have questions about what to do in San Francisco with kids, leave a comment down below

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