38 unmissable fun things to do in San Francisco with kids

Last updated on August 18, 2023

San Francisco is one of my favourite places on earth – a place where I feel inspired and simply excited to be there. I first visited when a child myself and have since been back as an adult and parent, including on our epic California road trip. There are endless fun things to do in San Francisco with kids, and here’s our pick of the best.

Your guide to the best of what to do in San Francisco with kids.

Many of these are in the fabulous Golden Gate Park, which should be number one on your list of places to visit with kids in San Francisco. You could spend a week exploring that alone!

Also see our guide to things to do in Los Angeles with kids and things to do in San Diego with kids. And a mega guide to things to do in California with kids.

For more inspiration worldwide, don’t miss our epic guide to bucket list family vacations.

We visited San Francisco as part of various California road trips, including the PCH and San Francisco to Seattle.

38 fun things to do in San Francisco with kids

Ride a cable car

Photo by San Francisco Travel Association

San Francisco’s iconic cable cars are a big hit with kids. They get super crowded, but are worth the squeeze for the fun of riding up and down the city’s giants hills. Plus they’re a good way to get from A to B (there are three lines, two of which go to Fisherman’s Wharf).

You could also go to the Cable Car Museum on Nob Hill, which has a collection of historic cable cars and is a fun thing for kids to do in San Francisco

And, on the subject of impressive streets, also visit Lombard Street, San Francisco’s famous zig-zag road.

Go to the California Academy of Sciences

The California Academy of Sciences is great for all ages (Otis enjoyed it even at 10 months) and one of the best things for kids to do in San Francisco. There’s an impressive four-storey rainforest, a planetarium and aquarium, all under one roof. Skip the ticket line and buy an advance ticket here.

Another good science museum is the Randall Museum, which has lots of hands-on exhibits for all ages. It’s also close to Corona Heights, which has amazing views of the city.

Dolores Park, Mission, San Francisco

Visit one of the San Francisco’s amazing playgrounds

San Francisco playgrounds are some of the best you’ll ever find and certainly top the list of things to do in San Francisco for kids. Favourites include:

  • Koret Children’s Quarter – the children’s playground at Golden Gate Park, complete with concrete slides, climbing walls, and a vintage carousel.
  • Helen Diller Playground at Dolores Park – one of our favourite spots in San Francisco for the views and location in the creative Mission area. Playground highlights include a 38-ft slide, wooden boats and bouldering rocks.
  • Julius Kahn Playground and Clubhouse – designed to be like to Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, with great views, and a fun sand play and climbing area for kids.
  • Seward Street Slides – steep concrete slides designed by a 14-year-old. Bring some cardboard to slide on!
  • Eureka Valley Recreation Center – cute playground if you’re in the Castro.
  • South Park – featuring an interesting undulating play structure for all ages.
  • In Chan Kaajal Park- another park in the Mission with a fun children’s play area and water play feature where you can cool down on hot days.
  • Bernal Heights Park- there’s only a rope swing but the view means it’s the best swing in the city. It’s a 30-minute walk to the top.

All of these are really fun free things to do in San Francisco with kids.

Go to the Exploratorium

Photo by San Francisco Travel Association

The Exploratorium in the Embaracdero is a brilliant interactive science museum that’ll entertain kids and adults alike. Step inside a tornado, build electrical circuits, and visit the mad scientists’ penny arcade. Skip the ticket line and book your ticket now. It’s a really fun place for kids in San Francisco.

Go to Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf

Photo by San Francisco Travel Association

It’s a tourist trap, but there are many reasons kids will love it, not least for being able to spot the sea lions jumping on and off the pier. It’s a sure hit on the list of things to do with kids in San Francisco. There’s also a carousel, mirror maze, the wave organ and 7D experience (a roller coaster meets 3D video game!).

Pier 39 is also home the incredible Aquarium of the Bay, which is rated as one of the best San Francisco kids attractions. It’s home to 20,000 marine animals, including sharks, rays, octopus, jellyfish and otters. Skip the line and buy an advance ticket here.

Also see the USS Pampanito, a WWII submarine turned museum and memorial.

Explore the street art

One of our favourite things to do in a city is explore the local street art and San Francisco is home to some of the world’s best. We particularly love the murals in the Mission District, especially the Women’s Building and Balmy Alley. This is a great thing to do with kids, exploring art in an informal setting and with parks and refreshment stops nearby.

Visit the redwoods

We’re big fans of absorbing our kids in epic nature and California’s redwoods are a must-see on a visit to SF. You can walk among the redwood grove at the botanical gardens in Golden Gate Park, or head north to Muir Woods on the other side of the bridge. Walking in Muir Woods feels a hundred miles from the city despite being just a short drive away.

Take a boat trip around the bay

For a different view of the city, take a cruise around the bay. There are lots of family-friendly options on offer.

Visit the Bay Area Discovery Museum

A must for younger kids in San Francisco (ages 6 months – 10 years) is the Bay Area Discovery Museum on the other side of Golden Gate Bridge near Sausalito. It has indoor and outdoor hands-on experiences, including a 2.5 acre area called the Lookout Cove, complete with tide pools and a shipwreck playground, all looking out onto the bridge.

Another good hands-on museum is the San Francisco Children’s Creativity Museum.

Hit the beach

Photo by @shesoaj for San Francisco Travel Association

San Francisco isn’t like some of its neighbours in terms of amazing beaches (looking at your Santa Cruz), but they are still pretty beautiful and good for a walk or picnic. The white sand of Ocean Beach is popular with families (although beware the water is cold and dangerous).

And Baker Beach is a good option for families wanting to picnic and build sandcastles – but you might want to avoid the northernmost end, which is a nudist beach!

San Francisco has some amazing art galleries. Good options for families include the De Young Museum (a fine art museum with an outdoor sculpture garden plus interesting galleries of warrior masks) and the Asian Art Museum, which has a kids’ explorer pack.

Hire a boat on Stow Lake

5.10.10 #gloriousday #nofilterneeded​ #goldengatepark

A photo posted by Thitawan D. (@thitawan) on

Another fun option in Golden Gate Park is hiring a boat on Stow Lake. Choose from pedal boats, electric boats and row boats.

Visit San Francisco Zoo

#sfzoo #giraffe #animal #sanfrancisco

A photo posted by Réne Rivers (@grumpyphotoguy) on

The 100-acre San Francisco Zoo near Ocean Beach is home to over 2,000 animals and one of the most popular things to do in San Francisco with kids. Animals include a snow leopard, gorillas, koalas and giraffes. And there’s also a dedicated children’s zoo, a tropical rainforest and aviary, and a cute miniature steam train that does rides around the zoo. It’s a classic San Francisco kids attraction.

Eat all the amazing food!

There are loads of great places to eat in San Francisco, and plenty can be enjoyed with kids. They’ll especially enjoy all the treat on offer. Some of our favourite treat spots are:

More unique things to do with kids in San Francisco

A few more unique things to do in San Francisco with kids include:

Where to stay with kids in San Francisco

Alise by Stay Pineapple in San Francisco

Staypineapple San Francisco

Staypineapple San Francisco is part of the fun Stay Pineapple chain, which has an emphasis on providing stylish and reasonably priced accommodation in coveted locations. It’s all bold and bright and includes nice touches like free cupcakes at 3pm, and what they call the Naked Experience, which includes lush bathrobes and bed linens so you need never leave your room.

But the location means that of course you do want to get out and explore, which is where the free bike hire comes in handy. Plus it’s proudly dog-friendly if you have a furry friend in tow. Rooms start from $150. Book your stay now.

Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Itinerary - San Remo Hotel

San Remo Hotel

The San Remo Hotel is the definition of a hidden gem – a budget option in downtown San Francisco that brims with old-world charm. First opened in 1906, it feels like stepping back in time. The rooms have Victorian heirloom furnishings, the bathrooms are shared but spotless, and the attention to detail and customer service is delightful.

I was particularly impressed by all the thoughtful touches, like unlimited hot drinks, and helpful bathroom amenities, including mouthwash on tap and lots of fluffy towels. Prices start at $89 per night. Book your stay now.

How to get around San Francisco with kids

San Francisco is a city where you don’t really need a car. The public transport is excellent and we only used our car to get in and out of the city.

The SFMTA website is useful as you can track live progress of the bus/train/cable car you’re waiting for, and the Muni app is handy as it’s an easy way to buy tickets for your journey.

If you are parking in the city, be warned that you tend to be limited to a two-hour stay on residential streets, and also watch out for when street cleaning is happening as you mustn’t park during those hours (all this info is on the parking signs). We also found a really handy app called Best Parking, which tells you about free/cheap places to park in the city. 

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Our California travel guides

We also have detailed guides to loads of California destinations that can help you plan even more. They’ll especially suit you if you’re a bit like us, keen on discovering the creative side of a destination and in pursuit of all the best cafes, ice creams, doughnuts, bookshops, murals and beauty spots. And we have lots of family guides if you’re travelling with kids.

Road trips: California Road Trip | Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip | San Francisco to Seattle road trip | San Francisco to Seattle road trip

Handpicked travel guides: Laguna Beach | Mendocino |San ClementeSan Diego  | Santa Barbara  | Santa Cruz|Shasta Cascade and Redding Sonoma |Tuolumne County Yolo County

California family travel guides: California with kidsLos Angeles with kids | Sacramento with kidsSan Diego with kids | San Francisco with kids

California accommodation guides: Joshua Tree Airbnb | Laguna Beach Airbnb | Hip Palm Springs Hotels | Palm Springs Airbnb | Palm Springs VRBO | San Diego Airbnb | Santa Cruz Airbnb | Santa Barbara Airbnb |Santa Monica Airbnb | Sonoma Airbnb | Venice Beach AirbnbHip San Francisco Hotels

California attraction guides: How to get the most out of Disneyland with toddlers | The ultimate guide to Universal Studios with babies and toddlers

If you’re heading elsewhere in the USA or even worldwide, see more of our family travel tips here.

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