7 Family-Friendly Things to Do in San Francisco

Things to Do in San Francisco with Family

San Francisco, also known as the City by the Bay, is one of the most densely populated U.S cities and home to a myriad of family-friendly attractions. From Chinatown and chocolate shops to Alcatraz and the Golden Gate, here are a few things to see and do during your stay:

Visit Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park is one of the world’s largest urban parks, attracting 13 million visitors each year to its more than 1,000 acres. During the weekends, park for free at Ocean Beach and take a free shuttle to major attractions like the Golden Gate Park Aquarium. Home to a collection of animals and marine creatures from around the world, the aquarium also features interactive activities including penguin feedings and coral reef diving. Also inside the park, the de Young Museum showcases American art ranging from the 17th through 20th centuries, textiles, art from Africa and Oceania, a sculpture garden and easy access to the Japanese Tea Garden. For lunch, dinner and live music, stop by The Beach and Park Chalet, a historic brewery and restaurant located above the park’s visitor center.

Golden Gate Park Aquarium Glimpse under the sea at the Golden Gate State Park Aquarium.

Stroll Through Chinatown

Centered on both Grant Avenue and Stockton Street, San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest and largest Chinatown in North America. Enjoy a meal at an authentic Chinese restaurant, like Henry’s Hunan Restaurant. Then, embark on a tour led by locals through the neighborhood’s historic alleyways, and visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory to see fortune cookies of all shapes and sizes made up close.

Chinatown Walk beneath colorful lanterns and find your fortune in a cookie as you discover the oldest Chinatown in the country.

Tour the Cable Car Museum

The world’s first cable railway system, the Clay Street Hill Railroad, opened in San Francisco in 1873. Today, cable cars still operate on three lines up and down the city’s streets. Go on a free tour of the Cable Car Museum, open daily, featuring a collection of historic cable cars, photographs and mechanical displays. The short tour includes a trip through the gift shop to pick up memorabilia, including actual steel cable and old admission tokens.

Cable Car Museum Get a feel for the history of transportation in this hill-filled city during a trip to the Cable Car Museum.

Bite into Chocolate in Ghirardelli Square

Located in the Fisherman’s Wharf area, Ghirardelli Square was established in 1893 when Domingo Ghirardelli’s sons purchased a whole city block for the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company their father founded. The company headquarters has since moved, but the tradition of chocolate lives on at several Ghirardelli shops, like the one in the square’s clock tower. Whether you’re looking to sip on hot cocoa or indulge in a hot-fudge sundae, the square has a chocolate treat for everyone and several restaurants open for lunch and dinner.

Ghirardelli Square Satisfy your sweet tooth in Ghirardelli Square.

Find Entertainment at Pier 39

Not far from Ghirardelli Square is one of San Francisco’s most popular tourist destinations, Pier 39. Throughout the pier, visitors will find restaurants, street performers like jugglers and acrobats, exhibits, carnival rides and barking sea lions. The pier’s Aquarium of the Bay boasts more than 20,000 sea creatures native to the San Francisco Bay and surrounding waters. Park in the Pier 39 Garage, across the street from the Entrance Plaza.

Pier 39 Say hello to sea lions at Pier 39 in San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.

Ferry to Alcatraz Island

Across the water from Pier 39 is Alcatraz Island. Renowned for its federal prison that closed in 1963, Alcatraz was also a military base during the Civil War. Open for tours every day except holidays, visitors can walk on the same steps as Al Capone and discover the dark history of Alcatraz through audio tours. The only way to get there is by ferry, located off the Embarcadero freeway near the intersection of Bay Street, just south of Fisherman’s Wharf. To ensure a spot on the tour, visitors can purchase their tickets online up to 90 days in advance.

Alcatraz Island Take a ferry out to Alcatraz Island to see one of the most notorious former prisons in the U.S.

Drive out to Half Moon Bay

For a day outside the city, drive about 30 miles south to Half Moon Bay. Spend a spring day at Half Moon Bay State Beach and snap a family photo among brightly colored wildflowers with the ocean as your backdrop. Art lovers will find numerous galleries downtown and can attend the Art & Pumpkin Festival in October. Before heading back to the City by the Bay, blow your own glass at Half Moon Bay Art Glass and go for a scenic drive among the redwood trees.

Half Moon Bay Spend an afternoon with your family exploring the reefs and beach at Half Moon Bay.

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About the Author

Joan Stevens is a New York writer and editor. A San Jose native, she lived half her life in what she considers America’s finest city: San Francisco. Her love for travel has led her through five of the world’s seven continents, yet Northern California remains one of her favorite places to explore, time and time again.