Things to Do in San Francisco with Kids

Things to Do in San Francisco with Kids

San Francisco is a family vacation destination unlike any other. Toddlers can get hands-on learning in world-class museums, elementary-aged kids can experience cultures from around the globe, and teens can appreciate and enjoy the city’s unique spirit and vibrant arts scene.

Ready for a kid-friendly San Francisco trip? Start with this guide of things to do with children of every age.

Getting There

Three major airports serve the San Francisco Bay Area:

San Francisco with Toddlers

 

San Francisco Carousel at Pier 39 The double-decker San Francisco Carousel at Pier 39 has more than 30 animals to ride and is hand-painted with famous city landmarks.

Visit the California Academy of Sciences: Families with toddlers should make the California Academy of Sciences their first stop at Golden Gate Park. This natural history museum has an aquarium, a planetarium and an enclosed rainforest exhibit — and it’s also home to Claude, the albino alligator.

Walk along Pier 39: This top tourist attraction is captivating for the youngest visitors to the City by the Bay. Take time to watch the sea lions sunning themselves on the docks, ride the double-decker Pier 39 carousel and spend an hour or two visiting the small but mighty Aquarium of the Bay.

Check out the San Francisco Zoo: With more than 2,000 animals living in nearly two dozen exhibits, the San Francisco Zoo is thrilling for toddlers. It has a fully functional miniature steam train (which children younger than 3 can ride free) that winds through a handful of exhibits. The zoo’s proximity to Ocean Beach also opens up the option to explore the shore on a warm day.

Stay here: The key to picking lodging with toddlers in San Francisco is avoiding the city’s famous hills — it’s hard for little ones to climb them and even harder for parents to carry their kids up them. Consider staying in the flatter areas around Union Square at hotels like the Westin St. Francis, Kimpton Sir Francis Drake or Grand Hyatt San Francisco.

San Francisco with Kids Ages 5–12

 

San Francisco cable car San Francisco’s cable cars are more than a national historic landmark. They’re useful, too, as three transportation routes take riders to many of the city’s sights.

Ride a cable car: No trip to San Francisco is complete without a ride aboard this iconic form of transportation. (Fare is $7 one way for all ages, and day passes are available.) Be sure to stop at the Cable Car Museum to learn how the technology works. Also plan to get off the cable car’s Powell-Hyde line at Lombard Street, which Guinness World Records calls the crookedest road in the world.

Catch a baseball game: If you’re visiting during baseball season (April to October), buy tickets to see the San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park. The ballpark’s Fan Lot is tailor-made for children — they can play on slides and run the bases of a miniature baseball field. The Fan Lot is also open on most nongame days, free of charge.

Tour the Walt Disney Family Museum: Get your Disney fix without traveling all the way to Anaheim. Explore this museum dedicated to Walt’s family and legacy, complete with a large-scale model of Disneyland as it existed in Walt Disney’s time.

Stay here: Kids will probably find the hustle and bustle of Fisherman’s Wharf the most fun for a home base. Consider a stay at the Hyatt Centric Fisherman’s Wharf San Francisco or San Francisco Marriott Fisherman’s Wharf, which are both well-located choices.

San Francisco with Teens

 

Alcatraz island Many people know Alcatraz as a federal prison (1934–1963), but it also served as a military reservation (1850–1933). Today, visitors can take a ferry from San Francisco 365 days a year to tour the island and learn about its storied history.

Boat to Alcatraz: Alcatraz Island, home of the famous former prison, is a must-visit for teens for both its history and its mystery. Consider booking the night tour for special programs and unique views of the city. Tickets include the island tour of your choice and round-trip ferry ride — due to high demand, it’s strongly recommended that you buy online well in advance of your trip. Also, pack heavy jackets and lots of layers for the frigid weather on the water, even in summer.

Bike the Golden Gate Bridge: The Golden Gate Bridge belongs on every San Francisco traveler’s itinerary. But with teens, do more than just drive over it: Rent a bike from one of the many vendors in Fisherman’s Wharf and cross the bridge on two wheels instead. Pedal all the way to Sausalito (about 8 miles one way) and return via ferry.

Explore Chinatown: While San Francisco boasts many culturally diverse neighborhoods, Chinatown is perhaps the most iconic — it’s also the oldest Chinatown in the  United States. Check out the architecture (including the Dragon Gate at Bush Street and Grant Avenue), spend some time shopping and sample the delicious dim sum at any of the shops along Stockton Street.

Stay here: Families with teens seeking a unique lodging experience will discover San Francisco offers incredible variety. Take in the city like a local by finding a vacation rental in a cool and eclectic residential neighborhood, such as the Mission District, or stay in Hotel Kabuki, a boutique establishment in the heart of Japantown.

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About the Author

Leslie Harvey is a mother of two who lives in San Francisco and loves to travel. Her blog, Trips With Tykes, is devoted to simplifying the logistics of traveling with young kids. Learn more about her family adventures on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.