San Francisco with kids: 19 activities to do with kids!
A few days to San Francisco with kids is definitely a good idea! Many families with kids visit the city while traveling through the western United States, including visiting Los Angeles and a number of national parks. We ourselves also visited the city while traveling through the western United States. We list the best activities in San Francisco with kids below.
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There are some well-known sights in San Francisco that you really can’t miss when taking a city break to San Francisco with kids. Some attractions may not be specifically for kids, but most tourists visit these places anyway.
#1 Golden Gate Bridge: this is the most famous bridge in the city and of course it is fun to visit it. We ourselves drove over the bridge in a rental car, but it is also fun to take a photo with the bridge in the background. For families with kids, a fun activity here is to rent bikes and ride them across the bridge.
The bridge is a whopping 2.7 km long, making it an ideal distance to travel by bike with kids. You can rent bikes in several places in the city, and the city also has an extensive network of bike paths. For a list of all bike trails, you can look here.
Once you reach the end of the bridge, you can ride your bike down to the town of Sausalito, where you can take the ferry back. That way you don’t have to bike back and forth across the bridge.
#2 Fisherman’s Wharf: This is the tourist heart of the city though and most tourists visit Pier 39 because of the sea lions sunbathing here. We enjoyed visiting this place for a while. Just keep in mind that the sea lions smell pretty bad. You also have many well-known cafes and restaurants located in this area such as the city’s Hard Rock Cafe, for example.
#3 Cable Tram: Another tourist attraction you should definitely check out in San Francisco with kids is this streetcar. It is the last hand-operated streetcar operating in the United States, and it is somewhat the symbol of the city. The streetcar runs three different routes and it is mainly a tourist attraction, as locals barely use it (as the streetcar does not go very fast).
You can buy a ticket in the streetcar itself, and you can even buy a day pass, but that’s not really necessary, since it’s mostly one-time fun to take the streetcar for a ride around town.
#4 Alcatraz: This prison island is one of the city’s most popular sights and we, ourselves, bald that we did not get to visit it. Due to the popularity of this sight, tickets are often sold out a long time in advance, so you really need to plan a visit to Alcatraz. Since we did not know exactly when we would be in town during our tour, this was very difficult to do.
You can explore the island on your own with an organized tour. You then take the ferry to the island and walk a set route with an audio guide through the island’s prison. It is also possible to get Dutch audio during the tour so that is very nice for kids. For kids, of course, walking through a prison and hearing all those exciting stories is very exciting.
You can visit a number of family-friendly museums in San Francisco with kids. We briefly name the nicest ones below.
#5 Exploratorium: you can also go to a science museum in San Francisco. Exploratorium is in the center of the city, and from Fisherman’s Wharf it is about a 15-minute walk along the water to this museum. You have several rooms in the museum, where kids can do experiments and all kinds of aspects of science are explained.
The museum is akin to the NEMO museum in Amsterdam. You can easily spend half a day here entertaining your kids. The museum also has a restaurant, so you can also have a great lunch here. You also have a great view of the water from the museum.
#6 California Academy of Sciences: you can take kids to a second science museum in San Francisco that is also located downtown. Located in Golden Gate Park, this museum focuses on people, animals and nature. Kids here can also do all kinds of interactive experiments on these topics and discover, for example, what an earthquake feels like. Our daughter has also experienced this once in a museum in Ghent, and it still impresses kids (besides being kind of an attraction for the kids, of course).
You can also admire various animals in this museum. For example, they have large aquariums with all kinds of marine animals and they also have an exotic garden with reptiles and all kinds of beautiful butterflies. You can easily spend half a day entertaining the family in this museum as well.
#7 Childrens Creativity Museum: this museum caters to young children and as the name suggests, kids can get creative here. Of course, kids can do crafts here, but they can also create their own animated film and experiment with instruments and sound. The museum also has a Tech lab, where kids can learn about robots. In addition, the museum also has a carousel, which kids can take a ride in.
#8 Discovery Museum: this museum is located slightly outside of downtown in the town of Sausalito. You can combine a visit to this museum if you ride your bike across the Golden Gate Bridge and then end your bike tour in Sausalito. The museum is suitable for kids up to about eight years old, and play is very much the focus of this museum. Kids here can build something with big blocks, play at the playground equipment and make music. If you are traveling with a rental car, you can park it for free at the museum.
Discovering the city
You can explore the city of San Francisco with kids by public transportation, of course, but there are other means of transportation in the city. Before this, we mentioned the tourist streetcar through the city, but there are more options. We briefly list these options below.
#9 Hop on Hop off bus: these buses actually run in every major city in the world and are a great way to explore a city in a quick way. The buses run a set route past various points of interest, and you can hop on and off as often as you like during a certain time period. In San Francisco, you have a red route and a blue route (it only runs at night). With the red route, the buses stop at 17 different points in the city and if you stay the whole route you will be on the bus for about 2 hours.
#10 Baja Bikes: you can also take a tour of San Francisco by bike with an English-speaking guide. You then also visit the Golden Gate bridge and in total the tour takes three hours. They also have child seats and children’s bikes for these organized bike tours, making it easy for kids to join these tours as well.
#11 Bay Cruises: you can also see the city of San Francisco with kids from the water. There are several organizations that offer 1-hour cruises, where you cruise around and pass different sights. You will also sail under the Golden Gate Bridge. We always find it a relaxing activity when we see a city from the water with our daughter.
Children’s activities San Francisco
You also have a number of activities you can do in San Francisco with kids that are entirely geared toward kids. We briefly name them below.
#12 Six Flags Discovery Kingdom: you can also go to an amusement park in San Francisco with kids. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is located slightly outside the city center and by car it will take you about forty minutes to get there. The park has many spectacular attractions and is very suitable for young people. Just keep in mind that the lines can be very long. There are also a number of shows with animals such as with sea lions, seals and tigers.
#13 San Francisco Zoo: As in most major cities, you can also go to the zoo in San Francisco with kids. The zoo has several large animals you can admire such as the lion, tiger, brown bear, polar bear, giraffe, zebra, hippopotamus, rhinoceros and different types of monkeys. The zoo is not super big, but half a day’s worth of entertainment here is quick anyway.
#14 Aquarium of the Bay: this aquarium is located next to Pier 39 in the tourist area and you can admire many animals that live in the sea. It can be compared to the branches of Seaworld and also at this aquarium you have many tropical fish, jellyfish, sharks and rays. Again, they have a tunnel that you can walk through and see the entire aquarium around your head.
Other children’s activities San Francisco
In addition to the activities you can do in San Francisco with kids described above, there are a number of other activities you can do in the city with the family. We briefly list them below.
#15 Whale watching: it is possible to board a boat from Pier 39 to go whale watching in the sea. A tour takes about 2.5 hours and is quite pricey, though. Especially if you are going to do this with the whole family. You may encounter humpback whales, whales, dolphins and seals during the cruise, but of course you never have any guarantees. A guide also accompanies you on the boat, who can provide you with information about the different animals along the way.
#16 To the Beach: San Francisco is located on the water and therefore it is possible to go to the beach during the warm summer months. You have several beaches you can take the family to for a day. The city’s most popular beach is Baker Beach and from this beach you also have a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge, but there are several other beaches that are great to go to such as China Beach and Crissy Field Beach.
#17 7d experience: at Pier 39 it is possible to go to a 7d cinema. You sit in a movie theater with a gun in your hand and and 3D glasses on and during the movie there are all kinds of special effects. A great activity when the weather is a little cooler in town and you still want to do something with kids.
#18 Dolores Park: this is a park where you can relax for an hour and from the park you also have a nice view of the city. In addition, the park has quite a nice playground for kids (Helen Diller Playground).
#19 Golden Gate park: this is one of the largest city parks in the city and is also well worth visiting with the family. Also in this park you have a very cool playground (Koret Playground) and special here are the slides made of concrete, from which you go down with part of a cardboard box. You also have a Japanese tea garden in the park, and at the Stow Lake Boathouse you can take boats for a tour of the lake.
San Francisco with kids: Go City Explorer pass
Family-friendly hotels San Francisco
You can stay in San Francisco with kids just fine. San Francisco is pretty big, and ideally you and your family will want to stay in the center of the city. We have listed the best hotel sitting in the middle of downtown in each price range. Always click on the blue link for more information about the particular accommodation.
Budget hotel: Adelaide Hostel
Mid-range hotel: Holiday Inn San Francisco – Golden Gateway, an IHG Hotel
Luxury hotel: Chancellor Hotel on Union Square