Plan the Ultimate Family Vacation to San Francisco

Six itineraries for exploring the City by the Bay with kids

In San Francisco, families will never run out of fun adventures. Every neighborhood has something special to offer adults and children of all ages. Here are some ways to make the most of the City by the Bay with the kids in tow.

Best of the West

San Francisco Zoo

Exploring the city’s western shores begins with a visit to the San Francisco Zoo. Here, you can spot the adorable red panda and the rare but beautiful snow leopard. At lunchtime, head to the grassy patio of kid-friendly Park Chalet, located on the beach side of Golden Gate Park. Lunch will fill you up just enough for some playtime in the sand of Ocean Beach, just across the road. In the afternoon, drive along the impressive coast and across the Golden Gate Bridge. Just across the bridge, the views are perfect for taking some family photos. Try renting a car through getaround.com while exploring this side of town so you can shuttle the family from place to place without hassle. 

Play in the Park

Cal Academy

With a picnic lunch and comfortable shoes, families can easily spend a full day exploring the massive Golden Gate Park. Rent bikes for the whole family along Stanyan Street by the eastern entrance. Your first stop in the park: The California Academy of Sciences, where you can stand inside a rainforest and see exotic animals and plants up close. Next door is the de Young Museum—another great stop that offers free art classes for kids on Saturdays. Back on your bikes, see if you can find the bison that graze in the park or the Model Yacht Club, which is hosting a championship race June 20-21. After dropping off the bikes, sip on a milkshake at the old fashioned Ice Cream Bar on nearby Cole Street. 

Fun at Fisherman’s Wharf

Sea Lions at Pier 39

Fisherman’s Wharf is full of activities for the whole family. A tour of the famous Boudin Bakery is a great way to learn about San Francisco’s fascinating bread baking history. Next, watch the sea lions napping at Pier 39 and visit the on-location Sea Lion Center to learn more about these animals and marine conservation. Fill up on fish and chips at The Codmother food truck on Jones before checking out the Musée Mécanique, where it’s easy to spend hours playing over 200 coin-operated antique arcade games and musical instruments. After that, there’s little question that the whole family will be ready for an indulgent sundae at Ghirardelli Square

Navigating the North

Picnic at the Presidio

Book a morning ferry over to Alcatraz, where an award-winning audio tour will captivate the kids with the real voices of correctional officers and inmates who once occupied this historic prison. Night tours are also available and make a great alternative for families with older children. After exploring Alcatraz, head over to Crissy Field. A former military airfield, there are expansive green spaces here and impressive views. Bring a kite or two for added fun. From Crissy Field, it’s a 20-minute walk to the Main Post Lawn in the Presidio to see the old military barracks and tour the Walt Disney Family Museum. On Sunday afternoons, families can sit on picnic blankets and munch on cuisine from a dozen or so Off the Grid food trucks at the Picnic at the Presidio event. 

City of Culture

San Francisco cable car

To explore what San Francisco has to offer in terms of culture, begin your day with an iconic cable car ride in the morning. From downtown, it’s easy to take the Powell/Hyde line from Powell and Market and hop off at Lombard Street, where you can walk up and down the crooked street and snap some photos. After that, wander around the streets of San Francisco’s Chinatown and venture down Ross Alley, where you’ll find the small Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. See how they make these iconic cookies, which might have been invented here in San Francisco. Later, explore neighboring North Beach and dip into a cafe for a quick espresso for you and a cannoli for the kids. To end the day, relax over an award-winning pizza margherita at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana

Downtown Discoveries

Children's Creativity Museum

The Saturday farmers market at the Ferry Building is a great place to start your day downtown. Try some free samples and local foods, or enjoy breakfast at one of the other family-friendly restaurants here. A short walk up the Embarcadero, and you’ll arrive at the Exploratorium, with interactive learning exhibitions for kids of all ages, including bubbles, colors and lights that fascinate toddlers. In the afternoon, the Yerba Buena Gardens are a great stop, where families can have their pick of bowling, ice-skating, carousel rides or the Children’s Creativity Museum. Complete your downtown adventures with an unforgettable dinner at Straw, a carnival themed restaurant in Hayes Valley the kids will love. 

Chelsea Iversen
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