Maritime National Historic Park

Maritime National Historic Park (©Tim Campbell/NPS)

Things to Do With Kids in San Francisco

By WhereTraveler Staff on 04/30/15, updated 05/31/17
Favorite

San Francisco, a city that's rumored to have more dogs than children, isn't likely the first place that comes to mind when planning a family vacation. For one, pushing a stroller up the famously steep hills is not for the faint of heart. And there's no denying that many visitors come to indulge in the cutting-edge food and drink scene and unabashedly off-color entertainment.

Yet in this city rife with green open spaces and surrounded by glorious natural splendor, families with children of all ages will find more than enough activities to fill a trip, from world-class science museums and sprawling parks to antique carousels and gigantic playgrounds. A community spirit abounds for those who seek it—major cultural institutions like the Museum of Craft and Design, the de Young Museum and the Presidio Officers' Club regularly host kids-only activities, and the warmer months bring festivals like Sunday Streets, where vehicle traffic in neighborhoods throughout the city is temporarily re-routed to accommodate a pedestrian-only, family-friendly block party.

And for some children, even San Francisco itself can feel like an adventure park, with its cable cars, sea lions at Pier 39, sailboats dotting the bay, historic ships on Hyde Street Pier, colorful Chinatown, colossal redwoods and famous chocolate shops. If you're looking for a quick way to score tickets to San Francisco's top destinations, CityPASS offers admission to the most popular attractions at a reduced rate, rolled into one ticket price.

Children's Creativity Museum

(©Children's Creativity Museum)

Attractions

Children's Creativity Museum

Lush Yerba Buena Gardens downtown is home to this interactive, multimedia arts and technology museum that's designed to inspire little imaginations with animation and music studios. While you're in Yerba Buena Gardens, visit the elaborate playground, historic carousel, ice skating rink or bowling alley.

The San Francisco Zoo

Red panda at the SF Zoo (©Jessie Greger)

Attractions

The San Francisco Zoo

From downtown, you can catch the outbound Muni L-Taraval train and take it all the way to San Francisco's 100-acre zoo out by the Pacific Ocean. In 2014, the zoo welcomed the baby red panda Tenzing, who lives in a treehouse designed by Pete Nelson and his crew from the Animal Planet show "Treehouse Masters."

Hyde Street Pier

(©Hyde Street Pier)

Attractions

Hyde Street Pier

It's free to visit the Maritime Museum and wander down Hyde Street Pier on Fisherman's Wharf—near Ghirardelli Square—to admire the historic ships, including the towering 1886 "Balclutha." For kids captivated by maritime history, tours are also free ($5 for adults). The views of the bay and Golden Gate Bridge are spectacular here.

Golden Gate Park

(©SF Travel)

Attractions

Golden Gate Park

Larger than New York's Central Park, this vast expanse of green is home to Koret Children's Quarter, where kids can climb a wave-shaped wall and a rope web, slide down a historic concrete slide—bring cardboard—and ride a lovely 1914 restored carousel. The surrounding grassy fields are perfect for games or lounging parents.

California Academy of Sciences

(©Tim Griffith)

Attractions

California Academy of Sciences

This world-class science museum with a spectacular living roof contains a planetarium, rainforest, aquarium and 40,000 live animals, fascinating children and adults alike. Make sure you set aside a full day for your visit.

Exploratorium

(©Bruce Damonte)

Attractions

Exploratorium

Nearly every exhibit at this state-of-the-art, waterfront science museum is hands-on, and most are designed to be experienced in pairs, making for an interactive, social experience for all ages. Take a break at the excellent Seaglass Restaurant and be sure to visit the back patio where it feels like you're floating out on the bay.

Sea Lion Center
Attractions

Sea Lion Center

You've heard all about the sea lions that hang out at Pier 39 in Fisherman's Wharf, but did you know about the free Sea Lion Center upstairs that opened in 2014? Here you can chat with naturalists and check out the educational exhibit and observatory.

House of Air

(©House of Air)

Attractions

House of Air

Kids go crazy for this indoor trampoline park in a historic airplane hangar with incredible views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Little ones ages 3-6 have their own inflatable bounce house. Make reservations in advance because slots fill up quickly.

Dolores Park

(©Gwen Park)

Attractions

Dolores Park

This sunny, lively park that's so popular for weekend picnic revelry is also home to the massive, $3.5 million Helen Diller Playground, complete with chimes and drums, a 40-foot slide and gorgeous views of the San Francisco skyline. Be sure to get an ice cream cone at the nearby Bi-Rite Creamery.

Bay Area Discovery Museum

(©Bay Area Discovery Museum)

Attractions

Bay Area Discovery Museum

When the weather's nice, take the clan to this museum featuring 7.5 acres of hands-on, indoor and outdoor exploration for kids of all ages, and if you have toddlers, be sure to check out the Tot Spot. Parents will appreciate the museum's incredible vantage point of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay.

Yerba Buena Gardens

_e.t/Flickr, Creative Commons)

Attractions

Yerba Buena Gardens

Take in the fresh air at the rooftop of Yerba Buena Gardens with an interactive playground, a carousel, an ice-skating rink, a bowling center and the Children's Garden, a city oasis with gardens and streams. Every Friday, the gardens host family-friendly festivals featuring puppets, dancing, or music—or maybe a bit of all three!

Lafayette Park Playground

Laura-Del/Flickr, Creative Commons)

Areas to Explore

Lafayette Park Playground

The playground in the 11-acre park features climbing structures, metal slides, an orange spinning ride, swings, rubberized ground and other imaginative play spaces. Located in the Pacific Heights neighborhood, the park also offers sweeping views of the city and bay.

Map of Things to Do With Kids in San Francisco

The Where® Travel Guide to San Francisco