Best Things to Do with Kids in San Francisco

10 Best San Francisco Adventures for Kids of All Ages

The words "San Francisco" might not immediately bring "kid-friendly activities" to mind, but, with a little imagination and determination, you and your whole family can uncover a treasure trove of fantastic activities. Sure, at first glance, this city is a dense urban area dedicated to adult activities like dining and dancing. But San Francisco's own resident parents have pushed for more kid-friendly activities and accommodations in recent years, such as the enormous, theme-parkish children's playground in the Mission. And, let's face it, California has always been a playland for kids of all ages.

San Francisco has always offered fun family activities like enjoying Italian ices while walking the hills of North Beach or spotting a zebra at San Francisco Zoo. And since San Francisco has one of the greatest percentages of "green areas" of any city in the US, you're never too far from a welcome patch of grass for kids to run and run and run so they will sleep and sleep and sleep when get back to the hotel. Whether it's Golden Gate Park, Buena Vista Park, or the long stretches of Ocean Beach, if all else fails you can simply rely on California's gorgeous natural landscape that both kids and adults can appreciate together.


Mission Dolores Park
Photo courtesy of nguy1

Mission Dolores Park is the heart of the Mission district and offers wonderful views of downtown. This is a true city park: often crowded, usually loud, and a great spot for people-watching. Street performers and food trucks often visit the park for a real "local" feel. While it does tend to cater to the wilder side, especially during the evening and late night hours, the newly renovated children's play area has made this park one of the best options for those traveling with kids. And with the ever-popular Bi-Rite grocery (with its delicious ice cream) right around the corner, kids who are pooped from running and screaming can get their sugar charge right back up.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Mission Dolores is the favorite spot for locals with kids.

Tom's expert tip: Mission Dolores has been recently remodeled.

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Salesforce Park
Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy

If you need a break from concrete during your walk downtown, head to the lush gardens of the Salesforce Park, a true urban oasis. Seventy feet above the Grand Hall, the Park runs the entire length of the Transit Center's nearly four-block stretch. Home to 600 trees and 16,000 plants arranged in 13 different botanical feature areas, the newest public park in the San Francisco Bay Area is for the benefit and enjoyment of all. Whether it's for a leisurely lap around the grounds to enjoy outstanding views of the City, or to grab a bench and enjoy lunch, Salesforce Park is a top San Francisco attraction.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Lots of open green spaces - as well as some play areas just for kids - to keep the whole family entertained.

Tom's expert tip: Check the website for free events like poetry readings, Swing Dance lessons and Tai Chi lessons.

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If the kids have been on their very best behavior and deserve a real treat, take the time to cross the Golden Gate Bridge and visit the Bay Area Discovery Museum. This premium stretch of real estate just below Sausalito and right on the bay has been completely devoted to keeping the endless imagination of children engaged for a full day. The real highlight is "The Cove," a 2.5 acre interactive exploration area with five iconic structures of the Bay Area and art work for kids to clamber all over. If you want your kids to think you're the coolest parents on the planet, then take them to the Bay Area Discovery Museum.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Believe it or not, Bay Area Discovery Museum really does make learning fun.

Tom's expert tip: Taking the ferry to Sausalito and then hiking or cabbing to the Bay Area Discovery Museum is a fun way to see more of the beautiful Marin Headlands.

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Come nose-to-beak with penguins and parrots, watch sharks and sting rays cruise beneath your feet, and feel the spray of the California coast. Fly to Mars (and beyond the Milky Way!) from the safety of your planetarium seat, take a virtual safari in African Hall, or climb into the canopy of a living rainforest. Face your fears and stare down an albino alligator inside the Swamp, and meet scientists as they return from research expeditions around the world. From the depths of a Philippine coral reef to the outer reaches of the Universe, it's all inside the California Academy of Sciences.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: California Academy of Sciences has many exhibits dedicated to match the energy and curiosity of children.

Tom's expert tip: The California Academy of Sciences is right across from the de Young, another top museum.

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Golden Gate Park
SkyStar Wheel
Photo courtesy of SkyStar Wheel

Installed as part of Golden Gate Park's 150th anniversary celebration in 2020, SkyStar Wheel spins and towers 150 feet tall over Golden Gate Park's Music Concourse, offering breathtaking views from downtown San Francisco all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The rides last between 9-12 minutes, and tickets range from General Admission ($18); Seniors & children ($12); and children age 2 and under ride free. Due to its central location in Golden Gate Park, the SkyStar Wheel offers a unique vantage of all of San Francisco. And with all of Golden Gate Park spread underneath your feet, it's easy to plan a complete San Francisco day starting with a whirl around the SkyStar Wheel.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: A trip on the SkyStar Wheel is like taking the family on the best ride at the county fair.

Tom's expert tip: SkyStar will remain in San Francisco until March 2025.

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Yerba Buena Gardens
Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy

How many times have you taken the kids on a trip and found yourself stuck downtown, surrounded by nothing but adult-centered activities? Yerba Buena Gardens is the San Francisco city cure for that dilemma. Not only does Yerba Buena offer large expanses of grass for kids to run to their heart's delight, it also has a carousel, a bowling alley and an indoor ice skating rink. And if those classic kid activities don't work, visit the Children's Creativity Museum, a fantastic space dedicated to inspiring children of all ages. Still not enough activities? Then bring the gang over to the nearby Metreon for a well-deserved movie and meal.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Yerba Buena is the best option downtown when kids need to run around.

Tom's expert tip: The Metreon, right next door to Yerba Buena, has just been completely remodeled and is worth checking out, too.

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The Exploratorium
Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy

The Exploratorium believes the fundamental childhood traits of being playful and curious should be fostered for a lifetime. Founder Frank Oppenheimer believed in intertwining art and science to make learning attractive and memorable through exhibits such as the Tactile Dome and Traits of Life. Be sure to check the website for the latest exhibits and family activities. And the family fun doesn't stop at the Exploratorium itself. With its ideal location on the Embarcadero, Fisherman's Wharf and other attractions are right at hand. If you believe that families that learn together stay together, head to the Exploratorium for a lifetime of togetherness in one day.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: It's hard to imagine one experience in San Francisco that sums up the spirit of the City better than The Exploratorium.

Tom's expert tip: Even if you don't have time to visit the inside of the museum, the 1.5 acres of free exhibit space outside is worth the trip.

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Ghirardelli Square
Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy

Ghiradelli Square might just be the best example of an adult-friendly and a child-friendly San Francisco activity. For the adults, Ghirardelli Square is the place to go when you're seeking top-tier San Francisco malls. The open-air complex affords great views of Angel and Alcatraz Islands and features art galleries, clothing shops and specialty stores. Shoppers can enjoy a meal at savvy spots like McCormick and Kuleto's and Ana Mandara. Afterwards, dessert at Kara's Cupcakes or the Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop provides the perfect finish. There's even a Wattle Creek Winery tasting room on-site. For the kids? Three words: chocolate, chocolate and chocolate. (The adults area allowed to eat the chocolate, too.)

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Ghirardelli Square has been the favorite destination for kids in San Francisco for a long, long time.

Tom's expert tip: Walk off all that chocolate buzz with a fun stroll through nearby Fisherman's Wharf.

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Children's Creativity Museum
Photo courtesy of Children's Creativity Museum

The Children's Creativity Museum is a hands-on arts and technology experience for families with children ages 2 -12. Visitors are invited to make a stop-motion animation video, take the Mystery Box Challenge, and create their own mini-golf course. You can also take a ride on the historic LeRoy King Carousel, one of the few Looff Carousels that are still in operation. Summer 2021 hours: Saturday and Sunday 10:00 am-5:00 pm with advance reservations. Admission: $15.00 for all visitors ages 1 and over; free for members and children under 1 year of age.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: The Children's Creativity Museum is the perfect downtown spot for families who want to create wonderful memories together.

Tom's expert tip: The Children's Creativity Museum has activities for wee ones as young as two, like the Blue Block sculpture activity on their Play Patio.

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Walt Disney Family Museum
Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Museum

What says family better than Walt Disney? While this Walt Disney attraction can't offer roller coaster rides like Disney World and Disneyland, it can offer an engaging education for the entire family. Some of permanent exhibits include the earliest drawings of Mickey Mouse, the "Multiplane Camera" that Disney developed to bring depth to the early classics like Snow White, and Walt's 26 original Academy Awards. Be sure to check out the Walt Disney Family Museum, and, at least on this Walt Disney experience, you can be sure that Dad won't lose his glasses and his wallet while screaming through a triple loop-de-loop.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: We all just live in the world of Disney, don't we?

Tom's expert tip: While you're in the Presidio, take the kids to Crissy Fields, too.

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Meet Tom Molanphy

The only thing that Tom Molanphy loves more than the food, art, music, and culture of San Francisco is sharing it with others. San Francisco never gets old for Tom.

Tom has lived in the San...  More About Tom