San Francisco is a terrific vacation spot, but it is an especially great place for a family vacation. The smaller feel of the city with fewer tall buildings than other cities makes it more accessible and fun for children and parents.
There are many options if you go to San Francisco with kids. It is a city full of beautiful parks and green spaces, museums geared towards children, and of course the always fun cable cars keep things interesting for all ages. Then there is the famous Fisherman’s Wharf with a myriad of amusements and attractions. It all combines to create a virtual vacation paradise for families, whether you’re looking for fun or more serious pursuits.
San Francisco with Kids
Golden Gate Park
With its many attractions and activities, Golden Gate Park is the ideal place to spend an afternoon with the family. Aside from its gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean and the iconic bridge, the park includes museums, botanical gardens and the Koret Children’s Quarter—a recently built playground. You can take a paddle-boat ride on Stowe Lake and then have a picnic. If your youngsters enjoy science, spend the day at the Academy of Sciences with its planetarium, four-story rain forest and aquarium.
Yerba Buena Gardens
Located in downtown San Francisco, the park boasts a large playground, a bowling alley, ice skating rink, and Zeum, a museum dedicated to children. Yerba Buena Gardens also has a merry-go-round, a large open green space, and restaurants that will appeal to the whole family. In the summertime the Gardens play host to kid-friendly performances and concerts that are fun for everyone.
San Francisco Zoo
The San Francisco Zoo sits next to Ocean Beach along the Pacific Ocean and is home to approximately 250 different species of animals. The zoo is home to endangered animals such as grizzly bears, the Sumatran tiger and the snow leopard. There is also the Primate Discovery Center with ten different species of rare monkeys, the African Savannah exhibit, the Gorilla Preserve, which is one of the largest zoo habitats in the world, and a six-acre petting zoo that toddlers and young children will love.
Bay Area Discovery Museum
When visiting San Francisco with kids, try the Bay Area Discovery Museum. Located in Sausalito on the other side of the bay over the Golden Gate Bridge, the Discovery Museum is not only a great place for kids; it has some of the best views of San Francisco Bay. The museum has both indoor and outdoor exhibits for children that are both hands-on and interactive, making learning fun. Some of the great attractions for the kids include a tour of a real working fishing boat, a multi-level rock stream that they can play in and an art studio where kids can create their very own artwork as a souvenir of their vacation.
The iconic Fisherman’s Wharf, known around the world, boasts many attractions that kids and their parents will love. Take your children to the Musee Mecahnique with its large collection of antique arcade games, the Wax Museum or the Hyde Street Pier Maritime Museum. There is also the Pampanito submarine and the Liberty ship Jeremiah O’Brien which are both available for tours. The Wharf itself contains a multitude of colorful street performers, though the “Bush Man” may be a bit frightening for small children, as he his famous for jumping out from behind a bush.
Take a Cable Car Ride
The cable cars of San Francisco are a National Landmark and a still-working public transportation system moving people all over the city. You can catch a cable car right outside Fisherman’s Wharf or enjoy a ride along the Powell-Hyde line, which takes you to the top of Lombard Street, the most crooked street around. The cable cars give you the chance to see the sights of the city in an entertaining way that the kids will enjoy.
If you go San Francisco with kids, take them to the Ferry Building. Originally built in 1898, the Ferry Building is loaded with shops and restaurants, and you can still see the comings and goings of ferry boats on the bay. You can pick up some authentic San Francisco sourdough bread at the Acme Bread Company, cured meat from Boccalone Salumeria, a little wine when the kids are asleep, or try some irresistible Mt. Tam cheese from the Cowgirl Creamery. You can even enjoy a sandwich while taking in the sights.
Chinatown is a fun and colorful area of San Francisco that dates back to the beginnings of the city itself. While loaded with shops that sell everything from food, spices, fortune cookies and cute little toys, you can also take advantage of Chinatown’s culture and history and make it a learning experience for the children. The best time to visit Chinatown is during the week. Small children can become overwhelmed by the large crowds on the weekends.
Serving as a Federal prison from 1934 to 1963, Alcatraz Island is now part of the Federal Parks Department and open for daily tours. Buy tickets ahead of time and then enjoy a ferry ride across the bay during which the kids can see sea lions playing and boats crossing the bay. The tour includes an audio tour of the old cells and is both entertaining and educational. Maybe it’s because of the fascinating history; both children and their parents can enjoy the history of this infamous island prison.