10 Fun Places for Kids in San Francisco
If you have visited San Francisco as an adult, you know how much this city has to offer for people. From delicious restaurants to world class museums to exciting bars, this city has a plethora of activities. But visiting any big city can be a challenge when you’re bringing kids into the picture! But fear not, because we at SF by Foot have your back, and we’ve put together a great Top ten list of fun places for kids in San Francisco…and parents, too!
Also, an important note! You can get great discounts on many of these locations by picking up a City Pass!
So, let’s get on to the list!
Editor’s note: SF by Foot guide Britt says that the Exploratorium was his absolute favorite thing to do in San Francisco as a kid, and now in his mid-30s, it is STILL his favorite thing to do in San Francisco!
Both interactive and educational, kids will love their time at the Exploratorium. Recently relocated to Pier 15 on the Embarcadero, the new Exploratorium offers 600 exhibits. This is an extremely hands-on museum, letting people learn about science while running their own experiments. The exhibits are related to science, innovation, the environment, health and discovery. You’ll experience everything from a simulated trip through the fog to games of Team Pac-Man. A special exhibit for people who don’t mind being in the dark is the Tactile Dome, an experiment which calls upon all of the senses (except sight) to crawl through a blacked-out maze. Be sure to make reservations for the Tactile Dome before your visit or when you arrive at the museum, as it has limited timeslots throughout the day.
Adults, if you didn’t get enough during the day, you can return the first Thursday of the month for the Exploratorium After Dark and cocktails (if you are 21 years or older).
Be sure to check out fun Exploratorium activities, apps, videos and more online before you go.
- Exploratorium Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 10a.m. – 5p.m. Closed Mondays.
- Exploratorium After Dark HoursThursday 6p.m. – 10p.m. for ages 21+
- Exploratorium Map: Located at Pier 15, click here for directions and parking
- Exploratorium Fees: To make reservations online, follow this link. Adults (18-64) $29; Children (13-17), Teachers, Students, Seniors (65+), People with disabilities $24; Kids (4-12) $19
A trip to the San Francisco Zoo is a great way to enjoy a day in San Francisco’s southwest corner and get an up close view of the Pacific Ocean while you’re at it! Animals from around the world live, eat and play at the zoo in beautifully built exhibits resembling their natural habitats. Whether you’re peering through the trees to see a bouncing lemur or heading to Grizzly Gulch to get nose-to-nose with North American grizzly bears, you’ll be transported beyond the Golden Gate Bridge on a journey around the world. Plan to spend several hours at the zoo as you’ll have opportunities to learn about and interact with some of the animals and view many exhibits of both the big and small!
Though it can be fun to buy lunch at the zoo, it can mean buying food at elephant-sized prices. If you don’t feel like overpaying for a hot dog, we recommend you pack a lunch or snacks. A great place for coffee, pastries, sandwiches and ice cream just outside the zoo is Java Beach Café on Sloat Blvd., located directly across from the large Doggie Diner head. You may run into one of us there as they happen to make one of the greatest lattes in town.
- San Francisco Zoo Hours: Open daily 10 AM – 5 PM. Final general admission at 4:00 PM. Final Admission for Members at 4:30 PM
- San Francisco Zoo Map: Located on Sloat Blvd. and the Great Highway, follow this link for complete directions to the zoo. Free parking is available on Sloat Blvd. and is very convenient.
- San Francisco Zoo Fees: For complete ticketing information, follow this linkAdults (15-64) $19; Seniors (65+) $16; Children (4-14) $13; Children under 3 Free
Ocean Beach: If you’re already at the zoo and want to dip your toes in the icy Pacific Ocean, just cross the Great Highway and you’ll be at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach. Depending on the time of year, the beach may be covered in empty crab shells, sand dollars, or joggers. Be careful if you choose to step into the Pacific because, despite the number of surfers lining the waves, the water at Ocean Beach has a very strong current and can be dangerous for even the strongest swimmers.
Tip: When visiting the SF Zoo and Ocean Beach, be sure to bring a warm sweater. You may be driving from 75 degree weather in the Marina and expect the weather to carry over but the southwestern corner of the city is notorious for its thick layers of fog. You may catch a hot day but it’s always good to be prepared.
You may have already hopped on a ferry for a ride on the Bay or maybe you’ve wandered through Pier 39 and watched the sea lions bask in the sun. But do you want to see more of the Bay than just waves and sleeping otariids? Then head to the Aquarium of the Bay, also located at Pier 39. There you’ll have opportunity to encounter over 20,000 different marine creatures, many of whom make their home in the San Francisco Bay. Walk through crystal clear tunnels and watch schools of fish pass you buy, stick your hand in a tank and pet a friendly stingray and visit exhibits to learn about some of the Bay’s most endangered species and how you can help.
- Aquarium of the Bay Hours: The hours of the aquarium vary throughout the year. Although it always opens at 10:00 AM, the closing time will vary from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM. Check this page for details on closing time for the date you want to visit.
- Aquarium of the Bay Map: Located at Pier 39, the Aquarium is easy to reach if you are visiting Fisherman’s Wharf or happen to be taking a trip to Alcatraz for a few hours. Click here for a map and directions.
- Aquarium of the Bay Tickets: Tickets can be purchased at both Piers 39 and 41, as well as at the Visitors Center of the Aquarium. To purchase discounted tickets for the Aquarium by the Bay and many other San Francisco attractions, check out the San Francisco City Pass!
4. Musée Mécanique
Gather your quarters for an afternoon at San Francisco’s Musée Mécanique! This free-admission collection of antique arcade games and pieces is another great thing to do while visiting Fisherman’s Wharf. No matter what age you are, we guarantee that you’ll be able to find an arcade game that you played as a kid. You can walk through the arcade and see your image distorted in trick mirrors, drop a quarter in a slot and learn your fortune, hit home runs or hear one of San Francisco’s most well-known ladies, Laffing Sal, cackle about absolutely nothing. Her laughter is contagious!
- There are change machines within the building so you can trade in your dollars for quarters.
- Musée Mécanique Hours: The museum is open 365 days a year, from 10:00 AM – 8:00 PM.
- Musée Mécanique Map: Located at Pier 45 and Fisherman’s Wharf, click here for a map and more information.
- Musée Mécanique Fees: Entrance is free
- Learn some amazing stories about the Musée Mécanique on our Fisherman’s Wharf walking tour! (For example, did you know that this museum got started because a 12-year-old boy won 5 quarts of motor oil in a raffle?)
SS Jeremiah O’Brien: When you’ve finished in the arcade, make your way out the back door of the Musée Mécanique and check out the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, one of two surviving Liberty ships of the 2,710 built during World War II and one of the very few surviving ships that participated in the 1944 D-Day invasion of Normandy. You can take a tour onboard, getting an accurate idea of what life was like on the ship and how it was operated. Click here for the SS Jeremiah O’Brien’s full website and information, or just take our Fisherman’s Wharf tour to learn lots more about the Jeremiah O’Brien!
Fun Fact: Film director James Cameron used the SS Jeremiah O’Brien’s engine room and bow as a filming location in the movie Titanic.
USS Pampanito: A World War II submarine, the USS Pampanito rests alongside the SS Jeremiah O’Brien at Pier 45. Tours of the sub, which silently patrolled the South Pacific and sank or destroyed six Japanese ships, are also available. For more information, follow this link to their website.
Do you love Disney? Find yourself humming your favorite Little Mermaid song or dreaming of a visit to Disneyland? Well, the Walt Disney Family Museum takes you a step closer to your favorite story or ride. Located in the Presidio, the Disney Museum offers a comprehensive history of the man behind the name, Walt Disney himself, and much much more.
Not only does the museum have many permanent exhibits highlighting the history of Walt Disney and the Disney brand, but also a trove of visiting exhibits and presentations. One recent exhibit was entitled MAGIC, COLOR, FLAIR: the world of Mary Blair.
After you and your kids explore the art, costumes and stories of Disney, why not take a Disney movie break? Screened twice a day (except Tuesdays), you can escape to the Fantasia-themed theater to watch Disney classics. Check here for more movie information.
- Walt Disney Museum Hours: Open daily (closed Tuesdays) 10a.m. – 6p.m.
- Walt Disney Family Museum Map: For complete directions, click here.
- Walt Disney Family Museum Fees: For complete ticket information and to purchase online, click here.
Seniors (65+) $15; Students (with valid student ID) $15;
Youth (6-17) $12;
Children under 6 complimentary with adult admission.
Presidio Bowling Center: About a ten minute walk from the Walt Disney Museum is Presidio Bowl, a great little bowling alley nestled among the historic buildings of the Presidio. Another fun activity for kids in a great location! Check their website for hours and fees.
6. House of Air
You’ve visited some playgrounds, run through some parks, maybe even biked across the bridge. Are your kids still full of energy? Take them to the House of Air, San Francisco’s favorite trampoline facility. Built inside a historic airplane hangar on Chrissy Field, House of Air takes you to new heights. With different exercise programs, activities for kids ages 2-6 years old, trampoline dodgeball, this is the trampoline as you’ve never seen it before.
- House of Air Hours: Hours for House of Air vary with the different programs and activities. Click here for a complete schedule.
- House of Air Map: Located on Chrissy Field, click here for directions and a map.
- House of Air Fees: Purchase tickets and make reservations online here. Also, be sure to fill out a waiver before you go.
Rock Climbing at Chrissy Field: Located in the old hangar next to House of Air, visit Planet Granite for an afternoon of rock climbing, as well as yoga and cardio. This is a great place to climb with a beautiful view of Chrissy Field in the background.
Fort Point: Located at the northwestern end of Chrissy Field, just below the south side of the Golden Gate Bridge, Fort Point is a National Historic Landmark dating back to the days of the Civil War. With cannons dating back to the time, tours and stories of the fort, exhibits on Buffalo soldiers and women at war, this is a great place for history and discovery in San Francisco. The fort is open to the public only three days a week, Friday through Sunday, and admission is free. Click here for more information about Fort Point.
Fun Fact: In Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, the character portrayed by Kim Novak considered jumping into the SF Bay from Fort Point.
Dating back 155 years, the newly renovated California Academy of Sciences opened only a few years ago and is one of the most widely acclaimed museums on the west coast. Though prices for the Academy are a bit higher than other museums, you get what you pay for: an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum, rainforest, 40,000 live animals, an earthquake exhibit and the list goes on. You can even walk on the roof!
- Academy of Sciences Hours: Daily 9:30a.m. – 5p.m., Sundays 11a.m. – 5p.m.
- Academy of Sciences Map: Check here for a complete map and directions.
- Academy of Sciences Fees: Click here for complete ticket information. Fees subject to change on peak days. Adults $29.95; Seniors (65+) $24.95;
Student $24.95; Youth (12-17) $24.95;
Child (4-11) $19.95;
Ages 3 and under free.
Japanese Tea Garden: The oldest public Japanese tea garden in the United States, this lovely oasis is located just across the concourse from the Academy of Sciences and right next to San Francisco’s famous de Young Museum. Kids can explore the various pagodas, koi ponds and an arched drum bridge while adults can enjoy the peaceful surroundings over a cup of tea. Can’t make it to Washington, D.C. for the annual cherry blossoms? Come to the Japanese Tea Garden in March and April to view the cherry blossoms in full bloom! Follow this link for complete information about visiting the San Francisco Japanese Tea Garden.
San Francisco Botanical Garden: With over 8,000 plants from around the world covering 55 acres, the Botanical Gardens are a great place to have a picnic lunch and let kids explore winding paths and unique landscaping. Just off of 9th Ave. and Lincoln Blvd. and less than ten minutes south of the Academy of Sciences, this is a wonderful place to visit while you’re in the neighborhood. Both 9th Ave. and Irving St., just one block over from Lincoln Blvd., offer a variety of restaurants and shops worth visiting.
8. Children’s Creativity Museum
Located in SOMA, or South of Market, the Children’s Creativity Museum is a unique gem in an ever-changing neighborhood. Not far from the SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) and AT&T Park (Home of the San Francisco Giants!), the Creativity Museum is a great place for children and adults to explore animation, design and invent to their heart’s content. From creating claymation movies to Photoshopping selfies, the museum encourages children to use their imaginations and develop their own innovative ideas.
- Children Creativity Museum Hours: Wednesday – Sunday 10a.m. – 4p.m.
- For additional information, follow this link.
- Children’s Creativity Museum Map: Located on Fourth St., click here for a map and directions.
- Children’s Creativity Museum Fees: General Admission $11.
9. Randall Museum
Come to the Randall Museum to learn about San Francisco’s urban wildlife! Children can climb through a scaled down Victorian home, hop on a model train caboose, wander through a replica earthquake refugee shack, learn about the oceans and check out numerous local animals all at this great little museum. On top of that, the museum offers presentations, classes and workshops. Check out their website to see what is going on.
- Randall Museum Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 10a.m. – 5p.m.
- Randall Museum Map: For directions to the Randall Museum, click here.
- Randall Museum Fees: Admission is free, though donations are accepted.
10. San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park
Are you planning on spending a day down at Fisherman’s Wharf? Maybe you’ve taken one of the Powell-line Cable Cars to Mason or Hyde and now have an afternoon free to wander around the area. After you’ve had an ice cream sundae at Ghirardelli Square or some delicious sourdough bread from Boudin Bakery, be sure to wander over to the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. You can walk out onto the Hyde Park Pier and view ships and schooners dating back to 1886 and try out different activities.
- SF Maritime NHP Hours: The pier is open 9:30a.m.- 5p.m. with last entry at 4:30p.m.
- For more times, check the National Park Service website.
- SF Maritime NHP Fees: $5 for people 16+ years of age for entry onboard the ships.
- Tickets can be purchased at a booth on the pier.
- For a list of free days, click here.
- SF Maritime NHP Map: Check here for complete map and directions
Aquatic Park: Ever wanted to swim in the San Francisco Bay? Well, Aquatic Park is the place to do it. Dip yourself into the chilly water and join members of the local Dolphin Club as they swim laps in this roped off area of the Bay. Kids will enjoy building sandcastles on the beach and, once your toes touch the frigid water, you may want to join them!
We hope you enjoy your visit in San Francisco!