Things to Do with Kids in San Francisco

This post covers the best things to do in San Francisco with kids and has been updated for 2019. It includes a top 10 list, free and nighttime activities, family-friendly restaurants, museums, and attractions.

Be sure to check out our master post, Things to Do in San Francisco for even more ideas.

 

 

TOP TEN EVENTS AND THINGS TO DO WITH KIDS IN SAN FRANCISCO

This section features our top 10 activities to enjoy in San Francisco with kids. Whenever possible, we will make note of attractions and events that are also free.

For tips on the most popular activities in San Francisco, check out our schedule of pay-what-you-like walking tours, our bus tours, and boat cruise pages.

Several of the items below are already included for free with the purchase of a tourist discount pass.


1) Sightseeing Tours

There are many varieties of guided sightseeing tours in San Francisco that are fun and educational for people of all ages!

Guided walking tours with us, Free Tours by Foot, are free to join and operate on a pay-what-you-like basis, which means you decide what a tour was worth or what you could afford (even free) when the tour is over.

 

 

We also have self-guided tours and GPS-enabled audio tours of neighborhoods that you will likely visit as a tourist in city.

Other great tours are offered in San Francisco like popular hop-on-hop-off bus tours and highly sought after self-guided tours of Alcatraz Prison.


2) Explore Kid-Friendly Museums and Attractions

Kids have an excellent opportunity in San Francisco to get hands-on and interactive at a number of museums and attractions.

Some favorites include the famous celebrity wax museum, Madame Tussauds, the sensory and science focused Exploratorium, and the Aquarium of the Bay which features thousands of fish species and so much more!

 

 

Many of the family-friendly museums in the city are included for free with San Francisco tourist attraction discount passes, allowing you to save money on tickets.

For even more kid-friendly museums and attractions, check out our section below!


3) Dine at Kid-Friendly Restaurants

The food scene in San Francisco is robust and includes plenty of places that are family-friendly.

As a whole, the city is known for such items like its delicious clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl and melt in your mouth chocolate from Ghirardelli Square.

 

 

Families can also enjoy the fun ambiance at restaurants like Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and Hard Rock Cafe.

If you want some help finding even more food your kids will enjoy, consider taking the San Francisco Secret Food Tour.

This outing includes samples like a Mission style burrito, clam chowder, locally made ice cream and more!

See our section below for even more family-friendly dining establishments in the city!


4) Nighttime Activities with Kids

Have the kids get up close and personal with wax figures of their favorite celebrities at the famous Madame Tussauds, conveniently located at Fisherman’s Wharf. With hours that typically extend to 7 pm (19:00) or 8 pm (20:00), this is a great attraction that can be visited during the evening hours.

 

 

Madame Tussauds and other museums are included for free with some San Francisco tourist attraction discount passes, which are a great way to save money on tickets.

For even more nighttime activities the family can enjoy, check out our section below!


5) Visit the Sea Lions

There are numerous city attractions to be enjoyed without spending a dime! One of the most popular are the dozens of beloved sea lions that live on K-Dock at Pier 39. Kids love watching these adorable (yet stinky!) creatures play and bark at one another.

 

 

For more free activities and attractions to experience with kids make sure to check out our section below!


6) Save Money with a Tourist Attraction Discount Pass

If you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck while visiting San Francisco with your family, a tourist discount pass might be just the thing for you. These passes work by bundling multiple tickets into one price, usually between 20%-50% the retail price. 

 


 Top Attractions Included in All Passes

  • Madame Tussauds
  • Aquarium by the Bay
  • The San Francisco Dungeon
  • Ripley’s Believe it or Not
  • California Academy of Sciences
  • Exploratorium
  • San Francisco Zoo
  • Bus Tours and Boat Cruises

Be sure to read our post comparing the different San Francisco tourist discount passes.  Several bus tour companies, including hop-on-hop-off buses, also offer discounts and deals.


7) See a Family-Friendly Concert or Stage Performance

Families have plenty of opportunities to see live performances at multiple venues throughout San Francisco! Venues like the Golden Gate Theatre and the Palace of Fine Arts often have special performances that are geared towards families and children.

 

 

Big events like Disney on Ice or pop star performances such as Taylor Swift are often held at Oracle Arena in Oakland. To see a calendar of what’s on citywide during your visit, click here.


8) Watch a Sporting Event

The Bay Area is home to all four major professional US sporting leagues. Depending on the time of year, take in a Golden State Warriors basketball game, cheer on the Giants at the newly renamed Oracle Ballpark.

Practice your touchdown dance with the San Francisco 49’ers, or head to San Jose to catch a Sharks ice hockey game.

 

 


9) Rocketboat

For those looking to get out on the water but want to bypass Alcatraz, there are many more boat tours the city offers as well.

 

 

If you’re an adrenaline junkie, look no further than the RocketBoat! This seasonal (May-October) ride offers 30 mins of fast past thrills as you jet around the San Francisco Bay. It’s a great activity for any child ages 5 and older.


10) See the Painted Ladies

The famous “Painted Ladies” are a row of colorfully painted Victorian row homes with the most amazing view behind them!

 

 

Alamo Square itself is a lovely green space that is great for a picnic. So head over to Alamo Square to enjoy the views! 

TIP: Take Walks offers the only tour in San Francisco where you can actually go inside one of the Painted Ladies. If you’re interested in seeing these historic houses, this is a rare opportunity you won’t want to miss!


Honorable Mention

Go to an Escape Room

Escape rooms are one of the most popular forms of group entertainment and The Escape Game has five unique escape rooms.

You and your friends or family must work together to find clues and solve puzzles in a set amount of time. If you succeed, you get the ‘keys’ to get out of the room. If you fail, well, they still let you out and you will have had a great experience!

Find out more about this great activity from here.

 

TIP: For even more ideas on popular things to do in San Francisco, be sure to check out our master guide.

 


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FREE THINGS TO DO WITH KIDS

San Francisco offers a vast amount of free activities and attractions for families! Some of the items we’ve listed above like seeing the sea lions at Pier 39 can be done without spending any money! Here are more ideas on how to have fun at no cost with your family.

For even more free activities that you can do any time of year, see our Guide to Free Things to Do in San Francisco and/or watch the video below.

 

 


Three Free Innings of Giants Games

If you’d like to see some baseball (and don’t mind waiting in line prior to the beginning of the game) the Giants offer a small space for standing room only that fits roughly 100 people.

Monitored by Giants staff, the groups of viewers are changed out after the 3rd, 6th, and 9th inning. Head to the McCovey Cove Promenade to try and get a free viewing of the game!


Ride the Cable Cars and Streetcars

Taking advantage of San Francisco’s public transportation is an almost free way to get around. The city offers an under and above ground metro, loads of city buses, and, of course, the famous cable cars that are all a part of the SFMTA system.

If you plan to head out to Oakland (or you want an inexpensive way to get to and from the airport), consider taking BART.


Free Days at Museums

A lot museums in San Francisco offer at least one day a month for free. For example, the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park offers free admission to all the first Tuesday of each month. Some museums are free all the time!

You can always enjoy no admission fee at the Cable Car Museum and the popular antique penny arcade, Museé Méchanique.

Check out all of the other family-friendly museums San Francisco has to offer in our section below!


Enjoy a Street Performance

A form of free entertainment lies within the many street performers and artists that can be found near Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, and in the Union Square area. Look out for spray paint artists, magicians, singers, dancing, moving statues, and much more!


Golden Gate Park

Explore a variety of attractions in Golden Gate Park at absolutely no cost! Check out the bison paddock, walk one of the park’s many trails, admire a drum circle on Hippie Hill, and see the Dutch windmill.

Get to the Japanese Tea Garden before 10:00 am on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday and pay no admission!


Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory

Tucked into the end of Ross Alley in Chinatown sits a small fortune cookie factory where the cookies are still made by hand daily. Stop in to see the cookie makers at work and buy a bag to take home with you!

 

 

Tip: We visit the cookie factory on our Chinatown walking tour!


Head to a Playground!

There are loads of children’s playgrounds in San Francisco for your little one to burn some energy at. Some of our favorites include the Koret playground & carousel in Golden Gate Park, the Alamo Square play area, and the Joe DiMaggio playground in North Beach.

Keep your eyes out for the city’s “mini” parks and playgrounds as well. Often just a small patch of green space they appear often where you’d least expect them.

A favorite is specifically the Seward Slides where older children can get a thrill on the concrete slides (not recommended for small kids).


Walk the Golden Gate Bridge

An experience like none other, walking the Golden Gate Bridge is a highlight for many who visit San Francisco. On clear days, enjoy breathtaking views of the city, the Bay, Alcatraz and Angel Islands, and so much more!


Climb to Coit Tower

For amazing panoramic views, make your way up the steep Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower.

Here, you’ll have sweeping views of the city and its bridges and, if you’re lucky, you’ll spot the wild parrot colony that lives in the area!


Lombard Street

The “Crookedest Street” is a sight to see (and walk) in North Beach. Watch and admire cars as they make hairpins turns making their way down the hill and make sure the take a lot of photographs.

The climb up is quite steep so you’ll probably only want to do it once!

Tip: We explore Lombard Street on our Little Italy & Fisherman’s Wharf walking tour!


Free Chocolate at Ghirardelli

To satisfy your sweet-tooth head to Ghirardelli Square. Home to the original factory and chocolate shop, the store will offer free chocolate sample to those who inquire. What’s not to like about that?!

After enjoying your samples, consider a hot chocolate or ice cream sundae.

For even more free activities, be sure to check out our Guide to Free Things to Do in San Francisco.

 


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THINGS TO DO AT NIGHT WITH KIDS 

Families can still have fun in the city after the sun goes down! Some of the items we’ve listed above like visiting Madame Tussauds Wax Museum or enjoying a street performance can be done during evening hours. Here are a few more things to enjoy with kids after dark.

For even more ideas on evening activities for any time of year, read our Things to Do at Night in San Francisco post and/or watch the video below.

 

 


Sporting Events

You’re most likely to catch Golden State Warriors basketball and San Jose Sharks ice hockey games in the evening, making a fun nighttime activity for the whole family. Typically, these evening games kick off around 7 pm (19:00).


Concerts and Stage Performances

There are lots of live stage shows you and your family can see throughout the year. Sometimes you can catch a pairing of a kid-friendly movie with live accompanying music. 

For example, the SF Symphony may be scheduled to play live alongside a movie like Star Wars or Mary Poppins. There are also kid-friendly productions by the San Francisco Ballet.

Both organizations offer multiple family-friendly evening shows throughout their respective seasons.


See a Movie

Maybe you’re in the mood for something on the big screen! San Francisco is home to multiple movie theatres. Our favorites include AMC Van Ness 14 and Century San Francisco Centre in Union Square.


Evening Hours at Exploratorium

Throughout each month, the Tactile Dome at the Exploratorium holds special evening hours so you can make your way through this interactive sensory excursion in the complete dark! Best for older children, the time slots offered are at 6:15 pm (18:15) and 7:30 pm (21:30) each day the Dome stays open late.

Admission to this museum is included for free with more than one San Francisco tourist attraction discount pass, excellent services you can use to save money on tickets.


Alcatraz Night Tour

One of the most popular tours to Alcatraz Island is their evening excursion, as the island offers special talks and lectures during their night tour which are not offered during the day. 

 

 

Keep in mind that night tour may be better for older children, as the last ferry back from the island returns at 9:25 pm (21:25).


Evening Sunset Sail

Get out on the San Francisco Bay as the sun is setting! Adventure Cat offer a sunset sail on a catamaran that will take you on a narrated journey past Alcatraz Island, under the Golden Gate Bridge, and back to Pier 39 where the boat departs from as well. It’s fun for both adults and children!


Go Ice Skating!

Head over to Yerba Buena’s SkateBowl and practice your triple-axel during a public skating session.

Offered daily, public skating often extends into evening hours and is welcome to everyone wanting to try their luck on the ice!


Go Bowling!

Within the same building in Yerba Buena, families can enjoy a game of bowling! The bowling alley at SkateBowl is open daily and Sundays feature special family nights where lanes are offered at a discount from 5 pm until closing on a first come, first served basis.

For even more evening activities, read our Things to Do at Night in San Francisco post.

 


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KID-FRIENDLY RESTAURANTS IN SAN FRANCISCO

San Francisco has loads of family-friendly restaurants that will fit anyone’s appetite! Take a look below for some of our favorites for kids.


Pier 39

One of the city’s most popular tourist destinations, Pier 39 has tons of dining options the whole family can enjoy.

Choose from food kiosks and specialty stores selling everything from crepes to soft pretzels to chocolate and candy or enjoy a bowl of clam chowder. 

 

 

There are also plenty of sit-down eateries like Wipeout Bar & Grill and Luigi’s Pizzeria.


Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Co.

Located at Pier 39, this seafood restaurant (which also has plenty of other offerings) plays homage to the iconic film, Forrest Gump.

The restaurant features movie memorabilia and this particular location has beautiful views of the bay.


Hard Rock Cafe

Located conveniently at Pier 39, Hard Rock offers a variety of American fare and features a lively atmosphere.

The walls are lined with memorabilia and costumes from classic musicians and there’s always music playing through the speakers no matter the time of day.


Boudin Bakery

Something that San Francisco is known for is its delicious clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. There’s no better place to try this out than Boudin Bakery, as Boudin sourdough legacy extends back to the 1849 Gold Rush.

Locations are scattered throughout the city with shops at both Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf.


Floating Sushi Boat in Chinatown

There are loads of great Chinese restaurants to try in Chinatown but sushi-eating kids will get a kick out of Floating Sushi Boat.

A conveyor belt style sushi joint, you simply grab what looks appealing as it floats by and pay for it all at the end.


In-N-Out Burger

A California delicacy, In-N-Out is not your average burger chain. Simple offerings with fresh ingredients that are never frozen, the burgers here are truly delicious.

A fun bonus is that chain is also famous for its secret menu.


Cheesecake Factory over Union Square

Offering great views overlooking Union Square, this Cheesecake Factory is located within Macy’s. Stop by for lunch, dinner, or just to enjoy a milkshake or slice of rich and delicious cheesecake!


Food Court in Westfield San Francisco Centre

Located conveniently adjacent to Union Square and the Powell Street Cable Car Line, this Westfield shopping center boasts a large food court on its bottom level.

Offering a large variety of food, beverages, and sweet treats, it’s a great place if you’re looking for something quick and inexpensive.


Ice Cream Bar Soda Fountain

This classic, old-time soda fountain shop is a great spot for a counter lunch. Enjoy a variety of sandwiches and melts plus handcrafted sodas, floats and, of course, ice cream!


Kid-Friendly Lunch Boat Cruise

A great way to see the San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz Island, and the Golden Gate Bridge, this two hour lunch cruise is welcoming to families with children.

This cruise boards at 11:30 am and starts at $69 per person. Reservations are required.


Enjoy Restaurant Discounts

When planning your family’s trip to San Francisco, be sure to check out discount websites like Groupon and Travelzoo to see what types of restaurant discounts they’re currently offering!

You might be able to score a percentage off your bill, a two for one offer, or a free appetizer among other deals!

 


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KID-FRIENDLY MUSEUMS AND ATTRACTIONS IN SAN FRANCISCO

There are plenty of museums in the city that will keep your little ones entertained! We’ve mentioned great family-friendly attractions like the world-famous celebrity wax museum, Madame Tussauds. Here are some of the best family-friendly museums and attractions in San Francisco.

Tip: Some of the below museums and attractions are included for free with the purchase of a tourist discount pass.


California Academy of Sciences

Located in Golden Gate Park, the California Academy of Sciences has a lot to offer. There’s a variety of exhibits on Natural History, a planetarium, aquarium, rainforest, and more. Don’t miss seeing Claude, the albino alligator!


Aquarium of the Bay

Head to Pier 39 to enjoy this Aquarium. The Aquarium of the Bay boasts thousands of fish species, sea turtles, sea otters, sharks, and many more marine animals. Some of the exhibits are interactive and allow you to touch the animals!


Museé Méchanique

Tucked into the back of Fisherman’s Wharf this antique penny arcade is definitely worth a visit! Browse dozens of pinball machines, table games, video games, and more–some dating back to the turn of the 20th Century. Admission is free.

 

 


Cable Car Museum

This small and free museum offers an in depth history of one of the city’s most iconic moving landmarks, the Cable Car. Don’t miss the viewing platform where you’re able to see the cables running as they move the cars around the city in real time.


Conservatory of Flowers

Enjoy this beautiful oasis in Golden Gate Park as you make your way through multiple exhibits within the conservatory and through its many outdoor gardens. Visit the first Tuesday of each month when admission is free to all.


Walt Disney Family Museum

Explore the many exhibits that date back to Walt Disney’s early days. As you make your way through the galleries, learn about his life and see a number of early Disney sketches, artifacts, the beginnings of Disneyland, and much more.

 

 


Exploratorium

This museum offers a number of interactive exhibits that are for the curious who look to learn through experience. Located at Pier 15, Exploratorium explores science, art, and human perception. Many of the exhibits are sensory focused.


Children’s Creativity Museum

A great museum for younger children, the Children’s Creativity Museum in Yerba Buena focuses on kids ages 2-12. This hands-on museum fosters creativity and learning through its multiple galleries.


Ripley’s Believe it or Not

Explore the shocking and the admirable at this museum full of oddities (including a shrunken human!). Pose next to the world’s tallest man, get lost in a world of illusion, and much more in this world of weird!

 

 


San Francisco Zoo

Located in the southwest corner of the city, the San Francisco Zoo and Gardens sits on 100 acres and features notable animals like gorillas, giraffes, rhinos, bears, amphibiens, and reptiles among others.


The Dungeon San Francisco

This is one attraction to make you scream…and laugh! The Dungeon is packed with rides and shows, 360 sets, and live actors throughout. 

 

This thrilling attraction will take you back to the Barbary Coast with its amusing characters and performances. It’s best for older children and teens.

 


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TEEN-FRIENDLY ACTIVITIES TO DO IN SAN FRANCISCO

Older tweens and teens can also have a great time in the city. Some of the items we’ve mentioned above like The Dungeon and family bowling are great for the teenage group. Here are some other great ideas for how to spend time in San Francisco with a teenager.


Oracle Ballpark Tour

If you can’t make a Giants game at Oracle Park, the stadium still offers regular ballpark tours that are fun for all. Learn about the team’s history and iconic players and see many behind-the-scenes locations throughout the park.


Escape Room

A fun activity that also requires critical thinking skills, Escape Rooms have make their debut in the Bay Area. With multiple escape rooms to choose from throughout the city, this article provides detailed tips on which might be best for you!


Exploring Haight Ashbury

This alternative neighborhood adjacent to Golden Gate Park was once a hippie haven in the 60s and 70s.

 

 

It’s still quite eclectic today, but a teen would enjoy browsing the many vintage stores, cruising through the music selection at Amoeba Music, and seeing the vibrant murals and colors the neighborhood has to offer.

NOTE: Take Walks offers a tour of Haight-Ashbury which covers a lot of the history behind this area of San Francisco, including subjects like the counter culture and the summer of love.


Rent a Bicycle

A great way to see the city, consider a bike tour or renting a bike on your own while you’re in the city! 

 

Not only are you exploring the city at a faster pace than walking, you’re also getting some exercise in as well!


Shopping Union Square

Filled with department stores and loads of designers brands, any teen can spend an entire day shopping in Union Square where you’ll see teen favorites like Forever 21 and H&M.

Additionally, there’s a multi-story Westfield shopping center at the end of Powell Street where it meets Market Street.

For even more ideas on how to spend your time in San Francisco, be sure to check out our master post, Things to Do in San Francisco post!


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MONTHLY THINGS TO DO IN SAN FRANCISCO

For even more detailed activities and attractions on a month by month basis, check out our posts below!

 


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