There are so many things to do with kids in San Francisco, you’ll need to spend weeks here to fit them all into one family vacation. The best part is, virtually all of the kids’ activities in San Francisco are just as fun for adults as they are for kids. From playing in interactive labs at the Exploratorium to watching sea lions play on the shoreline, and exploring an iconic former island prison. Learn about some of the best family things to do in San Francisco, including all-weather activities and family-friendly restaurants.
Play in a learning laboratory at the Exploratorium
The Exploratorium is one of the best family things to do in San Francisco, a public learning laboratory with hands-on exhibits to engage kids and adults alike. You don’t look at exhibits at the Exploratorium, you play with them, dancing in colorful shadows, exploring a size-distorted room, digging your hands into magnetic black sand, and creating hypnotic artwork under a swinging table. Allot adequate time to visit this attraction, there are so many intriguing exhibits that you’ll likely want to spend hours here.
Watch sea lions’ playful antics at the Sea Lion Center
One of the fun kids’ activities in San Francisco is visiting the Sea Lion Center, where you’ll see and learn about California’s playful sea lions. The center is located in the marina off Fisherman’s Wharf where a colony of sea lions has lived for generations in a uniquely urban setting. You’ll learn about their natural history, and watch their lively antics onshore as they bark, romp, and nap in the sun.
Play vintage penny arcade games at Musée Mécanique
Musée Mécanique is a unique spot to visit on a San Francisco family vacation, a fully interactive museum of 20th-century penny arcade games and coin-operated mechanical musical instruments. Musée Mécanique is located on Fisherman’s Wharf, and provides a nostalgic journey through toys from past generations, with hand-crank music boxes, vintage games, and colorful memorabilia.
Catch a magic and comedy show at Marrakech Magic Theater
If you have older kids or teenagers, check out the lineup at Marrakech Magic Theater for magical comedy shows from Jay Alexander. Held in an intimate venue with no “bad seats,” the shows feature clean comedy, fascinating magic tricks, sleight of hand, and plenty of audience interaction. Shows at the Marrakech Magic Theater are family-friendly but are not kids shows, so would be best appreciated by children ages 12 and up.
Get hands-on with interactive exhibits at California Academy of Sciences
Visiting the California Academy of Sciences is one of the cool things to do with kids of all ages during a family vacation in San Francisco, housing diverse animals and science exhibits that appeal to kids and adults alike. Collections at the California Academy of Sciences include a large aquarium, planetarium, rainforest, a natural history museum, and tons of hands-on exhibits to engage kids.
Find your favorite animals at the San Francisco Zoo
The Zoo is an iconic spot to visit on family vacations in San Francisco, housing a massive collection of animals, exhibits, and lush gardens. At San Francisco Zoo you can experience up-close animal encounters, attend keeper talks and feedings, and check out kids’ attractions like a mini-steam train, carousel, themed playgrounds, and interactive storybooks.
Code robots in a lab at the Children’s Creativity Museum
The Children’s Creativity Museum is a great place for kids’ activities in San Francisco, with fully interactive spaces for kids in the 2 through 12 age range. This definitely isn’t a “don’t touch that” museum, exhibits are designed specifically for hands-on learning through play, with spaces ranging from an animation studio to a robot coding room, an innovation lab, and a music studio.
Cross the famous Golden Gate Bridge
Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most iconic family things to do in San Francisco, as it is arguably one of the most famous bridges in the world. You can cross the massive red bridge on foot, bike, by car, or on a guided tour, and visit the welcome center to learn more about the history of this iconic landmark. Be sure to explore the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, offering scenic walking trails and some of the best bridge views around.
Tour a former prison on Alcatraz Island
Alcatraz Island is famously shrouded in mystery, an imposing former military fortress and prison perched on a rocky island in San Francisco Bay. Alcatraz Island’s notorious reputation as a prison was acquired for being nearly impossible to escape from, with rocky shores surrounded by churning, freezing water. You can cruise by the island on a scenic boat tour, or take the ferry onto the island for a guided tour inside the imposing fortress. Unique night tours are also offered, to explore the former penitentiary in the dark.
See ancient redwood trees at Muir Woods National Monument
It’s definite worth making the drive out to Muir Woods National Monument to see incredible old-growth redwood trees in a primeval forest. Hike trails through the forest for incredible views of the massive redwoods towering above you. Trails are easy to navigate if you have kids who are good walkers, or small kids you can strap in a carrier. A wheelchair and stroller-accessible boardwalk does cross the first part of the forest, with accessible facilities.
Stroll winding paths in the Japanese Tea Garden
In the Japanese Tea Garden you can explore 5 acres of beautifully landscaped garden paths, through native Japanese plants, classic garden elements, and a garden tea house. You’ll find exquisite pagodas and an arched drum bridge, stone lanterns, koi ponds, and a zen garden, as well as cherry blossoms blooming in March and April. Be sure to stop into the tea house to enjoy traditional teas.
See childhood stories come to life at Children’s Fairyland
Fairyland is a nostalgic theme park for young kids, one of the earliest themed amusement parks in the US. Themed as a magical children’s storybook, the park is refreshingly uncommercial in its offering of childhood story playsets and rides, from Alice in Wonderland and Peter Rabbit to the Jolly Roger Pirate Ship. You’ll also find a cozy petting zoo, events, shows, and performances within cozy Fairyland park.
See vintage cable cars at the Cable Car Museum
One of the unique things to do with kids during a family vacation in San Francisco is riding the city’s iconic open-air cable cars, the last manually operated cable car system in the world. You can check out the Cable Car Museum to learn about the heritage of this famous transportation system, with a collection of vintage cable cars and memorabilia, pictures, and mechanical displays. The Cable Car Museum is also free to visit, making it a very budget-friendly activity.
Explore a WWII aircraft carrier, the USS-Hornet
Climb aboard the USS-Hornet, a floating sea, air, and space museum aboard a historic World War II aircraft carrier. You can explore restored spaces on the ship including the boiler room and brig, the combat information center, and the sickbay, portrayed as they would have been during the ship’s active duty periods. Exhibits include the ship and crew’s historic contributions to the Apollo 11 space mission, with artifacts and memorabilia from the recovery of the spacecraft and astronauts after returning to Earth.
Enjoy a sunset from Land’s End Lookout
Land’s End Lookout provides sweeping panoramic views over the coastline, especially beautiful at sunset. The visitor’s center provides historical exhibits on the attractions around Land’s End and is a good starting point to access scenic hiking trails, the historic coastal shipwrecks, the Sutro Baths ruins, and the cliffside stone labyrinth.
Visit the Fortune Cookie Factory in Chinatown, San Fransisco
Learn about the history and culture of the oldest and largest Chinatown in North America, known for heritage architecture and artwork, cuisine, shops, and unique attractions. Check out the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory to see how the iconic cookies are made, stop for tea and delectables from local restaurants and tea houses, and explore boutiques and shops. Chinatown regularly hosts local cultural events, vibrant festivals, and celebrations.
Play on the musical stairs at Pier 39
Pier 39 on Fisherman’s Wharf is a great spot for entertainment on family vacations to San Francisco, a local waterside hotspot. Along the pier, you’ll find restaurants and shops, lively street performers, and family attractions including an arcade, an aquarium, 3D movies, a mirror maze, and a cool set of musical stairs.
See vintage Disney© memorabilia at the Walt Disney Family Museum
If you’re a Disney© fan, you can check out the Walt Disney Family Museum, chronicling the heritage behind the iconic figure of Walt Disney, along with his life and brand development. Galleries and exhibitions feature artifacts and photographs, miniature landscapes, colorful interactive exhibits, and tons of vintage Disney© memorabilia for the brand’s nostalgic characters.
Eat at Family-friendly restaurants in San Francisco
You’ll find great family restaurants all over San Francisco. For sweet treats visit the Original Ghirardelli Ice Cream, the iconic brand’s first-ever location. Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack is a good spot for picky eaters, serving homemade Italian classics in a cool atmosphere. Fog Harbor Fish House serves up fresh seafood and gorgeous bayside views. Kids love Urban Putt’s unique combination of classic American dishes and quirky mini-golf course. If you have older kids check out Foreign Cinema, serving Californian-Mediterranean dishes and film screenings. For gluten-free options visit Pica Pica Arepa Kitchen for savory Latin flavors.