San Francisco isn’t just a playground for Silicon Valley tech employees, it’s also home to loads of family-friendly activities to keep the little ones entertained all year round. Spend a day learning at an interactive museum, whooshing down slides in the park, or jumping on a bike and seeing the city from two wheels.
We’ve compiled a list of the 10 best things to do with kids in the Golden City, whatever the weather.
1. Get Creative at a Museum
Don’t expect any traditional stuffiness in this city—San Francisco is bursting with fun museums, guaranteed to get your kids’ interest. Perfect for rainy days, the Exploratorium at Pier 15 will challenge your perspective of the world around you, delving into all things science. Feel your way through a tactile dome, see a huge upside-down reflection on yourself in a 12 foot high mirror, or stroll across the outdoor bridge covered in fog. There’s even the chance to stand inside a tornado!
For the budding tech-workers in your family, head to the Children’s Creativity Museum for some innovation. Get to know the basics of animation, create a movie, or record a song in front of a green screen. Additionally, the museum has classes to help kids code.
2. Hire Bikes
Put your leg muscles to the test by hiring bikes for the family. San Francisco is well-catered to cyclists and you’ll frequently see bike-enthusiasts whizzing through the city along the bike lanes. Loads of bike tours are available if you prefer to be lead around the streets, or you can cycle along the famous Golden Gate Bridge independently. The crossing is 11 minutes and an iconic journey, but be aware that bike traffic on the bridge can get busy and you’re likely to face windy conditions. Once on the other side, follow the path and cycle down the hill to Sausalito. The city has panoramic views of San Francisco and some truly delicious fish restaurants.
3. Ride a Cable Car
The quintessential way to travel around San Francisco’s near-vertical streets, the cable cars are a fantastic way to see the city while on the move. Enjoy the novelty of hanging outside the vehicle, waving to locals and tourists going by, or take a seat and keep an eye out for the swift movements of the ‘grip person’ (the person who manually controls the car’s movement). Children under 4 can ride the cable cars for free, while others can purchase tickets at machines or from the conductor onboard.
Afterwards, head to the San Francisco Cable Car Museum. The nonprofit education center was opened in 1974 and displays 3 antique cable cars, historic photographs and memorabilia. You might leave with the kids asking for a cable car for their next birthday!
4. Be Entertained at Fisherman’s Wharf
This waterfront neighborhood is a bustling scene of crab, boats and activities. Take in views of Alcatraz Island from the pier, get to know 20,000 sea organisms at the Aquarium of the Bay, marvel at restored World War II ships, or get up-close and personal with celebrity waxworks at Madame Tussauds. Kids will love Pier 39, filled with sea lions, a mirror maze, and musical stairs. Swing by a souvenir shop to pick up your San Francisco memorabilia and try the classic clam chowder at Fisherman’s Grotto. Served in a bread bowl, the warm dish is loaded with meat and seafood, and tastes best on a foggy afternoon.
5. Monkey Around at the Zoo
The zoo is open 365 days of the year and is an absolute must-do in San Francisco. The 100 acres is home to more than 2,000 endangered and exotic animals. Spot koalas shaded in the trees at Koala Crossing, eagles perched around Eagle Island, bears swimming at Bear Country, or the very cute black howler monkeys in the Thelma and Henry Doelger Primate Discovery Center.
Check the feeding schedule before you arrive and you might be lucky enough to see a grizzly bear having lunch, or penguins tucking into their fish. If the kids want a break from animals, the zoo has a miniature steam train, carousel, interactive storybooks, and adventure bike tours and walks too.
6. Unwind in Union Square
Built when San Francisco was first founded, Union Square is the central hub of the city. Bursting with department stores and hotels, it’s easily accessible to and from the cable cars. Great for watching the world go by, Union Square often has street performers and live music entertaining crowds of people. In summer, the square becomes a venue for open air events, and in the winter months an ice skating rink celebrates the festive season.
Ask a passerby to take a photo of the family in front of the heart sculpture—these famous art installations were a fundraising project from San Francisco’s General Hospital Foundation, now with 131 hearts over the Bay area, each designed by a local artist.
7. Spend Quality Time in Parks & Playgrounds
There’s nothing quite like a park—fresh open space, things to climb, fellow families to meet—and there’s nothing quite like a park in San Francisco. Start your tour of playgrounds at the popular Golden Gate Park, where you can enjoy a picnic next to lakes, sculptures and picturesque flowers. You’ll also find the oldest Japanese tea garden in America here, boasting over 3 acres of beautiful plants, Koi ponds and lanterns. For a little more excitement, the slide in the children’s playground is supposedly the fastest on the West Coast—climb aboard and put the slippiness to the test.
For a busy park, great for people watching, head to Dolores Park. Found in the heart of the diverse Mission District neighborhood, 16 acres of grass are lined with palm trees, sports courts, and dog areas. This park is notably special because of its views of the San Francisco skyline; arrive in the late afternoon to have dinner on the lawn and watch the sunset over buildings. If you need a family game to play, try rolling races down the big hills.
8. Take a Ferry
When you’re fed up of hills, take to the waves with a ferry ride to Angel Island. Known as the less crowded Alcatraz, Angel Island is easy to reach and great for a day excursion. Spend your time learning about the immigrants that were held there before obtaining US citizenship, or stretch your legs on the North Ridge hiking trail. The route is suitable for children and only an hour away from the summit of Mount Livermore—a wonderful spot for a picnic break with beautiful views. There’s also a cycle route around the island, so feel free to bring your bike on the ferry, or hire from one of the rental shops on arrival. Boats depart from San Francisco twice a day and take 30 minutes, look for the Blue and Gold Fleet Ferry.
9. Watch the Waves
No family trip is complete without a day at the beach, and San Francisco’s Ocean Beach is the prime location for sand castles and surfing. With stretches of sand dunes lining the Pacific Ocean, Ocean Beach is where to escape the city and breath in the fresh, salty air. The soft sands are surprisingly uncrowded throughout the year and there’s special areas of black sands caused by washed-up magnetite particles. Impress the kids by bringing along a magnet and showing them how the sand clings to it. Bonfire pits are also available to use, so you can enjoy making smores while listening to the sound of crashing waves.
10. Tuck in to Good Grub
San Francisco isn’t just crab and bakeries, and luckily if your little ones are fussy eaters, there’s a huge range of foods to choose from at Off The Grid events. Starting in 2010, street food vendors have since been coming together to celebrate great food and communities. The markets now take place more than 50 times throughout the year in San Fran, hosted at locations like Civic Centre, Haight Street, and Fort Mason. From burgers to brownies, falafel to frappes, dumplings to donuts, there is literally something for everyone at any time of the day.
You can find the perfect accommodation for your family while in San Francisco on AllTheRooms.
About the Author: Grace Brennan is a writer and copywriter from the U.K. She’s had the pleasure of living in 5 countries, combining her two loves: language and travel. She currently lives in Medellín, Colombia.