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20 Fun Things to Do In San Francisco with Kids

Have you ever surprised your kids with a fun adventure? My husband, Chris, and I knew there would be a lot of fun things to do in San Francisco with kids over Spring Break one year way back in 2010 and decided a “guess where we are going” surprise was in order.

It took a few clues, but since they were into watching Full House at the time, the clue of “Where does DJ Tanner live?” was the last clue they needed. It was fun to build the suspense and keep them guessing for a few days.

Fun things to do in San Francisco with kids

We spent a few more days in San Francisco with our girls in 2022, and it was fun to relive moments, explore new things, and take more pictures.

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What to Do in Three Days in San Francisco?

If your time is limited and you need to find fun family things to do in the San Francisco Bay area for 2 to 3 days, let me share a little bit of our research with you. This post will help narrow down some of the best things for you to do and see in San Francisco with YOUR family.

1. Ride the Cable Cars

Fun things to do in San Francisco with kids

Riding the cable cars (or trolleys) in San Francisco is one of the iconic things to do. With Covid and other safety restrictions now in place, it is a little harder to capture in photos the true joy of riding the trolley while you are trundling down the street. However, Trolley #23 at Fisherman’s Wharf may be the perfect opportunity to stage your photos.

2. Explore the Cable Car Museum

Cable car museum in San Francisco with kids

Located at 1201 Mason Street, the Cable Car Museum takes a step back in time to discover the invention of the cable car (trolley). Learn about the technology required in the late 1870s to run the cars as well as modern-day efforts to maintain the cable cars of San Francisco today. If you love to learn the history of an area, this is one of the fun things to do in San Francisco with family.

  • Free Admission
  • Closed on Mondays

3. Visit the Golden Gate Bridge

Did you know that over 10 million people travel to San Francisco to see the Golden Gate Bridge every year? They come for the towers and cables and brilliant International Orange color. It is definitely a must-see if you are visiting San Francisco with kids.

You are able to walk along the 1.7 miles of the bridge, but if you are with kids, they might tire before you ever get to the first tower! The pedestrian walkway is on the east side of the bridge. If you are riding a bike you can take the sidewalk on the east or west side of the bridge.

Drivers are required to pay a toll if they are coming into San Francisco. There is no toll to leave the city.

Toll Payment Options are available online. The fee is under $9 for 2-axle vehicles and motorcycles.

View of San Francisco Golden Gate bridge

4. Take Sunset Pictures at the Golden Gate Bridge

Take pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge, whether at sunset, sunrise, or any other time in between. Scope out your favorite spot on the east or west side of the bridge. In the evening, with the sun setting in the west, you may find the best vantage point is on the east side of the bridge.

A few location options include: Fort Point, Battery Spencer Overlook, and the newly opened Battery Bluff Park.

Whatever your skill level with a camera, be prepared for some amazing photos as you explore San Francisco.

Here are a few camera suggestions if you are wondering which one to choose for your skill level:

Canon Powershot G1 – This camera is great if you are most comfortable leaving the camera in AUTO mode and work well with a point and shoot. It gives you options for some manual photos if you want to begin expanding your skills.

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Canon T8i – If you are a beginner with your photography skills and want to switch back and forth between Auto, Aperture Priority, or Manual Mode, this is a great entry level DSLR.

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Canon 6d Mark II – A great camera for advanced photographers who are comfortable with shooting in Manual Mode. You’ll get some outstanding shots with this DSLR. You will need to consider lenses to add to this camera.

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Smart Phone – Cameras on your phone nowadays are amazing. If this is your picture-taking device, you will surely capture some amazing images. I usually “tourist” with my DSLR around my neck and my Smart Phone in hand! And yes, I probably don’t “blend in” that well.

Whatever you choose as your camera as you discover fun things to do in San Francisco with kids, you will want to have the battery charged and ready to go for the day (maybe bring a back up battery just in case).

5. Take a Ferry to Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz in San Francisco with kids

If you have never taken the ferry out to Alcatraz Island, be ready to step back in time and learn a little history along the way. The island itself is lush and green with beautiful flowers. Did you know there are historical gardens on Alcatraz?

Your Alcatraz tour tickets include the round-trip ferry ride and an audio tour of the inside of the Alcatraz prison cell house.

The island has served as a civil war fort, a military prison, and one of the most notorious federal penitentiaries.

As a bonus, Alcatraz Island is part of the national park’s Junior Ranger program. Your kids might enjoy that!

Take note that the roads and paths on the island are steep. It is recommended that you wear suitable athletic or walking shoes for your 1/4 mile walk from the dock to the cell house.

6. Explore Chinatown

Chinatown in San Francisco with Kids

Did you know that San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia? Did you know it is the oldest Chinatown in North America? It is also one of the top tourist attractions in San Francisco as you walk through the Dragon Gate.

You’ll find some of the best dim sum restaurants as you wander the walkable neighborhoods of Chinatown. These neighborhoods are filled with hills, like much of San Francisco. Keep an eye out for vibrant alleyways, shops filled with treasures, and colorful markets.

7. Sample Cookies at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory

Since 1962, the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in Chinatown has been making custom fortune cookies by hand. The factory is tucked into a side street at 56 Ross Alley between Stockton and Kearny streets (on the right-hand side of the street).

Tour the Fortune Cookie Factory in San Francisco with kids

The owner, Kevin, enthusiastically greets visitors, invites you to try a cookie, and happily takes your family’s photo in the factory. Feel free to buy a bag of fortune cookies or even create your own fortune!

8. Wander Through the Presidio

The Presidio was once a military post where soldiers and their families lived. Now a historic national park site, anyone can rent a home or just stay the night here.

Enjoy the views of the Golden Gate Bridge, find a new trail to explore, eat a fabulous meal, browse through local stores, spot the Yoda statue, visit the Disney museum, or find a place to stay in the historic lodge.

Yoda Statue in San Francisco with kids

The Presidio is a family-friendly area in San Francisco with myriads of nature programs, kids activities, family events, and picnic areas to enjoy a sunny afternoon.

9. Explore Coit Tower

Coit Tower offers 360° views. Drive to the top of Telegraph Hill to visit the slender column rising above the city.

Purchase tickets in the gift shop to ride the elevator to Coit Tower’s observation deck where you can enjoy the views of the city, the bridges, and the bay.

10. Drive down Lombard Street

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Lombard Street. My impression of it was similar to the yellow brick road. Except for this road was made of red bricks. Lombard street, made famous in art, movies and television, is beautiful when you get up close and personal.

You may be surprised to see door fronts along the street as you twist and turn your way to the bottom of the street. It is beautifully landscaped from top to bottom.

Visiting Lombard Street is one of the most iconic things to do in San Francisco with your family.

11. Visit the Exploratorium

If you have ever purchased a family membership to a museum close to you, check to see if your museum participates in the ASTC Passport Program. The program allows you to “take your membership on the road” where you will receive discounts or free admission at over 360 museums and science centers around the world. The participating museums must be at least 90 miles away from your “home” museum.

Coming from Denver, our girls were thrilled to visit San Francisco’s Exploratorium in 2010. I was thrilled that it was free.

Exploratorium in San Francisco with kids

Amy loved the pendulum with markers attached, Misha loved the bubbles, and Kristen could have stayed all day long playing with the beach ball being blown in the air.

12. Spend Time at Pier 39

Come to Pier 39 for shopping, dining and attractions—the Aquarium of the Bay is filled with more than 20,000 different local sea creatures.

You might enjoy simply watching the California sea lions as they sprawl out on docks in the marina. They are noisy, comical, and just a touch aromatic!

Smelly sea lions in San Francisco with kids

At Pier 39, there are shops, restaurants, a video arcade, street performances, virtual 3D rides… a little something for everyone. Want to rent bikes? You can. Want to schedule a whale watching tour? You can.

If you are looking for fun things to do in San Francisco with kids, be sure to plan to spend time at Pier 39.

13. Visit Fisherman’s Wharf

Explore one of San Francisco’s busiest tourist areas—Fisherman’s Wharf. You can find souvenir shops, enjoy some clam chowder, or take pictures of the bay (along with Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge).

If you are taking a ferry to Alcatraz or a cruise of the bay, your adventure begins at Fisherman’s Wharf.

Explore the small San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park which includes a fleet of historic ships, a Visitor Center, the Maritime Museum, and the Maritime Research Center.

Take a stroll along the waterfront or venture into Ghirardelli Square for a little chocolate and a variety of restaurants.

14. Visit Ghirardelli’s Chocolate Shop

Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco with kids

Speaking of chocolate, Ghirardelli Square is just a short walk from Fisherman’s Wharf. Ghirardelli Square is located at 900 North Point Street at the corner of Beach and Larkin Streets.

Ghirardelli Square, a specialty retail and dining complex with unique shops and restaurants, was originally a chocolate factory.

Visit the Original Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Store for the world famous hot fudge sundae and discover how Ghirardelli Chocolate is made with the self-guided tour of the historic chocolate making equipment. Be sure to enjoy the chocolate squares in all flavors.

15. Relax in Golden Gate Park and Ride the Carousel

If you are looking for family things to do in San Francisco, be sure to plan to spend some time at Golden Gate Park.

There are plenty of activities to keep little ones, teens, and adults occupied.

  • Ride the Carousel
  • Visit the de Young Museum
  • Explore the Aquarium
  • Enjoy Sports – horseshoes, horse back riding, golf, baseball
  • Take a Segway Tour
  • Visit the Bandshell for FREE live concerts

16. Enjoy the Japanese Tea Garden

Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco with kids

The Japanese Tea Garden at Golden Gate Park is the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States.

The garden features architectural elements such as an arched drum bridge and pagodas along with classic stone lanterns, stone paths, native Japanese plants, koi ponds and a zen garden. Be sure to make a stop at the Tea House and Gift Shop.

If you want to experience the beauty of cherry trees blossoming, plan your visit to the garden in March and April.

Tickets can be purchased through the San Francisco Parks and Recreation Department.

17. Visit the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden and Windmill

Windmill in San Francisco with kids

A popular tourist attraction for families visiting San Francisco is the Dutch windmill at the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden, also in Golden Gate Park.

The windmill, designed originally as an irrigation system to pump water to the plants in the park, simply stands as tourist attraction today. In the spring, brightly colored red and yellow tulips surround the windmill.

Be sure to stop at the Park Chalet Garden Restaurant, an open-air restaurant close by, for delicious flatbread pizzas and BBQ menu options.

Not too far from the tulip garden windmill is Ocean Beach. If your kids love playing at the beach, this one is perfect as an add-on to your day. This white beach stretches for
3.5 miles and is rarely crowded.

18. Race Your Friends on a Scavenger Hunt

If you have never experienced racing through San Francisco on a scavenger hunt adventure, you are in for a real treat with the Urban Adventure Quest Scavenger Hunts.

I am not an affiliate for Urban Adventure Quest, however, our family has enjoyed these scavenger hunts all over the United States. (Check online coupon sites for 25% off coupons.)

Your amazing scavenger hunt adventure will begin in the Union Square area and will take you through Chinatown and other historical neighborhoods as you wind your way through the famous Wharf District. You will traverse San Francisco’s contoured landscape both on foot and by Cable Car.

Urban Adventure Quest San Francisco

19. Eat Good Food

One of the best things about visiting a new location is trying out the local fare. Eating is always a great family thing to do in San Francisco. Here are a few options (among thousands):

Mediterranean – Try an eclectic small restaurant and bar at 6101 California Street, Pearl 1601 offers mediterranean style, California inspired appetizers, drinks, and entrees.

Dim Sum – There are many options for great dim sum throughout Chinatown and San Francisco. Start with Good Luck Dim Sum, Dumpling House, Palette Tea House, or Lee’s Dim Sum to find one of your favorite restaurants.

San Francisco Sourdough – Boudin is one of San Francisco’s most famous sourdough producer with locations as Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. You may be interested to know that Boudin has been using a sourdough starter that dates to 1849!

Pizza – You could eat your way through San Francisco on delicious pizza alone! Try Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, Norcina, A16, or Golden Boy Pizza for starters.

Seafood – Fisherman’s Wharf is a seafood lover’s paradise. Visit Alioto’s #8, Sotto Mare, or The Old Clam House.

Clam Chowder – Seriously, you can’t visit San Francisco without enjoying a hearty bowl of creamy clam chowder (eat it from a sourdough bread bowl for a full meal treat at Boudin’s!). Try also Chowders, Fog Harbor Fish House, The Ramp, or Woodhouse Fish Co.

20. Plan for Day Trips

If you have a little extra time after 3 days of sightseeing and experiencing the best things to do in San Francisco with family, how about a few days trips?

Drive to the Coast to Visit Half Moon Bay

As you drive to and from San Francisco, you will pass through cool beach towns that just make you want to buy a vacation home. Half Moon Bay is a vibrant coastal town just 40 minutes from San Francisco.

Half Moon Bay has quaint little downtown shops—the kind you love to explore—and makes for a popular day trip or weekend getaway from San Francisco complete with good food and quaint bed-and-breakfasts.

You will love the beautiful beaches and dramatic ocean scenery. It makes the perfect place to enjoy hiking, fishing, horseback riding, golfing, and even sunbathing on a sunny day.

Capitola

Capitola colorful beach houses

A little further away from San Francisco, you’ll find Capitola. It’s a cute little seaside town with distinctive colorful homes right along the beach and boardwalk. These beach houses are some of the most Instagram Worthy, Insanely Colorful Destinations Around the World.

Big Sur

Bixby Bridge along the Pacific Coast Highway

I highly recommend trying the GyPSy Guide audio tours (affiliate link) if you have never listened to one before and take a drive along the Pacific Coast Highway. It will take you further away from San Francisco and will be a long day trip, but oh, the views.

Fun things to do in San Francisco with kids

Pebble Beach

Discover 17-mile Drive in the upscale Pebble Beach neighborhood.

The first stop along the drive is Spanish Bay Beach. Some of the other points of interest along 17-Mile Drive are:

  • Point Joe
  • China Rock
  • Bird Rock (which is covered in bird poop)
  • Seal Rock (didn’t see any seals on it)
  • Fan Shell Beach (we did see seals basking in the sunshine here)
  • Crocker Grove (oldest living Monterey Cypress trees here)
  • Loan Cypress
  • Visitor Center (nothing too impressive unless you are wowed by golf and the Famous Pebble Beach Golf Tournament that takes place here)
Pebble beach

Muir Woods

North of San Francisco, experience the towering old-growth of redwood trees in Muir Woods National Monument. The national monument is only 16 miles from San Francisco, but traffic will add time to your travels.

You will need your America the Beautiful Park Pass (or buy a day pass), a parking reservation, and a good pair of walking shoes if you plan to explore any of the numerous trails that wind among the trees.

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Fun things to do in San Francisco with kids

Final Thoughts on 20 Fun Things to Do in San Francisco with Kids

There you have it. Whether your kids are 10 or 20, they will enjoy all of the sights and sounds and amazing things to do in the San Francisco Bay area.

If you love to take pictures as you make memories, there are plenty of options with colorful street murals, picturesque beach homes, and dramatic views. Visiting San Francisco with kids will build memories to last a lifetime.

You May Also Enjoy these Posts about California…

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29 Comments
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Michelle
30 days ago

Your post brings back so many fond memories. As a kid, it was so much fun to drive down Lombard street, visit Fisherman’s Wharf, and ride the trolley car.

Petra
Petra
30 days ago

These ideas are great even without kids! I cant wait to see the bridge one day and now I know there is more than only that 😁 saved for later!

Gallivanting Laura
30 days ago

I went here with my parents and had the BEST time! Your guide is taking me on a trip down memory lane, so many cool things for kids (and big kids) to enjoy.

Jeanine
30 days ago

These are great ideas will be saving this for our family visit to the US

Kyra
29 days ago

So many great ideas for both kids and adults! I’ve been to San Francisco many times, but still have to make my way to the fortune cookie factory – seems so fun!

Ildiko
29 days ago

Lombard Street looks so cool. Would love to watch the sunset at the Golden gate Bridge. The Japanese Tea Garden also looks lovely. Great list of things to do in San Fran!

Adrian
28 days ago

Great post. We visited San Fran during Covid times, so a lot wasn’t open, but we had a wonderful time. Our hotel was just a block from Lombard St.

Komal Singh
28 days ago

I knew San Francisco is a ton of fun but I didn’t realize how MUCH you could do! It’s amazing that you got 20 things on this list!

Amber
26 days ago

I’ve been to San Francisco many times–it’s one of my favorite cities, so I loved reading through all of these idea! I love all of your suggestions, especially a visit to the Muir Woods.

Kelly
26 days ago

What a great trip for the kids (and adults). I have San Francisco on my bucket list just because I want to see Alcatraz, but now you’ve given me so many other things that I want to do there (especially go down Lombard Street). I love how you played the guessing game with the kids. I’m going to do that with my grandkids next time I take them on an adventure!

Linhy
14 days ago

So many great things to do! Will need to come back!

Linhy
14 days ago

So many great things to do! Will need to come back!

http://Www.Linhybanh.com

Maria Zakharkiv
13 days ago

As a mum of a little 5-year-old travel-lover, I found this post just amazing. Travelling with kids is so important, even though sometimes it might be hard. Thanks, for sharing your experience: all these spots are absolutely worth visiting.

kmf
13 days ago

I love San Francisco! You’ve recommended some of my favorites in the fabulous guide especially when traveling with kids. But haven’t been to a couple of the attractions like the Cable Car Museum.

ANUKRATI DOSI
12 days ago

Forget about kids, I too would enjoy each of these things. Chinatown would be my favorite though.

Brittany
12 days ago

San Francisco was one of my favorite family vacations growing up! I loved to see the Golden Gate Bridge on a boat ride and drive down Lombard Street.

Lasma
Lasma
3 days ago

San Francisco looks like the city I would love to visit the most in the States, it’s so vibrant and I love the iconic view on the Golden Gate Bridge!
Lombard street also looks so fun to drive and see! The Japanese gardens and Wilhelmina park also look like two attractions I would love to visit! Obviously, I would also find the time for some cookie tasting and ride one of those iconic trams!

Sharyn
2 days ago

So many things to do on a trip to San Francisco. I’d love to take the ferry to Alcatraz – it’s on my bucket list.