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Monday 31 May 2021

80+ Things to do in San Francisco with Kids

After eight years of living in the San Francisco Bay Area and getting out and about as much as possible I've found myself with a wealth of knowledge when it comes to exploring the city by the Bay. Over the years I've shared LOTS of different posts about different places to visit in San Francisco, but I've never shared a round up post. So today I'm doing just that. It's a long post, but I hope you'll find it a great resource for exploring San Francisco with kids.

San Francisco really does have a lot of fun things to see, do and experience with kids. Whether it be taking in iconic views, exploring the historic side of the city, getting hands on at an interactive museum, playing in the great outdoors, spending some downtime in a park or playground, eating tasty treats, or getting a little culture, there's something for everyone here. 

Because this is such a long post I've broken everything down into the following categories:
  • Iconic San Francisco
  • Amazing Views
  • Playgrounds
  • Museums & Galleries
  • Tasty Treats
  • Play Outside
  • Street Art
  • History
  • Tours

  • Where I have a dedicated post with extra information you'll find an underlined link.

    Let's take a look...

    Iconic San Francisco

    Walk across the Golden Gate Bridge
    What's the first thing that pops into your mind when you think of San Francisco? Is it the Golden Gate Bridge? This iconic bridge can be spotted from locations all over San Francisco and around the Bay, but nothing beats seeing it up close. A walk, bike ride or drive across the Golden Gate Bridge is a must. My favorite is to take the bus across the bridge, hop off at the first stop, and walk back across towards the city. That way you'll have stunning views over San Francisco in front of you. Keep in mind that the bridge is quite long and it does get rather chilly and very windy, so make sure to prepare by wearing layers, even on a sunny day. You can see more here.

    Ride a cable car up the steep, steep hills
    After the Golden Gate Bridge, the classic cable cars are usually the next thing that comes to mind when thinking of San Francisco. There are three cable car lines that run through San Francisco: Powell-Mason line, Powell-Hyde line, and California line. The Powell-Mason line is the most popular with tourists as it takes passengers past the top of Lombard Street and ends near Fisherman's Wharf. The Powell-Hyde line takes a similar route and ends close to Pier 39. If I'm just taking a cable car for the fun of it, I like to take visitors on the California line. This particular line runs up and down steep California Street with views over the Bay Bridge. It tends not to be as popular with tourists so you're much more likely to snag a coveted outdoor seat or even a position standing on the outside. 

    Visit the sea lions at Pier 39
    San Francisco's most famous animal residents can be found sunbathing on pontoons near Pier 39. The sea lions have called this area home for quite some time now and are a popular site with tourists. You can view them from both levels of Pier 39. You can smell them from there too! They may be cute, but they sure are stinky! Pier 39 is also home to the Sea Lion Center, a small museum run by the Aquarium of the Bay which offers exhibits and information about San Francisco's sea lions.   

    Earn Junior Ranger badges at Alcatraz
    One of San Francisco's most popular destinations is also one of the darkest part of the city's history, but that doesn't mean that it's not for kids! Alcatraz Island makes for a wonderful family outing. The ferry ride across is worth it on its own, but the island itself has so much to offer. Because Alcatraz is a National Park, kids can take part in the Junior Ranger program and earn themselves a badge. This is a great way to get kids learning about the site and it keeps them engaged. Tours of Alcatraz are self guided (with an audio tour) and include both inside and outside the historic prison. The views over San Francisco and the Bay area stunning. Make sure to dress in layers because it can get pretty chilly out in the Bay. You can find dedicated Alcatraz posts here and here

    Take in the views from the water on a Bay cruise
    It is my opinion that cities on the water are always best viewed from the water! If there's a boat or ferry to hop aboard you'll always find us there when we travel. Nothing beats being on the water and taking in views of the city. It's such a peaceful and relaxing way to explore. Ok, it can be pretty windy too so don't forget those layers! There are several companies offering Bay cruises in San Francisco and many different options. We took an hour long cruise that left from Fisherman's Wharf and took us under the Golden Gate Bridge, around Alcatraz and toward the Bay Bridge. You can find a dedicated post here

    View the famous Painted Ladies Victorian houses from Alamo Square Park
    If you've ever watched Full House, you'll be sure to recognize these beauties! Ok, I'm not talking about the kids in the foreground, but the gorgeous Victorian houses behind them. These are the Painted Ladies, a row of pastel colored Victorian homes that can be found alongside Alamo Square Park. They famously appear in the opening credits of the 80s/90s sitcom Full House and are a popular spot with tourists. Keep in mind that these are actually peoples' homes, so please respect their privacy. From Alamo Square you'll also find stunning views over the city and there is a small playground for kids. 

    Marvel at the Palace of Fine Arts
    The Palace of Fine Arts can be found in San Francisco's Marina District and was built in 1915 for the Panama Pacific Exposition. Like most buildings for such events, it was originally supposed to be a temporary structure, but it was so beloved by the people of San Francisco that, like the Eiffel Tower, it became permanent. The palace features an ornate rotunda and a colonnade along an artificial lagoon. The expansive lawns surrounding the palace make it a popular spot for meeting up with friends and picnics. 

    Explore San Francisco's Chinatown
    San Francisco's Chinatown has long been popular with locals and tourists alike. This area, located right in downtown, is one of the city's oldest neighborhoods and is home to a wealth of Chinese culture. The Dragon Gate, at the entry to Chinatown is a popular stop for photos as is Grant Avenue with its masses of red lanterns above the street. While here make sure to check out the colorful murals, vibrant Asian markets, delicious dim sum, and the famous fortune cookie factory.

    Cheer on the Giants at Oracle Park
    Now, I'm the first to admit that I'm not a sports fan. Sportsball, am I right?  However, when we travel I like to take in a local sporting game for something different. It's a great experience for the whole family and something we wouldn't normally experience at home. Oracle Park is a great ballpark to visit even if you can't watch a game. Located right on the water it has great Bay views. There's a fun playground for kids here too.

    Walk or drive down windy Lombard Street
    A visit to San Francisco isn't complete without checking out the famously windy Lombard Street. While much of Lombard Street is straight, the section that everyone knows and loves features 8 hairpin turns as it zigs and zags its way down the hill. If you have a car you'll definitely want to go for a drive down Lombard Street, but if you're on foot it's just as fun to check out. Take the Powell-Hyde cable car to the top of Lombard Street and walk down. The sidewalks are mostly straight, so they're not quite as fun as driving down the street, but it's still worth it.  

    Visit Fisherman's Wharf
    Fisherman's Wharf is one of those places that is super popular with tourists, but not so much with locals. However, even if you are a local, there's still a lot of fun to be had here - and a lot of tasty things to eat. If seafood is your thing you can't go past Fisherman's Wharf for the best place to find delicious clam chowder (famously served in a sourdough bread bowl) and Dungeness crabs. Boudin Bakery's flagship location can also be found on Fisherman's Wharf and visitors can watch their famous sourdough being made. Families will enjoy Musee Mechanique, an arcade filled with vintage pinball machines, slot machines and sideshow attractions. Then there are the views! Being located on the water there are stunning views over the Bay, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands. You can see my post about Fisherman's Wharf on Mommy Nearest here.

    Amazing Views
    With all those hills, San Francisco is a city of views! Where there aren't hills to climb, there are tall buildings from which to take in the views. No matter where you go in San Francisco, you're sure to find stunning views. 

    Take in the 360 views from Grand View Park
    Grand View Park in the Sunset District sure does live up to its name. The 360 degree views over San Francisco from the top are nothing short of grand! This park is pretty small, and the walk up is steep, but the views are worth it. Plus the hike to the top includes the 16th Street Stairs, which I've included below in the "Play Outside" section. I've shared our visit to Grand View Park here

    Hike up Bernal Heights Park 
    This is one of my favorite city hikes! Like Grand View Park, Bernal Heights Park offers sweeping 360 degree views over San Francisco. Unlike Grand View Park, Bernal Hill is a pretty decent size. You'll find large grassy areas at the top, trails leading in different directions, and a rope swing hanging from a tree. The views are simply gorgeous and you'll see why this park is popular with locals. You can see our visit here.

    Check out the views from the top of Coit Tower
    This one involves climbing up a steep hill and taking an elevator up a building! Located in the Italian neighborhood of North Beach, Coit Tower stands atop Telegraph Hill and can be seen from all around the city. The hill itself boasts great views, but it's from the very top of Coit Tower where you'll find the best vistas. The views from the top of the round tower are 360 degrees and as you can see from teh picture below, they're pretty stunning. Make sure to check out the art deco style murals in the base of Coit Tower while you're here. 

    Take in the views from the elevator in Westin St Francis
    Ok, this is a bit of a sneaky one, but some of the best views right in the middle of the city can be seen from the glass elevators of the Westin St Francis Hotel right by Union Square. The glass elevators start off inside the hotel but end up on the outside. It's pretty cool taking them up to the top floor and seeing the city streets shrink below you. 

    Views from the de Young Museum tower
    The de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park is home to the Hamon Observation Tower. This tower is free to enter and offers sweeping views over San Francisco and across to the Marin Headlands through its floor to ceiling windows. Look at the Golden Gate Bridge poking out above the Presidio in the photo below. You'll also get great views of the living roof of California Academy of Sciences nearby as well as other part of Golden Gate Park. 

    Spy over the city from Mount Sutro
    Mount Sutro is one of San Francisco's taller hills which means it offers pretty fantastic views over the city - even when Karl the Fog rolls in like in my picture below! This popular lookout point offers views down Market Street toward San Francisco's downtown area. Visit on a nice day and you'll find a large array of hiking trails that take you through shady wooded areas and grassy fields. 

    Every good city has a wealth of playgrounds for local kids, and San Francisco is no exception. Throughout the city you'll find a large array of playgrounds with climbing structures, slides, swings and even carousels. Some are located in large sprawling parks while others are squeezed into local neighborhoods. Here are some of my favorites...

    Yerba Buena Gardens playground
    The playground at Yerba Buena Gardens was a firm favorite with my kids when we lived in the Bay Area. Ava took ice skating lessons at the nearby skating rink so we spent a lot of time here. The playground features multiple slides, lots of climbing structures, a large sand play area, a fairly new toddler playground, water features, and gardens. There is also plenty of space to run around both within the playground itself and the neighboring lawns. The playground is located pretty centrally with lots of food and transportation options nearby. You can see more of Yerba Buena Gardens in my post for Mommy Nearest here.

    Children's Creativity Carousel
    Located right next to Yerba Buena Gardens Playground is the Children's Creativity Carousel. This beautifully restored 1906 carousel is run by the Children's Creativity Museum. The carousel features many different animals including horses, sheep, giraffes, lions and camels. Each ticket gives riders two turns on the carousel.   

    Esmerelda Slide Park
    This small park is located in a residential area in Bernal Heights. It's a great place to stop for a play on your hike up Bernal Heights for those sweeping views. Speaking of views, the top of the slides offer visitors views over the city through the trees. The park may be small with just two slides, but if your kids are like mine they want to stop here for the longest time! To slide faster bring a piece of cardboard with you or find one in the blue bin at the bottom of the slides. 

    Civic Center playground
    This relatively new playground takes pride of place right in front of San Francisco's City Hall. The playground features a large climbing structure with slides, swings and plenty of other things to climb and balance on - or crawl under. There is also lots of space to run around. There is seating for parents and the view over City Hall is pretty special. 

    Sue Bierman Park
    There's something about a playground surrounded by skyscrapers that I just love! Sue Bierman Park is located along the Embarcadero with skyscrapers on three sides and San Francisco's waterfront on the other. It's just across from the Ferry Building so it's a great spot to burn off some energy after lunch or a visit to the Farmer's Market. Here you'll find plenty of grass to run around, kick a soccer ball or have a picnic. The playground itself features slides, climbing structures, swings, and all sorts of things that spin. There are separate structures for little kids and big kids but they're all in the same fenced in area.

    Joe DiMaggio Playground
    Joe DiMaggio Playground is located in the heart of San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood just off Columbus Avenue. This playground has been updated in recent years and features all sorts of fun stuff for kids of all ages. There are climbing structures, a tower, slides, lots of steps to run up and down, things to swing on, things to spin on, and a weird fish-like sculpture that kids can play on and in. The gardens here are immaculate and the playground is surfaced with artificial turf. The block also features tennis courts and an indoor pool. 

    Heller Diller Playground
    Located in Dolores Park in the Mission District, Helen Diller Playground is one of my absolute favorites. Dolores Park is always a great place to spend a sunny day and the playground here just makes it even better! This sprawling playground features multiple slides, various climbing structures, swings, things to spin on, things to play music with, sand play and of course, lots of grass to run around on. Then there are the views! The playground is located near the top of Dolores Park so it offers views over the city with the historic Mission and school in the foreground. You can see more of the playground here.

    South Park Playground
    This playground is small but mighty! Located in the South Beach neighborhood, this playground is fairly new and is made up of one of the coolest climbing structures I've ever seen. Made of netting with a curved metal framework, the climbing structure swirls its way along the park and features swings and balancing fun hanging off it. There is plenty of seating nearby for grown ups as well as shade from the large trees that line the park. 

    Salesforce Park
    One of the city's newest parks comes with stunning views, beautiful gardens, plenty of outdoor seating, water features, a cafe terrace, and, you guessed it, a playground. Salesforce Park is a rooftop garden space that spans several city blocks above the Salesforce Transit Center between Mission and Howard Streets. It's open to the public and can be access via stairs, elevators, escalators and even via a gondola from the street! The playground itself is fairly small and features a fun rope climbing structure, but kids are sure to be enthralled with the entire space. It's not often you get to play in a garden above the city streets.

    Carousel at Pier 39 
    Ok, so a carousel isn't really a playground, but I'm including it here anyway! The carousel at Pier 39 is a classic vintage carousel with a twist. It's a double decker carousel! The carousel features 30 animals including horses, rabbits, dolphins, pandas and, because it's located on Pier 39, sea lions! The carousel also features scenes rom San Francisco giving it a little local flair. 

    Koret Children's Quarter in Golden Gate Park
    Koret Children's Quarter has long been a popular playground for San Francisco's kids. Located at the eastern end of Golden Gate Park the playground features climbing structures, swings, sand play and plenty of lawn to run around on. One of the highlights, however, is the concrete slide. You read that correctly! This is one of several concrete slides in the Bay Area and even thought it's shorter than the others it's still a huge hit with the kids. Grab a piece of cardboard to slide on. It will make you go faster and it will protect your skin! Koret Children's Quarter also features a vintage carousel. You can see more here

    Alta Plaza Park
    I've already listed plenty of places with great views over the city above, but here's another one: Alta Plaza Park. I'm including it here under playgrounds because not only will you find stunning views, but you'll also find a pretty great playground at the top. This playground features all the regulars: slides, climbing structures, sand play, swings and lots of grass to run around on. The playground is fenced in, which is good because it's a pretty steep drop down the hill!

    Museums & Galleries
    San Francisco is a hot spot when it comes to culture and the arts, so it's no surprise that the city has some fantastic museums and galleries on offer. While there's plenty to keep you busy outside, these locations are great to keep in mind for rainy days or for when you want a little culture or to learn something. They're not just for the grown ups either!

    Learn how the cable cars work at the Cable Car museum
    Ever wondered how San Francisco's cable cars work? You can find out the Cable Car Museum! This free museum features all sorts of cable car related exhibits and best of all, you can see the actual cables that the cable cars run on in action! Of course, the best way to get to the Cable Car Museum is to take the cable car! The museum is located just a short walk from all three cable car lines. You can learn more and see our visit here.

    Get hands on with science at the Exploratorium
    For science lovers the Exploratorium is a must see. This large museum is located on a pier over San Francisco Bay and is filled with hands on science fun. If you can imagine it, there's a good chance it's here! You'll find exhibits that use light, mirrors, sound, movement, electricity, air, bubbles, music, shadows and so much more to create endless fun. While most exhibits are housed inside the museum there are quite a few located outside on the wharf as well. You can see our visits here and here.

    Meet Claude the albino alligator at California Academy of Sciences
    Claude the albino alligator is something of an institution in San Francisco, but he's not the only thing to see at California Academy of Sciences. This sprawling museum located in Golden Gate Park is my favorite museum of all time. It's home to a fantastic Amazon exhibit that takes visitors up through the trees to the canopy of the rainforest where an elevator plunges you down to the flooded forest floor below. Giant fish swim above as you make your way through a glass tunnel to the museum's aquarium exhibits. Back on the ground floor you'll find a planetarium, dinosaurs, an earthquake exhibit, various temporary exhibits, and Claude. The museum features a living rooftop with plants and grasses growing all over it in mounds. It's pretty spectacular. You can see our visits here and here.  

    Enjoy art at de Young Museum
    The de Young Museum is a sprawling art gallery located in Golden Gate Park. Here you'll find a large range of art from varies mediums and periods including modern art, African art, textile art, photography, sculpture and so much more. de Young Museum's outdoor sculpture areas are open free of charge to the public and feature some pretty quirky artworks. As I mentioned above, the observation tower at the de Young Museum offers stunning views over Golden Gate Park and beyond. 

    Learn a little Disney history at the Walt Disney Family Museum
    Did you know that there is a Disney museum in San Francisco? The Walt Disney Family Museum is located in the Presidio and features a wealth of Disney history. You find original Walt Disney drawings, original animation cells, original storyboards, vintage collectables, a miniature of Walt Disney's home and Disneyland, a theatre showing feature films, and so much more. It's a must for Disney fans. You'll also find stunning views over the Presidio and the Golden Gate Bridge. 

    Create animations at Children's Creativity Museum
    Inspired by the Disney Museum? Why not make your own animations? At the Children's Creativity Museum in Yerba Buena Gardens you can do just that - albeit with stop motion rather than hand drawn cells. Children's Creativity Museum is one of my favorite kids' museums. The kids always loved creating their own clay animations here but there's so much more to do. Younger kids will enjoy the DIY puppet theater and soft play areas. There is plenty of hands on creating with a large array of materials and creative prompts. Visitors can also ride the carousel outside the museum. You can see our visit here.

    Get lost in modern art at SFMOMA
    San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, or SFMOMA as it's more commonly known, is a world class museum in the heart of the city with an amazing collection of modern art. You'll find artworks from famous artists here including Andy Warhol, Henri Matisse, Frida Kahlo, Georgia O'Keefe, Alexander Calder and so many more. The artworks on display are sure to delight, but the building itself is a work of modern art. You can see some of our visits here and here

    Take a hands on history lessons at the Wells Fargo History Museum
    A history museum run by a bank may not sound like the most exciting place, but trust me, the Wells Fargo History Museum is an absolute gem. To sweeten the deal, it's free! You've go to love a free museum! Here you'll find all sorts of artifacts from the history of both San Francisco and Wells Fargo. There are several authentic stage coaches on display as well as hands on gadgets such as vintage phones, vintage check punching machines, morse code machines and, for reasons I never worked out, a game of Pong! Plus there's so much more. It's a really interesting museum. You can see our visit here.

    Play vintage games at Musee Mechanique
    So, this one isn't really a museum, per se, but it is filled with historical artifacts. And by historical artifacts I mean vintage pinball machines, vintage arcade games and vintage sideshow attractions. That's a museum, right? Oh, and did I mention that you can play them all? Musee Mechanique is located at Fisherman's Wharf and is a fantastic place to spend a rainy day - or any day really. 

    San Francisco Railway Museum
    The cable cars are San Francisco's most iconic form of public transportation, but did you know that they're not the only vintage rail transit transporting people around the city? San Francisco is also home to a fleet of vintage street cars from around the world. You can find these running along the Embarcadero and up Market Street. If you'd like to learn more about the street cars make sure to check out the San Francisco Railway Museum. This small museum is a great stop for train lovers and features hands on exhibits that show how the street cars work and shares a little of their history. 

    Conservatory of Flowers
    San Francisco's Conservatory of Flowers is housed in a gorgeous Victorian era glasshouse located in Golden Gate Park. The building itself is absolutely stunning, but it's the vast array of plant life inside that make the Conservatory magical. Being a glasshouse it's quite humid inside, so make sure to dress accordingly - for once you'll be wanting to take layers off instead of adding more! Outside of the Conservatory you'll find beautifully landscaped gardens and plenty of space for picnics and running around. You can see our visits here and here.

    Tasty Treats
    San Francisco is known as a destination for foodies and it's no wonder with the wealth of cuisine on offer. I could easily dedicate a whole blog post to places to eat but this post is already super long so I'm going to keep it brief with just a few of our favorites. 

    Watch sourdough being made at Boudin Bakery
    Sourdough is a San Francisco classic and it doesn't get more classic that Boudin Bakery. Boudin Bakery's flagship location at Fisherman's Wharf is the best place for fresh sourdough. The bakery has large windows that face the street so onlookers can watch the baking process. Bakers have headsets and there are speakers/microphones at the window so visitors can ask questions about the process and get answers. It's pretty fascinating to watch.

    Learn how fortune cookies are made at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie factory
    Have you ever wondered how fortune cookies are made? If so, you're in luck! The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in Chinatown has been making these lucky cookies by hand for generations and visitors can come and watch just how it's done. The factory is pretty tiny with just three people working, but they churn out those cookies so fast! It's pretty fascinating to watch and it smells divine! Fortune cookies are sold onsite and you can even order cookies with your own custom fortunes!

    Eat Dim sum in Chinatown
    Chinatown is a food lover's paradise. You don't need to walk far before you find yourself at a restaurant or a hole in the wall take out place. Make sure to stop for some authentic dim sum. You'll find something for everyone no matter what type of food you like.  

    Clam chowder in a bread bowl
    I've already mentioned sourdough above, and while it is super tasty on its own, the classic way to eat it is as a bread bowl filled with clam chowder. Now, I'm not a seafood person, but I do quite like this iconic San Francisco meal. You can find restaurants and cafes all over the city serving clam chowder in a bread bowl, but Boudin is my favorite.  

    Eat a giant sundae at Ghirardelli Square
    Ghirardelli chocolate may not be made in San Francisco anymore, but the city will always be home to the divine chocolate. Ghirardelli Square, near Fisherman's Wharf, was the original location of the chocolate factory. It's now home to a collection of shops and the original Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop. Here you'll find ice cream sundaes bigger than your head! Well, maybe not quite that big, but they are pretty large. While there are other Ghirardelli locations dotted around the city, nothing beats eating at the original. 

    Eat chocolate covered meal worms and crickets at Ferry Building
    Mealworms and Crickets? Yep - you read that correctly! Every time we visit the Ferry Building we like to stop by La Cocina for a pack of Don Bugito chocolate covered creepy crawlies. Not sure if eating insects is your thing? You're in luck because they offer samples before you buy. My kids like to take visitors here - partly to gross them out but mostly because the chocolate covered mealworms are actually really good.

    Line up for ice cream at Bi Rite Creamery
    Lining up is something of a San Francisco institution! If something's popular, people are more than happy to line up. One place that always has a line, especially on a sunny day, is Bi-Rite Ice Cream in the Mission District. This beloved ice cream store is located across the street from Dolores Park and attracts big crowds. But trust me, the ice cream is worth the wait! The flavors here go well beyond your basic chocolate and vanilla with quirky (and delicious) offerings such as balsamic strawberry (my favorite), black sesame, honey lavender, basil, and salted caramel. And of course, there are chocolate and vanilla too. Everything is handmade in store in small batches. 

    Mission burrito in the Mission
    While you're in the Mission District you can't miss out on eating the district's namesake food: the Mission burrito! This San Francisco take on a classic Mexican dish has long been popular with locals and tourists alike. You can find mission burritos all throughout San Francisco, but it's always more fun to try a food where it comes from so make sure to hit up a Mission District taqueria. My favorite is Tacqueria la Cumbre.

    Dare to try garlic ice cream
    Yes, you read that correctly! The Stinking Rose in North Beach is a garlic restaurant and one of their specialties is garlic ice cream. Now, this is definitely a little more touristy than the other foods I've listed, but it's fun to try. After eating a garlic heavy pasta meal I've got to say that I actually quite enjoyed the garlic ice cream. It's definitely not something I'd want to eat all the time but it was a fun novelty that you've got to try - unless you're a vampire. Then you should definitely steer clear of it!

    Play outside
    With a mild climate, San Francisco is the perfect place to spend all days outdoors - just don't forget to bring a jacket for when the fog rolls in! Many of our favorite things to do in San Francisco involve being outside.  
    People watch in Dolores Park
    When the weather is nice you'll find Dolores Park absolutely packed with people - no matter what day of the week it is! I've already shared the amazing playground in Dolores Park above, but the park itself is a great spot to spend a sunny day. Grab a picnic and some friends and spend some time in the sun people watching. You never know what you'll see here - like that time we saw people set up a giant slip and slide, oil themselves up and slide down the hilly park on a sunny Winter's day! With views over the city it's a great spot for visitors and local alike. You can see our visit here

    Take a ferry ride across the Bay
    Seeing the city from the water is always one of my favorite things to do, but that doesn't mean you have to hop aboard a tourist cruise. With a fleet of ferries servicing the Bay it's easy, and affordable, to take to the water. Living in Berkeley we often took the ferry between Oakland's Jack London Square and the Ferry Building in San Francisco. Along the way we'd have views over both cities, the Bay Bridge, Treasure Island and Yerba Buena Island, and the colorful container ships at the Port of Oakland. For the best views stand at the back of the ferry, but be prepared for the wind! The ferry goes pretty fast and it gets pretty windy outside. You can see one of our ferry trips here.

    Fly a kite in Crissy Field
    Crissy Field is a must see! Located right along the Bay just near the Golden Gate Bridge it's a popular spot with locals and tourists alike. The views over the Bay and Golden Gate Bridge are stunning and there's always something fun happening here. It can get pretty windy here so it's a great place to fly a kite. Or have a picnic. Or run around and play. Or take a hike. Or build a sandcastle. Or splash in the (cold) water. Or spot sea lions. It's a great spot for everything! Don't forget to brings layers! You can see one of our visits to Crissy Field here

    Walk up the Mosaic Staircases in the Sunset
    Being out and about in San Francisco inevitably means walking up and down some hills. When the hilly sidewalks feature mosaic staircases walking up and down them instantly becomes more fun! In the Sunset district you'll find two ornate mosaic staircases just a block from each other. There's the famous 16th Avenue Tiled Steps (which you can see here) and the lesser known, but just as spectacular Hidden Garden Steps (which you can see here). If you continue up the hill from the top of the 16th Avenue Tilde Steps you'll find another (not tiled) staircase that leads up to Grand View Park which I mentioned above under Amazing Views.

    Explore Japantown
    San Francisco is a pretty multi cultural city, and you'll find lots of neighborhoods here with a focus on one particular ethnic group. I've already shared San Francisco's most famous neighborhood, Chinatown, above, but there are plenty more including Japantown, Koreatown, the Mission District (which is traditionally Mexican), Russian Hill, and North Beach (San Francisco's Little Italy). Japantown is one of our favorite places to explore - mostly because the kids are obsessed with Japan! You'll find the Peace Plaza here which is home to a large pagoda and lots of Japanese restaurants, take out places and shops. Visiting during the Spring is extra special when the cherry blossoms are blooming. Cherry Blossom Festival was always one of our favorite festivals in San Francisco. 

    Take a boat trip on Stow Lake
    Whether you prefer to paddle or peddle, Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park has a boating experience for you! We rented a peddle boat a few years back and spent an afternoon exploring this little lake. Like much in Golden Gate Park, it feels a world away from the city. Bring a picnic lunch and make a day of it in the park. You can see our peddle boat experience here.  

    Play in the waves at Baker Beach
    San Francisco may be located along the coast, but its beaches aren't really known for being a great swimming spot. With cold water and strong currents, they're not the safest for swimmers, however they are absolutely stunning and a great place to spend a day. Baker Beach is one of my favorites because it has views over the Golden Gate Bridge. I mean, just look at that view! The northern end of Baker Beach is clothing optional, so just keep that in mind! We've never seen any nudies when we've visited. 

    Explore Yerba Buena Gardens
    I've already shared the playground at Yerba Buena Gardens, but there's so much more here to explore and keep kids occupied. The gardens start on Mission Street and include a large grassy esplanade, a butterfly garden, a large waterfall fountain dedicated to the memory of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, an upper terrace garden, the aforementioned playground areas and shops and cafes. It's a great place to spend a sunny afternoon. You can see more of Yerba Buena Gardens here.  

    Find Zen at the Japanese Tea Garden
    Located in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco's Japanese Tea Garden is a beautiful place to spend a few hours. The gardens are absolutely immaculate and peaceful. You'll find bridges to climb over, ponds full of koi fish, rocky paths, pagodas, a tea house, towering trees, statues galore and tasty Japanese treats. You can see our visit here

    Hike the Batteries to Bluffs trail
    The Presidio is full of hiking opportunities but my absolute favorite is the Batteries to Bluffs trail. This short but steep trail leads hikers past the historic ruins of Battery Crosby and down to Baker Beach. You'll be rewarded with stunning views over the Golden Gate Bridge pretty much the whole way down. Visit in the Spring or Summer and you'll find an abundance of wildflowers along the trail. You can see our visit here.

    Walk up and down those steep city streets
    This is something you can do pretty much anywhere in San Francisco! Choose a random spot on the map and you're sure to find a hill! You really can't appreciate just how steep some of the streets in San Francisco are until you walk up them - or down them. Trust me, sometimes walking down the steep hills is harder than walking up them! But that's all a part of visiting San Francisco, right? Some of my favorite memories involve walking up those streets. My favorites to take visitors to are Mason Street (walking up to or down from the Fairmont Hotel from Union Square), Filbert Street (heading up to Coit Tower) and Lombard Street. Your knees are definitely going to get a workout! 

    Meet the animals at San Francisco Zoo
    San Francisco Zoo is located right by Ocean Beach and is a great place to spend the day with little animal lovers. The zoo itself isn't overly large so you can easily see everything in one visit. You'll find giraffes, grizzly bears, flamingoes, lions, seals, polar bears and so much more. There is a petting zoo for little ones as well as various rides including a small train. You can see one of our visits to San Francisco Zoo here

    Take a walk along the waterfront
    Being located on a Bay and the ocean San Francisco has plenty of waterfront to explore. My favorite is to take a walk along the Embarcadero. We usually start near the Ferry Building or Exploratorium and head south towards Oracle Park (which, up until now I've been calling AT&T Park - I had no idea it changed!). This easy walk is nice and flat along the waterfront and will afford you with stunning views over the Bay, Bay Bridge, Oakland, Treasure Island and Yerba Buena Island. You'll find lots of places to stop and eat as well as playgrounds, parks and sculptures. I like to take a detour down the various wharves as well. This is a lovely walk at any time of day and if little legs get tired you can always hop on a street car or muni on the way back. 

    Become one with nature at San Francisco Botanical Gardens
    Another treasure in Golden Gate Park! San Francisco Botanical Gardens are a fabulous place to spend an afternoon. There are lots of trails to follow through the gardens as you make your way through various climates and environments. Kids will love the towering New Zealand Christmas trees with their dangling branches (perfect for hiding under) and the ponds where you'll spot turtles sunning themselves on rocks. The grove of giant redwoods is always my favorite. In the Summer you'll find pianos dotted around the gardens for visitors to play. You can see some of our visits here and here.

    Visit the bison in Golden Gate Park
    I've already mentioned quite a few things to do and see in Golden Gate Park, but there's so much more. I really should make a dedicated post one day. One of the quirkier things to see in Golden Gate Park is the local bison herd. Yes, you read that correctly - there are bison in Golden Gate Park. Now, not to fear, these giant bovines aren't just walking around the park, so you're not likely to come face to face with one out of the blue. You will come face to face with them, however, if you visit the Buffalo Paddock. This paddock has been home to a small herd of bison since the 1890s. 

    Go kayaking on the Bay
    I've already mentioned a few boat related activities here, but this one has to be one of my favorites. Kayaking is always such a fun family activity and it's a great way to explore the Bay. Now, keep in mind that the Bay is actually pretty deep and it's quite large, so this one's best for older kids. There are several kayak rental companies along the waterfront and whether you're an experienced kayaker or not (not, in our case!) they will have a tour experience just for you. We went kayaking around Mission Bay where the water was pretty calm and there was all sorts to see, including sea lions! 

    Take a walk above the streets at the Embarcadero Center
    The Embarcadero Center is made up of five interconnecting skyscrapers in San Francisco's downtown. One Embarcadero Center is located on, you guessed it, the Embarcadero right along the waterfront, with the other four buildings located behind it. While these buildings are mostly filled with offices, part of them is open to the public. I'm talking about the walkway that connects the buildings above the streets. These walkways vary in size, but all of them feature gardens, plenty of places to sit and eat, and views over the streets below. Given that this spot is popular with office workers taking their lunch break it's best to visit on a weekend. You can see our visit here.  

    Walk down the Filbert Steps
    Another hill! I've given you a couple of fairly flat options so here's another hill and yet more steps! The Filbert Steps lead from Coit Tower down to the Embarcadero. They're steep, narrow and winding, and what always amazes me is that they seem to be the only access point to many of the homes along them! There must be other access, but I like to think of the residents moving couches up and down here. Pivot! While you're walking down the Filbert Steps (or up, if you're crazy) keep an eye and an ear out for the local parrots that call this area home. 

    Watch hang gliders at Fort Funston
    This beach just south of the city is a popular spot with hang gliders, and you can see why if you look at that drop down to the beach! Also, it's generally pretty breezy here which helps, I guess. You can watch the hang gliders taking off from above the beach or watch them soaring overhead from down on teh sand. To get to the beach here you'll need to hike down a a steep sandy trail. On the beach you'll find the graffiti covered ruins of Fort Funston. You'll also likely find lots of dog walkers as this is a popular beach with dog owners.   

    Public Art
    You don't have to look far in San Francisco to find public art. It's everywhere! From the heart sculptures that dot the corners of Union Square, to the street art that decorates almost every blank wall you're sure to find something creative that makes you smile. Here's a look at some of my favorites.

    Check out the murals in the Mission District
    The Mission District is probably San Francisco's most decorated neighborhood when it comes to street art. It really is everywhere! Clarion Alley and Balmy Alley are two places where you'll find a wealth of street art in the Mission District. Both alley ways are covered in murals from the sidewalk all the way up. You can see Clarion Alley here and Balmy Alley here.

    Go on a heart sculpture treasure hunt
    Union Square is home to the famous heart sculptures that tourists from all over take pictures with, but it's not the only place where you'll find these colorful hearts. One permanent heart graces the north western corner of Union Square, but the hearts on the other three corners are constantly changing. This is because the hearts are created as part of a hospital fundraiser. Once they're auctioned off they're moved to their new homes and new hearts take their place. Over the years we've seen dozen of these hearts both in Union Square and in various locations around the city. Want to know where to find more? Check out these posts here and here.

    Play under Cupid's Span along the Embarcadero
    This iconic sculpture located along the waterfront was donated to the city by the owners of Gap back in 2002. At 60 foot long it's a sight to behold. Every time we've visited I've spotted kids climbing on the bow part of the sculpture, but that's a no no. Playing underneath the sculpture, however, is totally allowed - as long as you keep out of the garden beds. 

    Strike a pose with some street art
    I've already mentioned the Mission District and its street art above, but it's not the only neighborhood where you'll find decorated walls. Pretty much every San Francisco neighborhood has its street art, so no matter where you look you're sure to find an attention grabbing mural. Have fun and capture pics with street art as you make your way around the city. Interact with it for some fun snaps! The street art is ever evolving and changing so you never know just what you're going to find.

    Visit the Yoda fountain at Lucasfilm headquarters
    Did you know that Lucasfilm is located in the Bay Area? If you're a Star Wars fan I'm sure you already knew that. You can find their headquarters in the Presidio, and while the building itself is off limits to visitors, there is one little green guy who can be viewed by the public. I'm talking about Yoda. The Yoda fountain to be precise. This fountain stands outside the entrance to Lucasfilm and is a popular stop for Star Wars fans.

    Explore the Art Deco murals inside Coit Tower
    Ok, so these murals are actually inside a building, but they are some of my favorites so I just had to include them. Painted in the 1930s, these murals depict life in California at the time. They're really interesting to look at and the amount of detail is astounding. The murals can be found in the base of Coit Tower which is free to enter (taking the elevator to the top of the tower requires a ticket).  

    Dance with a Keith Haring sculpture at Moscone Center
    This vibrant sculpture by artist Keith Haring can be found outside Moscone Center on the corner of Howard and 3rd Streets. It's an iconic piece created in 1989 and has been bringing smiles to passersby ever since it was installed by the city in 2001. Trust me, you'll want to break into dance when you see it! 

    San Francisco has a wealth of history and while much of it was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fires, it can be seen in the city's Victorian architecture, grand buildings and museums. Here are some of my favorite historic sites.  

    Step back to the Spanish era at Mission Dolores
    San Francisco's European history begins with the construction of California's 6th Mission run by Spanish Franciscan monks. Founded in 1776 as Misión San Francisco de Asis, but more commonly known as Mission Dolores, this is the oldest intact building in all of San Francisco. Visitors can explore the original Mission building which features a chapel roof painted with local Ohlone designs, the adjoining cemetery and the 1918 Mission Dolores Basilica. There is also a small museum which showcases artifacts from the Mission era. You can learn more here.  

    Sutro Baths
    Sutro Baths is probably San Francisco's most famous ruin. Located along the coastline at Land's End, Sutro Baths was once a majestic glass, iron and wood structure houses seven pools, a concert hall, a museum, and at one point even an ice skating rink. It was originally built in the 1890s but was destroyed by fire in 1966. All that remains today are the foundations, a few small walls, staircases that lead to nowhere and a few of the baths. It's a pretty popular spot with tourists and locals alike, especially for photoshoots. You can see our visit here

    Imagine life on a submarine aboard the USS Pampanito
    San Francisco has a strong maritime history, so it's no surprise that several of its historical sites include boats, ships and submarines. USS Pampanito is a former World War 2 submarine that can be found docked near Fisherman's Wharf. It is open to the public for a small fee and it's really interesting to explore. My kids loved seeing all the day to day logistics of living aboard a submarine such as the rows of bunkbeds. You can learn more about USS Pampanito here.

    Explore the historic ships at Hyde Street Wharf
    More boats! Hyde Street Pier is located just near Fisherman's Wharf and is a part of San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. That means that while you check out the historic boats on display the kids can also earn themselves a National Parks junior ranger badge! Hyde Street Pier was once part of Highway 101 and was the launching point for car ferries to the East Bay before the Bay Bridge was built. The pier is now home to many historical ships that visitors can explore. You'll find steam schooners, a steam tug boat and a paddle wheel tug boat among others. The ships date from the 1880s through to the 1910s. You can learn more here.

    Explore San Francisco's military history at the Presidio
    The Presidio is known to most people as just a large park. And it is a large park, but it's also so much more. The Presidio has been a fortified location since 1776 when the Spanish settled the area. It was then passed on to Mexico and then eventually the United States, where it remained a military installation until 1994. Most of the buildings that you'll find in the Presidio are former US military buildings with a mix of soldier's homes and grand buildings. Itching to learn a little history while you're in the Presidio? You can visit the Park Archives & Records Center, Society of California Pioneers, Fort Point National Historic Site and many more museums here. Or you can play on a historic canon!

    Explore historic batteries and forts along the coast
    San Francisco is home to many historic military batteries. Most of these are now graffiti covered ruins, but they are still pretty interesting to visit. My favorites are Battery Crosby which can be found along the Batteries to Bluffs trail and has stunning views over the Golden Gate Bridge, Fort Funston which is located right on the beach south of the city, and Battery Spencer which is located just across the Golden Gate Bridge and has the best views of the bridge ever. My kids love climbing and pretending to do parkour on the battery ruins, but keep in mind that they are concrete and tend to have large drops below them. There is often broken glass too, so keep an eye out for that. 

    Not up to exploring San Francisco on your own? You're in luck because the city has plenty of tour options available. Because we lived in the area we didn't tend to take tours, however we did go on a few over the years and they were definitely worth it. 

    Take a tuk tuk tour of the city
    Ok, this was the best tour ever! We took a tuk tuk tour with Dylan's Tours a few years back and it was such a fun way to travel around the city. We were able to choose the locations that we wanted to see and it was such a novelty riding around in a tuk tuk. With the open sides it did get a little chilly but there were blankets provided so we were fine. You can see our tuk tuk tour here.

    Hop on a Hop on Hop off bus
    The classic! Hop on hop off buses have been a great way to explore cities for a long time. I've never actually been on one anywhere else, but we took a few of them over the years in San Francisco when we had visitors and they were a great way to see a lot of the city in a short amount of time. If you take a hop on hop off bus across the Golden Gate Bridge be prepared for lots of wind if you sit upstairs!

    Ride a classic street car along Embracadero
    Ok, so it's not actually a tour, but in my opinion one of the best ways to see a city is to take public transport. Buses are pretty boring, but hopping aboard a vintage street car or cable car is pretty fun. I've already shared about riding the cable cars above, so let's look at the street cars. San Francisco's street car fleet is made up of vintage street cars from around the world. They run along the Embarcadero and up Market Street to the Castro neighborhood. Hop aboard a street car at either end and you'll take in a lot of the city as you ride. 


    Whew... that was a lot! If you've made it this far, thanks for reading. I hope you'll find this a handy resource whether you're just visiting San Francisco or if you live in the Bay Area.

    For more Bay Area fun with kids make sure to check out these posts:

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