San Francisco with Kids: 12 Family-Friendly Activities

Marshall’s Beach, San Francisco, United States

San Francisco is a wonderful city full of life, color, and history. There is no shortage of fun things to do in San Francisco. From riding the trolley to heading back to your childhood of watching “Full House,” there are plenty of classic things to do in San Francisco. Luckily, this town is full of charm and fun, so you’ll never be bored as you meander the streets of this beautiful city.

Whether you’re looking for a San Francisco weekend getaway or a slower-paced week-long adventure, there is something for everyone. Perhaps you can combine it with seeing some of the National Parks.  

No matter your schedule, you can make it memorable by adding in some of the top things to do in San Francisco.

Closest Airport to San Francisco

Conveniently, the San Francisco International Airport is only about 30 minutes from the main San Francisco area. All major airlines fly into this popular airport, making getting there pretty easy.

Once you are there, grab a ride share (Uber, Lyft) into town, or make sure you have a reservation to rent your own car.

Is San Francisco a Good Place for Kids?

Sometimes a city can have so much “adult” stuff. Shopping, old buildings, schedules… San Francisco has all of this. But it also has so many fun things to do that kids will enjoy. So Yes, San Francisco is a great place for kids to visit, and they will have a great time. 

That said, locals have mentioned that the amount of homeless has soared recently. I’m not saying homeless=bad, but I know people have different comfort levels with activities their children may see on the streets. So just something to keep in mind.

What Should I Bring to San Francisco?

Here are a few things we were glad we brought, as well as things we ended up buying there!

  • Raincoat- I wouldn’t say it’s excessively rainy in San Francisco, but we were glad we brought raincoats as it did rain a bit. We visited in February when about a quarter of the month is wet. In summer, it’s pretty dry.
  • Hat- I bought a hat while I was there. It was helpful both when it was raining and on those beautiful sunny days.
  • Sweatshirt- Temperatures are pretty mild year-round in San Francisco. That said, it can get chilly, especially at night. This is another item I bought while I was there, but save some money by packing it ahead.
  • Walking Shoes- You can Uber everywhere, but some places we actually found were way faster to walk. Between getting around the city and dealing with traffic, taking the car can take a while. It’s sometimes only worth the drive if you’re going far.
  • Camera- Of course, you’ll probably have your phone, but if you have an inner photographer in you, make sure to bring that camera. There are a lot of great things to photograph in San Francisco, from the iconic bridge to the twists and turns of Lombard Street.

Editor’s tip: Save time getting your USA eSIM before landing if you are traveling from abroad.

Where to Stay in San Francisco

There is no shortage of hotels in San Francisco. Depending on if you prioritize location or luxury, here are a few that work great for the family.

The Wharf Inn

Affordability and location

This is not about luxury. This place is older and it’s just 2.5 stars. If you are not planning on spending much time at the hotel, this makes it one of the most affordable options. The staff was great and the location at Fisherman’s Wharf is what won us over in the end. 

The Fairmont Heritage Place

Luxury and Location. 

This place is located at Ghiradelli Square, right near Fisherman’s Wharf. The hotel is beautiful inside and it can accommodate a big family with multi-room options in one unit.

The Alton

Affordability and location. 

Located at Fisherman’s Wharf, this hotel is quite nice considering it’s one of the more affordable hotels in San Francisco. You might get lucky with a room that has a view of Alcatraz Island. Even if you don’t, it’s only a 10-minute walk to the pier to hop on the ferry and see The Rock up close.


Affordability and Location. 

If you’re wanting to stay near the popular Union Square, the Handlery makes a great option. It’s nice, but still reasonably priced. Plus it has an outdoor pool the kids will love.

The Four Seasons

Luxury and Location. 

Located at Union Square. Its reputation precedes it. Four Seasons takes no shortcuts. A family of up to 4 people can get by in one room here and enjoy the many amenities that come with it. 

And now to plan your long weekend getaway in San Francisco with kids:

You can of course visit the classics like the zoo and aquarium, but this is a list of things unique to San Francisco to see while you visit. 

Top Things to Do in San Francisco With Kids

1- Ride the Trolley 

Did you know that the trolley in San Francisco is the last manually-operated cable car system in the world? Yep, there are still drivers that you can watch push and pull the lever to get the car going. Plus, the trolley is a classic piece of San Francisco that you have to jump on. 

This fun San Francisco experience will set you back just a couple of dollars per person. You can pay in cash when you board, or buy your ticket ahead of time. 

Find trolley schedules and tickets here.

2- Ride Bikes Over the Golden Gate Bridge

Bike Rental at 610 Old Mason St

I’ll note right away that if your kids are too little to ride a bike, you can also bring your stroller to the pedestrian side of the bridge and walk over the bridge!

Stop at a bike rental place and grab a few bikes for the morning (or evening). Try Sports Basement, where they have kids’ bikes, road bikes, or even e-bikes available. You can even rent a bike trailer. 

After you are geared up with your bike and helmet, head toward the bridge for a magical ride. Being up close to the structure and pedaling with the water below is quite an experience. 

If you’ve got an e-bike (or you’re all pretty fit on a regular bike), continue up the long hill when you get to the other side of the bridge. It will take you to an incredible lookout point of the Golden Gate Bridge.

3- Taste the Fresh Air at Golden Gate Beach

Now it’s not a Miami-type of beach that’s giant, but Golden Gate Beach is a cool little beach area across from Crissy Field. A bike path runs right along, making it a great stop if you’ve completed the bridge ride (#2). 

Golden Gate Beach is a beautiful, fun area where the kids can run around and play with a gorgeous water and beach background. The beach area delivers a great view of the bridge any time of day.  Plus it’s free to visit, making it the perfect way to keep your travel budget down.

4- Stroll Through the Japanese Tea Garden 

75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr

Another great outdoor, fresh-air option is to head to Golden Gate Park where you’ll find the Japanese Tea Garden. 

I hadn’t been to a Japanese Tea Garden before, so I was blown away by what I saw! Incredibly manicured plants, ponds, statues, bridges, structures… it was no ordinary garden!

The Japanese Tea Garden is a fun family-friendly thing to do in San Francisco. The kids will love finding the different features of the garden, flowers, and plants. There are fun photo ops (those wood people pictures that you put your face in) and you can even enjoy tea at the tea house.

You can purchase tickets in advance here.

Bonus: If you’d like more nature and gardens, head to the Botanic Gardens, also located in Golden Gate Park.

5- Dig into History at Alcatraz

Ferry access at Pier 33

Got a history fan in the family? You can take a ferry out to Alcatraz, the former home of a high-security prison for people such as Al Capone.

The tour includes an audio tour, which you can pick up there or you can download the app once you are on the island and use your earbuds. It’s narrated by one of the prison’s former officers. The tour is full of stories of life on the island as an inmate, but also as the people and families who worked and lived on the island.

While the audio tour is more geared toward adults, kids will still enjoy the ferry ride over, the beautiful grounds, and even getting to walk through an old prison. Yes, Alcatraz is recommended for kids, even by the National Parks Service.

The tour lasts roughly an hour and is self-paced.

Grab your ferry and tour tickets here.

6- Sweeten Up at Ghiradelli Square 

900 N Point St

Candy Candy Candy! But this is candy the adults will like, too.

What better thing to do in San Francisco with kids than head to Ghiradelli Square and eat a bunch of chocolate?

Ghiradelli Square is not far from Fisherman’s Wharf. Head here at the end of a long, fun-filled day when the lights have lit up the plaza and a large “Ghiradelli” sign welcomes you with its lights. 

Then head inside one of the entrances to discover that there are way more flavors and varieties of Ghiradelli than you ever knew.

Make sure to buy lots of chocolate and take it home and hold your own chocolate tasting to help you remember your visit to the magical Ghiradelli Square.

7- Visit the Walt Disney Family Museum

104 Montgomery St

Do your kids like Disney? I thought so.

Take a walk through Disney history at the Walt Disney Family Museum. Here you’ll find galleries that take you from the beginning of Walt Disney’s journey to the big success he’s known for today. 

From sketches on paper to the creation of huge theme parks, kids and adults will enjoy the familiarity of this Disney stop.

8- Gaze at the Palace of Fine Arts

3601 Lyon St

This stop is quick, but it’s quite spectacular! This was a little gem we didn’t know about, but our Uber driver thought we’d enjoy it. And we did! This is the perfect thing to do in San Francisco with kids for a little fresh air in a grand place.

The Palace of Fine Arts was originally built in 1915 to display art. The original palace was destroyed in the ’60s and only the exhibit hall structure remains. 

It’s a grand site to walk into and you can still enjoy the tall dome and giant columns that still stand today. And it’s all outdoors to walk through, so kids can enjoy the fresh air and run around (as long as there aren’t too many people, of course).

9- Get a Little Dizzy on Lombard Street

Views from Lombard Street

Talk about a tight turn! Lombard Street is famous for the 8 tight turns it takes going down over the course of one block. 

You can drive to Lombard Street in your car or take a taxi if you’d like to experience the turns. Otherwise, there is a nice staircase that goes up along the crazy section where you can watch the cars drive down like marbles in a track: back, and forth. 

10- Have a Fun Food Experience in San Francisco

San Francisco is not short on great food and sometimes it’s fun to walk around and sample food in different places.  Here are a few areas to head to for great eats:

  • Fisherman’s Wharf– filled with great seafood and great scenery. Fisherman’s Wharf is right on the water and full of both food stalls to order from and restaurants to sit down at.

San Francisco’s Chinatown

  • Chinatown– find something unique in Chinatown, like Magical Ice Cream or Dragon’s Breath. If nothing else, it’s really fun to watch these unique items be made.
  • Little Italy– for delicious, authentic Italian food, you’ll need to head to Little Italy. Full of pasta, pizza, and more. Plus, don’t miss the great desserts and pastries.

Read also: Best foodie destinations in the USA

11- View Sea Lions Basking in the Sun on Pier 39

Pier 39

Pier 39

Head to Pier 39 where you’ll most likely see plenty of sea lions taking their afternoon sunbath. The water has plenty of little floating docks where these giants take up residence. San Francisco comes to life for the kids as they watch sea lions sunbathe, swim, and interact with each other.

12- Visit the Painted Ladies

Adults will remember growing up watching Full House, so this stop will seem familiar.  There is a row of houses on the east side of Alamo Square Park that sit on a hill opposite a large grassy park.  This row is referred to as The Painted Ladies.  It’s not necessarily because of the colors, but because the styles of the houses are Queen Ann Victorian style. 

They are painted pastel and have beautiful balconies and porches, beautiful enough for a postcard.  Which is actually how they acquired another nickname: Postcard Row.

You can admire the homes, but you can’t tour them.  They are inhabited by locals lucky enough to have snagged them.

Wrapping up: Top Things to Do in San Francisco with Kids

The 12 things above would make plenty to do for a long weekend in San Francisco with kids, friends, or family. I highly suggest riding a bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, as this is one of the most memorable experiences. 

Then, just fill your itinerary with the history of Alcatraz, the sweetness of chocolate, and discovering flavors of China and Italy in town.  

Regardless of what you choose, this city on the bay will be a fun experience for everyone.

Keep reading:

Megan is a mom of 4 kids and they all love traveling!  They’ve been traveling since they got married and figured out how to keep going once kids came into the picture.  They try to travel as much as they can, which means keeping to a lower budget.  Megan loves writing about family-friendly places and experiences to keep those bonds strong, discover the world, and learn about places far and near.