Sometimes visiting a new city can be a little bit overwhelming. Between trying to decide what to do, where to eat, and where to stay, it can be information overload. Throw a few kids into the mix and … can you say “hot mess express” haha. We are here to take the stress away and show you how to visit San Francisco with kids and have it be a total blast! Our Ultimate Things You Have to do in San Francisco with Kids has been personally tested and Becks approved! We cover the quintessential things that every little first-timer needs to experience in San Francisco as well as some few hidden gems that are off the beaten track. We will also give you our top tips for San Francisco with kids, like where to stay, where to eat and what to skip in our San Francisco with Kids Tips post!
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The Ultimate Things You Have to do in San Francisco with Kids
1. Go to the Golden Gate Cookie Factory in Chinatown
56 Ross Aly, San Francisco, CA 94108
Chinatown is so much fun and takes on a life of its own! When visiting Chinatown with kids, take your time, try some food, visit the markets and do not forget to visit the Golden Gate Cookie Factory! This little hole in the wall is more of a short and sweet experience than a factory but is fun, free, and the littles love it! See how fortune cookies are made, get some free samples, and if you want to pay a few dollars, your little one can write their own fortune, and see their very own personalized fortune cookie made. So fun! Side note – did you know that the fortune cookie was actually invented in Chinatown in San Francisco in 1918? Who knew!
2. Get the best view of the Golden Gate Bridge and Play at Baker Beach
1504 Pershing Drive, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco, CA 94129
Okay, full disclosure. The North end of Baker Beach is officially classified as a clothing optional beach. However, before you quickly click NEXT, hear us out. We went to Baker beach not knowing it was a nudie beach because – hello I don’t need to see someone else’s saggy and baggy – and the only people on the beach were a bunch of cute families. When we found out it was a nude beach after we had visited, we asked every tour guide and almost every driver if they had ever seen anyone without a bathing suit or clothing on the beach – the answer was a resounding no. However, just in case you show up and get a view you weren’t expecting, you can’t say you weren’t warned haha.
Moving on from the nasty… This was one of my personal favorite things. The water is obviously WAY too cold to swim in (and dangerous) but the beach is gorgeous and this was by far my favorite view of the Golden Gate Bridge. There might be some views that are more quintessential or more spectacular, but I just loved escaping the crowds and seeing it from the beach while experiencing the sounds of the waves and playing in the soft sand. Bring a lunch, a jacket, a blanket, and some sand toys (Beckham was content with a red solo cup that I had brought from the hotel room) and have a ball!
3. Visit the Palace of Fine Arts and Feed the Ducks
3301 Lyon St, San Francisco, CA 94123
This beautiful little park nestled into the city was built for the 1915 worlds fair, and the Palace of Fine Arts is a stunning backdrop for a picnic or to let the little ones play and feed the ducks. The magnificent structure was built just after the devastating earthquake of 1906 and put San Francisco on the world map! We stopped here three times on the last trip because the ducks were so entertaining and Beckham loved it. Also, hello – FREE! We brought a bag of cheerios each time and let Becks go wild. It is the perfect mix of beautiful architecture and history for the adults and outdoor fun for the kids!
4. Go to the Cable Car Museum and Watch the Still Working Cables in Action!
1201 Mason St, San Francisco, CA 94108
Opened in 1974 this vintage museum is FREE and is surprisingly awesome! With two different levels, visitors get to see how the cable cars still work today and get to watch massive gears in action. For us, visiting was WAY more enjoyable than actually riding on the cable cars themselves. Beckham could have stayed here for hours. All in all, it is a short visit and is worth every second.
5. Ride Down Lombard Street
Lombard St, San Francisco, CA 94133
Your kids will get an absolute kick going down this steep and curvy road! Lined with darling homes and beautiful flowers, it is hard to believe that people actually live on the most crooked street in the world. It is something that is so fun and different! Try to get here earlier in the day because by midday it is crowded with other tourists. Our advice is to ride down it once and then stop at the bottom to watch some other cars go down and snap a picture. Another super fun option is to walk all of the way to the top.
6. Visit Boudin Bakery for some Sourdough Bread and a Quick Free Tour
Pier 39 Concourse #5-Q, San Francisco, CA 94133
Boudin has been a San Fransician staple since 1849 and is there anything that screams San Fransico more than some yummy sourdough bread? This spot is a great place to grab a quick bite (skip the full-service restaurant and stay in the cafe downstairs – trust us, we speak from experience) and then head to the easy and free bakery museum. There are several interactive exhibits for kids and learning about how sourdough bread is remarkably cool. I don’t know why but watching the microscope and seeing the live cultures of the mother dough was so awesome haha. You can also take a quiz to see what type of bread you are – I am rye thank you very much! This quick stop can help kids appreciate all that goes into making and producing the food they eat.
7. Make Like the Locals Do and Go “Off the Grid”
2 Marina Blvd, San Francisco
Food meets super fun at this super hipster local hangout that happens at different locations throughout the week. The most famous is at Fort Mason on Friday nights. The best food trucks in San Francisco roundup for dancing and food! There are fire pits, loud music, and some seriously delicious eats! Get there early in the night when it’s more kid-friendly (while we were there they were hosting kids dance-off competition – SO FUN!) and make the rounds. Your arteries might not thank you, but your taste buds certainly will! The best doughnut I have ever had – IN. MY. LIFE. was here.
8. Visit the Sea Lions and ride the Carousel at Pier 39
The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94133
The Pier 39 Carousel
This might be one of the more touristy things on this list but touristy or not, it is super fun! Get ready to shell out some dough for the carousel, $5.00 USD for 1 ride or $10.00 USD for 3, but in our opinion, it is worth it and it is a treat for the kids especially if it is following a long day of site seeing. The carousel is double-decker and like San Francisco itself, has some really fun and interesting characters. The kids can ride anything from a panda bear to a squid or a rocking seashell.
Visiting the Sea Lions
These stinky and bizarre animals are a delight to watch and have made Pier 39 their own after an earthquake in the late 1990s. They bark, play, fight, and sun themselves and have become somewhat of celebrities in their own right. There are several places to view them at Pier 39 and our favorite spot is up the stairs over by the carousel. There are fewer crowds, less stink, and the higher vantage point is the perfect spot to observe.
9. Visit Alcatraz for Some Scary Good History (pun intended)
Departure Point at Pier 33
This is another spot that deserves a disclosure since visiting one of the most notorious prisons in the United States might not seem like the best place to take children. Beckham LOVES spooky things and was not scared in the least. He went through the whole audio tour (which is excellent by the way) and was engaged the whole time. In fact, Alcatraz ended up being one of his most favorite things we did.
However, Tanner (my brother who is now in his 20’s) visited when he was a young child and was scared to death. Alcatraz is way cool, but it is a bit spooky and depending on your child, could be too much. When we visited this last time there were many children who all seemed to be enjoying themselves but it should be noted that the audio tour doesn’t shy away from some of the more sensational events that took place. Also, the head mask of the men who escaped in 1962 is enough to give me nightmares. I am not kidding, haha. Have you seen those things – YIKES!
Tips for Taking Your Kids to Alcatraz
If you do decide to take your kids (which we think you should) prepare them beforehand and take the time to explain what it was. Another option is to make sure your audio tour is matched up to your child’s and when a topic comes up that might be on the scary side, you can just remove your child’s headset for a time. Also, we suggest having a stroller if your child is young enough. You can push the stroller on and off the ferry boat and besides the big hill up to the penitentiary and the initial stairs, Alcatraz is oddly stroller friendly. It was so nice to have Beckham sit in his stroller while I pushed him around as we both listened to the audio guide.
If you end up going, booking in advance is strongly recommended, you can book through the National Park Service here.
10. Book a Kid-Friendly City Tour!
Last but not least! Booking a Kid-Friendly City Tour is one of our top recommendations for things to do with kids in San Fransico. A good tour company can make all of the difference and can take something that seems mildly interesting and give it life! While we were in San Francisco we had the pleasure of going out with Tim from Dylan’s Tours 3 separate private tours and had a blast each time! All of Dylan’s Tour Guides are locals and they know the city inside and out. In fact, several things on our list came as recommendations from our guide. We were able to take what we consider to be the BEST San Francisco private tour! It was so fun, and was in a tuk-tuk around the city which was really unique and different! It was a total highlight. Instead of having to be stuck in a car, we were able to have an open-air vehicle that allowed us to experience the site and sounds of the streets.
The best part about Dylan’s is that they are so kid-friendly and do such a great job of including children on the tour. Our guide Tim was often quizzing Beckham about fun little facts about the city and explaining things to Beckham on his level. Tim found out Beck’s interests pretty quickly at the beginning (all things trains and cars) and made sure to stop at specific spots that would interest our group. This isn’t a tour where they just stop somewhere because it was on the tour route.
You should also know that they offer electric bike tours for people 16 and older. We did one of these as well (although Beckham could not participate) and it was a laugh a minute! We got to see some of the epic San Francisco sights up close and personal AND we didn’t have to do all of the pedaling up those steep streets of San Fran!
It should also be noted that if booking a private tour is not in your budget Dylan’s has several options for public tours that are a bit more economical and really awesome! If you are going to San Francisco with your family, booking a tour with Dylan’s Tours is a must! If you end up booking a tour with Dylan’s (which you should if you are going to San Francisco) then use the promo code OURFAMILYPASSPORT for 10% off!
For more San Fran fun, see our other blog posts and products here!
San Francisco Scavenger Hunt