San Francisco is known for great sourdough bread, delicious chocolate, scenic bay views and whimsical trolley cars. We were excite to experience this culture-rich city and make some memories with our young children during our summer visit. We found plenty of San Francisco family activities just along the port boardwalk! Here are some of our top picks for experiencing San Francisco with kids.
Take a Ferry to the Port of San Francisco
You can always drive to San Francisco but it’s so much more fun to take a ferry! We took our three kiddos to the city on the ferry and they enjoyed the windy ocean views from the ferry deck. For a family of 5 the cost of a ferry trip adds up but we enjoyed the experience. Of course the kids always want to buy a snack from the ferry concession stand too!
Interact with Science at the Exploratorium
Our first stop on our tour of San Francisco family activities was at the Exploratorium kids’ science museum. We were surprised to find a large diversity of exhibits exploring the sciences of color, sound, electronics, anatomy, social behaviors, physics and more! The most eye-catching exhibit featured a panoramic creation called Wild Card made entirely of cardboard.
Wild Card is a detailed collection of objects, vehicles and buildings made entirely from cardboard.
My little guy discovered this cave-like room complete with cardboard crystals.
This unique Exploratorium mirror exhibit allows you to look into a design of tiny mirrors to see a myriad of eyes — all your own — looking back at you.
My kids had fun playing with the sand on these spinning disks and creating circular patterns.
Many of the exhibits were designed for older kids and explore scientific principles and how things work. You would need to visit the Exploratorium several times to see everything and you could easily spend several minutes checking out each of the hundreds of interactive exhibits and activities.
Stroll Down Pier 39
After our Exploratorium visit we took a walk to Pier 39 and window shopped and enjoyed clam chowder in a bread bowl at Chowders. Pier 39 is a festive touring destination in San Francisco with shops that sell all kinds of collectibles and gift ideas. Our Joovy Caboose Ultralight stroller made it very easy to take our little kids down the busy pier boardwalk; this compact stroller is great for family travel! We picked out San Francisco t-shirts for a very reasonable price and the girls selected cotton candy as their special treat.
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Enjoy Clam Chowder in a Bread Bowl
A visit to San Francisco must be complete with a bowl of famed sourdough clam chowder. Chowders is a great place for lunch with kids. The clam chowder was delicious and the sourdough bread bowls were fresh and soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. Chowders on Pier 39 is known for their homemade clam chowder and fresh sourdough bread which is also used to bread the fish and chips. We enjoyed the breaded butterfly shrimp which was delicious and the perfect combination of crispy and not too greasy.
Explore the Deep at the SF Aquarium of the Bay
San Francisco’s Aquarium of the Bay is home to more than 20,000 marine animals and each exhibit allows visitors to learn more about the species native to the San Francisco Bay. The Under the Bay exhibit features 300 feet of crystal clear tunnels allowing visitors to view marine animals up close.
Touch the Bay touchpools allow you to interact with sharks, sting rays and sea stars and feel their unique textures. At the interactive Bay Lab Station, naturalists lead an ongoing schedule of interactions with land animals and visitors of all ages can explore sensory activities that range from microscopes to puzzles.
Travel via San Francisco Trolley
If you are looking to travel around the city of San Francisco, you can take one of the many trolleys or cable cars easily found in the city. A trolley ride would be a fun and memorable activity and easy way for families with kids to view the city.
Visit Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park is another great stop for San Francisco family activities. Golden Gate Park features 1,017 acres of gardens, playgrounds, lakes, trails, and picnic areas. Park highlights include the Conservatory of Flowers which houses 1,700 species of aquatic and tropical plants, as well as the San Francisco Botanical Garden which conserves more than 8,000 varieties of plants from around the world in 55 acres of landscaped gardens and open spaces. Kids will love exploring the Great Meadow and viewing the waterfowl pond which is home to egrets and ducks. We didn’t have a chance to visit Golden Gate Park this trip but we would love to explore this city park on our next visit to San Francisco.
Stop for Ice Cream
You can stop for ice cream on practically every corner in San Francisco. And who doesn’t love enjoying an ice cream cone while exploring the city parks and waterfront piers? Along Pier 39 alone there were at least 3 ice cream shops. The only question is which ice cream flavor will you choose?
Take a Tour of Alcatraz
Alcatraz tours are another popular San Francisco tourist destination. We will probably add this to our destination list of San Francisco family activities when our kids are a bit older. Once a military prison, Alcatraz Island is a national park located more than mile off the San Francisco coast in the bay and it is the site of the oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast. Visitors can view the island’s unique bay views, natural rock pools and seabird colonies.
Don’t Leave without a T-Shirt
Of course a visit to San Francisco must include buying a t-shirt! My girls had no trouble picking out their favorite shirt and we had a lot of fun browsing the local shops on our walk around town. Just like every city, San Francisco has its unique features and local attractions that make the city a fun family travel destination and probably also an interesting place to live. What is your favorite thing about San Francisco?
Hi, I’m Katie! I live with my husband and 3 kids in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. I love Jesus, coffee, creative projects, taking photos and traveling. I’ve previously worked as a web designer, journalist and barista. I hope you enjoy our creative projects and family adventures!
Thanks for the great info. We will be vacationing there soon.
Also, if you have adventurous kids (food-wise), The Stinking Rose is amazing. They’re a garlic restaurant so everything they make has a ton of garlic in it. It sounds overwhelming but it’s really incredibly delicious.
The Exploratorium looks like a ton of fun, even without kids!
We have been to San Francisco a few times. There is so much to do and see. I would love to return again as we have not seen but a part of the city. Loved the Golden Gate Park, Pier 39, boat rides, trolley rides and more .. San Fran… Read more »
That clam chowder looks to die for. I may just have to visit San Francisco to try that out!
Visited San Francisco many years ago. A highlight for me was a trip to Alcatraz. Of course, that was before I had a child. Wouldn’t be terribly kid-friendly. But a great place nonetheless. Also enjoyed the pier, the aquarium and some awesome clam chowder!
This looks like an awesome trip! I love the Exploratorium. We have a Joovy Caboose stroller too and we love it!!