Source: Megan Barber, Curbed SF
Known around the world as a first-rate destination, San Francisco has carved out an enviable reputation for its steep rolling hills, pastel-painted Victorians, cable cars, and iconic Golden Gate Bridge. But the city is also a mecca for families, with a laundry list of kid-friendly attractions that go way beyond the cliched tourist destinations (we’re looking at you, Alcatraz).
From historic theaters to museums with dozens of hands-on experiences, San Francisco offers both locals and visitors a never-ending list of things to do. And while there’s plenty of activities if rain forces your family inside―like the de Young Museum and the Exploratorium―the city really shines when the clouds clear and you can play outside.
Gorgeous beaches will entertain kids for hours, and the 1,000-acre Golden Gate Park and the Presidio national park offer families the opportunity to rowboats, play in tree forts, and explore innovative playgrounds. Perhaps the best part of the city is how easy it is to navigate; most kid-friendly spots are in a concentrated area with access to public transportation.
So without further ado, here are the 27 best places in San Francisco to visit with kids.
1) Bay Area Discovery Museum
557 McReynolds Rd, Sausalito, CA 94965 415.339.3900
Yes, you have to cross the Golden Gate Bridge to get to this children’s museum, but we promise it’s worth the trip.
Located on the bay near Sausalito, the Bay Area Discovery Museum boasts a plethora of hands-on, indoor/outdoor experiences for kids aged 6 months to 10 years.
Don’t miss the Lookout Cove, a 2.5-acre outdoor area with tide pools, gravel pits, fishing boats, shipwrecks, caves, and spider web installations.
2) Bernal Heights Park
10 Bernal Heights Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94110
If you’re looking for fun in Bernal Heights, head to this grassy hill park. An easy 30-minute walk up a dirt path will earn you 360-degree views of the bay, downtown, the Golden Gate Bridge, the East Bay, and San Bruno mountain.
There’s also a rope swing at the top of the hill and a dog park for Fido. Pro tip: after the park, stroll down Cortland Avenue for fun bakeries and kid-friendly restaurants like Bernal Star.
3) California Academy of Sciences
55 Music Concourse Dr, San Francisco, CA 94118 415.379.8000
As one of the largest museums of natural history in the world, the California Academy of Sciences has something for everyone and is well-located in Golden Gate Park.
Don’t miss a fantastic aquarium, planetarium, and a domed, four-story rainforest that boasts animals in three distinct ecosystems.
4) Castro Theatre
429 Castro St, San Francisco, CA 94114 415.864.5000
Adults love the Castro for its stylish shops, popular bars, and bustling restaurants, but there’s plenty to do for families too.
Catch a movie at the historic Castro Theater—built-in 1922—where sing-alongs and movie theater classics often play, or head to the adorable playground at the Eureka Valley Recreation Center.
5) Children’s Creativity Museum
221 4th St, San Francisco, CA 94103 415.820.3320
The Children’s Creativity Museum is a hands-on space that allows children to imagine and create in a multimedia environment.
Kids can design their own clay motion animations, pretend to be a rock star in the music studio, or invent the new machine. There’s something for all ages here.
6) City Lights Bookstore
261 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133 415.362.8193
Since 1953, City Lights Bookstore has been an icon in the literary world of San Francisco, the first all-paperback bookstore in the U.S. and the birthplace of the Beat movement.
But there’s also a great children’s book section, especially if you’re inclined to introduce your children to books that specialize in social justice and activism.
7) Coit Tower
1 Telegraph Hill Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94133 415.362.0808
This 210-foot white concrete tower—built in 1933—nestled into the top of Pioneer Park might be on a lot of tourist must-do lists, but trust us when we say your kids will be happy here too.
The tower is accessible by elevator and you’ll get amazing 360-degree views of the city. Pro tip: check out the murals inside the tower’s base, which depict California life during the Depression.
8) de Young Museum
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr, San Francisco, CA 94118 415.750.3600
This fine arts museum in Golden Gate Park has plenty to entertain adults, but kids can also have a grand time here with a bit of effort.
Visit the warrior masks upstairs, explore the sculpture garden outside, and take the elevator to the museum’s free observation tower for views of the city.
The museum also boasts an artist studio where kids can talk to an artist-in-residence and holds free Saturday classes with guided tours and art studio activities.
9) Dolores Park Playground
Dolores St & 19th St, San Francisco, CA 94114
This relatively new playground in between the Castro and Mission has a loyal following of families who come for the 38-foot mega-slide, plethora of swings, bouldering rocks, and wooden boats.
Throw in the first-rate city views and its often sunny weather, and this playground is a sure bet.
Pier 15, San Francisco, CA 94111 415.528.4444
Head to the Embaracdero and experience this ode to all things science.
Hands-on exhibits allow kids to step inside a tornado, count the rings on a 300-year-old tree, and even build their own electrical circuits. Adults will love this place too.