The best things to do in San Francisco with kids

These family-friendly activities in San Francisco will delight children and impress even the most beleaguered parents
Butterfly Joint
Photograph: Yelp/ Erin F.
By Lauren Sheber |
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San Francisco has more dogs than children, the urban legend goes. And while it is true that SF has one of the lowest rates of kids of all the major U.S. cities, it’s safe to say that Bay Area tots are an uncommonly lucky bunch. The city is awash in family-friendly activities and hang-outs. Whether you’re looking for mind-bending museums, high-energy playspaces to blow off steam, or engaging learning experiences, there’s a fitting kid haven in San Francisco.

Things to do in SF with kids

1
Exploratorium
Museums, Science and technology

Exploratorium

icon-location-pin North Beach

This eye-popping art and science museum mesmerizes kids and adults alike. The museum touts over 500 exhibits, including hands-on activities, science experiments, and interactive galleries incorporating sight, touch, memory, and perception. It’s even a worthwhile spot for toddlers, as many of the exhibits involve light, bubbles, and sound. Whether you’re ogling rare plants, baffling displays of physics, or awe-inspiring art (a sculpture made from 100,000 toothpicks?!), it’s easy to spend a full day here.

2
Hamilton Pool
Things to do

Hamilton Recreation Center

icon-location-pin Pacific Heights

San Francisco has no shortage of pools, indoor and out. But Hamilton Rec is a kid favorite for one reason: it’s the only pool in the city with a water slide—two twisty, corkscrew chutes, in fact. The swimming area recently received a multi-million-dollar facelift and it shows in the clean, well-appointed facilities. The center includes a 75-foot-long heated pool for stronger swimmers, as well as a heated shallow pool for doggie paddlers and splashers. Swimming classes are available for tots and up.

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3
Butterfly Joint
Photograph: Yelp/ Erin F.
Kids, Classes and workshops

Butterfly Joint

icon-location-pin Outer Richmond

A woodworking shop for children sounds like an unlikely concept, but they’re in good hands with Butterfly Joint owner Danny Montoya, a credentialed early-childhood educator who knows his way around a workbench. The Outer Richmond workshop offers classes and camps for kids as young as 2. The tykes clock in with punch cards, don mini work aprons, and get to work on projects like name boards, keepsake boxes, tables, stools, wooden spoons, and more. Rest assured, there are no power tools involved. Advanced students (ages 10 and up) learn how to use chisels, hammers, and dovetail saws.

4
House of Air
Photograph: Courtesy House of Air
Attractions, Theme parks

House of Air

icon-location-pin Presidio

This is one afternoon excursion guaranteed to tire your kid out. House of Air is a trampoline gym, but it rightfully calls itself an “adrenaline park.” The sprawling, high-ceilinged space includes a trampoline court, where dozens of connected trampolines are surrounded by cushy angled walls; a trampoline dodgeball court with friendly pick-up games (and a built-in ref); rock climbing; foam pits; and more. Kids aged 3 to 6 have access to a mini trampoline area specifically reserved for little jumpers.

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5
SFJAZZ Center
Photograph: Henrik Kam

SFJAZZ Center

icon-location-pin Hayes Valley

Once a month, this veritable temple of jazz hosts an 11am matinee for budding jazz cats. The shows run half the length of a typical show and are heavy on audience participation. But unlike typically twee kiddie sing-alongs, these performers are serious musicians. The line-up might include the Marcus Shelby Orchestra, the famed bass player’s eponymous ensemble; soulful jazz singer Paula West; or blue crooner Pamela Rose and a cadre of fellow singers. Beyond the music, the performers use storytelling techniques and history to engage young audiences. Each one-hour show includes a live performance and Q&A segment.

6
Urban Putt
Photograph: Cesar Rubio
Things to do

Urban Putt

icon-location-pin Mission

Owner Steve Fox describes his 14-hole putt-putt installed in a historic Victorian building as “part Jules Verne, part Rube Goldberg,” which makes sense, once you see it. It’s kooky, colorful, and animatronic, designed by an array of engineers, roboticists, welders, artists, and industrial designers. The course spans from SF-themed holes—the Painted Ladies, the TransAmerica Building, even a shaky “earthquake” obstacle—to an ethereal undersea section complete with a watery soundscape and gauzy aquatic life. Upstairs, there’s a casual cafe equipped with arcade games.

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7
The Coop
Photograph: Yelp/ Ellen H.
Kids, Playgrounds

The Coop

icon-location-pin South San Francisco

The Coop calls itself a playspace, but that’s underselling it: It’s more like a carnival-meets-playground-meets-toy store. The 3,000-square-foot space includes a huge ball pit for wriggling around, an electronic dance floor, a bouncy house, a rope-climbing tube, a twisty slide, and a slew of dress-up garb, books, and toys. It’s a popular spot for open play, as well as kid birthday parties, in which parents can choose from dozens of themes. The best part, though, is the welcome amenities for grown-ups. While your kiddos bounce, climb, and dance their hearts out, parents can kick back with an impressive magazine selection, a full cappuccino bar, and free wifi.

8
Castro Theatre
Photograph: Hans Kwiotek
Movie theaters, Independent

Castro Theatre

icon-location-pin The Castro

This historic theater in the heart of the Castro reserves various Saturday and Sunday showings each month for modern kid classics, from Moana to Mulan. The family matinees make for good, unfussy fun. But the main attraction is the movie sing-alongs. Hosted by Sara Moore and Laurie Bushman, the productions start with a costume contest, in which kids of all ages strut across the stage. (Goody bags for all!) Then the lights dim and the movie rolls, complete with on-screen lyrics and bouncing icon for young readers to follow along. 

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9
Pirate Supply Store
Photograph courtesy of the Pirate Supply Store
Shopping, Gifts and stationery

Pirate Supply Store

icon-location-pin Mission Dolores

The Pirate Supply Store and King Carl’s Emporium are the dual retail fronts of nonprofit youth writing centers 826 Valencia. Both offer loads of kitschy, tongue-in-cheek fun for kids and their parents. At the Pirate Supply Store in the Mission, there are treasures hidden behind every door and within every drawer. You’ll find a wealth of ironic pirate gear and paraphernalia, including skull and crossbones die, peg leg sizing charts (plus, peg leg oil, for conditioning said prosthetic), eye patches, hooks, jailer keys, gold coins, and more.

10
Children’s Creativity Museum
Photograph: Courtesy Children’s Creativity Museum
Kids, Exhibitions

Children's Creativity Museum

icon-location-pin Yerba Buena

Imagination and creativity rules here—rather than a rowdy playspace, the high-tech museum is thoughtfully designed to encourage making and inventing. In the Animation Lab, kids knead clay into characters and create their own stop-motion movies. In the Tech Lab, future Googlers learn how to write code by programming robots to play music and solve puzzles. And kids can star in their own music videos—complete with costumes and green screen technology—in the Music Studio. Outside, take a spin on the ornate LeRoy King Carousel, a storied relic originally constructed in 1906. The ride has twirled in this Yerba Buena location since 1998.

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