The Walt Disney Family Museum
Photograph: Scott FongThe Walt Disney Family Museum

The 25 best things to do in San Francisco with kids

The best things to do in San Francisco with kids are educational and engaging; not to mention exciting for adults as well

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San Francisco may have more dogs than children, but that doesn’t mean it is a city void of kid-friendly activities — in fact, the city offers a huge amount of things to do with children that will leave them engaged, laughing, and learning. 

The city is full of mind-bending museums, from the sprawling California Academy of Sciences to the more hands-on Exploratorium. If they need to blow off steam, there are endless options for high-energy playspaces and playgrounds, including a brand-new and stunning one at the Presidio Tunnel Tops. There is so much for families to enjoy, so grab your tots and have a blast with our 25 favorite things to do in San Francisco with kids.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in San Francisco

Best things to do in San Francisco with kids

  • Museums
  • Science and technology
  • North Beach
  • price 2 of 4

This eye-popping art and science museum mesmerizes kids and adults alike, and even toddlers will get a kick out of exhibits involving light, bubbles, and sound The museum touts over 500 exhibits, including hands-on activities, science experiments, and interactive galleries incorporating sight, touch, memory, and perception. Whether ogling rare plants, baffling physics displays, or awe-inspiring art (a sculpture made from 100,000 toothpicks?!), it's easy to spend the whole day here.

A project 30 years in the making, this new federal parkland opened in 2022, boasting 14 acres of space to play along the bay and take in stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge. The best part for the kids is the Outpost playscape located at the base of Tunnel Tops near Crissy Field. Suitable for toddlers to preteens, this nature-inspired playground is divided into three areas, the Woodlands, Coastal Bluff, and Dunes, each with different features that are sure to entertain.

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  • Kids
  • Classes and workshops
  • Outer Richmond
  • price 2 of 4

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. 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 to use chisels, hammers, and dovetail saws.

  • Attractions
  • Theme parks
  • Presidio
  • price 2 of 4

This is a one-afternoon excursion guaranteed to tire your kid out. House of Air is technically a trampoline gym, but if you ask them, they're an adrenaline park. The sprawling, high-ceilinged space includes a trampoline court, where dozens of connected trampolines are surrounded by cushy angled walls and a trampoline dodgeball court with friendly pick-up games (and a built-in ref) - not to mention a rock climbing wall and foam pits. Kids aged 3 to 6 have access to a mini trampoline area reserved explicitly for little jumpers.

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  • Museums
  • Special interest
  • Fisherman's Wharf

Local legend Edward Galland Zelinsky founded this museum as a showcase for his unparalleled collection of antique oddities, namely coin-operated mechanical musical instruments and antique arcade machines. This place is a blast for kids of all ages and a lesson in San Francisco amusement park history. The assortment spans more than 300 items, including coin-operated pianos, antique slot machines, hand-cranked music boxes, salvaged bits of local history, a steam-powered motorcycle, and various vintage arcade games. The arcades are all in working condition, and most cost only $.25 or $.50 to play. For kids who need to blow off steam modern-style, there are a handful of video games and skee ball in the back.

A list of things for kids to do in SF wouldn't be complete without the beloved local zoo. Located in the southwestern corner of the city, between Lake Merced and the Pacific Ocean, the 100-acre zoo is open 365 days a year and is home to more than 2,000 exotic, endangered, and rescued animals. Kids will delight in seeing lions, chimpanzees, giraffes, gorillas, bears, and more. 

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  • Movie theaters
  • Independent
  • The Castro
  • price 2 of 4

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. The excitement dials up to 11 on weekends when movie musical sing-alongs are on the schedule. 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 a bouncing icon for young readers to follow along. 

  • Kids
  • Exhibitions
  • Yerba Buena
  • price 1 of 4

Imagination and creativity rules at the Children's Creativity Museum. Rather than a rowdy playspace, this high-tech museum is thoughtfully designed to encourage invention. 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. In the Music Studio, kids can star in their own music videos—complete with costumes and green screen technology. Outside, take a spin on the ornate LeRoy King Carousel, a storied relic constructed in 1906 which has been twirling in this Yerba Buena location since 1998.

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Located just over the Golden Gate Bridge in Sausalito, this isn't your average children's museum. The museum shimmers with views of the bridge and the bay as your kids explore the 7.5 acres of playful learning experiences. Exhibits include a soft-floored "Tot Spot" for the littlest visitors, "How Things Work" (where kids can experience everyday items cut in half), an art studio, and a large outdoor climbing area, among others. 

  • Museums
  • Science and technology
  • Golden Gate Park
  • price 2 of 4

Considered the world’s greenest museum, the Academy combines an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum, and scientific research program under one roof. The complex is anchored by a four-story rainforest dome home to flitting butterflies and birds and a living roof featuring some 1.7 million native plant species. In between is the Steinhart Aquarium (which boasts the world’s deepest living coral reef display), an Amazonian flooded forest, the all-digital Morrison Planetarium, a live penguin habitat, an African Hall with lifesize dioramas of lions and gazelles, and the swampy home of Claude the albino alligator.

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Undoubtedly one of the best beaches in San Francisco, Baker Beach stretches a mile below the cliffs on the Presidio's western shoreline. Let the kids run wild and dig through the sand as you take in spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Pacific Ocean, the Marin Headlands, and Lands End.

  • Museums
  • Movies and TV
  • Presidio
  • price 2 of 4

The Walt Disney Family Museum is dedicated to the life of Walt Disney and the beloved artistic empire he inspired. Inside, permanent exhibits document Disney’s innovations in sound and animation and provide a fascinating look at the career of the man behind the mouse, including the audio-enhanced tale of how Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was almost abandoned. Regularly rotating exhibits feature the work of revered animators and artistic collaborations, some of which, like Disney’s project with Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali, was never completed. Stop by the Fantasia-themed theater to catch a Disney classic six days a week.

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Golden Gate Park has more than 1,000 acres to explore, with everything from the Bison Paddock to the California Academy of Sciences and the Japanese Tea Garden. But kids will want to check out the Koret Children's Quarter the most. Tucked away in the southeast corner, the playground opened in 1888 in what is thought to be the nation's very first public playground. The playground underwent a major renovation and reopened in 2007, still featuring the popular concrete slides. Don't miss the 1914 Herschell-Spillman Company Carousel.

One of the best hikes for grown-ups and kids alike, this trail at the rocky northwestern corner of San Francisco has stunning views for its entire duration. The trail is flat and easy, ideal for little legs, and has fascinating stops along the way: views of old shipwrecks, the Sutro Baths, and a Lookout Visitor Center.

 

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  • Shopping
  • Gifts and stationery
  • Mission Dolores
  • price 1 of 4

The Pirate Supply Store and King Carl’s Emporium are the dual retail fronts of the nonprofit youth writing center, 826 Valencia. Both offer loads of kitschy, tongue-in-cheek fun for kids and their parents. At the Pirate Supply Store in the Mission, treasures are hidden behind every door and inside every drawer. 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 will have both you and your singing sea shanties in no time.

There likely isn't a more iconic San Francisco activity than riding a Cable Car up and down the city's massive hills. Invented nearly 150 years ago and a National Historic Landmark, the cars will delight kids. Options include a start at Powell and Market, which continues to the Fisherman's Wharf area, and another begins at California and Market and continues to Van Ness Avenue.

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  • Nightlife
  • Hayes Valley
  • price 4 of 4

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. Past shows have been headlined by the likes of the Marcus Shelby Orchestra, the famed bass player’s eponymous ensemble, soulful jazz singer Paula West, and 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.

Located on Pier 39, the San Francisco Bay Aquarium of the Bay is home to more than 20,000 local sea creatures. See a Sevengill shark, moon jellies, and bat ray’s wing. Educator-led animal feedings and interactions often take place throughout the day. Once done visiting, head outside to enjoy viewing Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge from the outdoor decks.

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  • Museums
  • Corona Heights

After a $9 million renovation in 2018, the science and nature museum in Corona Heights has been revitalized. The new and improved space features a high-tech STEM lab, science and ceramics studios, and fully redesigned exhibit spaces, including several kid-friendly wonders like the toddler treehouse. Check out the new kinetic sculpture in the lobby—graceful steel, aluminum, and wood mobile that mimics a bird in flight— as well as the sprawling electric model railroad (featuring replicas of real Bay Area trains), and a live animal exhibit that contains coyotes, foxes, reptiles, and sea creatures.

Set in the middle of Golden Gate Park, this peaceful, man-made lake has entertained families since it was completed in 1893. Stroll along the waterfront, or rent a bike to explore the park. The most popular activity here is renting one of the motorboats, rowboats, or pedal boats to take out onto the water. After your adventure, stop by the cafe for a glass of wine or a beer — it also serves a classic menu with hamburgers, hot dogs, salads, and more.
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If your kid loved the cable car ride, make sure to stop by this hidden gem of a museum that tells the history of cable cars in San Francisco from their origins in 1873 to the present day. Visitors can see various mechanical devices, tracks, and cables — in addition to historical photos and three antique cable cars from the 1870s. It's not all about history, though — you can go out on the subterranean walkway that lets you see the moving cable that runs the cars today.

  • Things to do
  • 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. Urban Putt is 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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23. Boat Cruise

If you want to thrill your kids, taking them out onto the Bay is a surefire way to do it. Take in the city's most iconic landmarks — including the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and Fisherman's Wharf — from the water. There are many different companies and themes to choose from, be it a sunset sail or a whale-watching excursion. Some of our favorites include: Blue & Gold Fleet (if you're looking for an overview tour of SF), Adventure Cat (for a smaller group setting), or San Franciso Whale Tours (if animal spotting is what you're after.)

It's well known that Dolores Park is a haven for the grown-ups of San Francisco — but it's also one of the best spots for kids in the city, thanks to the incredible onsite playground. The park has existed since 1907, boasting unparalleled views of the city, giant palm trees, and plenty of green space to sprawl out. The playground was upgraded in early 2022, offering a natural stone climbing wall, cascading slide, a play mound, and a footbridge.

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  • Things to do
  • Pacific Heights
  • price 1 of 4

San Francisco has no shortage of pools, indoors 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, no less. 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, a heated shallow pool for doggie paddlers and splashers. Swimming classes are available for tots and up.

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