Our Favorite San Francisco Activities For Kids

Our Favorite San Francisco Activities For Kids“Art! Art-art! Art! Art-art-art!”

“Art-art we’re hungry art-art!”

For most of the train ride back to the East Bay after our first day in downtown San Francisco Jasper and Aurora barked like sea lions out of sheer excitement from their experiences in the city.

I’m not sure our fellow passengers were quite as excited.

We love San Francisco. Kat and I have visited on our own and now twice with the kids. There are no shortage of activities but here’s a rundown of our favorite fun things to do in San Francisco with kids.

Fun Things To Do With Kids In San Francisco

Golden Gate Park

This enormous park on the west side of San Francisco sprawls over 1,000 acres and includes gardens, open fields, museums, a terrific playground, and even a carousel.

San Francisco Kids Activities

While we’ve enjoyed the gardens and museums previously, we concentrated our efforts on the playground and carousel on our most recent visit.

San Francisco Kids Activities
California Academy of Sciences in 2011.

This part of the park is called the Koret Children’s Quarter and it’s definitely worth a few hours if you’re in the city with kids.

There are several play structures of varying heights and complexity, a huge rope-climbing web-like tower, and even a vintage concrete slide cast into the hillside that you careen down on a scrap of cardboard.

In addition to the towers and slides there’s a sandy “sea” between the winding walkways where kids and dig and play.

The walkways themselves, and the surface beneath the play structures are all made of a really springy rubber material. The playground is handicap accessible.

Finally there’s an area with large, colorful sculptures of sea creatures great for climbing and hiding behind.

San Francisco Kids Activities

Adjacent to the playground area is a large indoor carousel. Aurora and Jasper particularly liked this carousel because of the variety of animals they could choose to ride. There was a tiger, zebra, rooster, dog, cat, and giraffe among many others.

San Francisco Kids Activities

When planning a trip to Golden Gate Park don’t underestimate the size of the park. Things may look close to one another on the map, but even walking between the museums and the playground is a bit of a hike with little ones. Use Google or Bing Maps to approximate walking times.

There is also apparently a free shuttle on weekends and holidays, though we haven’t used it ourselves.

Pier 39

Pier 39 is on the touristy side but it’s a San Francisco icon and a lot of fun regardless. I still remember spending time (and a lot of quarters) in the arcade there when I was there as a kid 25 or so years ago.

Two highlights for us on our recent trip were the sea lions and carousel. We also got a kick out of the giant Christmas tree, especially since we won’t have one of our own this year!

San Francisco Kids Activities

The sea lions have vastly decreased in number in recent years, but a few hardy creatures still seem intent on making these floating docks their home. The kids love watching them flop around, bark, and slide into and out of the water.

The carousel here is small but our kids haven’t yet met a carousel they haven’t liked so it was a hit. Jasper was particularly jazzed about being able to ride on a dragon.

San Francisco Kids Activities

Another fun attraction at Pier 39 is the Aquarium of the Bay. We didn’t visit this time, but loved it during our last trip in 2011, when the kids were just 4 months old.

San Francisco Kids Activities


Cable Car Ride

We got lucky with this one.

Like every other tourist in the city we wanted to take a ride on the cable car. But once we started looking for a spot to hop on, we realized there were huge lines and all the cars were full.

We tried waiting patiently but J & A weren’t so pleased with the slow progression of things.

San Francisco Kids Activities

When one very full car finally rumbled up the hill the conductor saw us with the two less-than-pleased younglings and took pity. He pulled us out of line, onto the car, and in a flash and we were off again.

In retrospect we probably should have refused and let the folks in front of us on, but it happened fast. Sorry to those we cut!!

In any case, after getting over some initial fear from the noise and steep incline the kids really enjoyed the ride and particularly the views down the cross streets at each intersection.

Tip: check out the cable car museum at 1201 Mason Street. It’s a very cool explanation of how the system works.

Ice Cream at Ghirardelli Square

The giant sundaes at the Ghirardelli Square ice cream shop are decadent. We got one brownie sundae and one with delicious crumbled chocolate chip cookies.

The sundaes really are enormous. We couldn’t quite finish the two that we ordered between the four of us.

There’s also a big “river” of flowing chocolate in the back of the shop that the kids really liked. As an added bonus the adjoining store gives free samples of delicious Ghirardelli chocolate squares.

There are of course many more attractions worth your time in San Francisco, but these are some of our favorites. Let us know your own suggestions in the comments!

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San Francisco With Kids Links

Golden Gate Park Children’s Playground

California Academy of Sciences

Pier 39

Aquarium of the Bay

San Francisco Cable Car Museum

Ghirardelli Square

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