12 Things To Do With Family In San Francisco, California

Last Updated on February 15, 2024 by Emily Johnson


San Francisco is one of America’s most vibrant and iconic cities, offering something for everyone in the family. From world-class museums and historic sites to beautiful parks and awesome food, it’s a destination that will create lifelong memories. The mild climate means outdoor time nearly year-round to explore the city’s unique neighborhoods, each with their own personality.

When planning your San Francisco family vacation, be sure to include a mix of educational activities and pure fun. This list covers top attractions from Fisherman’s Wharf to Golden Gate Park for families with kids of all ages.

Exploring Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39


Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 are classic San Francisco, attracting over 10 million visitors every year. This lively waterfront area offers entertainment, food, and amazing views across the bay. Stroll down Pier 39 for buskers, street performers, souvenir shops and to watch the playful colony of resident sea lions at K-Dock.

Stop for a tasty treat like fresh crab, clam chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl, or Ghirardelli chocolate. With the sights, sounds and smells, Fisherman’s Wharf delivers a quintessential San Francisco experience the whole family will love.

Part of what makes Pier 39 so entertaining are the sea lions that took up residence on K-Dock. Get up close views of these cute and noisy marine mammals as the large colony lounges on floating docks. Observe sea lion behavior like territorial sparring matches between males. Listen to their various barks and snorts as the auditorium docks provide front-row entertainment.

Ride a Cable Car


A must for any first-time visitor, cable cars are a fun and affordable way to explore San Francisco’s famously steep streets. These moving National Historic Landmarks climb roads too steep for regular vehicles, offering scenic views of the bay and city. Jump aboard at the Powell & Market or Hyde & Beach turnarounds, holding on tight for the bumpy uphill ride.

Have the kids count how many times you pass over hills and valleys before arriving at Fisherman’s Wharf. Powell & Hyde is the longest single cable car journey at nearly 2 miles with breezy views across Russian Hill and North Beach.

Wax Museum at Fisherman’s Wharf


This kid-friendly wax museum makes for a lively indoor diversion from Fisherman’s Wharf crowds. Meet hyper-realistic statues of celebrities, world leaders, and cultural icons sculpted in wax. Snap selfies with realistic replicas of tech legends, music stars, YouTube celebrities and more.

Let the kids pose with historical figures like Abraham Lincoln. Chamber of Horrors adds a fright factor with classic characters from thriller, monster and horror flicks. An engaging experience blending education, pop culture and silly fun.

Ride on the F-Line Streetcar


The F-Line streetcars passing Fisherman’s Wharf look like trolleys of yesteryear but run along one of America’s most modern public transit lines. Ride the historic railcars along Market Street and The Embarcadero for fun family views of downtown. Look inside at handstraps, plush velvet seats and hardwood detailing that made San Franciscans fall in love with rail travel over a century ago.

See working turnaround loops still crisscrossing the city. Have your phone ready to snap photos of the iconic streetcars in front of landmarks like the Ferry Building clock tower. A little history lesson to enjoy on the ride.

Hyde Street Pier Historic Ships


Within the Maritime National Historic Park, Hyde Street Pier showcases historic ships in their original berths. Climb aboard floating museums like the 1890 ship Balclutha and the 1891 scow schooner Alma. Look into shipmate’s cramped quarters to appreciate merchant marine life handling cargo on long Pacific crossings into the 20th century.

Enjoy ship-to-shore views of the bay, Alcatraz, Golden Gate Bridge and hilly cityscape. Event days let families peek behind the scenes, bringing ships alive with reenactments of sailing songs, crews in period dress and demonstrations of maritime skills.

Musée Mécanique


This free-entry arcade museum near Fisherman’s Wharf houses one of the world’s largest privately owned collections of antique penny arcade machines. Musée Mécanique holds over 300 restored mechanical amusements from the early 20th century.

Let kids experience coin-operated predecessors of pinball, mechanical fortune tellers, early 3D photo viewers, and other vintage novelties from the penny arcade’s golden era. Hand-cranked mutoscopes even display flipbook moving picture shorts from 1900s. An old-timey, whimsical treat kids can engage with hands-on, capturing childhood wonder of bygone eras.

Crissy Field Recreational Area


Stretching for miles along San Francisco’s northern shore, Crissy Field reveals the Presidio and Golden Gate Bridge from new angles. Wander historic airfield runways closed after the 1930s. Kids can race human-powered Pushcarts down gentle hills or rent bikes perfect for leisurely cycling trails. The restored 1932 beach offers bay swimming in summer, flanked by grass lawns ideal for picnics.

Young families enjoy East Beach’s calmer tidal lagoon, perfect for launching toy boats. From kite-flying festivals to criticized art exhibits, Crissy Field hosts year-round cultural events. Pack a lunch or pick up snacks at the Warming Hut cafe right on beach sands.

Bike the Golden Gate Bridge


Few family adventures compare to biking the iconic Golden Gate Bridge spanning majestic San Francisco Bay. The new protected bike path barrier separates cyclists from traffic offering gorgeous non-stop views on America’s most photographed suspension bridge. Ride towards Marin County for glimpses of Alcatraz and Angel Island before crossing back over to San Francisco’s Vista Point.

Local bike rental outfits supply bikes for all ages, child seats and trailers for an effortless Bridge tour. Bring a jacket for changeable weather and ride early for smaller crowds. Later, recount the 1.7 mile journey at the Bridge Pavilion’s exhibits.

The Walt Disney Family Museum


Walt Disney left an unparalleled mark on 20th century entertainment and pop culture. At the Walt Disney Family Museum in the Presidio, glimpse inside the man behind the mouse through early drawings, conceptual art, music, historical artifacts and insights into Disney’s family heritage. Interactive galleries narrate Walt’s life journey, from small town Missouri to building an imaginative studio empire in California.

Kids can try early animation techniques like flipbooks, enjoy light shows choreographed to music from classic films or sit at Walt’s office desk. Temporary exhibits showcase Walt Disney’s contemporaries adding media history context.

California Academy of Sciences


One of San Francisco’s most visited museums spans an aquarium, planetarium, rainforest dome and natural history exhibits under a living garden roof. Interactive Academy displays nurture curiosity about animals, space, weather, geology and conservation. Attend daily presentations on topics like arctic wildlife, nocturnal creatures, or cooking insect recipes.

Penguins, an albino alligator and the Philippine coral reef draw crowds at the Steinhart Aquarium. Morrison Planetarium’s digital projection system transports through space while Claude the albino American alligator captivates fans. An expansion adds a 3-story domed rainforest environment to explore.

Japanese Tea Garden


Tucked into San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, the historic Japanese Tea Garden provides graceful tranquility amid bustling city life. Stroll under cherry trees, arched bridges, lanterns and pagodas straight from Japan’s Edo period. Kids enjoy tossing coins into the wishes pond or spotting giant colorful carp swimming below lily pads.

Sip traditional matcha tea alongside fortune cookies or snack on mochi rice cakes at the outdoor tea house. With origami paper and crayons from attendants, try folding paper cranes for good luck. One of Golden Gate Park’s most cherished corners distills Japanese horticulture into 5 serene acres.

Golden Gate Park Bison


Not just a great lawn for picnics or weekend sporting events, sprawling Golden Gate Park offers family fun around every corner. Say hello to the shaggy bison herd grazing grassy fields across from the Children’s Playground. Descendants of bison gifted over a century ago, they roam enclosures modeled after the American Great Plains.

Spy the powerful creatures munching grass, wallowing in dust for skin conditioning and dozing under oak trees. New calves are born each spring. Download the mobile app to earn junior ranger badges with fun bison facts.

Conclusion


From historic sights to hands-on science, iconic landmarks and urban green spaces, San Francisco delivers dynamic experiences for families. Enjoy classic attractions like riding a cable car before exploring the city’s vibrant neighborhoods. Discover new exhibits unlocking creativity and innovation at world-class museums. Spend time together out in nature biking, beachcombing or admiring Golden Gate views.

The mild climate invites activity nearly year-round. Build happy memories strolling Pier 39 sea lion docks, learning maritime history at Hyde Street Pier, innovating at the Exploratorium or admiring Edo-era landscapes. With amazing restaurants around every corner nourishing multicultural food adventures, San Francisco promises valuable bonding time exploring one of America’s favorite cities.

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