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May 9, 2022
San Francisco is the perfect city for your next family vacation.

Top 10 San Francisco Family Activities

It's time to round up the kids and head for San Francisco, the perfect 49 square miles for your next family vacation. Looking for kid-friendly culture? We've got it. Outdoor space to play? There's plenty of it. Educational experiences so fun that the kids won't even realize they're learning? We basically invented it.

Here are 10 family-friendly activities we recommend for your next San Francisco family vacation.

1. Walt Disney Family Museum

Don't let the title fool you;  this isn't Disneyland (although there is a miniature replica of the park in the museum).Parents will love browsing memorabilia collected by the Disney family and reminiscing about the life of Walt Disney, his films, and Disneyland. While the grown-ups are learning about the evolution of Mickey, little ones can participate in the museum's Little Open Studio to enjoy story time and family-friendly activities geared towards children seven and under. Also, check the calendar for special film screenings (including those locked away in the infamous Disney vault).


2. Exploratorium

Named by CNN as the #1 Spot for Kids in the country, the Exploratorium encourages guests of all ages to touch, explore and play with 600 exhibits. Investigate the living world; experiment with thoughts, feelings and behavior; explore the local environment; and much more. All this science making you hungry? The Exploratorium houses a cafe and a waterfront restaurant, both serving seasonal and sustainable cuisine prepared by local chefs. All ages are welcome. Strollers are also available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

3. PIER 39

A family vacation isn't complete without a trip to PIER 39 on Fisherman's Wharf. Visit the resident sea lions who mysteriously took over the docks after the 1989 earthquake. Watch magicians, jugglers, comedians and more during daily street performer shows. Run down oversized musical stairs — all for free! Other activities for the little kids (or big ones) include Aquarium of the Bay, Players Sports Grill & Arcade, Museum of 3D Illusions, Magowan's Infinite Mirror Maze, the San Francisco Carousel, a classic caricature stand and Frequent Flyers (think bungee cords + giant trampoline).


4. Children's Creativity Museum

Exposing children to creativity is one of the most valuable things you can do for a child. The Children's Creativity Museum goes beyond the conventional environment of play by inspiring kids to imagine, create and share in their multimedia environment. With exhibits including an Animation Studio, Imagination Lab, Music Studio and even a Cloud Gallery, the museum is packed with workshops and hands-on activities suitable for kids of all ages.

5. Bay Cruise and Water Taxis

Exploring San Francisco Bay is nothing short of magical. While there are many ways to stretch your sea legs, the most popular for families is a classic Bay Cruise. Get up close and personal with the city skyline, the Bay Bridge, and Alcatraz Island (to get on the Island, take Alcatraz Cruises). If you're lucky you may even spot some sea life. If that doesn't take your breath away, riding Blue & Gold Fleet or Red and White Fleet to sail smoothly under the Golden Gate Bridge certainly will.

Blue & Gold Fleet Tickets Red and White Fleet Tickets

6. Chinatown

Experience the bright colors and fascinating facades of the largest Chinatown outside of Asia, as well as the oldest Chinatown in North America. Explore the golden dragons and emerald roofs of Grant Avenue and Stockton Street, then follow the scent of fresh fortune cookies to the famed Fortune Cookie Factory on Ross Alley to witness first-hand how the fortune actually makes it into the cookie.

7. Golden Gate Park

San Francisco sets the bar high when it comes to parks. Nearly every neighborhood has one. The grandest of all is Golden Gate Park, which stretches from the Haight to the Pacific Ocean. With more than 1,000 acres of plush greenery, it's also home to The Koret Children's Quarter (a merry-go-round and playground), the de Young Museum, Conservatory of Flowers, California Academy of Sciences (see more details below), Stow Lake, and a resident herd of buffalo. There's plenty of room to spread out for a picnic, go on a hunt for waterfalls, or polish a few soccer moves in an open meadow.

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8. California Academy of Sciences

Want to earn cool points with the kids? They're guaranteed to smile at this aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum, rain forest, and home to 40,000 live animals — all under one living roof. Set time aside for a penguin feeding, dive show, or swamp talk with the Academy's celebrity albino alligator, Claude. All that knowledge is sure to work up an appetite, which makes the casual Academy Cafe ideal for a mid-afternoon break.


9. Historic Streetcar Ride

A cross between a cable car and one of the sleek light rail vehicles that run underground along Market Street, San Franciso's fleet of historic streetcars, known as the F Line, runs aboveground on Market Street between the Castro and Fisherman's Wharf. To learn the full story behind these historic cars, visit the free San Francisco Railway Museum. There are great photo ops, simple exhibits that explain the history of the fleet, and a gift shop with unique items and memorabilia. The whole experience is right on track for little train buffs.

10. Bay Area Discovery Museum

Located in Sausalito, this children’s museum offers the latest experiences for early learning in a fun, vibrant atmosphere. Located on 7.5 acres of National Parkland at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Area Discovery Museum features seven exhibition spaces and more than six daily drop-in programs for children six months of age to 10 years.

Honorable Mentions

Feel like one of the San Francisco Giants with an Oracle Park Tour. Grab your cardboard and ride down the Seward Street Slides. Step inside a real-life stagecoach at the Wells Fargo History Museum.


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Photo by Kevin Krejci / CC BY

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