When exploring San Francisco with family, it’s important to choose activities everyone will enjoy doing together. Some delightfully fun things to do in San Francisco with kids also appeal to caregivers and adults.
Outdoor destinations like parks and zoos motivate kids to explore the natural world by observing plants and animals. Visiting museums with interactive learning experiences help kids learn complex topics by breaking them into bite-sized pieces. And some activities like racing down a slide or riding a carousel are just plain fun. Who wouldn’t want to do that?
If you’re on the hunt for kid-friendly activities in the city by the Bay, check out these seven fun things to do in San Francisco with kids.
Koret Children’s Quarter at Golden Gate Park
Grab a piece of cardboard and slide down the dual concrete slide, perfect for a race to the bottom. There are plenty of fun things to do in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park with kids, but Koret Children’s Quarter has unique play structures every kid would want to play on.
There’s a climbing wall shaped like a cresting wave, and a peaked ropes course where a climb to the top reveals a bird’s eye view of the playground. Kids go bonkers for a ride on the historic 1914 Herschell-Spillman carousel. Beautifully painted animals, dragons, camels, and a rooster are ready to give the young and young at heart a dizzying ride up and down, around and around.
San Francisco Zoo & Gardens
A special thing to do in San Francisco with kids is spending a day at the San Francisco Zoo & Gardens. Watching animals go about their day is meditative for adults and a thing of excitement for youngsters. Under ocean mist and tree canopy, giraffes, zebras, and gigantic birds like ostriches and storks roam the African Savanna exhibit’s grassy rolling hillsides.
Rescued grizzly bear sisters are growing up in the zoo’s Grizzly Gultch, lemurs leap through the Lemur Forest, and a large colony of Magellanic penguins flits through the waters around Penguin Island. Watch the gorilla family frolic and play and spot sleepy lions napping away in Cat Kingdom.
In the children’s zoo, kids can get close to farm animals where they can pet and feed them. There’s also a playground at the zoo, with a 1921 Dentzel Carousel and a vintage Little Puffer miniature steam train ready to take kids on a whirlwind ride. That’s a lot of fun all in one place!
Are you traveling with curious kids who find a way to get into everything? Then they’ll love getting hands-on with science at the Exploratorium at Pier 15. The museum interweaves science with art in its innovative exhibits. Activities help explain and instill confidence in children, and adults, around phenomena in the natural world.
Exploratorium exhibits dig into human behavior, creativity, perception, and the living world. Exciting outdoor displays help assess what’s happening out on the bay. The Aeolian Harp, a 27-foot tall harp, is positioned in a natural wind tunnel between piers. The instrument sounds an eerie tune when a rush of wind strums its strings, and two large metal dishes amplify the notes. Now there’s a sound to remember.
California Academy of Sciences
At the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, you can visit the Amazon rainforest, tropical coral reefs, and California coastal redwoods all within a few hours. The museum’s four-story rainforest experience takes visitors up a dome-enclosed spiral walkway where hundreds of butterflies alight through a grove of trees. The humid air supports tropical birds, plants, and many other living creatures.
After climbing to the treetops, an elevator takes visitors below the tree roots to a transparent tunnel under the flooded forest where gigantic Amazonian fish swim above. The Academy’s aquarium sea life includes 900 unique species. Some favorites include fluttering seahorses, mesmerizing jellyfish, and the basking albino alligator, Claude.
The Walt Disney Family Museum
Sorry, there’s no rides at The Walt Disney Family Museum. But there sure is a lot of artistic inspiration and, oh yeah, tons of Mickey Mouse. The museum takes visitors on a journey through the life of Walt Disney, from a train-loving child to an ambitious young adult looking for ways to use his artistic talent.
See Disney’s early drawings and cartoon characters on display. Discover how the creative genius overcame career obstacles to revolutionizing animation, taking it mainstream. Kids will love seeing their favorite Disney characters and spotting the Disneyland rides they love on a 3-D map of the theme park.
Children’s Creativity Museum
Through multimedia arts and technology experiences, the Children’s Creativity Museum engages children ages two through twelve to innovate and create. Kids get the opportunity to make stop animation videos, record music they compose, and chill out in the Mood Room, surrounded by calming music and colorful digital art projections.
After creating a flying machine in the Innovation Lab, kids can test them in an actual wind tunnel to see if they fly or need tweaking. The Mystery Box Challenge presents kids with a problem they need to solve with only the material contents of the box. There are so many ways caregivers and kids can create together at the museum.
Family Activities in the Presidio
Presidio Tunnel Tops, with its spectacular Golden Gate Bridge backdrop, is a new thing to do in San Francisco with kids in tow. The public open space on top of Highway 101 traffic tunnels running along Crissy Field and the Presidio opened in 2022.
The Outpost Play Space’s two acres are dedicated to playful exploration. Fallen tree trunks, wood posts, and boulders have been transformed into imagination-stirring play structures. Kids can swing, crawl and slide using these natural materials. At the indoor Field Station, scientific tools like microscopes help kids use their senses to identify plants. And they can pick up field kits to help them explore other areas of the Presidio.
Eva Barrows is a San Francisco Peninsula freelance writer and book editor. She writes for regional magazines PUNCH (The Spirit of the Peninsula) and Edible Silicon Valley and contributes to the Kampgrounds of America (KOA) blog. She visits San Francisco and its restaurants on weekends when she needs an adventure. Read more of her travel and food writing at www.evabarrows.com.