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California's Great America

In & Outdoor $$
Water Parks, Birthday Parties, Healthy/Active, Offbeat, Touristy, Special Needs
4701 Great America Pkwy, Santa Clara, CA
URL: California's Great America...  Phone: 408-988-1776

Fun Things for Families To Do In San Francisco

The city of San Francisco is a destination just bursting with activities for families with kids of all ages. Whether you are in town for a week or just a weekend there is more than enough to keep the kids entertained.

Here's a short list of attractions we really enjoyed:

1. California Academy of Sciences

Based in Golden Gate Park, the California Academy of Sciences is a destination like no other and a must-see San Francisco museum. It’s the only place on Earth to house an aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum—all under one living roof. Guests of all ages are welcomed to explore the wonder of life on earth.

From the splashing penguins in African Hall to the wildflowers on the roof, the building is bursting with life. A four-story living rainforest and awe-inspiring coral reef ecosystem showcase Earth’s biodiversity, while immersive planetarium shows offer a new perspective on the planet we call home.

Rain ponchos are highly recommended to protect visitors from the mist on the lower deck during the spring and summer seasons. During other times of the year the lower deck is closed as it ices up. The upper deck, however is well protected and remains open year round. The entire experience takes about 30-45 minutes.

2. Japanese Tea Garden

After you finish up at the CAS, a quick walk across the road will bring you to the oldest Japanese Garden in the United States right there in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Created for the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition as part of the fair's Japanese Village exhibit these gardens are home to 5 acres of beautifully kept plants and trees of a variety of species. There is a pagoda, a Zen Garden and more to be explored in this relaxing space; and of course a real tea house where you can drink traditional Japanese tea and sample genuine Japanese refreshments.

3. Exploratorium

Situated on the Embarcadero on Pier 15 in San Francisco, the Exploratorium offers hundreds of exhibits to visitors. The best part is that you are invited to touch and manipulate them! Filled with hands on fun for all ages, the science museum boasts activities which focus on geography, arts, ecology, photography, astronomy, biology, and countless more subjects of interest.

4. Muir Woods

Muir Woods National Monument is a scenic, forested park featuring giant redwood trees, long hiking trails, a visitor center & more. Muir Woods is a unit of the National Park Service on the Pacific coast of southwestern Marin County, California, 12 miles north of San Francisco. Linger at the beautiful wayside signs throughout the park and learn about redwood ecology and cultural history of Muir Woods. Families with children enjoy participating in the Junior Ranger or Redwood Discovery. Got a few more hours to explore afterwards? Continue over to Stinson beach along HWY 1 to add beach to your day trip.

6. Coit Tower

View the beautiful city of San Francisco with a birds eye view! Built in 1933, the Coit Tower offers stunning 360 degree views of San Francisco and the surrounding bay area. Ride the elevator to the top and enjoy the panoramic views of the city and the Bay! Half the fun is getting there - after grabbing some Dim Sum in Chinatown, take some time and hike up through the stairs and gardens of Telegraph Hill. On the way, see if you can catch a glimpse of the famous wild parrots that live there amidst the beautiful foliage.

7. Aquarium of The Bay

If your kids like ocean life, a visit to the Aquarium by the Bay will be a big hit. The Aquarium is located on the picturesque shores of the San Francisco Bay. The aquarium is home to nearly 20,000 animals, many of which are native to the waters just outside the facility. After your visit, you can walk along the wharf to see seals in their natural habitat, and then grab something good to eat at the nearby Pier 39.

8. Fisherman's Wharf and Ghiradelli Square

Yes, yes - this is a totally a touristy thing to do - but if you are visiting San Francisco, you've got grab a photo by the iconic sign, to show that you stopped by. Fisherman's Wharf is about halfway between the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. The historic "F" trolley goes there, and the cable car stop at Mason and Bay (about a block away) is less busy than the one at Hyde Street below Ghirardelli Square.

You'll find a few fishing boats docked along Jefferson and a cluster of seafood stands at the corner where you can grab some Dungeness crabs & other delicacies. Crab season runs from November through June. If you're visiting July through October, the crab you order will have been frozen.

Other places on interest in the area include:

  • USS Pampanito and SS Jeremiah O'Brien: Pier 45, just behind The Franciscan restaurant. The World War II Balao-class Fleet submarine, restored to late 1945 vintage sits next to the Jeremiah O'Brien, a fully-restored, operating, World War II Liberty Ship.
  • Wax Museum - This long-time Fisherman's Wharf attraction features celebrities, U. S. Presidents and others sculpted in wax.
  • The Cannery Shopping Center is in an old Del Monte canning factory, built in 1907 and the world's largest fruit and vegetable cannery by 1909. Today, it houses a shopping and dining area. Upstairs restaurants have nice views.
  • San Francisco Maritime National Historic Parkis run by the National Park Service, the Hyde Street Pier museum provides a good overview of San Francisco's maritime history. Exhibits include the ferryboat Eureka (possibly the largest floating wooden vessel in the world), the C. A. Thayer and the Balaclutha.
  • Ghirardelli Square - Grab a delicious hot cocoa at this famous spot. It's basically just a little shop that has chocolates and treats. What's not to like?

9. Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island, once home to the maximum security prison during the early 20th century, is now a member of the National Park Service and a beautiful destination for all those interested in history. Located just outside San Francisco Bay and accessible by boat, Alcatraz Island offers access to the interior of the former prison and breathtaking views.

All of the tours allow you to wander around inside the prison. You'll be able to walk the halls where Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly did their time, and see the solitary cells where the Birdman of Alcatraz sat out most of his sentence.

Alcatraz prison tours leave about every 30 minutes from Pier 33, daily from 8:45 a.m. to 3:50 p.m. The return boats leave Alcatraz every 30 minutes; the last one leaves Alcatraz at 6:30 p.m. and you can take any of the boats back (slightly shorter hours in winter).

10. San Francisco Zoo

The San Francisco Zoo is located just inland from the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Situated on 100 beautiful acres, the zoo is the residence of over 1000 animals of more than 250 species. Gardens filled with plant species both foreign and native to the area are also featured.

Home to countless exhibits, a century old carousel, the largest outdoor lemur habitat, and many more exciting discoveries to be made, the San Francisco Zoo offers fun experiences to all ages, and is a must-visit destination.

11. Big Basin State Park (Day Trip)

Established in 1902, the Big Basin Redwoods State Park is California's oldest State Park. It is also home to the largest continuous stand of Ancient Coast Redwoods south of San Francisco. Aside from the Redwoods (which are amazing), there are a large number of other tree species that can be seen and appreciated such as conifer, oaks and chaparral. The park has a surprising number of waterfalls, a wide variety of environments (from lush canyon bottoms to sparse chaparral-covered slopes), many animals (deer, raccoons, bobcats) and lots of bird life—including Steller’s jays, egrets, herons and California woodpeckers. This is a truly spectacular day trip - about 1 hour and 20 minutes from San Francisco.

12. California's Great America Amusement Park (Day Trip)

California's Great America is an amusement and water park located in Santa Clara, California right next to Levi Stadium - home of the San Francisco 49ers. Admission to the park provides guests with access to all rides, live shows, attractions and access to the Boomerang Bay Water Park. Families will enjoy nonstop action all day long at this clean and friendly amusement park.

  • Rides: throughout the park guests will find thrill rides as well as family friendly rides. There is definitely something for everyone to enjoy. Kids will enjoy the Kidzone which is geared specifically for the younger crowd and kids of all ages will love the double decker carousel at the center of the park.
  • Waterpark: Enjoy access to this full scale waterpark with a huge range of rides for the whole family
  • Live Shows: Live performances are ongoing throughout the park by the Peanuts gang (Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Sally & Peppermint Patty)

After a day at the park, you head out & grab a famous In-n-Out Burger. They really are that good!

13. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom (Day Trip)

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is one of the largest regional animal theme parks, and it is located in Vallejo, California (about 1 hour and 10 minutes from San Francisco). The theme park first opened in 1968 as Marine world, and the park was added to the Six Flags chain in 1998. The park features thrilling roller coasters and other amusement rides, and animal exhibits. The theme park draws many visitors each year, and is a big attraction for families, and children of all ages.

  • Roller Coasters - If you are in for some serious roller coaster fun, hop on and enjoy some of the most thrilling and gut wrenching thrill rides in the region. There are the fastest roller coasters including, cobra, hammerhead shark, Kong, Medusa, Roar, sky screamer, vertical velocity, and much more.
  • Rides for younger kids - The theme park features many rides for the younger kids and the toddlers, these rides are perfectly safe for their age and height. Acme Fun Factory is a giant two-story indoor playhouse, where kids can play around with several Looney tunes characters. Kids can hop on a small colorful train, kids will enjoy a tour to the barnyard in Foghorn's Seaport Railway.
  • Family-friendly rides - There are many fun family rides at the theme park including, a swinging boat in The Ark, Bumper buggies, tea-cup style ride in Monkey business, rock wall climbing challenge, Go Karts, and much more.
  • Animal Exhibits - The animal exhibits feature many animals, from African Lions, Bengal Tigers, and elephants to sea mammals, such as, sea lions, dolphins and penguins. Animal feeding opportunities are also provided, kids can come up-close to the animals and get to feed giraffes and sea lions.
  • Animal Shows - There are elephant shows and a bird theater, a dolphin show, butterfly habitat, ocean discovery, penguin passage, reptile discovery, shark experience, and so much more.

Now you have your itinerary set, it's time to visit the San Francis. Don't worry if you don't get to everything on the list - if there is one thing for certain it's that your kids are going to want to come back.

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