California's Great America
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.