San Francisco With the Kids: Top 10 Tourist Attractions

When it comes to kid-friendly destinations, many families gravitate toward theme parks or beach towns, hoping to keep the kids entertained long enough to give mom and dad at least a few moments of R&R.

However, if costumed characters, roller coasters and constant reminders to “stop throwing sand at your sister!” aren’t your idea of a vacation, you have alternatives. In fact, one of the most family-friendly cities might be one of the most surprising. San Francisco, California, is actually one of the most kid-friendly cities in America, packed with activities and fun things to do for all ages. Families from all over flock to the Bay Area, and many San Francisco hotels, restaurants and attractions offer specials and deals to make the trip affordable and enjoyable for all. Need more proof? Consider these 10 kid-friendly activities.

1.     San Francisco Zoo

Kids love this zoo, which is home to more than 216 species of animals, especially because of the six-acre children’s zoo, where they can get up close and personal with goats, sheep, ponies, horses and more.

2.     Pier 39/Fisherman’s Wharf

Expect to spend a good deal of time at this tourist hotspot along the waterfront — it’s where you’ll find the famous San Francisco sea lions.  In addition to the adorable sea creatures, the kids can explore the Boudin bakery, where they can watch bakers transform dough into whimsical teddy bears, crabs and more. The whole family can shop or grab a bite to eat with clear views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz.

3.     The Walt Disney Family Museum

Okay, so we promised no costumed characters, but this museum is devoted more to the man behind the mouse than thrill rides and animatronics. Located in an unassuming building in the Presidio district, this museum tracks the life and times of Walt Disney, with exhibits devoted to his early drawings, the development of Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney studios and the Disney parks. Kids will enjoy the old cartoons that play throughout the museum — and the drawings and photos of their favorite characters.

4.     Alcatraz Island and Museum

While the significance of this former prison might be lost on younger kids, it’s worth taking a cruise and tour to the island. Take a guided tour through the prison, which closed in 1963, and learn some of the legends of “The Rock.” Then, switch gears and explore the seabird habitats that have been reintroduced to the island.

5.     Golden Gate Park

The centerpiece of San Francisco, this 1,000-acre park stretches inland from the shore. Packed with green spaces and walking trails, the Park is also home to the Japanese Tea Garden, the Bison Paddock and Stow Lake, where you can paddle around in a rowboat.

6.     Chinatown

This famous neighborhood is the place to introduce the kids to foods and culture that they might not see at home. Stroll along Stockton Street, the main shopping avenue, to see everything from Chinese herbs to traditional clothing.

7.     The Exploratorium

Called the “Best Science Museum in the World,” the Exploratorium features hundreds of hands-on exhibits that appeal to both kids and adults. The Exploratorium is located at the Palace of Fine Arts, a historic landmark, and the adjacent lagoon and park is ideal for a casual family picnic.

8.     Point Lobos

San Francisco is a coastal city, and nowhere is that more apparent than at Point Lobos. Have lunch at the refurbished Cliff House and watch the sea lions and surfers in the water below, or take a stroll on nearby Ocean Beach.

9.     Golden Gate Bridge

No visit to San Francisco is complete without a visit to this iconic structure. Consider renting bicycles to ride across to Sausalito, or cruise on a ferry underneath the imposing structure.

10.San Francisco Cable Cars

Another San Francisco icon, the cable cars are a convenient mode of transportation around the city. Ride from Union Square to the waterfront, and stop at the top of the world-famous Lombard Street to show the kids the “most crooked street in the world.”

San Francisco is jam-packed with family-friendly things to do; in fact, it would be impossible to squeeze everything into just a few days. Choose a few highlights, and chances are your kids will forget all about the roller coasters they aren’t riding.

Image provided by Daniel Ramirez from Flickr’s Creative Commons

About the Author: Originally from Montreal, Jeanette McDonough first visited San Francisco more than a decade ago and liked it so much she moved her family there. She loves playing tour guide to friends and family when they visit.