Must See Attractions in San Francisco with Kids
We’ve been to San Francisco many times (but never before with all of our children) so we had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to show our kids.
We drove into the bay area in the late afternoon, and traffic was crazy, so our GPS wanted to take us south of the city, across a different bridge. We wanted to cross via the Bay Bridge, however, so our kiddos could see everything we wanted them to.
It’s pretty inspiring to cross the Baby Bridge and descend down into the financial district, with all of it’s incredible buildings. We did spend about an hour sitting in traffic on the bridge, but we weren’t in a hurry.
We thought we’d head straight to our hotel to drop things off, including our vehicle. We know better than to drive in San Francisco! Parking is impossible to find, and public transportation is pretty easy, even when you’re in San Francisco with kids.
We stayed at the Mayflower Hotel. Unfortunately, our Suburban would not fit in their very tiny underground parking, so we paid $60 per day to park around the corner at a garage that has pretty scary online reviews.
The Mayflower Hotel is an elegant, old building. It was clean and nice, but basic. It was also not right downtown. It wasn’t badly located, but we prefer to stay in North Beach, (we usually stay at Columbus Inn because it’s inexpensive and right downtown) so we’re right in the middle of things.
Apparently, we were in town at the same time as a convention, because when I made our reservations it was really difficult to find anything.
(This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosures for more information.)
The Presidio and Crissy Field
When we realized we would have to leave our car at a parking garage, we decided to take it over to the Presidio and Crissy Field first. We love the view of the Golden Gate Bridge from Crissy Field, and we thought it would be fun for the kiddos to run around and play.
Um, nope! There was a concert going on, and not a single parking space to be found. After an hour of driving around, we finally found a spot to park in the presidio, and we walked down to Crissy Field. The views were worth the parking fiasco!
We then drove over to Aquatic Point Pier, where we miraculously found a parking spot! We took a fun (though cold!) walk out onto the pier, then walked over to Ghirardelli Square, where we had ice cream. The Earthquake Sundae at Ghirardelli Square is a San Francisco tradition!
My kiddos each wanted their own Earthquake sundaes (it’s something like 8 scoops of ice cream with toppings and cookies!), but I knew they wouldn’t be able to finish them, so we just shared a couple of them. Ghirardelli Square is a must visit when you’re in San Francisco with kids.
We then walked over to Lombard street. Our Suburban is so long we were afraid to drive it down Lombard, so we just walked.
The kids thought it was pretty funny that Lombard was obviously constructed just for show. We also felt bad for the people living in the homes along it, pestered by a constant stream of tourists.
Day 2 in San Francisco with Kids
The Mayflower Hotel was very comfortable (ask for quiet rooms in the back of the hotel) and had a great breakfast! We enjoyed the kitchenette for packing sandwiches, snacks and drinks to take with us. When you have kids, it’s imperative that you always have a backpack filled with drinks and snacks.
We walked through the Stockton street tunnel and talked about why it was built (San Francisco history) through Chinatown, to the Cable Car Museum. It wasn’t open yet, so we did some Chinatown shopping. My kiddos had each worked hard to earn a little money before coming, so they had fun shopping for SF sweatshirts and trinkets.
One of my sons bought himself a satin San Francisco Giants jacket, because he thought it looked cool. He didn’t even know who the Giants were. He wore it with his favorite flare jeans the entire trip, because he apparently forgot to bring another pair of pants.
Honestly, I don’t know where he got those jeans, because I swear I never bought them. Unless maybe I bought them for his older sister 10 years ago? Back when flares were cool? Anyway, those flare jeans and his satin jacket are still his favorites. But don’t say anything to him about John Travolta because he’ll punch you.
I’m proud of him for standing by his fashion choices!
Cable Car Museum
We spent a couple of hours at the Cable Car Museum, then rode a cable car a few blocks over to Fisherman’s Wharf, where we watched the seals and had lunch at Boudin Bakery. Be sure to spend a few minutes on the sidewalk in front of the huge, glass windows, watching the bakers at work. You can take a tour inside, too, but last time we did we weren’t at all impressed. It’s more fun to just watch from the sidewalk.
Fisherman’s Wharf is fun to walk through, but we never spend much time there, as it just feels like a huge tourist trap. We prefer to shop for trinkets in Chinatown, where they’re cheap!
We had to be at Pier 39 at 12:30 to catch our ferry over to Alcatraz. Alcatraz looks super close from the Aquatic Pier, but it’s actually farther than you’d think. We spent the afternoon on Alcatraz Island, touring the prison and learning the history of the Island, which is actually very interesting. The remains of the original military base at Alcatraz are just as interesting as the prison.
Check out the new Go San Francisco Card that includes Alcatraz. Buy your city pass first, then call Alcatraz to book your tickets. They’ll be able to schedule your tour and comp the price.
Be sure to book your Alcatraz tickets early, as they usually sell out! I went to book tickets for this most recent trip about 3 months before the trip, and they were already sold out. So I had to purchase the more expensive combo tickets that included Angel Island. My kids didn’t mind! It was one of the best attractions in San Francisco with kids.
The Exploratorium is right next to Pier 39 along the Embarcadero. If you have a pass to your local children’s museum, there is a good chance it will be reciprocal with the Exploratorium, and could save you admission fees. Check their site for more information. It’s a very popular place for the locals in San Francisco with kids.
Day 3 in San Francisco with Kids
We wanted to bike across the Golden Gate bridge, but it would have taken too much time, and I was a little worried about my youngest, who still has training wheels on her bike at home. Once you’re on the bridge, there is a separate walkway/bike path, with a fence between traffic and pedestrians, so it’s totally safe.
Golden Gate Bridge
But the closest bike rental to the bridge is still a couple of blocks away, and I wasn’t sure about riding through traffic with all my little people. So we drove to the battery at the far end of the bridge, parked, and walked back across it. We’ll have to bike it when everyone is a little older.
The views were incredible, and the bridge even more so. The Golden Gate Bridge is an engineering marvel, and it was fun to see the construction up close. The battery at the North end is also very interesting to explore.
Muir Woods and Muir Beach
Though not technically in San Francisco, Muir Woods are a must see if you’re in the area, and not planning to drive up to Redwoods National Park. The drive through the Marin Headland Hills is scenic and, amazingly, quite short. It’s only 16 miles from San Francisco, though it feels like a different world!
Admission is $7 per adult; kids are free. The bottom of the woods is traversed by paved trails, but it’s best to hike up and away from those, onto more natural trails. The vegetation is more lush and thick, and you’ll forget that you’re anywhere near a major metropolitan city. The air even feels different. It’s cooler (bring a jacket!) and more humid.
Muir Beach was an unexpected, fun find! We left Muir Woods, looking for a place to have a picnic, and stumbled upon this beautiful beach. We were the only people there for at least an hour, and then a few more people arrived. But it really wasn’t busy at all. The beach is small and tucked away behind private residences. The water was cold, even in August, but we still had fun wading and playing in the sand.
This is a clean, beautiful, small beach with excellent facilities. It ended up one of our very favorite things to do in San Francisco with kids!
Fun Things to Do in San Francisco with Kids
- Aquatic Point Pier
- Ghirardelli Square
- Fisherman’s Wharf. Especially the seals on the pier.
- Alcatraz. Toddlers may not be interested, (or they may only like the prolific Seagulls) but even my 5-year-old loved the prison tour and was interested in the history.
- Muir Woods
- Muir Beach
- Wade in the ocean at Crissy Field
- Play at the Presidio
- Walk the Embarcadero
- Shop for trinkets at Chinatown
- Lombard Street
- Look for wild parrots around Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill
- Visit the Cable Car Museum and ride a cable car. Your kiddos will love watching them turn the cable cars around at the end of the Powell street line!
- Boudin Bakery. Watch the bakers work while you enjoy a bread bowl filled with clam chowder.
- Check out all the other choices and discounts on the Go San Francisco Card!
Getting Around San Francisco with Kids
San Francisco’s downtown area is super easy to navigate. It’s well-organized, compact and walkable, with lots of public transportation options. The numerous hills make it difficult to walk from end to end, multiple times daily, but our 5-year-old didn’t complain.
Walking is preferable to driving, because there is so little parking (and it’s expensive) and, again, because of the hills. I imagine San Franciscan’s go through brake pads and clutches like crazy.
We drove our Suburban the last time we visited San Francisco, and it didn’t fit into our hotel’s underground parking. So we paid about $60 a day to park at a garage around the corner. But that price did not include in and out privileges, nor did it include secure parking. There was no guard, and there was no guarantee of a vehicle’s safety. That particular garage also has scary online reviews.
We had planned to just park our vehicle for the several days we were in San Francisco, so that was okay. We actually love San Francisco’s public transportation options (collectively called Muni or SFMTA). It’s best if you can stay downtown and plan on either walking or purchasing a Muni passport to get around.
Muni service includes local buses, F-line (the vintage rail cars that run along Market Street and the Embarcadero), Vintage Trolley Cars, Historic Cable Cars, and light rail, which have routes to/from Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square, Golden Gate Park, Chinatown, SOMA district, and pretty much everywhere on the peninsula.
The Cable Cars are more for fun, since they only service a couple of streets in the downtown area. But your passport includes all of the options, so you can easily get everywhere. 3-day passports are $29, but they’re also an option with a Go San Francisco card, so be sure to check that out to save money!
Budget Traveler Tips for Visiting San Francisco with Kids
We are the ultimate budget travelers, because we have to pay every admission TIMES TEN. And that gets pricey! We also always have to pay for a family suite or at least two adjoining rooms.
San Francisco isn’t exactly a cheap place to visit. But there are still ways to avoid spending your life savings!
- Visit during the off-season (October-March) for good deals on lodging. We like the Columbus Inn.
- If you drive, make sure your hotel has free parking, and that your vehicle will fit.
- Sightsee for free as much as possible. Several of San Francisco’s top attractions like Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Presidio, Golden Gate Bridge and Golden Gate Park are absolutely free.
- Purchase a multi-attraction pass to save money on admissions. The Go San Francisco Card includes a seven-day Muni Pass good for unlimited rides on the cable car, historic trolley and other public transport, along with admission to various attractions and Alcatraz!
- We save a lot on transportation costs by staying downtown and walking, though we do usually take a cable car ride ($7 per person) for fun. If that doesn’t work for you, a Muni Passport is good for unlimited travel on the cable cars, historic streetcars and buses. If you’re planning to purchase a Go San Francisco Card, check to see if it includes a Muni Passport.
- When you have ten people in your family, eating out can really cut into your budget. So I’m careful to always book hotels with kitchenettes, or at least a fridge and microwave, and a free breakfast. That way, we can typically just eat one meal a day at a restaurant — usually lunch because it’s cheaper. We eat breakfast at the hotel, and we pack snacks, water bottles and even sandwiches into a backpack. With a hearty lunch, a sandwich for dinner, and plenty of snacks, everyone is usually satisfied.
It’s completely possible to stay on budget when travelling in San Francisco with kids.
Read about the rest of our Pacific Northwest Road Trip
San Francisco was just the 2nd stop along our Pacific Northwest road trip. If you want to read about the rest of our road trip, check out our >>>Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary<<< which has links to all of our stops along the way!
Happy travels, friends!