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Family Travel Planning Made Easier

San Francisco: Sharing One of Our Favorite Cities with Kids

As someone who loves to travel and explore new places, I don’t always like to repeat trips to the same city unless we are visiting family or friends. However, I do have a few favorites that I love returning to and San Francisco, California is one of those places. My husband and I have always been drawn to the city by the bay in a way that I can’t explain. Maybe it’s the hilly streets with the clang of the streetcar, the majestic Golden Gate Bridge that can be spotted in the background on a clear day or just the endless neighborhoods and trails to explore.

As a parent, it’s so fun to explore one of your favorite cities with your kids and come up with new things to do that interest everyone.

Here’s our list approved by our kids ages 10, 7 and 4 and us:


The Golden Gate Bridge

We have walked across the Golden Gate Bridge on our last 2 trips to San Francisco and it never gets old. There is a pedestrian sidewalk on the East side of the bridge that is safe and kid-friendly. We walk about halfway across – it’s almost 2 miles all the way across – and then turn around while enjoying views of the city and the bay.

Educational Opportunity: Humphrey the Whale, a children’s picture book, is about a whale that swims into the bay and then gets lost and swims up the Sacramento River. We kept a watch out for Humphrey the entire time we were on the bridge as my four year is obsessed with him.

Tips: The last exit before crossing the bridge is where you can park. If the main parking lot is full there are additional parking areas. Parking is free.

It can be a lot colder and windier on the bridge so dress accordingly.



Lands End

Start at the Visitors Center where you can walk down to the Sutro Baths. The main trail offers great views of the Golden Gate Bridge (on a clear day) and is an easy trail to do with kids. It’s about 1.3 miles from the visitor’s parking lot to Eagles Point.

Tips: There are no bathrooms on the other end of the trail so if you need to go you either have to hike back to the visitor’s center or walk another .5 mile down to China Beach where there are restrooms or port-a-potties.

If you get there early you should be able to snag a parking spot in the lot right by the visitor’s center (it’s free parking).


Muir Woods

There are so many great trails to explore here and see some world-famous Redwood Trees (smaller ones). We love this post from 2Traveldads on Muir Woods and other great national park sites in the San Francisco area. As well as this post from No Back Home.


One of the coolest parks we have ever played at is Dolores Park-Helen Diller Playground. It’s at the top of a big hill with great views of the city skyline and has something for every age including adults that still love a great slide.

Tips: There are public restrooms right next door.

Super Slide: An exciting 45-foot long slide is the literal “high point” of the playground as it provides an elevation change of nearly thirty feet.

Dolores Park-Helen Diller Playground is a world-class playground for the children and families living in the Mission neighborhood.

Joe Dimaggio North Beach Playground which is right next to a San Francisco Public Library branch is a smaller park in the heart of the city. The kids enjoyed the castle structure and the giant seesaw swing and we enjoyed the views of the city all around us. It is fenced in which makes it much easier to keep tabs on those little ones.



Bi-rite Creamery. It’s worth standing in line for. And either before the ice-cream or after to burn off the sugar there is Dolores Park-Helen Dilley Playground. One of the coolest kids parks we’ve been to…and yes we went down the slides too.

Giorgio’s Pizza. Great pizza and a nice relaxed atmosphere to bring kids. They don’t have kids menus and crayons but pizza dough instead. If you go on a Sunday there is a farmer’s market every week from 9-2:00 pm where you could also grab food.

Tips: I didn’t see a changing area so I would call ahead if you have a little one still in diapers to confirm.


Academy of Sciences

This science museum, planetarium, aquarium and natural history museum, appeals to parents and kids alike!  Plan on spending an entire day here. You can even kick things off with a 10-minute yoga session for the kids (takes place every morning).

Eating: There are 2 restaurants here where you can get food. If the weather is nice there are lots of tables outside where you can eat alfresco and there is a great grassy area for the kids to run around. Or you can bring your own lunch (we saw lots of people that did – but you should check first for any rules on this).

Tips: You need to get your tickets to the planetarium ahead of time. Locate the ticket area and then pick which show time you want. This is included in your entry ticket. The planetarium show was about 20 minutes long.


Pier 39

The Pier is a super touristy area but if you’re doing a tour of Alcatraz then you will already be in the area. Pier 39 is where the famous San Francisco sea lions live which are fun to watch (and hear barking). There is also a beautiful 2 story carousel that is hand-painted with San Francisco landmarks.

Whale Wall, Grays off the San Francisco Coast, Pier 39, San Francisco, California

Handcrafted in Italy, the San Francisco Carousel is intricately hand-painted with famous San Francisco landmarks including the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, Chinatown, Lombard Street, Alcatraz and the Sea Lions.

If you want great deli sandwiches and don’t mind walking a few blocks then head up to Freddie’s Sandwiches. There are a couple small tables and chairs to eat here or take back down to the Pier area.

Lombard Street

Walking down the world’s “crookedest street” is fun and free which is a nice balance in an expensive city like San Francisco!

Lombard Street in San Francisco, California

Tips: If your kids need to go to the bathroom in this residential area, keep walking down the hill where there are a couple coffee shops.


Coit Tower and Telegraph Hill

Coit Tower in Telegraph Hill offers a great view of the city and the bay. Everyone will be entertained by the Telegraph Hill parrots flying around. The adults appreciated the beautiful murals painted on the walls inside.

Tips: If you are sticking to a budget then this is something you could skip. You can find online ticket costs here.



If you are up for walking, 438 steps down Filbert from Coit Tower is the Exploratorium. Our kids amazed us on this last trip and not only kept up, but we didn’t hear a single complaint as they loved everything we did and saw on this walk. This was a first!

It is exactly 438 steps from Coit Tower to the Exploratorium! Kids can have fun counting while checking out the view.

If you go to the Exploratorium, (per their website it “..isn’t just a museum; it’s an ongoing exploration of science, art and human perception—a vast collection of online experiences that feed your curiosity”) be sure to check out their gift shop which has some really cool things, and they have a few areas set up where you can actually touch and play.

Additional tidbits: My husband and 7-year-old visited Alcatraz — the world famous abandoned prison which housed some famous criminals. While my son enjoyed the boat ride he didn’t love the prison tour. Each kid is different but talk to your kids about this historic site before touring.

Strollers: The nervous mom in me would not bring a stroller on some of the walking excursions we did like Lombard Street (lots of steps) down to Joe Dimaggio North Beach Playground. It’s so hilly I would worry about if I accidentally let go of the stroller. However, if you have one of those wrist handles then you probably don’t need to be such a worry wart like me.


We wanted to recap FREE:

  • Pier 39-watch the sea lions
  • Lombard Street: walk down the crookedest street in the world
  • Lands End, Muir Woods: great hiking trails for families
  • Walking on the Golden Gate Bridge



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