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The aquarium in the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.
The aquarium in the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.
Photo by Braunger/Getty Images

27 things to do in San Francisco with kids

Where to take the wee ones

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The aquarium in the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.
| Photo by Braunger/Getty Images

Known around the world as a first-rate destination, San Francisco has carved out an enviable reputation for its steep rolling hills, pastel-painted Victorians, cable cars, and iconic Golden Gate Bridge. But the city is also a mecca for families, with a laundry list of kid-friendly attractions that go way beyond the cliched tourist destinations (we're looking at you, Alcatraz).

From historic theaters to museums with dozens of hands-on experiences, San Francisco offers both locals and visitors a never-ending list of things to do. And while there's plenty of activities if rain forces your family inside―like the de Young Museum and the Exploratorium―the city really shines when the clouds clear and you can play outside.

Gorgeous beaches will entertain kids for hours, and the 1,000-acre Golden Gate Park and the Presidio national park offer families the opportunity to row boats, play in tree forts, and explore innovative playgrounds. Perhaps the best part of the city is how easy it is to navigate; most kid-friendly spots are in a concentrated area with access to public transportation.

So without further ado, here are the 27 best places in San Francisco to visit with kids. Have another favorite spot that didn't make it onto our list? Let us know in the comments!

If you're traveling to other cities, don't miss our maps of kid-friendly things to do in Miami, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Detroit.

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Bay Area Discovery Museum

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Yes, you have to cross the Golden Gate Bridge to get to this children's museum, but we promise it's worth the trip. 

Located on the bay near Sausalito, the Bay Area Discovery Museum boasts a plethora of hands-on, indoor/outdoor experiences for kids aged 6 months to 10 years. 

Don't miss the Lookout Cove, a 2.5-acre outdoor area with tide pools, gravel pits, fishing boats, shipwrecks, caves, and spider web installations.

A post shared by Sally Madsen (@sallymadsen) on

Bernal Heights Park

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If you're looking for fun in Bernal Heights, head to this grassy hill park. An easy 30-minute walk up a dirt path will earn you 360-degree views of the bay, downtown, the Golden Gate Bridge, the East Bay, and San Bruno mountain. 

There's also a rope swing at the top of the hill and a dog park for Fido. Pro tip: after the park, stroll down Cortland Avenue for fun bakeries and kid-friendly restaurants like Bernal Star.

A post shared by Olivia Peek (@oliviapeek) on

California Academy of Sciences

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As one of the largest museums of natural history in the world, the California Academy of Sciences has something for everyone and is well-located in Golden Gate Park. 

Don't miss a fantastic aquarium, planetarium, and a domed, four-story rainforest that boasts animals in three distinct ecosystems.

A post shared by Shana Farley (@shanabanana11) on

Castro Theatre

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Adults love the Castro for its stylish shops, popular bars, and bustling restaurants, but there's plenty to do for families too. 

Catch a movie at the historic Castro Theater—built in 1922—where sing-alongs and movie theater classics often play, or head to the adorable playground at the Eureka Valley Recreation Center.

A post shared by Guido Rosso (@guidorosso) on

Children's Creativity Museum

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The Children's Creativity Museum is a hands-on space that allows children to imagine and create in a multimedia environment. 

Kids can design their own clay motion animations, pretend to be a rock star in the music studio, or invent a new machine. There's something for all ages here.

City Lights Bookstore

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Since 1953, City Lights Bookstore has been an icon in the literary world of San Francisco, the first all-paperback bookstore in the U.S. and the birthplace of the Beat movement. 

But there's also a great children's book section, especially if you're inclined to introduce your children to books that specialize in social justice and activism.

A post shared by Liem Le (@septembersky269) on

Coit Tower

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This 210-foot white concrete tower—built in 1933—nestled into the top of Pioneer Park might be on a lot of tourist must-do lists, but trust us when we say your kids will be happy here too. 

The tower is accessible by elevator and you'll get amazing 360-degree views of the city. Pro tip: check out the murals inside the tower's base, which depict California life during the Depression.

A post shared by Liz Ramirez (@elizberry) on

de Young Museum

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This fine arts museum in Golden Gate Park has plenty to entertain adults, but kids can also have a grand time here with a bit of effort. 

Visit the warrior masks upstairs, explore the sculpture garden outside, and take the elevator to the museum's free observation tower for views of the city. 

The museum also boasts an artist studio where kids can talk to an artist-in-residence and holds free Saturday classes with guided tours and art studio activities.

Courtesy of the de Young Museum

Dolores Park Playground

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This relatively new playground in between the Castro and Mission has a loyal following of families who come for the 38-foot mega-slide, plethora of swings, bouldering rocks, and wooden boats. 

Throw in the first-rate city views and its often sunny weather, and this playground is a sure bet.

A post shared by Una Traynor (@unatraynor) on

Exploratorium

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Head to the Embaracdero and experience this ode to all things science. 

Hands-on exhibits allow kids to step inside a tornado, count the rings on a 300-year-old tree, and even build their own electrical circuits. Adults will love this place too.

A post shared by audrey watson (@audreymodrey) on

Fort Funston

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If you're looking for more sandy walks on the beach, check out Fort Funston, a former harbor defense station from the early 1900s that also boasts sand dunes. 

Steep cliffs meet the shoreline for picture-perfect scenery, and dogs and older kids alike will have fun chasing the waves (warning: the undertow is dangerous, however, so we don't recommend swimming). 

Fort Funston is also a great place to watch hang-gliders take off from the cliffs above. The walk down to the beach is steep, so this one is better for the older kiddos.

House of Air

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If you need an indoor option, check out this trampoline park in San Francisco's Crissy Field. 

Located in a converted airplane hanger, families can take advantage of open trampoline jump time, trampoline dodgeball, and even sometimes catch Olympians training on the trampolines.

Julius Kahn Playground & Clubhouse

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This heavily used spot got a reboot in 2003 to transform it into a "Parisian-style" playground that aims to transport locals to the Luxembourg Gardens. 

Children will love the interactive wet sand play sculpture and climbing equipment, while adults can relax to views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Mount Tamalpais.

Koret Children's Quarter Playground

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Called the Koret Children's Quarter, the children's playground at Golden Gate Park is a magical space with concrete slides, climbing walls, a playground, and plenty of grass for picnics. 

But the park's most unique feature is a gorgeous carousel—originally built in 1914—with 62 animal figures to ride.

Land's End Trail Hike

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This fairly flat hike (with just one big hill that has stairs) is a good one for older kids discovering their hiking legs. 

The hike starts and finishes at the ruins of the Sutro Baths—a former public bath house that burned to the ground in 1966—and there's also a visitor's center. The out-and-back hike is a total of 2.9 miles, but you can always turn around any time.

A post shared by Sherry Heck (@photocurean) on

Letterman Digital and New Media Arts Center

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Located in the Presidio, the Letterman Digital and New Media Arts Center is home to Lucas Film. 

Star Wars fanatics will love the life-size Yoda sculpture and the Star Wars costumes located inside the lobby, and the center's surrounding grounds (complete with meadows, a lagoon, and sitting areas) offer an ideal spot for a picnic.

Ocean Beach

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On the city's westernmost side, adjacent to Golden Gate Park, Ocean Beach is a getaway with 3.5 miles of white beaches next to two giant windmills that are sure to fascinate the littles. 

The water is cold and the currents can be hazardous, but Ocean Beach is a top pick for walks and beach time picnics.

A post shared by _mnm88 (@_88claudia) on

Presidio of San Francisco

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Let us count the ways we love the Presidio. First: easy, kid-friendly hikes abound. Second: three sculptures made from felled trees and created by British artist Andy Goldsworthy show art in a natural environment. 

Third: children will love exploring the tree groves and hidden forts. Start your visit to this National Park from the Visitor's Center at the Main Post, and don't miss Goldsworthy's Spire and Wood Line sculptures.

Randall Museum

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Expected to reopen in fall 2017, the Randall Museum offers hands-on science, live animal, and art experiences for school-aged kiddos. 

The remodel will feature a brand new STEM lab, an enlarged ceramics studio, and a sculptural tree that will house raptors in its branches. Pro tip: check out the old playground at the foot of the hill for amazing views.

A post shared by Jennine Jacob (@jennine.jacob) on

San Francisco Cable Car Museum

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Machine-obsessed tots look no further: the free Cable Car Museum in San Francisco's Nob Hill should be your first stop. 

Not only will you get valuable info on the city's favorite means of transportation, but also kids can see the cable wheels and working models in action.

A post shared by Kinuko Yasuda (@kinukovv) on

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

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There are many reasons to avoid the tourist-afflicted Fisherman's Wharf, but one spot we can recommend is the San Francisco National Maritime Park. 

Kids can see the historic ships at Hyde Street Pier, where a three-masted cargo ship and a paddle steamboat are docked. There's also a sandy beach and many kids also like to watch the boats in action from Aquatic Park.

A post shared by Be Positive (@positive_wang) on

Seward Street Slides

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This mini-park near the Castro—built in 1973—boasts a community garden and loads of native plants. 

But the main attraction is two steep concrete slides that are a thrill for older kids and adults alike. Bring a piece of cardboard and wear sturdy pants.

A post shared by Joelle (@nicertremaine) on

Spreckels Lake

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Set on the northern side of Golden Gate Park, Spreckels Lake is home to the San Francisco Model Yacht Club. 

Head to the lake and watch enthusiasts sailing their remote controlled model yachts or bring a picnic and enjoy the sunset beside the beauty of the Monterey Cypress trees.

Stow Lake

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In the heart of Golden Gate Park, Stow Lake is a gorgeous spot to rent rowboats, electric boats, and pedal boats that seat up to 6 people. 

Families can spot a variety of different (and friendly) birds, and if you're lucky you'll see a turtle or two. The boathouse also has a kid-friendly cafe and serves alcohol.

A post shared by Rena Hu (@korakollection) on

The Butterfly Joint

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The Butterfly Joint is a woodworking and design studiofor children 2 and up. Kids get to clock in with punch cards, put on work aprons, and learn traditional joinery techniques to create gorgeous pieces of art.

Urban Putt

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Older kids will love this wacky indoor miniature golf course, featuring 14 holes of putt putt with many designed to look like iconic San Francisco locations. 

Bonus for parents: there's a full-service restaurant and bar upstairs, so adults can enjoy a beverage while the family plays.

A post shared by Violette Zhu (@crystalviolette) on

Baker Beach

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Located below the rugged cliffs on the Presidio’s western shoreline, Baker Beach is a good choice for picnics (there are tables, restrooms, and grills at the east end of the parking lot) and sand castles. 

Note: The northernmost end of Baker Beach is frequented by clothing-optional sunbathers.

A post shared by Sema Yörüsün (@sema_yorusun) on

Bay Area Discovery Museum

Yes, you have to cross the Golden Gate Bridge to get to this children's museum, but we promise it's worth the trip. 

Located on the bay near Sausalito, the Bay Area Discovery Museum boasts a plethora of hands-on, indoor/outdoor experiences for kids aged 6 months to 10 years. 

Don't miss the Lookout Cove, a 2.5-acre outdoor area with tide pools, gravel pits, fishing boats, shipwrecks, caves, and spider web installations.

A post shared by Sally Madsen (@sallymadsen) on

Bernal Heights Park

If you're looking for fun in Bernal Heights, head to this grassy hill park. An easy 30-minute walk up a dirt path will earn you 360-degree views of the bay, downtown, the Golden Gate Bridge, the East Bay, and San Bruno mountain. 

There's also a rope swing at the top of the hill and a dog park for Fido. Pro tip: after the park, stroll down Cortland Avenue for fun bakeries and kid-friendly restaurants like Bernal Star.

A post shared by Olivia Peek (@oliviapeek) on

California Academy of Sciences

As one of the largest museums of natural history in the world, the California Academy of Sciences has something for everyone and is well-located in Golden Gate Park. 

Don't miss a fantastic aquarium, planetarium, and a domed, four-story rainforest that boasts animals in three distinct ecosystems.

A post shared by Shana Farley (@shanabanana11) on

Castro Theatre

Adults love the Castro for its stylish shops, popular bars, and bustling restaurants, but there's plenty to do for families too. 

Catch a movie at the historic Castro Theater—built in 1922—where sing-alongs and movie theater classics often play, or head to the adorable playground at the Eureka Valley Recreation Center.

A post shared by Guido Rosso (@guidorosso) on

Children's Creativity Museum

The Children's Creativity Museum is a hands-on space that allows children to imagine and create in a multimedia environment. 

Kids can design their own clay motion animations, pretend to be a rock star in the music studio, or invent a new machine. There's something for all ages here.

City Lights Bookstore

Since 1953, City Lights Bookstore has been an icon in the literary world of San Francisco, the first all-paperback bookstore in the U.S. and the birthplace of the Beat movement. 

But there's also a great children's book section, especially if you're inclined to introduce your children to books that specialize in social justice and activism.

A post shared by Liem Le (@septembersky269) on

Coit Tower

This 210-foot white concrete tower—built in 1933—nestled into the top of Pioneer Park might be on a lot of tourist must-do lists, but trust us when we say your kids will be happy here too. 

The tower is accessible by elevator and you'll get amazing 360-degree views of the city. Pro tip: check out the murals inside the tower's base, which depict California life during the Depression.

A post shared by Liz Ramirez (@elizberry) on

de Young Museum

Courtesy of the de Young Museum

This fine arts museum in Golden Gate Park has plenty to entertain adults, but kids can also have a grand time here with a bit of effort. 

Visit the warrior masks upstairs, explore the sculpture garden outside, and take the elevator to the museum's free observation tower for views of the city. 

The museum also boasts an artist studio where kids can talk to an artist-in-residence and holds free Saturday classes with guided tours and art studio activities.

Courtesy of the de Young Museum

Dolores Park Playground

This relatively new playground in between the Castro and Mission has a loyal following of families who come for the 38-foot mega-slide, plethora of swings, bouldering rocks, and wooden boats. 

Throw in the first-rate city views and its often sunny weather, and this playground is a sure bet.

A post shared by Una Traynor (@unatraynor) on

Exploratorium

Head to the Embaracdero and experience this ode to all things science. 

Hands-on exhibits allow kids to step inside a tornado, count the rings on a 300-year-old tree, and even build their own electrical circuits. Adults will love this place too.

A post shared by audrey watson (@audreymodrey) on

Fort Funston

If you're looking for more sandy walks on the beach, check out Fort Funston, a former harbor defense station from the early 1900s that also boasts sand dunes. 

Steep cliffs meet the shoreline for picture-perfect scenery, and dogs and older kids alike will have fun chasing the waves (warning: the undertow is dangerous, however, so we don't recommend swimming). 

Fort Funston is also a great place to watch hang-gliders take off from the cliffs above. The walk down to the beach is steep, so this one is better for the older kiddos.

House of Air

If you need an indoor option, check out this trampoline park in San Francisco's Crissy Field. 

Located in a converted airplane hanger, families can take advantage of open trampoline jump time, trampoline dodgeball, and even sometimes catch Olympians training on the trampolines.

Julius Kahn Playground & Clubhouse

This heavily used spot got a reboot in 2003 to transform it into a "Parisian-style" playground that aims to transport locals to the Luxembourg Gardens. 

Children will love the interactive wet sand play sculpture and climbing equipment, while adults can relax to views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Mount Tamalpais.

Koret Children's Quarter Playground

Called the Koret Children's Quarter, the children's playground at Golden Gate Park is a magical space with concrete slides, climbing walls, a playground, and plenty of grass for picnics. 

But the park's most unique feature is a gorgeous carousel—originally built in 1914—with 62 animal figures to ride.

Land's End Trail Hike

This fairly flat hike (with just one big hill that has stairs) is a good one for older kids discovering their hiking legs. 

The hike starts and finishes at the ruins of the Sutro Baths—a former public bath house that burned to the ground in 1966—and there's also a visitor's center. The out-and-back hike is a total of 2.9 miles, but you can always turn around any time.

A post shared by Sherry Heck (@photocurean) on

Letterman Digital and New Media Arts Center

Located in the Presidio, the Letterman Digital and New Media Arts Center is home to Lucas Film. 

Star Wars fanatics will love the life-size Yoda sculpture and the Star Wars costumes located inside the lobby, and the center's surrounding grounds (complete with meadows, a lagoon, and sitting areas) offer an ideal spot for a picnic.

Ocean Beach

On the city's westernmost side, adjacent to Golden Gate Park, Ocean Beach is a getaway with 3.5 miles of white beaches next to two giant windmills that are sure to fascinate the littles. 

The water is cold and the currents can be hazardous, but Ocean Beach is a top pick for walks and beach time picnics.

A post shared by _mnm88 (@_88claudia) on

Presidio of San Francisco

Let us count the ways we love the Presidio. First: easy, kid-friendly hikes abound. Second: three sculptures made from felled trees and created by British artist Andy Goldsworthy show art in a natural environment. 

Third: children will love exploring the tree groves and hidden forts. Start your visit to this National Park from the Visitor's Center at the Main Post, and don't miss Goldsworthy's Spire and Wood Line sculptures.

Randall Museum

Expected to reopen in fall 2017, the Randall Museum offers hands-on science, live animal, and art experiences for school-aged kiddos. 

The remodel will feature a brand new STEM lab, an enlarged ceramics studio, and a sculptural tree that will house raptors in its branches. Pro tip: check out the old playground at the foot of the hill for amazing views.

A post shared by Jennine Jacob (@jennine.jacob) on

San Francisco Cable Car Museum

Machine-obsessed tots look no further: the free Cable Car Museum in San Francisco's Nob Hill should be your first stop. 

Not only will you get valuable info on the city's favorite means of transportation, but also kids can see the cable wheels and working models in action.

A post shared by Kinuko Yasuda (@kinukovv) on

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

There are many reasons to avoid the tourist-afflicted Fisherman's Wharf, but one spot we can recommend is the San Francisco National Maritime Park. 

Kids can see the historic ships at Hyde Street Pier, where a three-masted cargo ship and a paddle steamboat are docked. There's also a sandy beach and many kids also like to watch the boats in action from Aquatic Park.

A post shared by Be Positive (@positive_wang) on

Seward Street Slides

This mini-park near the Castro—built in 1973—boasts a community garden and loads of native plants. 

But the main attraction is two steep concrete slides that are a thrill for older kids and adults alike. Bring a piece of cardboard and wear sturdy pants.

A post shared by Joelle (@nicertremaine) on

Spreckels Lake

Set on the northern side of Golden Gate Park, Spreckels Lake is home to the San Francisco Model Yacht Club. 

Head to the lake and watch enthusiasts sailing their remote controlled model yachts or bring a picnic and enjoy the sunset beside the beauty of the Monterey Cypress trees.

Stow Lake

In the heart of Golden Gate Park, Stow Lake is a gorgeous spot to rent rowboats, electric boats, and pedal boats that seat up to 6 people. 

Families can spot a variety of different (and friendly) birds, and if you're lucky you'll see a turtle or two. The boathouse also has a kid-friendly cafe and serves alcohol.

A post shared by Rena Hu (@korakollection) on

The Butterfly Joint

The Butterfly Joint is a woodworking and design studiofor children 2 and up. Kids get to clock in with punch cards, put on work aprons, and learn traditional joinery techniques to create gorgeous pieces of art.

Urban Putt

Older kids will love this wacky indoor miniature golf course, featuring 14 holes of putt putt with many designed to look like iconic San Francisco locations. 

Bonus for parents: there's a full-service restaurant and bar upstairs, so adults can enjoy a beverage while the family plays.

A post shared by Violette Zhu (@crystalviolette) on

Baker Beach

Located below the rugged cliffs on the Presidio’s western shoreline, Baker Beach is a good choice for picnics (there are tables, restrooms, and grills at the east end of the parking lot) and sand castles. 

Note: The northernmost end of Baker Beach is frequented by clothing-optional sunbathers.

A post shared by Sema Yörüsün (@sema_yorusun) on