San Francisco, California Attractions

Author: Family Travel Forum Staff

Tags : Baby, California, City Break, Kids, LGBTQ, Museums & Culture, San Francisco, Teens, USA

The City by the Bay, the Golden Gate City, no matter what you call San Francisco, California, its unique attractions like cable cars and Alcatraz are sure to delight families. And even though the kids are out of school during summer, if you visit San Francisco from September to November you're likely to have much sunnier and warmer weather. June through August days are typically 50°F-60°F, overcast and windy. January and February are also chilly, and most often rainy -- but it's a great destination at any time of year. For money-savings tips and general information in 13 languages, contact the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau. For the FTF's favorite San Francisco attractions for families -- many of which can be seen with a top value San Francisco CityPASS ticket booklet, which saves you 46% over individual tickets and guarantees front of line access, read on.


Great Fun for the Kids

(Toddler to Age 8)

Aquarium of the Bay
Pier 39 Beach Street and The Embarcado
San Francisco, CA 94133
415/623-5300
This unique attraction lets kids get an up-close look at the aquatic life living in San Francisco Bay while walking through 300 feet of tunnel tanks.  Once inside, you will be surrounded by 20,000 different aquatic species including sharks, eels, rays, and sea stars.  Check out the special "Behind the Scenes" tours and Animal Encounters. The best times to visit with children are early in the morning and late afternoon.

Cable Car Museum
1201 Mason Street
San Francisco, CA 94108
415/474-1887
Who doesn't love the cable cars?  At this free museum you can can discover what it is that makes the cable cars move by watching the huge revolving sheaves in the ground, and the immense engines that pull the cables. There are also several antique cable cars to look at and climb into, and a very fun gift shop.

The Exploratorium
Pier 15 at Green Street, The Embarcadero
San Francisco, CA 94111
415/528-4444
Calling itself a "Learning Laboratory", The Exploratorium is highly regarded as one of the world's top science museums, and its well-designed exhibits are tools for hands-on learning. Lucky that their brand new home is three times the size of their old one, because it's packed with mirrors, fun stuff like a tornado in a jar, the San Francisco skyline made of toothpicks, workshops, light shows and much more, with exhibits for all ages. Guides or "explainers" walk around the museum, and can answer any question your kids (or you) may have. You can spend a day indoors and out, with two acres of open space and a waterfront location.

The Museum of Children's Art MOCHA
1625 Clay Street
Oakland, CA 94612
510/465-8770
At its new location near the 12th Street BART Station, children and families create and share art in a variety of media from paint, clay, collage and stop-motion animation. There's lots of kid's art on display. An affordable and entertaining option for parents with small children looking to fill an afternoon with some fun activities -- be sure to show up ready to get your hands (and clothes) dirty!

California Academy of Sciences
55 Music Concourse Drive
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, CA 94118
415/379-8000
It's one of the world's largest natural history museums, and the variety of exhibits makes it an all-day destination for toddler through adult ages. The space is divided into a large aquarium with some very unusual marinelife, as well as a lobby level coral reef growing under special sun lamps that's filled with tropical fish ray, small sharks and stingrays. The planetarium alternates fascinating narrated shows about outer space and the earth's environment, included in the admission price. Don't miss the "Shake House" in the Earthquake section, a simulator where bookshelves and dishware shake while museum-goers hold on. Have young adults in tow? Their Thursday Nights dance party is supposed to be a lot of fun. Available at discounted admission to San Francisco CityPASS holders.


Fun for Older Children

(Up to Age 18)

Haight-Ashbury
Stroll down this street and blast 50 years back to the past (2017 is the #SummerofLove50 celebration) with your kids -- they can get Grateful Dead memorabilia, lava-lamps, trendy hemp jewelry, cool posters, and all the hippie gear their young hearts desire. More important is the opportunity to share the hippies' wisdom about free health care, organic products, environmental conservation, innovative technology, art, design and architecture -- easily done on a Haight-Ashbury Walking Tour. We joined Wild Wes from Wild SF Tours for a two-hour guided jaunt, accompanied by his musical score, that helped us and our son understand what that fleeting era was all about. Our top pick!

Palace of the Legion of Honor
Lincoln Park
100 34th Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94121
415/750-3600
Part of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, this world-famous collection of 4,000 years of European masterworks, prints, drawings, ancient arts of the Near East, Greece, Rome and Egypt, and European Decorative Arts is presented in a Beaux-Arts palace, built to commemorate California soldiers who died in WWI. Its spectacular setting overlooks the Golden Gate Bridge. Free admission on the first Tuesday of the month with a public transportation discount, and always free for children under 12. Fees for special exhibitions apply.

de Young Museum
Golden Gate Park
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
San Francisco, CA  94118
415/750-3600
The de Young, in Golden Gate Park near the Japanese Tea Garden, features American Art from the 17th to the 21st centuries, international contemporary art, textiles and costumes, art from the Americas, the Pacific and Africa. "Summer of Love: Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll" will be at the de Young Museum April 8-August 20, 2017, available at discounted admission to San Francisco CityPASS holders. Get free admission on the first Tuesday of the month (includes a public transportation discount), and always for children under 12.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third Street, between Mission and Howard Streets
San Francisco, CA 94103
415/357-4000
The SFMOMA has reopened, bigger and more stylish, adding free public gallery space for visitors and the community, plus room for a growing art collection, films and live performances. Dedicated to works of the 20th and 21st centuries, the collection includes paintings by Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Rauschenberg, Rene Magritte and Piet Mondrian, as well as sculpture, photographs and media arts. The expansion allowed for the addition of the Fisher Collection (founders of The Gap) and includes works by Alexander Calder, Andy Warhol, Agnes Martin and others -- and new audio guides arranged by themes offer a great introduction to visitors with a variety of interests. The museum is located in the trendy SoMA neighborhood and has debuted one of the city's hottest restaurants, In Situ, where visiting chefs contribute culinary artworks to an ever-evolving menu. Not so child-friendly, but there's still a cafe upstairs.

SFJAZZ Center
201 Franklin Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
866/920-5299
Opened in 2013, this is the first stand-alone building designed for the performance of jazz in the entire country. The center features the Robert N. Miner Audotorium, a scalable 350 to 700-seat concert hall, as well as rehearsal spaces, educational facilities, and a restaurant. Check their site for information on Family Concerts performed specifically for families with children under age 10. Sounds like music to our ears!

The Walt Disney Family Museum
104 Montgomery Street
San Francisco, CA 94129
415/345-6800
Located in The Presidio, and opened in 2009 by Walt Disney's family, the 40,000-square-foot museum commemorates the life-long accomplishments and legacy of Walt Disney. From the very first drawing of Mickey Mouse, to high-tech interactive sound mixing exhibits, visitors will get a true sense of the amazing catalog of work and innovation that came from one of the most iconic figures of our time. Temporary exhibitions have celebrated other artists, with Leading Ladies and Femmes Fatales: The Art of Marc Davis and Disney & Dali: Architects of the Imagination.


Fun for the Whole Family

Alcatraz Island
National Recreation Area
Fort Mason, B201
San Francisco, CA 94123
415/981-7625
The world's most famous prison (it served as a federal penitentiary from 1937-1963) is on an island in the middle of the cold, rough, San Francisco Bay and a visit there should be one of your Bucket List adventures. The only way to reach the island is via ferry boats run by Alcatraz Cruises which leave from The Embarcadero at Bay Street (east of Fisherman's Wharf) for daytime and evening tours. During high season there are slim chances that you will be able to score same-day tickets for a tour of "The Rock," but, if you reserve them far enough in advance, your kids will delight in the eeriest and most popular of all Golden Gate City tourist attractions. You will get an up-close view of the home of the nation's most notorious criminals (at least, until 1963) and come to know many of them and their guards, through the excellent (free) audio guide. Allow plenty of time to visit and absorb the vibe, then walk around outside and see where the wardens' families lived in what they called "the safest small town in America." Alcatraz gets quite windy and chilly, both on the boat and the island, so pack some warm clothing. Note that a free golf cart will transport the mobility challenged up the steep hill from the ferry pier.

Fisherman's Wharf
Bounded by Aquatic Park, North Point, Powell Street, and Pier 39
San Francisco, CA 94133
415/674-7503
Walk the eight blocks that make up this waterfront district, and visit some of the sights -- the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, the Aquarium of the Bay, Ripley's Believe It or Not, and Madame Tussaud's San Francisco. (Skip the tacky souvenir stands and mediocre seafood restaurants in favor of galleries, and restaurants serving only sustainable seafood.) The area is colorful, noisy, and expands each year with more free entertainment, like street performers, so most kids will enjoy it.

The Ferry Building Marketplace
One Ferry Building
Embarcadero (at the foot of Market Street)
San Francisco, CA 94111
415/983-8030
This market, located in the historic Ferry Building, is a haven for foodies of all ages. Stroll and shop at stalls bursting with of artisan cheese, bread, meat, poultry, fish, coffee, tea, pastries, ice cream and more. Buy prepared foods, take a seat, and enjoy! Herb Caen Way is a beautiful waterfront esplanade just adjacent to The Ferry Building with its 230-ft. clock tower. You can rollerblade, have a picnic lunch or just sit and admire the view. Also on a hot day, visit the Vaillancourt Fountain just across the Embarcadero, and let your kids run behind the falling water.

AT&T Park
24 Willie Mays Plaza, Third and King Streets
San Francisco, CA 94107
415/972-2000 Last minute tickets: 510/762-BALL
Home of the San Francisco Giants, AT&T Park offers great views, terrific sightlines from every seat, reasonably priced tickets, fantastic food choices, and an array of interactive pre-game activities for kids and ball fanatics. Plus, the city's lightrail system goes right to the front door.

Rooftop at Yerba Buena Gardens
Moscone Convention Center
750 Howard Street
San Francisco, CA  94103
415/820-35550
This 10-acre family entertainment complex has a 12-lane bowling center, indoor ice-skating rink, restored historic carousel and children's play area in a garden setting. There is also a futuristic Metreon, Sony's very commercial and so-far successful movies, shops, and restaurant-packed mall (415/369-6000). The Children's Creativity Museum (415/820-3320) is designed for infants to age 8, but there's such a wide range of activities (many free) here that everyone in the family will be happy.


Guided Tours of The Golden Gate City

San Francisco is a great town to tour with a knowledgeable guide because there's so much history behind every attraction. Here are some of FTF's picks for the most worthwhile guided tours for you and your family:

All About Chinatown 
415/982-8839
Dim Sum anyone? Put your walking shoes on and join one of their many expert guides to lead you through the cultural and culinary hotspots of San Francisco's bustling Chinatown, including an herbal pharmacy, a fortune cookie factory and a Buddhist temple. Reservations should be made at least seven days in advance, as these tours are extremely popular and fill up quickly.

SF City Guides free walking tours are organized by the library and very popular. Check their website for the current schedule; our tour of Japantown, a neighborhood filled with sushi shops, bookstores and historical plaques commemorating the wrongful internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, very interesting.

Blue & Gold Fleet
Pier 41, Fisherman's Wharf
The Embarcadero
San Francisco, CA 94133
415/705-8203
If you do miss out on the Alcatraz tour, or if you're sightseeing with children under age 6, you might prefer a narrated tour of San Francisco Bay, which passes under the stunning Golden Gate Bridge, and sails quite close to Alcatraz Island, without actually stopping. Cruises are also available to Angel Island, Sausalito and Tiburon, and ferries provide transportation to Oakland, AT&T Park and other locations within San Francisco.

Red and White Fleet
Pier 43½, Fisherman's Wharf
The Embaradero and Taylor Street
San Francisco, CA 94133
415/673-2900
A variety of day-long cruise and bus combination tours includes the Golden Gate Bay Cruise tours around Alcatraz Island, the Bridge 2 Bridge Cruise, California Sunset Cruise and California Twilight Cruise.

San Francisco Movie Tours 
268 Bush Street, #2000
San Francisco, CA 94104
877/624-4949
For a look behind the scenes at one of the country's most popular filming locations check out San Francisco Movie Tours. Their guides take you "on location" as you visit famous movie sights, while watching clips on board their "theatre on wheels." Guests will also learn some interesting movie facts and trivia.

Note! This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.

Comments

San Francisco is an awesome

San Francisco is an awesome city to visit. There are lot of interesting things to do and see. I have been there two times.  I visited there Chinatown, Alcatraz ( very beautiful island ),
Golden gate bridge, San Francisco Zoo  and  California academy of sciences - wonderful living museum. I have spent 3-4 hours there in museum.  But one thing I don't like is public transportation there, it's very complexive. so car hire is a good option there to visit these places. Both times, i hired a car there, very comfortable and time saving option.

My son is dying to see the

My son is dying to see the Aquarium of the bay. I bet he will have lots of fun there. The Alcatraz trip sounds great but I can't bring my son there.

Ingrid D. Gordon

The Alcatraz trip is a must -- it combines a boatride with beautiful SF bay views with a hike outdoors. Get the audio tape tour if your kids are old enough, because it goes into detail about the fascinating escape attempts. My kids liked the one where the convicts dug their way through the concrete prison wall with a spoon!