Are you thinking of taking a vacation in San Fransisco? You will find few cities that are more beautiful than San Fransisco, or that offer more fun things to do for with a family. From the Golden Gate Bridge to the Exploratorium, from Sutro Baths to Baker Beach, you can easily spend a month here and fill up each day to the brim. To help you plan an amazing vacation, here is a top 30 list of my favorite things to do in San Fransisco with a family.
1. Discover the Golden Gate Bridge
If you’re wondering which place you should visit first in San Francisco, then the Golden Gate bridge is almost certainly your best bet. And chances are you’ve already seen this famous bridge all over the movies and San Fransisco memorabilia.
Golden Gate Bridge was designed by Joseph Strauss in 1917 and first opened to the public in 1937.
It is declared as one of the modern wonders of the world.
Tourists and San Francisco residents can either walk across the Golden Gate bridge through the pedestrian walkway or drive/ride a bus across.
If you ever do decide to walk across the bridge to sightsee, then make sure you’re wearing something warm!
The weather at the top is relatively chilly but the view is worth it. If you walk from Pier 39, you’ll discover many other tourist attractions on your way to the bridge.
2. Explore the Ferry Building
The Ferry Building is a hotspot for tourists and a great way to taste San Franciscan food, interact with locals, relax and to people watch.
You’ll find the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero, which is a terminal for Ferries that travel around the San Francisco bay area.
On top of the building, you’ll notice is a 245-foot tall clock tower with four clock dials. The best place to spot these is from Market Street.
The best time to visit the Ferry building is during the weekend. This is when you’ll find a Farmer’s market behind the building. Here you can discover San Fransisco’s favorites snacks as well as fresh fruit and vegetables.
In addition, outside the Ferry building, you may find an outdoor market where vendors sell jewelry and crafts, perfect for tourists looking for authentic San Franciscan souvenirs.
And if you’re tired from walking around, you can just sit down and relax on the bayside and watch the ferries come and go.
3. Study History at the Alcatraz Island
If you are visiting San Francisco, riding a ferry to Alcatraz Island is a must!
If the weather is right, you’ll catch a magnificent view of San Francisco city from the ferry.
Getting to and from the island is relatively easy as the system runs well. It is only 1.25 miles offshore from San Francisco.
The island, the site of a well-known prison, has a rich history and became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation area in 1972.
The island was initially developed with facilities for a lighthouse, a military fortification, a military prison, and a federal prison that operated from 1934 until 1963. In 1986, Alcatraz island was declared as a National Historic Landmark.
Tour the island is by appointment only so be sure to make a reservation in advance. Ask any local and they’ll tell you – the Alcatraz tour is easily one of the best things to do in San Fransisco.
4. Wander the Golden Gate Park
The Golden Gate Park is one of the most visited parks in the United States. It is a large urban park with 1,017 acres of public ground.
The park is home to the famous San Francisco Botanical garden. It is a great place to walk around, and take pictures.
The San Francisco Recreations and Parks department are responsible for the management and overseeing of the Golden Gate Park, which was established in 1871.
Fun Fact: The Golden Gate Park is 20% bigger than Central Park in New York City.
5. Shop and Dine in Union Square
Union Square is home to one of the largest collections of department stores, upscale boutiques, gift shops, art galleries, and beauty salons in the United States.
The 2.6-acre public plaza is surrounded by restaurants and shopping boutiques.
A notable attraction is the Dewey Monument, located at the center of Union Square.
Many of San Fransisco’s best hotels are located in Union Square.
Fun Fact: The name “Union Square” was initially used for Thomas Starr King rallies in support of the Union Army during the American Civil war.
The place is now considered as a California Historical Landmark.
6. Shop Till You Drop at PIER 39
Pier 39 is a popular shopping center and tourist attraction located at the Fisherman’s Wharf district and is near North Beach, Chinatown, and the Embarcadero.
If you happen to be in the bay area, then you should definitely drop by Pier 39. It is a great place to both people to watch and explore the local shopping scene.
From here you’ll find a great view of the water and Alcatraz island.
The Pier is well known for Amusement Park like attractions, which makes it an ideal San Fransisco attraction to explore with a family.
If you get lucky you might find some California Seals hanging out nearby.
7. Rise to the Top of the World in the Coit Tower
Discover a beautiful view of San Fransisco from the top of the Coit Tower.
This landmark stands at 210-feet and sits on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco.
Getting here by public transport is best, as parking space is limited.
The Coit Tower was built between 1932 to 1933 initially through Lillie Hitchcock Coit’s bequest to beautify the city.
The tower is now dedicated to the volunteer firemen that saved the city from five major fires.
8. Explore Washington Square
Washington Square is located in the North Beach district of San Francisco. One of the first parks in the city, its history dates back to as far as 1847.
Washington Square Park has been used for community gatherings and events like festivals and free movie nights.
The park is also surrounded by sidewalk cafes and restaurants such as Mama’s, Park Tavern restaurant, and the Liguria Bakery. St. Peter and St. Paul’s church is a notable landmark in Washington Square Park.
9. Visit the War Memorial Opera House
If you are an art lover, then make sure to add the War Memorial Opera House to your list of best things to do in San Fransisco.
This opera house is part of the San Francisco War Memorial Performing Arts Center.
First established in 1932, the Opera House is still in use as a venue for opera and ballet performances.
If you decide to take in a show at the Opera House, you may wish to dress up for the occasion – but it is not required.
Keep in mind that tickets sell out quickly. Therefore, if you’d like to attend performances such as The Nutcracker, Don Quixote, and Frankenstein, then book a few months before your trip.
10. Hike up to the Twin Peaks
The Twin Peaks is a great place for hikers and adventurous visitors to San Fransisco.
The famous Twin peaks are two 925-feet prominent hills that are located near the geographic center of the city.
The hike up the Twin peaks is a great experience as the breathtaking view from above is definitely worth the effort.
Fun Fact: The Twin Peaks was originally referred to as “Los Pechos de la Chola” or “Breast of the Indian Maiden” by the Spanish when they first arrived in the 18th Century.
The hills were eventually re-named “Twin Peaks” when San Francisco fell under American control.
11. Admire the Art at the Palace of Fine Arts
Visiting the Palace of Fine Arts will make you feel as though you’re transported back in time, about 2000 years ago.
Its architecture is reminiscent of a Greek temple, with a grass park, a lake, and a fountain, which definitely adds to the “royal” feel of the Palace.
The Palace was built in 1915, initially to exhibit art for the Panama-Pacific Exposition.
The Palace is one of the few surviving structures from the Exposition.
Due to its unique architecture, the Palace is one of San Francisco’s most recognizable landmarks.
The venue is due to play hosts to many special events upon reopening in 2020. If you can score tickets to one of the many performances here, try to go in the evening. The views are stunning and the atmosphere is electric.
12. Take in the Natural Beauty at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area is one of the most visited areas of the National Park, with over 15 million visitors annually.
The Recreation Area protects 82,027 acres of ecologically and historically significant landscapes surrounding the San Francisco Bay Area.
It is also one of the largest urban parks in the world, with a size two-and-a-half times that of the consolidated city and county of San Francisco.
The Recreation Area is home over 3,000 plant and animal species, encompasses 59 miles of bay and ocean shoreline, and sports military fortifications that span centuries of California history.
It also offers a full (and stunning) view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
13. Climb up the Grandview Park
Grandview Park also commonly referred to as Turtle Hill, is a small, elevated park located in the Sunset District of San Francisco.
This is a small park on top of the hill and the only way to get to the top is by climbing stairs.
Therefore, be sure that you’re wearing comfortable shoes and are ready for a workout!
From the top, you’ll see an excellent bird’s eye view of San Francisco and the Bay area.
The summit of the Grandview Park rises at around 666 feet. Despite its small size (3.98 acres), the park is an important geological and botanical area.
The park is home to one of the last remaining habitats within the city for native and endangered plants. So, be sure to tread lightly on this excellent San Fransisco activity with a family.
14. Marvel at the Art at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
The San Fransisco Museum of Modern art is another perfect place to explore if you love art.
This museum is one of the largest modern art museums not only in the United States but also in the world.
When you enter, you will be greeted with a stunning lobby. Inside you’ll find 33,000 works of painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, design, and media arts. The space is enormous, as the Museum offers 170,000 square feet of exhibition space.
The admission fee is an affordable $12.
Fun Fact: The San Fransisco Museum was the first museum on the West Coast devoted solely to 20th-century art.
15. Wander Around the Exploratorium
If you are looking for something exciting to do in San Francisco with kids, then you won’t regret visiting the Exploratorium.
The Exploratorium is an interactive museum that features over 600 exhibits.
Large parts of the museum are dedicated to topics such as sounds, light, human life, machines, and art.
Little ones are particularly fond of this museum due to its “touch everything” policy.
Fun Fact: Initially founded by physicist and educator Frank Oppenheimer, the museum opened in 1969 at the Palace of Fine Arts, where it was located until January 2, 2013.
16. Marvel at the Golden Gate Views From the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge
The Oakland Bay Bridge is a complex bridge spanning from San Francisco Bay, one of the longest bridges in the United States.
If you are passing from Oakland to San Francisco by car, then this is often the best route to use.
From this vantage point of Oakland Bay Bridge, the famous Golden Gate bridge lays out in all its shining glory.
Fun Fact: The Oakland Bay Bridge was officially opened to the public on November 12, 1936, six months before the Golden Gate Bridge. Today, it carries an average of 260,000 vehicles a day on its two decks.
17. Explore the DE Young Museum
DE Young Museum is another must-see site to go to for art and culture lovers.
This fine arts museum is located within San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. We highly recommend getting the audio tour, as this will provide lots of background information about every exhibit.
Here, every section tells a story.
The museum was first opened in 1895 as part of an outgrowth of the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1984.
Since Nov. 1, 2018, Thomas P. Campbell has been serving as the Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, overseeing the De Young and Legion of Honor museums.
18. Get Amazing Pics in the Marin Headlands
Marin Headlands is a hilly peninsula located at the southernmost end of Marin County.
It is famous for its wonderful views of the Bay Area, especially of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The entire area is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation area.
You can climb the headlands via bicycle which can give you a lovely sand refreshing experience.
There are many places along the road where you can stop by and take pictures of breathtaking views.
You may also discover lots of WWII bunkers along the way, after all, it’s an old Nike missile site.
19. Devour the Original Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop at Ghirardelli Square
Love ice cream and good ambiance?
Well, you should definitely check out the Original Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop located at Ghirardelli Square.
They have a lot of flavors to choose from which is an ice cream lover’s dream.
Parking can be relatively easy as there is a hotel on the same block, and people can usually walk from there.
Although it may get busy on a nice day, patience is the key!
The line moves relatively fast and the staff offers quick and friendly service.
The Ghirardelli Square once featured over 40 specialty shops and restaurants, some of these original shops and restaurants still occupy the square to this day.
A portion of the square was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 as Pioneer Woolen Mills and D. Ghirardelli Company.
20. Soak up the Sun at Baker Beach
Baker Beach is a public beach located on the peninsula of San Francisco which lies on the shore of the Pacific Ocean in the northwest of the city.
It is a good place to visit for people who want to soak up some sun and swim in the ocean.
It has clean sand and has a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Baker Beach is massive, expanding up to 160 acres, it has fishing piers and plenty of lifeguard stations.
There are ample parking spaces located near the beach and is easily accessible for everyone.
Baker Beach was initially owned by John Henry Baker in the 1850s and it was formerly known as the Golden Gate Milk Ranch.
Baker died in 1863 and his widow, Maria, lost the property to foreclosure in 1879. But in 1987, Baker’s Grandson, Fairfax Henry Wheelan sued to have the title returned to the heirs of John H. Baker citing the claim that Baker’s widow did not have the legal power to mortgage the property.
Now the property is being enjoyed by the general public getting over hundreds of visitors every day.
21. Take a Dip at Sutro Baths
Sutro baths is located in the Lands End area of the Outer Richmond District in western San Francisco, California.
The large, privately-owned public saltwater swimming pool complex offers a ton of cool features.
One of the best-reviewed features here is a little cave off to the side that leads to a lookout spot.
Here you can find impressive views of the Golden Gate Bridge. And on a clear night, an incredible view of the starry sky.
Sutro baths were initially built in 1896 and were located near the Cliff House, Seal Rocks, and Sutro Heights Park.
In June 1966, the facility burned down but was eventually reopened on March 14, 1996, and became one of the world’s largest indoor pool establishments.
22. Explore the San Francisco Cable Car Museum
For non-San Francisco residents, what is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear “San Francisco?”
Well, aside from the Golden Gate Bridge, the next thing that comes to mind are cable cars!
Here at the San Francisco Cable Car Museum, they showcase old vehicles, historic objects, and very well designed educational signs.
The best part? It’s free!
The museum also contains historical and explanatory exhibits on the San Francisco cable car system by showing examples of old cable cars, together with smaller exhibits.
Some of the cable cars displayed in the museum are the Sutter Street Railway – grip car 46 and trailer 54 dating from the 1870s, and the Clay Street Hill Railroad – grip car 8, the only surviving car from the first cable car company The museum.
23. Become a Kid Again at the Walt Disney Family Museum
Whether it’s your kids that love Disney-themed places or you just want to experience the magic of Disney on your own, the Walt Disney Family Museum can definitely satisfy your wanderlust for Disney.
The Walt Disney Family Museum operates as a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Family Foundation.
The overall design of the museum and the exhibitions featured inside are built to match the ambiance of Disney theme parks.
The Disney museum gives you a glimpse of the evolution of Disney & helps us understand how the company thrives through so many generations.
There are ten permanent galleries, starting with Walt Disney’s ancestral history and ending with his death on December 15, 1966.
The museum is located in The Presidio of San Francisco, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco.
24. Stop and Smell the Flowers at the San Francisco Botanical Garden
The San Francisco Botanical Garden is a paradise for nature lovers.
It is home to approximately 9,000 different kinds of plants from around the world.
It’s located in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.
The garden contains a variety of flowers and flora that everyone can appreciate and enjoy.
All the living displays in each area are also well-labeled and visitors are encouraged to explore at their own pace.
Benches are also available throughout the area where you can sit down and enjoy nature if you’re tired from walking.
The Botanical garden had a long history, it was initially laid out in the 1880s by park supervisor John McLaren, but the funds were insufficient at the time.
It wasn’t until 1927 that construction began when Helene Strybing left a major bequest.
In 2004, Strybing Arboretum changed its name to San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum, and the Arboretum Society followed suit, becoming San Francisco Botanical Garden Society at Strybing Arboretum.
25. Chill Out at the Mission Dolores Park
Mission Dolores Park or more commonly known as Dolores Park is a great area to bring your kids and pets to roam free.
People can also have picnics under the trees as the park has big wooden tables prepared for the visitors.
The park is located at the western edge of the Mission District.
The park has several features for you to enjoy with your family and friends such as tennis courts, a basketball court, a multi-purpose court, a soccer field, a pissoir, a children’s playground, and a dog play area.
The park’s topography is characterized by a strong slope from the southwest down to the northeast, offering an unobstructed northeast-looking view of downtown SF, in particular from the southwest corner.
26. Hike at the Lands End Lookout
Lands End Lookout is an attraction in San Francisco that is located within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
This lookout point offers views of the rocky and windswept shoreline at the mouth of the Golden Gate. It is also home to a memorial to USS San Francisco.
This is one of the most-visited parts of the California Coastal Trail.
Hikers and adventurous tourists come out here to explore the nearby hiking trails.
If you decide to hike be warned you are likely to encounter a lot of stairs. So make sure you’re wearing comfortable shoes if you decide to explore this beloved San Fransisco attraction.
27. Explore San Francisco’s Stunning City Hall
The San Francisco City Hall is a Beaux-Arts monument to the City Beautiful movement that epitomized the high-minded American Renaissance of the 1880s to 1917.
It is a vital place in San Francisco that is rich in history. It is the seat of government for the City and County of San Francisco, California.
Interesting Fact: The original City Hall was destroyed during an earthquake in 1906 but the City hall was later reopened in 1915.
In front of the city hall, you’ll find a space that resembles a small park. Nearby, you’ll find a library and an art center.
28. Enjoy America’s Greatest Pastime at the Oracle Park
Oracle Park is a must-visit for baseball lovers out there.
It is a baseball park located in South Beach and since 2000, it also served as the home of the San Francisco Giants, the city’s Major League Baseball franchise.
The park also serves as a venue for live baseball games and concerts. It also has a great food court and lots of Giants souvenir shops with amazing collectible merchandise.
It also has a video game area and a kids’ area for parents that want to bring their kids with them during a baseball game.
The baseball park was originally named Pacific Bell Park, then SBC Park, the stadium was then named AT&T Park in 2006; its current name was adopted in 2019.
It also served as the home of the San Francisco Demons of the XFL and the California Redwoods of the United Football League.
29. Meditate at Grace Cathedral
The Grace Cathedral is perfect for those that wish to have a spiritual and peaceful experience.
It’s an Episcopal cathedral on Nob Hill famed for its mosaics by Jan Henryk De Rosen.
The cathedral contains two labyrinths, chapels, murals, stained glass, organ, and a host of programs.
There are masses every day, and some activities they offer are music concerts, labyrinth walks, meditation, and prayer groups.
The architecture is spectacular and the cathedral also has one of only a handful of remaining Episcopal men and boys cathedral choirs, the Grace Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys.
Ben Bachmann is the director of music and choirmaster.
30. Discover Children’s Fairyland With the Entire Family
The Children’s fairyland is one of the earliest “themed’ amusement parks in the United States.
It was first built in 1950 by the Oakland Lake Merritt Breakfast Club, a local service club. It’s located in Oakland.
Your kids will definitely have fun here as they have a puppet show and ride and attractions that follow a storybook theme such as Alice in wonderland.
At the entrance, you can buy keys to unlock boxes full of nursery rhymes and stories.
The park also has trains, animals, and periodic stage shows or plays.
The park is also home to the Open Storybook Puppet Theater, the oldest continuously operating puppet theater in the United States.
I hope you enjoyed this roundup of the best things to do in San Fransisco with a family. Are you looking for even more California travel ideas? Check out this epic California Pacific Coast Highway road trip starting in San Fransisco!