Five Favorite Kid-Friendly Activities in San Francisco

Suzanne Battat Dowling lives in San Francisco with her two boys (4 and 6). She is an expert on exploring San Francisco and the perfect resource for our list of top favorite things to do with kids in this fantastic city. There are so many things to do with your kids in San Francisco, it could take a month to see and do them all. However, here are some of my favorites.

1.  Golden Gate Park Few urban areas offer as large a green oasis as Golden Gate Park, which exceeds New York’s Central Park in size. There is so much to see and do here, that it may take you several days to visit all of the key attractions. Luckily, the ones below are within walking distance of each other. California Academy of Sciences. After an extensive renovation, the newly re-opened California Academy of Sciences is considered a world-class science and nature museum.  Besides the wonderful aquarium, you and your children can walk into a live rainforest, visit the stars in the Morrison Planetarium, experience a “living roof” and much, much, more. The De Young Museum. This fine arts museum offers a variety of rotating and permanent exhibitions. However, the big attractions for your kids will be the free sculpture garden and the fantastic tower which offers a 360 degree view of the city. To reach the tower, adults must pay admission, but children 12 and under are free. Please note that many Friday’s throughout the year, the museum offers a special themed evening program which includes family friendly musical performances and art activities for all. Galleries are open until 8:45pm, as is the restaurant and a no-host bar.

Photo of Conservatory of Flowers by David Ohmer on Flickr The Conservatory of Flowers.

This beautiful Victorian greenhouse is the oldest public conservatory in the United States. Your children will love the tropical rooms which transport them to a far away jungle. You will love the huge variety of beautiful and fragrant foliage. In addition to the permanent collection, there is also a special exhibit. Past themes have included meat eating plants, living butterflies and “Edible Exhibitions” . Japanese Tea Garden. Travel to Japan without ever leaving San Francisco. The garden includes an almost vertical bridge, many koi ponds, stepping stones and various other delights. No visit is complete without a cup of tea or cocoa and a plate of delicious cookies. The Children’s Playground and Carousel. Thought to be the country’s first public playground, Children’s Playground offers hours of fun for your little ones. Beyond the enormous play structures, there’s a two story cement slide and a 1914 renovated carousel. If you have young children, please know that this is quite a large playground and it is not enclosed.

2.  The Exploratorium and Crissy Field The Exploratorium is a hands-on science museum with exhibits that will interest both your children and yourself. If your kids are at least 7 years of age, reserve tickets for the museum’s Tactile Dome, an enclosed maze-like space that is completely dark, making your sense of touch your only guide. Once your family is ready for some fresh air, head across the street to Crissy Field, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The area boasts a beautiful walking path terminating at Ft. Point under the Golden Gate Bridge. Along the way you’ll pass a beach where the children can play. There’s a Warming Hut where you can stop for refreshments.

3.  The San Francisco Zoo This zoo has a fantastic African Savanna exhibit, an array of primates and large cats, and a wonderful children’s zoo among its many attractions. If the animals don’t provide enough stimulation for your little ones, there’s also a carrousel and the Little Puffer, a century-old, miniature steam train.

4. The Discovery Museum Considered one of the best children’s museum in the country, the Bay Area Discovery Museum offers a variety of activities for children, from crawling babies up to kids age eight. The indoor exhibits include a train area, a room that explores the sea, a “Tot Spot”, an art building and rotating special exhibits. The outdoor play area offers plenty of opportunity for children to climb, dig, build and explore. There is a café on site that serves organic fare, both hot and cold.

5.  Take a Ferry Ride. It would be a shame to come to San Francisco and miss out on seeing this beautiful city from the water. There are many tourist boats that operate from Fisherman’s Warf, including the worthwhile trip to Alcatraz. However, if you’re kids are too young to appreciate the famous island jail, consider taking the Golden Gate Ferry round trip from San Francisco’s Ferry Building to Sausalito.

The Ferry Building is a large gourmet marketplace, which hosts a hopping Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. Sausalito is a charming nearby village with a European flair and lots of shops and restaurants. Obviously the best part for the kids is the boat ride, which is doubly enjoyed if you pick up some pastries at the marketplace before departing.

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  • Some of my favorite posts to read on blogs are ones that discuss local attractions. I’m from the Bay Area, and have visited Golden Gate Park on several occasions, but I did not know about the children’s playground. This sounds wonderful, and the idea that it might have been the nation’s first public playground is even more intriguing. Great post, thank you!

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