San Francisco may be most famous for its bay views, Victorian homes and cable cars, but it’s also a fantastic spot for kid-friendly culture. From the lively streets of Chinatown to grand theaters and world-class museums, this city has something for every family looking to expand their cultural horizons. Here are five museums that both you and your children will love.
One of the best known museums in San Francisco, the California Academy of Sciences is the place for kids and their parents to learn about our earth and beyond. With several floors to explore, you’ll find a beautiful aquarium, an earthquake simulator, a flashy gem collection, a white alligator, and a four-story rainforest where countless butterflies fly around you. There’s so much to see here, but don’t miss the planetarium shows. Just outside the museum is the Music Concourse, where kids can burn off some energy.
Not all children enjoy visiting art museums, but the de Young Museum can be surprisingly fun for older kids. From the fascinating features of the African and Oceanic collections to the striking images of contemporary works, this museum will help your children develop a more diverse view of what art is. Kids who have studied the history of the Mayans, Aztecs or Incas in school will especially enjoy the collection of Mayan painting and sculpture.
Whether you tour the museum or not, don’t miss the Hamon Tower. It’s free to go up, and once there, you’re treated to a 360-degree view of the city and San Francisco Bay.
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The museum also offers the de Youngsters studio where kids ages 3 to 8 can experience art in a way that’s just right for them. While there, pick up a de Youngsters Discovery Guide for family-friendly strategies to explore the museum together.
If you prefer a more classical look at art history, try the nearby Legion of Honor, an elegant building in a beautiful park overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. While the building itself is reason enough to visit, the museum houses an impressive collection of French sculpture, Impressionist paintings and ancient art.
Housed in a historic former army building in the beautiful Presidio National Park, the Walt Disney Family Museum offers an in-depth look at the life and work of Walt Disney. Note that this museum includes a lot of historical pieces (think Academy Awards and early drawings), so despite its name, it might not be the best choice for young children. Look for special exhibits like “Mickey Mouse: From Walt to the World,” which runs through early 2020.
After visiting the museum, explore the Presidio with a walk on Crissy Field or a hike to Wood Line or Baker Beach.
Located on Pier 15 with a view of the San Francisco Bay, the Exploratorium is an excellent choice for curious young travelers and their parents. This enormous learning laboratory contains hundreds of hands-on exhibits for your kids to learn about science, art and the human experience. One of the highlights here is the Tactile Dome, a dark, twisting sculpture that you walk, crawl and slide through guided only by your sense of touch.
If you’re looking for a hands-on experience suited to young children, try the Children’s Creativity Museum. Featuring multimedia stations, interactive technology, stories and short films, this museum is an engaging space for kids ages 2 to 12. Before you leave, don’t miss the adjacent playground and historic carousel with animals hand-carved by legendary craftsman Charles I.D. Looff in 1907. Staying in downtown San Francisco? Combine a visit to this museum with a walk in Yerba Buena Gardens.
With so many accommodation options in San Francisco, it can be hard to choose, but these three family-friendly properties stand out.
To experience nature amid urban surroundings, try the Inn at the Presidio, located near the Walt Disney Family Museum. This historic hotel offers two-room suites to accommodate families, and with an outdoor fire pit and miles of hiking trails just steps away, there’s plenty to do. A bonus here is the complimentary afternoon wine and cheese service and the big continental breakfast.
If you want to stay closer to the action, you can’t go wrong with the kid-friendly Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco. This luxury hotel is located on Market Street right in the heart of downtown San Francisco. At check-in, your little one will receive a stuffed animal, and once inside the room, kids will be treated to milk and cookies. The hotel also offers life-size board games, weekly movie nights, junior cooking classes and kid-friendly fine dining with a view at MKT Restaurant.
For a sleek contemporary feel, the InterContinental San Francisco Hotel offers family-friendly rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows and modern amenities. This elegant blue tower in downtown San Francisco is not just a beautiful luxury hotel — it’s also an excellent example of green architecture. With LEED Gold certification and many energy-saving features, the InterContinental is the choice for sustainability-minded families.
Editor’s Note: Photos by Jenna Francisco except where noted.
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