san francisco california golden gate bridge over water at sunset

The Best Family San Francisco City Guide

San Francisco, CA City Guide has done ALL the hard work so you don’t have to with this the ULTIMATE family guide to visiting San Francisco, to read, print & use!



16 Nov | read

There is nothing quite like the city of San Francisco, and we are so excited to share our favorite things to do with kids in this great city. There is an undeniable magic in the air, so we couldn't wait to share with you our "Top 9 Family Attractions" that you can enjoy on your next family day out in one of the most popular cities in the entire USA! There are so many fun things to do with kids in San Francisco, so make sure you keep reading to see what you might like to include when you next visit this city on the bay!.

In this San Francisco City Guide, we'll be sharing our favorites museums to explore, the best parks to enjoy, and the most fascinating historic attractions. Want more? Okay then! How about if we share some budget friendly things to do with kids? (Yes, we mean FREE!) We'll also let you know the best ways to get around and see this great city (including those iconic trams), plus some super fun facts you can impress all your friends with.

Want to explore a little further out? Keep reading as we let you know our favorite day trip from San Francisco, plus we check out some famous faces that were born and raised in this magical city. We want to make sure you don’t miss out on anything on your famiily day out to the hugely iconic city of San Francisco!

So whether this is your first trip to the city on the bay, or maybe you've lived here for most of your life but just never explored it properly, and you think "I wonder what is there is to do near me?", then keep reading, because we have the top things to do in San Francisco with kids, just for you!

The earliest evidence of human occupation in the San Francisco area dates as far back as 3000 BC! The early Native Americans who called the region home were known as the Ohlone.  The earliest European explorers to reach the area were the Spanish in 1769.

In 1848, the city officially became part of the USA and in 1849, San Francisco found itself the heart of the gold rush. At the time, only a smattering of European settlers called it home. Not long after, San Francisco was the most important city in the American West.  In 1906, San Francisco survivied the devastating earthquake and fire that still dominates the history books, with the city rebuilding itself pretty quickly thanks to the will of the people. 

Today, with its proximity to the infamous tech hub Silicon Valley, San Francisco has become an incredibly important in the finance and technology industries, resulting in the city being one of the most expensive places to live in the entire USA (but not to visit!)

There are so many things to do in San Francisco with kids, you certainly won't be short of things to do. Just think of those iconic attractions you hear all about - there are so many! From the imposing Alcatraz, to exciting Pier 39 and Aquarium of the Bay - just those in themselves would fill your trip! Then you have those hidden San Francisco gems - ever heard of the USS Pampanito, or the Cartoon Art Museum?

Stick with us, and you'll discover so many things to do and see in this amazing California city, you certainly won't be short of things to do with the family! So keep reading to find out exactly how YOU can spend your next family day out in the city you'll leave your heart in!

Getting around San Francisco is not only easy, but it's also really fun too.  Whether you want to walk, bike, train or even take advantage of those Muni light rail trains, historic streetcars or classic cable cars, the SFMTA makes it super easy for you. 

The Muni network really is the most comprehnsive transport network that really covers every corner without you needing to fill in every gap. In fact, they cover every neighborhood in the city!

Unlimited rides on Muni buses, trains and historic streetcars for one day are $5 (one-way rides are $2.50/$3), and with the exception of cable cars, all those under 18 years ride free on all Muni lines!

Source and Image Credit: More information here: SFMTA

Top 9 Family Attractions in San Francisco

San Francisco has been the setting for countless movies - the Golden Gate Bridge itself has starred in over 100! So why not take a fun movie location tour to see all the iconic spots and walk in the footsteps of your favourite stars.

From chase scenes in Bullitt, to the house Mrs Doubtfire lived in, the sniper's perch in Dirty Harry and even Ant-Man's apartment (don't forget those iconic Full House Painted Ladies!), the magic of the movies comes to life on a range of tour options you can choose from!

Image Credit & Website: San Francisco Movie Tours

Our Top 9 Fun Things To Do With The Kids In San Francisco

Our Top 9 Fun Things To Do With The Kids In San Francisco

The wonderful thing about San Francisco, is it's so family friendly we actually had too many FREE attractions to choose from for our Top Free Things list, there is an overflow here! So let's start our Top 9 Attractions list with the FREE admission San Francisco Cable Car Museum!

Kids can learn all about the rich history, from the very first cable car run in 1873 to present day. In addition to seeing a host of photographs that show you how much the technology has changed over the years, you can actually SEE examples of actual historic cable cars too!

Image Credit: SF Cable Museum

The Children's Creativity Museum is great hands-on fun for those curious and inquisitive kids aged 4 to 12 years. There are a host of exhibitions geared to teach a range of topics from science, music, animation and role play - and each exhibit welcomes kids to explore, touch, feel, experiment and use their imaginations!

If that wasn't enough, the Children's Creativity Museum is home to a century old carousel where a ride is a must as you learn about it's 100 year old history!

Image Credit: Children's Creativity Museum

The Cartoon Art Museum is unique because it's the ONLY museum in the western United States that is dedicated to the preservation and exhibition of cartoon art in all its forms (and who doesn't love cartoons!?) The exhibits are always changing, so there is always something new to head back to, whether it's the history of Wonder Woman, or the evolution of animation styles, to name a few!

They also take part in the San Francisco Museums for All program, which means that any local residents with a low income, can visit for reduced / no admission!

Image Credit: Cartoon Art Museum

Located in Pier 39, Aquarium of the Bay is a wonderful way to feel even more connected with the water around you. Here, there are over 20,000 marine animals that showcase the diversity of life in the Northern California waters - from sharks, rays, octopus, jelly fish and more.  

Walk-through tunnels, touch pools and beautifully designed living habitats means you get to meet these wonderful creatures in similar environments to their actual natural environment, and even come face to face with them!

Image Credit: Aquarium of the Bay

Welcome, to The Rock! Whether kids know Alcatraz from the movies, or parents know Alcatraz from it's fascinating history, Alcatraz Island is an absolute must visit when in San Francisco to learn about the complex history and stories (like did you know that Alcatraz Island features the first lighthouse and US fort ever to be built on the US West Coast?)

Take a tour through the cells of some of the most infamous prisoners that used to call The Rock home, see how they lived, hear about their crimes, and really immerse yourself in one of the most iconic historic landmarks in San Francisco. 

Image Credit: NPS

Located in the famous Golden Gate Park, the California Academy of Sciences is an amazing day out for the kids, as their focus is to regenerate the natural world through science and learning.  Within the academy you can explore the wonders of the ocean at Steinhart Aquarium, navigate the vast universe at Morrison Planetarium, learn about the past at Kimball Natural History Museum and step inside Osher Rainforest which is just teeming with life!

The California Academy of Sciences is multiple experinces in one, and is an enriching, eye opening, fascinating and fun day out for the kids in San Francisco!

Image Credit: California Academy of Sciences

Just hearing the name "Disney" fills kids with magic, wonder, excitement and joy, so why not visit the Walt Disney Family Museum on your next San Francisco adventure! Founded by Diane Disney Miller (the real life daughter of Walt Disney himself), this museum celebrates the life and legacy (and art!) of Walt Disney - the man who changed animation and childhoods forever.

The museum hosts a number of exhibits that are narrated in Walt's own voice, that showcase early drawings, seeds of ideas, initial models of Disneyland, music and so much more.  A magical day at a magical museum, celebrating a magical man!

Image Credit: Walt Disney Museum

Get ready for an art-tastic day that is not only creative but inspiring, at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art! Did you know that the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is actually one of the largest museums of modern and contemporary art in the entire USA? If that isn't reason to visit, we don't know what is. 

The remarkable collection contains a host of stunning array of paintings, sculptures, photography, architecture, and design, and is not to be missed. They also offer Free Family Days, as well as free First Thursdays, so everyone really can embrace this iconic and must-visit attraction. 

Image Credit: SFMOMA

Light, sound, science...the Exploratorium is a wonderfully fun, hands-on experience for kids where they can learn (and not realise it!). This popular, interactive museum hosts a number of education based exhibits to teach kids (and parents!) all about color, clocks, vibrations, music, animation, the human body and more.

For those kids who love hands-on fun but also love to learn and soak up answers, then Exploratorium should be on your list on your next family day out in San Francisco! You never know what kind of discovery you might make!

Image Credit: Exploratorium

Famous San Franciscans

 Family Days Out: City Guide

Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee was an incredibly iconic Hong Kong American martial arts legend, as well as actor, and philosopher.  He is credited with creating Jeet Kune Do, a martial arts form hugely influencial of mixed martial arts today. His most famous film is Enter The Dragon

Image Copyright: Public Domain

 Family Days Out: City Guide

William Randolph Hearst

William Randolph Hearst will go down in history for being one of the USA's most important media moguls. He developed the largest newspaper chain and media company - Hearst Communications.  Hearst Castle remains one of the most impressive and iconic properties in the country (that you can visit!)

Image Copyright: Public Domain

5 Fun San Francisco Facts

5 Fun San Francisco Facts

Impress your friends with your amazing San Francisco knowledge!

  • The first Chinese fortune cookies (with a prediction of destiny) were invented in San Francisco by a Japanese man!
  • The famous Golden Gate Bridge has been a backdrop for over 100 movies!
  • In 1966, the last official concert of The Beatles happened in San Francisco!
  • Chinatown in San Francisco, is over 150 years old, and has the largest population of Chinese people outside of China!
  • The famous San Francisco fog has it's own name - Karl! (He also has his own social media pages too!)

Top 5 FREE Things To Do With Kids In San Francisco!

Explore the Golden Gate Bridge

Explore the Golden Gate Bridge

Whether it's a gloriously sunny day, or that infamous fog is rolling in, the Golden Gate Bridge is stunning, and it's FREE to marvel at no matter what the weather! The impressive art-deco design and engineering is something to be seen in person. Kids will love how the color of the bridge seems to change as does the time of day. 

The Golden Gate Bridge is 1.7 miles long, and you can actually walk across it which is an unforgettable experience (but don't worry, you can catch a bus back!)

Image Credit: Visit California

Check out Pier 39

Check out Pier 39

Pier 39 is an icon to San Francisco, it's part of it's history - and since 1990 those famous sea lions have been part of the history too! As many as 1300 sea lions come out between January and July, lazing around in the sun, ready to have their photo taken!

In addition to the famous sea lions, Pier 39 is a 45-acre waterfront complex filled with shops, and dining, and is free to stroll around and is a must-do on any San Francisco visit!


Explore Fort Point National Historic Site

Explore Fort Point National Historic Site

Not only does a visit to Fort Point National Historic Site give you a taste of San Francisco's history, but it also gives you an AMAZING vantage point to view the iconic Golden Gate Bridge - and it's FREE to visit!

Fort Point defended the San Francisco Bay after the gold rush in California in the late 1800s, right through to World War II. At 11:30 am and 1:30pm, everyday that Fort Point is open, park rangers will lead a 15-minute talk about the history of Fort Point National Historic Site.

Image Credit: NPS

Enjoy Golden Gate Park

Enjoy Golden Gate Park

Did you know that Golden Gate Park is the third most visited park in the entire USA? It is, and it's FREE to enjoy during the day with plenty of family fun in it's 1000+ acres filled with forests, meadows and lakes.

Golden Gate Park does faeture a host of additional activities within the park which do have a charge, such as the deYoung Museum and Academy of Sciences, but there are plenty of other park related activiites and fun to be had (and plenty of movie locations to spot too!)

Image Credit: Golden Gate Park

Lunch at Ferry Building Marketplace

Lunch at Ferry Building Marketplace

The Ferry Building Marketplace is a great place to stop, regroup from your day's activities, and grab something delicious for lunch, especially Saturdays where some of the most amazing foods can be found from the most famous chefs and best farmers.

The Ferry Building has a fasciating history too, dating back to 1898 and solidifying it's place as an incredibly important hub to the city during the days of the Gold Rush and beyond.

Image Credit: Ferry Building Marketplace

The Best San Francisco Pizza!

A Fun Day Trip From San Francisco!

There are a host of incredible national parks a short drive from San Francisco, including Muir Woods and Yosemite, but a great day trip destination for the family (and in fact one of the best day trips in our opinion) is Santa Cruz!

Outdoor adventure, shopping, arcades, plenty of kids fun and plenty of charm, Santa Cruz is about a 90 minute drive (about 75 miles) from San Francisco, so it's an easy and incredibly beautiful drive with stunning beaches and unforgettable coastline waiting for you!

The earliest known settlement was in the Scotts Valley area of what we now know as Santa Cruz, with evidence of humans living around 12,000 years ago (that pre-dates the Pyramids in Egypt!) In 1769, the first non-natives arrived in the area, exploring the rivers and streams they would go on to name.

1791 saw the completion of the Mission Santa Cruz, the 1840s saw an influx of settlers from across the country, peaking at the 1849 goldrush boom - before California officially became a state in 1850. Santa Cruz was ripe with beauty and produce. The Santa Cruz mountains led the way for some of the finest California wines. 

Today, so much creativing is thriving in Santa Cruz, from music, theater, the arts, writing, and dance, along with plenty of fun things to do with the family thanks to it's incredible beauty, coastal location, incredible weather and wonderful people!

Image Credit: Santa Cruz

Here’s our top 4 Santa Cruz attractions to visit:

We hope you found this content useful! Please share with your friends, and if you have any comments, or want to let us know what we can do to further help you find fun days out with the family, then just email our team at [email protected]!

Let's get the family adventure started!

Lisa Written by

Lisa has been a content writer for Family Days Out for nearly 10 years, and a keen travel writer for nearly 20. She loves experiencing the best of a city, discovering the many things to do and immersing herself in the culture, and sharing these experiences with others through her writing.

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