Top Things to do in San Francisco with Kids

Museums, parks, walking tours…with so many choices of amazing and interesting activities for kids in San Francisco, it can be tough deciding how to spend your time. Here are my recommendations for the top things to do in San Francisco with kids.

1. Alcatraz
This is a fascinating excursion that includes a ferry ride to Alcatraz Island; a walk around the island, buildings, and gardens; and an audio tour of the former prison. It’s best to purchase tickets in advance, and ticket details can be found here. We bought ours a week ahead of time which is recommended for the summer months.

Alcatraz Island is hilly and the tour takes several hours, so you will want your most comfortable shoes and, as always, a jacket. It will take at least 2 1/2 hours to tour the prison and island, and food is not allowed anywhere on the island except at the dock, so if you know your kids need a snack you may want to eat on the ferry or at the dock when you arrive.

The audio tour is very interesting and my 9 and 7 year olds were both enthralled. Because of the topics, families with younger children may want to decide if smaller kids listen to the audio tour or just walk through and look at the prison instead.

The Alcatraz tour was one of our top things to do in San Francisco with kids.
The kids were fascinated by the tour of Alcatraz Island.

2. Pier 39
Pier 39 is an entertaining outdoor complex near Fisherman’s Wharf that is the most visited site in San Francisco. There are plenty of restaurants and stores for dining and shopping. While we were there we ate lunch and also rode the carousel and watched a live magic show that happened to be going on. At the far end of the pier is the viewing area for the Sea Lions, and we all loved watching the “Seal-ebrities” lounge and play.

3. Ghirardelli Square
Ghirardelli Square is the original Ghirardelli factory building that in 1964 was converted to a retail and dining area including the Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop. This was a highlight of the trip for my treat-loving kids! We had delicious ice cream and you can see some of the original chocolate-making machinery which they have set up in the restaurant. Even in mid-afternoon there was a line out the door, but it was worth the wait.

Eating at Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop
Eating at Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop was a highlight of our trip!

4. California Academy of Sciences
Although not a kid museum, this museum in Golden Gate Park was one of my kids’ favorite activities in San Francisco. This natural sciences museum focused on “how to explore, explain and sustain life.” We watched a planetarium show, walked through the extensive aquarium, and wandered through four floors of enclosed rain forest. Our favorite experience, though, was the Shake House where you stand in a fake house and “experience” the earthquakes of 1906 and 1989. This really brought to life what an earthquake was and the damage it could do. For more details on this museum, visit their website.

5. House of Air and Presidio Park
For a change of pace from touring the city, think about taking a break at the indoor trampoline park House of Air located in an historic airplane hangar at Crissy Field at the edge of Presidio Park. We bought our tickets in advance for a weekend time and the kids had a blast jumping for an hour. Afterwards we played in adjacent Crissy Field and walked along the bay through Presidio Park.

There are so many fun and interesting family activities in San Francisco and these were a few of our favorites.  If you’re visiting the area and looking for a great family-friendly hotel close to activities, take a look at Hilton San Francisco Union Square.  And please let me know your favorite family activities so that I can check them out on our next visit!

Know Before You Go

This post was written by Hilton Suggests Team Member, Susan K. Are you interested in traveling to San Francisco? Let us know if we can help you with any other recommendations. Tweet us for more great local travel tips!

More posts from Susan K.