What To Do In San Francisco with Kids

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When visiting the famous “City by the Bay”, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with the variety of activities and dining options that you will be presented with.  Everything you see looks like fun, all the food smells amazing- so if you only have a few days or week, where are the best places to spend your time and money on your family vacation?

If you like to take a tour of the city you are visiting, let me suggest the Ride the Ducks Tour. This is a chain that can be found in several states, with San Fransisco being one of the newest places to tour on an amphibious WW II DUKW.  Yes, this is definitely “touristy”- and it’s also extremely family friendly, and a good way to see the sites of the city in a way that adults will enjoy and kids will love.  The DUK Captain (yes, your knowledgeable, often funny guide and driver is certified by the US Coast Guard, you are in good hands) knows the city inside and out, and will not only point out landmarks, but also fun spots you might like and good places to eat or shop.  They also let the kids have a turn driving the DUK while it’s in “boat mode” in the bay, which will thrill them.  Since they “guarantee” they are “cheaper then other” sites in San Francisco, you won’t spend as much to see and do what you’d like to.

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You and your family will see the best of San Francisco from land and water. Get up close and personal with the iconic Bay Bridge, float by Alcatraz, see Fisherman’s Wharf, roll through Chinatown, wave at cafe patrons in North Beach (San Francisco’s answer to New York City’s “Little Italy”), as well as taking in great views of the city skyline.

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To see as much as you can for as little as you are able spend, continue saving by purchasing a San Francisco CityPASS.  Available for $84, the pass gives you access to many of the most popular sites in the city, as well as 7-Day unlimited-use Cable Car and Muni transportation pass to help you get around.  If you don’t have a car, this is the best way to get from place to place.  If you have a car with you, be aware that most venues require payment for parking, and many of them are none too inexpensive.  You could rack up the price of the pass in a day or two very easily.

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Another spot included in the CityPASS booklet is the famous California Academy of Sciences ,where you can climb into the treetops of a man-made rainforest to see life on literally all levels, see what it feels like to be in an earthquake, check out eggs that are bigger then your kids, view the bones that show the evolution from ape to human, and see a rare Albino Alligator (Claude, in case you’d like to get formal).

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Also included in your pass is the Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise Adventure, which gives you a tour of the city via boat.  See the sights from the inside or outside of the boat, which ventures out several times a day.  This hour long tour is scenic and narrated (so that you know exactly what it is that you are seeing) and available in 9 languages via audio tour as well. The children will love being on a boat as they cruise past the Pier 39 sea lions, which are a must see for any visitor to the city.  You can also see them on land when you visit the pier later on (and make sure you take a spin on the merry go round).


For a look under the sea, so to speak, take out your CityPASS and head over to the Aquarium of the Bay.  It is tailor made for children to get hands on learning and exciting experiences while increasing their love of the water and it’s creatures. They also teach respect for the environment and why it’s important to be eco-consious, which is a wonderful lesson for children to hear from a young age on.  Check out the touch tanks, feed the creatures under the watchful eye of the caretakers (at assigned times), walk or ride through tunnels that give you a view from all sides of underwater life such as rays, starfish, turtles, and plenty of sharks, and even catch a 3D movie in the aquarium’s theater.  There are several choices to pick from, depending on the age of your children.  Snacks are available- and affordable!  I’m talking $2 popcorn.  It’s cool, that’s not a typo, it was really $2.   The aquarium is conveniently located on the same pier (39) as the aforementioned sea lions and merry go round, as well as the very cool 7D Experience.  That’s not included in your pass, but it’s really entertaining.  You don’t need to be a “gamer”, it’s fun for all ages and abilities.  There are a few choices of experiences to have, from shooting zombies for adults and big kids, to space cowboys for the little guys.

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Your little science buffs won’t want to miss the Exploratorium, where they can tinker and create all sorts of mechanical madness, as well as open up all that moves to see what’s inside and what makes things tick.  Wondering what’s inside your favorite candy?  Check out the Candy-O-Matic and see how it’s made.  Ever wonder why wintergreen Lifesavers create sparks in the dark or in your mouth?  Find out!  Create current with a dill pickle, forget potatoes- those are old news. Make sure you take time to try what seemed to be everyone’s favorite and photograph your shadows.  Strike a pose, wait for it, and voilà.  There were several light displays that enraptured the kids, as well as optical illusions and even a few mind ticklers such as a toilet water fountain.  Why drink from a regular water fountain when there is a clean toilet, never been used, that has the exact same clean water spouting from it?  No reason any kid could think of, although many of the adults were made squeamish.


When you get hungry, there were two places that stood out as first rate family dining.  Located on Pier 39 is the aptly named Pier Market, which was voted “best seafood in San Francisco”.  Not an easy feat when most restaurants in the area specialize in seafood.  Not only is the food good, but there are a few things that make it special.  It’s family owned and operated, and it shows.  When you walk up to the door, you are greeted and given a smile before you even enter the eatery.  They also serve only sustainable seafood, and offer an amazing view of the docks and bay from nearly every table.  For the kids, not only do they have a kids menu and crayons for coloring, but for all the children that color their menus and bring them to the Aquarium of the Bay, they will get a free theater ticket.  The fare was fresh and delicious, and served quickly as well.  The staff was friendly and sweet with the kids, and the restaurant is located in one of the areas a family will love to spend time in.  This is the perfect place to go eat with the kids without having to sacrifice taste or quality, nor wait for service or your check when you are done- no parent likes to wait with a fussy kid or four.  (In addition, there is nothing not to love about the garlic fries.)


My personal favorite spot to eat in San Francisco was Nick’s Lighthouse.  Again, the staff was amazing with the kids, and the service was fast.  The food was brought to the table quickly and drinks refilled as soon as they needed to be.  The kids menu included all the traditional children’s favorites as well as some local favorites, and the regular menu was filled with a seafood lovers  delights over and over again.  A favorite of the table was the clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, but the pasta was nothing to be sneezed.  Everyone was in everyone else’s plates, and that’s the way it should be.  Food so good you have to share it, in a friendly place you want to eat it in.  Located on Fisherman’s Warf, you get a sense of the restaurant upon walking up, with it’s food cases and stands outside giving you a peek.  You can also order a quick bite “to go” from the outside portion as well if you are in a rush, but head in if you can.

Plan your getaway at http://www.sanfrancisco.travel/ and don’t forget to pack the kids.





  1. Anna Pry says

    sounds like a fun family area, i’d like to go with just hubby for a romantic get-away

  2. I don;t know that I could drink from a toilet even if i KNEW it had never been used. Bleach! 🙂
    It looks like there is so much to do in San Fran for kids! I am going to put this on my list!!

  3. Michelle says

    Thanks for sharing this information! We are heading to SF in just a week or so and I needed some good ideas!

  4. I have not seed the bridge yet.
    definitely on my bucket list

  5. Sandra VanHoey says

    I love seeing all the great places y’all get to visit, about as close as I get, looks beautiful there.Every time I hear San Francisco I think of that old Rice-A-Roni commercial and want to sing it.

  6. I love San Francisco. I grew up just south of there, near Santa Cruz. Did you have a chance to visit anywhere else? Santa Cruz is where they have the beach boardwalk that they filmed in “The Lost Boys” – the vampire movie with Kiefer Sutherland. The weather can be fickle and cool, but I always enjoyed the fog rolling in. One birthday, we went sailing on the bay. It was 75F when we left port and then the fog rolled in and I was driving back to Santa Cruz in a chill. Being in the desert, I miss the fog and the ocean. ;^)

  7. What a great trip! Looks like a lot of fun! Thank for sharing!

  8. He looks like he had a great time!

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