San Francisco
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The top nine things to do with children in San Francisco

Seeing sea lions at Pier 39, riding a boat through the bay or visiting the old Alcatraz prison are some of the activities that you and your family can’t miss when you visit the California city

San Francisco
View from the tourist bus as it passes through the Golden Gate Bridge, in San Francisco.ADRIÁN RODRÍGUEZ
Adrián Rodríguez

San Francisco is one of the most important cities in the United States and, as such, it is one of the most visited. While it does deserve a special trip to enjoy it, many people make it part of a bigger tour of the West Coast, pairing this metropolis with places like Yosemite National Park or the Highway 1 route, Big Sur included. If you are traveling with children, there are some essential places to visit in this California city; these are our favorites.

1. Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39

With or without children, a visit to Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf — one of the most diverse areas — has become a tradition whenever we go to San Francisco. The sea lions that live there make this a very endearing, fun activity. Of course, you must be very careful; not because these animals are dangerous, but because time will fly by as you watch them lay on the dock.

In addition, on Pier 39 and its surroundings you will find many leisure activities, shops, merry-go-rounds, cafes, restaurants, the USS Pampanito Museum and Memorial, the Wax Museum... in short, you will surely have a good time with the kids in that part of San Francisco.

San Francisco Pier 39
Adrián Rodríguez and Gosi Bendrat watching sea lions with their two children at Pier 39 in San Francisco, California. ADRIÁN RODRÍGUEZ

2. Take a boat trip through the San Francisco Bay and see the Golden Gate

The legendary Golden Gate Bridge is the most recognizable sight in San Francisco. In addition to being able to enjoy it from various perspectives with the Golden Gate viewpoints, you can also see it from the water thanks to the boats that sail through the bay doing tours or going to places like Sausalito, also worth a visit.

3. Walk through the Golden Gate Park

The Golden Gate Park (not related to the mythical bridge) is the most important park in San Francisco. In addition to having several play areas where the kids can have fun, it houses the California Academy of Sciences museum in its Japanese gardens, one of the coolest museums to enjoy with the children and which we also recommend as an alternative plan. In addition to the playgrounds, you can do things like rent a bike or have a picnic.

4. Visit the city on a tourist bus

Taking into account that the San Francisco terrain is not for everyone (those scenes of car chases going up and down steep hills are quite accurate) if you are traveling with children and want to enjoy the city for a while, the tourist bus is always a good plan. With an audio guide in the background, it passes through the most emblematic sites as you learn the history of the city without the need to exhaust yourself on foot. It is a great way for the whole family to have their space on the trip.

5. Visit Alcatraz

This is recommended only if you have older children or, alternatively, children so little that they will not really understand what they are looking at. In any case, it is for those who are not afraid to visit what remains of one of the best-known prisons in the world, where you will be able to see inside the cells, the dining hall, the patio and more. You will also learn about one of the most famous prisoner escapes of all time. Alcatraz was once a terrifying place, and today it is a bit theatrical; if your children are sensitive, it may be better to do something else instead. On the other hand, if they are adventurous, they will really enjoy this place. To get to the island where it is located you need to take a short boat trip across the bay, which is a nice bonus point.

6. Ride the cable car

Although the tourist bus is a great way to see the most iconic places in the city, the cable car has its own appeal: you can see the person who helps it turn to change direction, or how they navigate the streets of San Francisco in the open, with no glass. It is a legendary form of transportation that both children and adults enjoy.

San Francisco Cable car
A cable car travels along California Street in San Francisco, with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.Niti Chuysakul Photography / Getty Images

7. Fans of Star Wars?

If you love the Star Wars saga, you might be interested in making a pilgrimage to the Lucasfilm offices at the Letterman Digital Arts Center, in the Presidio, to see a fountain that is crowned by a small statue of Yoda. It all depends on how big a fan you are, as that is all that you will get to see; unfortunately, the inside of the offices cannot be visited.

8. Visit one of the children’s museums

From The Walt Disney Family Museum to the exhibitions about science and nature, San Francisco has options like the Wax Museum, the Creativity Museum, the Exploratorium and the California Academy of Sciences. They are all worth a visit, both for adults and children.

9. See the Painted Ladies

In San Francisco, there are many houses that are worth visiting from the outside, even if going inside is not allowed. The Painted Ladies are some of the most iconic; they became very famous after they were featured in the opening credits of Full House. Nowadays, countless tourists like to go see them and take their picture.

Painted Ladies
The Painted Ladies, a series of Victorian-style houses that became famous after they were featured in the TV series ‘Full House.’ADRIÁN RODRÍGUEZ

These suggestions are only the beginning of a long list of many other activities that you can do with children when you visit. A few more tips: visit the giant sequoias of the Muir Woods National Monument; go to the Twin Peaks viewpoint; bike across the Golden Gate Bridge; go up and down the famous Lombard Street… whatever you do, you will never get bored in San Francisco!

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