Things to do in San Francisco

29 Best Things to Do in San Francisco With Kids

Find family fun in San Francisco with the Morales family’s list of the best things to do with the kids.

Discovering things to do in San Francisco with kids is easy in this dynamic city, where almost every street corner offers an opportunity to make memories. Our Head of Rigging and Cirque du Soleil performance artist Emille Morales recently brought his wife, Sarah Morales, also part of Cirque du Soleil team, and their kid to visit the city. They offer some of their favourite spots for some good ol’ fashioned family fun.

From an unexpected gathering of sea lions to performances from our traveling circus, delightful entertainment awaits your little ones. So, pack those mini backpacks and get ready for a whirlwind tour through the best things to do in San Francisco with kids.

Educational and Interactive Experiences

Let’s delve into the educational experiences that San Francisco has to offer. Let young minds be the maestros of their own exploration with interactive museums, immersive educational centers, amazing views, and unforgettable outdoor activities.

1. Exploratorium

Step right up, young adventurers, as the Exploratorium at Pier 15 is your ticket to a world where science and play collide spectacularly.

Enter the Tactile Dome, a sensory wonderland designed to awaken your sense of touch. Your challenge here is to navigate through total darkness, relying on touch to guide your way. Are your mini explorers brave enough?

For budding scientists, the Shadow Box exhibit is a must-see. Using a strobe light and giant phosphorescent screen, your little ones have the opportunity to capture a special moment – and perhaps even leave with a better understanding of how glow-in-the-dark products work.

The grand finale awaits at the Exploratorium’s iconic Fog Bridge. Escape into a world of mist and mystery, where your kids will feel like they’re walking on clouds.

2. California Academy of Sciences

The California Academy of Sciences is one of San Francisco’s hidden gems, particularly if you want to inspire a love of all things natural, astronomical, or chemical in a young mind.

When you arrive, make your way without delay to the Osher Rainforest — a lush paradise teeming with life. Inside this four-story dome-shaped ecosystem are free-flying birds, Amazonian fish, leafcutter ants – and even golden silk orb-weaver spiders watching you with eight eyes each.

Once you’ve soaked up all the delights of the rainforest, head to the Steinhart Aquarium, home to nearly 60,000 live marine animals. Here, kids can get up close — while staying dry — with more than 1,000 species, including flashlight fish and coconut octopuses.

Marvel at the balletic movements of the graceful sea creatures twisting and turning like acrobats.

For mini stargazers and astronomers, the Morrison Planetarium has to be next on your itinerary. All onlookers will be transported to the farthest reaches of the universe.

Photographer: Claudia Lorusso

3. Children's Creativity Museum

Next on our list of what to do in San Francisco with kids is the Children’s Creativity Museum. Suitable for kids aged 2-12, the museum’s mission is to build creative confidence in all children.

SF kids love the Animation Studio, which allows young filmmakers to bring their stories to life using minifigures, LEGO, and DUPLO bricks. You can save your family’s creations and email them to yourself to keep them safe forever.

Before you leave, be sure to give your kids a chance to contribute to the Mural Station, a collaborative project that’s slowly taking shape with the addition of paint, oil pastels, tissue paper, and other materials. You’ll find this in the ArtLab, a great place for young creators to get messy.

4. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art might not be one of the most obvious San Francisco kid's activities, but SFMOMA has worked hard to make the space appealing to visitors of all ages.

Many kids love the Media Arts collection, which features participation-based pieces as well as immersive installations. Add SFMOMA to your bucket list of San Francisco family activities to leave your mini artists wide-eyed and inspired.

5. NOAA Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary

Right along the water sits the NOAA Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, protected land devoted to preserving wildlife, habitats, and natural resources just off the Northern California Coast.

The Morales family love getting up close and personal with nature, and seeing some of the area’s inhabitants from a safe distance. In addition to getting some serious seal-spotting done, right along the shores provides visitors with some of the most memorable views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Inside the Warming Hut Park Store you’ll find a cafe with great lunch options. Whether you’re spending the day here for a picnic or just passing through, NOAA Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary is a must-see spot on your list.

6. The Walt Disney Family Museum

When your family is tired of exploring all of the outdoor spaces in San Fransisco, visit The Walt Disney Museum. Here, your young dreamers can get to know the story of the much-loved Walt Disney. Galleries showcase the evolution of Disney’s creations, from early sketches to the beloved characters your kids probably know well.

Let your kids discover the artistic journey that has brought so many beautiful stories to the big screen. This ode to the magic of storytelling perfectly complements the wonders of our show: Drawn to Life.

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7. Randall Museum

Natural history museum, science museum, and arts center all in one, the Randall Museum is one of the best San Francisco family attractions. Bring your tiny tots to the Toddler Tree House exhibit, where sensory play is the order of the day.

Learn about the history of how trains affected the West in the interactive Riding the Rails exhibit, or make furry friends at the animal exhibit. However you choose to spend your time at the Randall Museum, your kids are sure to have a day filled with exploration and awe.

8. San Francisco Cable Car Museum

All aboard! An enchanting journey through San Francisco’s history awaits at the Cable Car Museum. Here, kids don imaginary conductor hats, as if they're about to depart in their own caboose and journey up a steep hill.

Head to the museum deck to look down on the huge engines that pull the cables on their winding wheels. If your kids are obsessed with trains and trucks, they’re sure to insist you put this on your list of kid-friendly things to do in San Francisco.

Outdoor and Nature Activities

From scenic parks to iconic landmarks, San Francisco has plenty of kid-friendly outdoor wonders to enjoy because of its proximity to the forests of Northern California. Blossoming gardens explode with as many vibrant colors as our stages on show day, while playgrounds give children a place to practice their skills.

9. Golden Gate Park

Need to calm down after all the excitement of San Francisco kids' activities? Relax in the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, where paths wind serenely between koi ponds. Continue west to see American bison grazing in a meadow, or head to Beach Chalet for a bite to eat.

Golden Gate Park boasts more than 1,000 acres of open space — more than enough for your tearaways to burn off some energy before sitting for over an hour and a half during our show.

Photographer: Kehn Hermano

10. Golden Gate Bridge

If the sky is clear of the usual fog, no trip to San Francisco would be complete without catching a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge along the San Francisco Bay. If you’re in town on Thursday or Sunday, your family can join a free walking tour to learn more about the bridge’s history.

11. San Francisco Botanical Gardens

Are there any kid-friendly San Francisco locations as relaxing as the Golden Gate Park Botanical Gardens and its flower conservatory? We don’t think so. Begin your botanical journey in the Andean Cloud Forest, where your little ones can gaze up wide-eyed at some of the tallest palm species in the world.

Continue on to the Ancient Plants garden, where you can almost hear dinosaurs stomping between the fern fronds. If you’re visiting in late winter or early spring, be sure to also check out the magnolia collection, which is sure to delight children who love all things pretty and pink.

12. Fisherman’s Wharf

There’s fun for all the family at Fisherman’s Wharf, a waterfront area much loved by SF locals and visitors alike. Kids will love the murals in Umbrella Alley, the animations at Cartoon Art Museum on Beach Street, and the games at Musée Mécanique arcade. Fisherman’s Wharf offers a fantastic day out full of some of the best things to do in San Francisco with kids.

13. Crissy Field

Crissy Field Center runs programs to help San Francisco kids engage with nature. In summer, children from all over the Bay Area get involved in growing food, producing podcasts, backpacking, practicing their photography skills, and more.

Delve into this informational treasure chest to see what learning opportunities are available during your time in SF.

14. Muir Woods

Little ones will be absolutely blown away by the breathtaking scenery in Muir Woods, federally protected National Park rich with vegetation. Located in Marin County, in the northwestern part of the San Francisco Bay, Muir Woods is perhaps best known for its mass of Redwood trees, some of which have been sprouting for hundreds and hundreds of years. Visitors of all ages will love craning their necks to see just how high they reach the sky.

Embark on some of its hiking trails or just drive through and take in all the splendor. There’s days and days' worth of fun to have in this beautiful part of the world. This spot comes highly recommended by the Morales family.

15. Lands End Trail

Need to get your overstimulated little ones out of the urban bustle to let their minds recover? Lands End Trail offers a beautiful setting for a sea-front hike.

Park on Geary Avenue, and head for the trail. During your hike, you’ll see the USS San Francisco Memorial, Mile Rock Lighthouse, and the beautiful viewpoint of Land’s End Point.

16. Fort Funston

Blow away bad moods at Fort Funston, a 200-foot high sandy bluff on the southwest coast of San Francisco. Give your kids the challenge to watch out for hang gliders and horses, both of which are common sights in this popular hiking area.

Let the family dog off the leash so everyone can run around and burn off some energy.

17. Japanese Tea Garden

Kids are welcome at the Japanese Tea Garden, although you’re asked to leave the pets at home. Visit in March or April to watch your little angels dance among the cherry blossoms, or at any time of year to see them marvel at the graceful koi fish. Explore the beautiful stepping stone paths, graceful pagodas, and the arched drum bridge.

Photographer: Thom Milkovic

18. Angel Island State Park

Angel Island State Park offers a chance for all the family to step back in time. Visit the U.S. Immigration Station to learn about the hundreds of thousands of people who came here from 1910-1940. You can also take a hike to Mt. Livermore for breathtaking views over the bay.

19. Painted Ladies

Fans of 90s television will recognize the pleasant, pastel-hued row of houses from the opening credits of the sitcom “Full House.” The Painted Ladies are a must-see landmark in San Francisco, a charming and Instagrammable row of houses set against the beautiful backdrop of the San Francisco skyline. Take in these lovely ladies from the street or set up for a picnic in Alamo Square Park, right across the street, for one of the most dazzling views in the city. Though wonderful to look at any time of day, according to the Morales family, sunset is a great time to see them in all their glory.

Photographer: Emille and Sarah Morales

20. Presidio of San Francisco

Make the most of your day at Presidio of San Francisco by spotting wildlife at Crissy Marsh, enjoying a family picnic courtesy of the vendors near the Presidio Transit Center, and then heading to San Francisco's biggest playground so your little ones can climb, swing, and slide. Can your little acrobats scale the Woodland Wall?

Animal Encounters

From the San Francisco Zoo to the Aquarium of the Bay, there are plenty of places in San Francisco for kids to get up close with furry, scaly, or feathery creatures. Whether your little one is a wildlife enthusiast, budding zoologist, or nature lover, they can create thrilling memories in San Francisco.

21. San Francisco Zoo

San Francisco Zoo has its very own Penguin Island, where kids can delight in the cuteness of Magellanic penguins as they waddle, swim, and slide their way around their enclosure.

They’re also sure to love the Fisher Family Children’s Zoo, which offers opportunities to mingle with meerkats, interact with insects, and get familiar with farm animals.

22. Aquarium of the Bay

Kids love the touch pools at Aquarium of the Bay, where they can feel rays and sea stars. Aquarium of the Bay is also a great place to see river otters and sevengill sharks. What will be your little one’s favorite undersea creature?

23. Pier 39

Compared to the peaceful atmosphere of Pier 7, Pier 39 could not be more different! It’s for the boisterous kid in the SF family, offering attractions such as the Bay Plunge ride and Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze.

Pier 39 is also home to over 1,000 sea lions. These aquatic mammals have been an ever-fluctuating population for over 30 years, and they’ve claimed one of the pier’s docks as their own. It’s an eye-opening sight for anyone, kids and adults alike.

Your kids will have a great time eating their own weight in pretzels, ice cream, and mini donuts, as well as marveling at the sea lions who like to hang out here.

Historical and Cultural Exploration

San Francisco becomes a stage for the tales of bygone eras when you take the time to explore its historical and cultural highlights. Join us as we unfurl the narratives in locations as diverse as Alcatraz Island and Chinatown.

24. Alcatraz Island

What’s better than a road trip? A ferry trip! With its notorious reputation as a maximum security prison, Alcatraz Island is sure to spark young imaginations. Catch a ferry from San Francisco (they’re every half hour), and spend a couple of hours exploring the island. Take the cellhouse audio tour to learn about life on the island, or visit in the evening for guided San Francisco tours.

25. Cable Car Rides

San Francisco’s historic cable cars glide up and down the city’s famous hills, giving visitors a unique way to experience public transportation in San Francisco. Buy your tickets in advance to avoid standing in line.

26. Chinatown

Spot dragons, lions, and lucky fish in the bright mosaics of Chinatown. Sample dragon fruit, Chinese red grapes, or perhaps even the famously fragrant durians – all of which abound in the markets of Stockton Street. Watch fortune cookies being made at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company, or seek out an egg custard tart for an authentic sweet treat.

Entertainment and Fun

Discover good old family fun in these laughter-filled corners of San Francisco. Eat, play, and explore this diverse range of family-friendly destinations.

27. Pier 7

Step onto the scenic stage of Pier 7 to snap the perfect family selfie. This beautifully crafted wooden walkway, complete with antique-style lamps and ornamented handrails, offers great views of the city skyline.

With each passing sailboat, bask in the serenity of the moment, before returning to the hustle and bustle of the city for your next San Francisco family adventure.

28. Ghirardelli Square

When bellies start to rumble, Ghirardelli Square is the perfect place to get a good meal. From seafood and steaks at McCormick & Kuletos to hearty fare from the Square Pie Guys, you’ll find something here to suit even the fussiest taste buds.

Refueled and ready to go? Don’t forget to play a round at Subpar Miniature Golf for some wholesome family fun.

29. Yerba Buena Gardens

Yerba Buena Gardens offers beautiful landscaping, including cascading waterfalls and colorful blooms, and a range of cultural events. Check out the Art & Makers Market for meaningful gifts during the holiday season.

From May through October, dance and music performances take place on the huge main lawn. You might even catch a free circus show to put you in the mood for one of our masterpieces.

Photographer: Georg Eiermann

Making Memorable Moments: Your Family's San Francisco Adventure Awaits

As the curtain falls on our exploration of things to do in San Francisco with kids, it’s time to let the memories linger. We hope our list, peppered with a few ideas from our friends, the Morales family, helps you and the little ones uncover the joys and spirit of San Franciso.

But before you leave — venture into one of our traveling shows in San Francisco for a performance that will make your kids’ eyes light up and set their imaginations racing. Plan ahead so you can be sure of fitting us into your busy schedule as you explore San Francisco with your kids.

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