The San Francisco Bay Area offers so much: natural beauty, unique activities, interesting architecture and important landmarks. It is a great city to explore for grown-ups and for families. If you live nearby, it’s a great city to explore for a day trip or for a long weekend or to add onto your next family trip to California. If you are planning a trip to the Bay Area, here are five things you don’t want to miss in San Francisco with kids. Bonus: nearly everything on our list is free!!!
GOLDEN GATE PARK
Even the parking is free for this incredible park. Golden Gate Park is huge, so we went twice and still only saw a small portion of it. We enjoyed a play date at Stow Lake. It’s a great loop to walk with children and includes a Chinese Pagoda to explore, two lovely bridges, ducks and geese and waterfalls. We spent two hours exploring before wrapping up our visit with a picnic near the Boat House of the lake. The entire park is definitely a must-see in San Francisco with kids.
Our second Golden Gate experience involved exploring outside the Conservatory of Flowers. The boys enjoyed looking at all of the flowers, running amidst the open space and walking through the tunnel several times as they experimented with echoes and acoustics of the tunnel. If you’re traveling to San Francisco with kids, don’t miss the Koret Children’s Corner and the Carousel as well.
SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY (MAIN BRANCH)
Libraries often get overlooked when visiting a new place as a family, but shouldn’t. The Children’s Center at the Main Branch of the San Francisco Public Library is worth a visit, particularly if you have toddler and preschool-aged children. It has an interactive wall for children to explore, a fun book drop that makes putting books away extra exciting as well as blocks and puzzles. If the weather makes you want to head indoors for a bit while you’re there, head to the library. The staff is fabulous. You won’t be disappointed.
TILDEN REGIONAL PARK
While you’re in San Francisco Bay Area with kids, if you get over to Berkeley, you should definitely visit this lovely park. This 740 acre regional park has a fabulous Merry-Go-Round/Carousel, cool playgrounds and a Little Farm. The farm is free and features pigs, chickens, rabbits, goats, and cows.
YERBA BUENA PLAYGROUND
This playground is located at the Children’s Creativity Museum in Downtown, San Francisco. It is highly interactive and was so much fun that we spent all of our time playing there and never even made it inside the museum. I love that the playground area outside is free and has so much to offer: cool giant slides (for children ages 5 and up), interesting climbing structures, a sandbox and a large xylophone. There are often interactive items out as well, such as hula hoops, balls and other loose parts.
PIER 45 to 59 WALK
This walk was suggested in City Walks: San Francisco: 50 Adventures on Foot. It is a fabulous walk. We started at Pier 45, which features one of my favorite all-time San Francisco attractions: the Musee Mecanique, which is mostly free. The museum is free to enter, but you will probably find yourself spending at least a dollar or two experiencing its classic and unique arcade games. The museum features mechanically operated penny arcade games, musical instruments, zoetropes and much more. Many of these items can probably only be found in this unique museum. This is by far one of my favorite places to visit in San Francisco.
Outside of the Musee Mecanique are two World War II ships that our boys loved checking out and if you continue walking and make it down to Pier 39, you’ll likely stumble on free entertainment as the area often attracts street performers. Sea Lions also tend to hang out at Pier 39. If you are in San Francisco with kids who love animals, this is a must see! We enjoyed running around the dock and watching all of the different boats in action on the Bay.
Here’s a bonus parking tip for doing a Pier 45 to Pier 39 walk. Look for parking along Bay Street near Taylor or Mason. Parking in general in San Francisco is pretty pricey — often $3 (or more) per hour. It is not any cheaper here, but you can park near the Trader Joe’s and use the bathroom there and stock up on healthy and affordable snacks before you go off and explore.
Thank for reading! Enjoy YOUR next excursion, wherever that may be.