Visiting San Francisco with Kids

My summer has not been filled with travel the way I would have liked. We had a great time in Alexander Valley, California and took a few day-trips, but the 3 days we spent in San Francisco in June were my favorite part of the summer. The city is just a perfect place to visit for many reasons, some of which I will write about in another post, but this one focuses on the wonder of San Francisco with kids and a few suggestions of what to do and where to go. (For more, try this newer post).

Visiting San Francisco with Kids

Where to eat: Gott’s Roadside at the Ferry Building

Our first full day started out rainy, so we went to the Ferry Building (a must if you love beautiful food!) and found the perfect place to eat with kids. Gott’s Roadside serves nice interpretations of classic diner food, like a perfect tuna melt and sweet potato fries, as well as some California staples, like fish tacos. The food and shakes were excellent but a bit pricey. This is San Francisco, after all.

San Francisco with kids where to eat

Where to go: A secret walk in the Presidio

The Presidio National Park is full of interesting walks and beautiful drives, but experiencing Wood Line seems to be a walk that few people know about. Right next to the Lovers’ Lane walk at the southeast entrance of the park is a eucalyptus grove with an art installation running through it. Andy Goldsworthy’s Wood Line is made of pieces of trees that form a snake-like shape; it’s art that is meant to be seen, walked, climbed on, and experienced. There was no one here but us, and it made a great adventure for my kids.

To get here, take the Presidio Blvd. entrance to the park and look for a small parking area to the left. Lovers’ Lane begins there; you won’t miss Wood Line to the right after just a couple of minutes.

what to do in san francisco with kids

Where to go: Presidio National Park

The Presidio was used as a miliaty post since  1776, first by the Spanish, then by Mexico, and starting in 1846, by the U.S. Now it’s an oasis in San Francisco where people can hike, visit the national cemetery, take in the best views of Golden Gate Bridge, visit museums, and more.

The bridge is often shrouded in fog, which makes the view even more interesting. Bring a jacket or sweater since the weather here is cool, especially if you plan to walk across the bridge. It’s windy up there!

The Presidio and Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco with kids

The walk along the coast while approaching the bridge is fun for kids (and adults). The tunnels and other little hide-outs from this being a former military outpost add a bit of adventure and mystery to this place.

where to go in San Francisco with kids: Presidio National Park

Good to know: The park is free and so is the parking. It’s easily accessed by public transportation. If you drive, take Marine Drive along the coast, stop at Crissy Field, park above and walk to Fort Point. The Warming Hut Cafe and Bookstore is a good place to stop if you need to rest and get some hot chocolate.

What to do: The Japanese Tea Garden at Golden Gate Park

This garden is beautiful, but I recommend it with reservation if you’re with small children. It’s not easy to maneuver with a stroller because the paths really wind around, and some are made of large stones. It’s also very crowded and full of water, so if you have a toddler, you’ll need to keep a close eye on him or her.

Tuesday morning before 10:00 a.m. is a good choice because it’s free (and it’s not too hard to find nearby street parking then). You can have a snack on the outdoor tables near the exit or get tea at the tea house.

Japanese tea garden in San Francisco

What to do: Spend a couple of hours at the Botanical Garden

Also at Golden Gate Park, the Botanical Garden is definitely worth a couple of hours, if not more. The garden is huge, 55 acres with 8000 plants from around the world. If the weather is nice, bring a blanket and plan to hang out on the grass. The hidden paths and unusual plants are paradise for small kids. Entrance is $7 per adult and $2 per child over 5.

The ancient plant section with fake dinosaur footprints was a favorite.

botanical garden san francisco with kids

Where to go: Conservatory of Flowers

Another place kids will enjoy in Golden Gate Park is the Conservatory of Flowers. It is the oldest conservatory in the western hemisphere, and its architecture is lovely.

where to go in san francisco with kids: conservatory of flowers

A special exhibit of butterflies goes until late October, but it’s worth visiting the conservatory anytime. Let the kids discover the variety of odd creations inside including orchids and carnivorous plants. However, it’s very hot inside, so plan accordingly. Outside are some beautiful gardens including small dahlia gardens to the side of the building in the summer.

Admission is $7 per adult and $2 per child above 5. If you drive, be careful parking on the streets. Do NOT park in the Bike Lane; instead, look for a lane that is just for cars to park away from the bike lane and sidewalk.

conservatory of flowers in san francisco with kids

What to do: The tower at the de Young Museum

You can take advantage of a few things the de Young Museum has to offer without paying for museum admission if you don’t want to take your kids to an exhibition. One is going to the top of the tower and getting a 360 degree view of the city. In this view below, you can see the museum’s roof, the grand Music Concourse, and the unusual design of the California Academy of Science, including its green roof.

what to do in san francisco with kids: de young museum

While you’re at the de Young, you can visit the museum store, eat at the cafe, walk the outdoor gardens, and experience its sculpture garden.

what to do in san francisco with kids: de young museum

While in the area of the Japanese Tea Garden and de Young Museum, the Music Concourse and Spreckels Temple of Music (shown below) make a great place for the kids to run around. There’s even a hot dog/snack vendor, and even better, there are plenty of fountains to keep the little ones happy.

what to do in san francisco with kids: Golden Gate Park

Where to stay: Rent this vacation home

vacation rentals San Francisco with kids

I am a huge fan of vacation rentals while traveling with little ones (click here to find out why). This one was fully equipped for children, with a collection of rubber duckies that my boys still talk about, all kinds of toys, baby bath towels, a baby bathtub, a booster seat, a great stroller, a pak-n-play, and kids’ utensils, cups, and plates. All these touches made the kids feel so happy that they didn’t want to leave the house! See the comments below for a couple of my favorite SF vacation rentals.

There is so much more to do in San Francisco with kids! We live less than two hours away, so we’ll be back soon to explore more. What are your recommendations?

47 Comments

  • Terumi says:

    We just got back from SF and you’re so lucky to live 2 hours away:) My guys loved the cable car museum and the Exploratorium. I loved the Ferry Building and all the shops and food:) Hope to be back soon:)
    Terumi recently posted..How to Preserve your Little One’s HuggyMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      We haven’t been to the Cable Car Museum though I can imagine it would be a lot of fun. how fun that you went to the new Exploratorium! We haven’t been there yet either. I was worried it would be too crowded last time, so it’s on my list for a future visit.

  • Christy says:

    Great photo of the bridge! Scott and I are booking a trip to SF for September. I’ll keep your food suggestions in mind. Thanks!
    Christy recently posted..An Afternoon in Marcilhac sur Cele, FranceMy Profile

  • nice pics… It’s always fun to travel specially if you have cute little angles with you. Thanks for sharing your adventure. 🙂

  • Looks like a lot of fun. We’ve only been to San Francisco once and it was without our son. This is good information that will help us plan our next trip there that is sure to include him.
    Lance | Trips By Lance recently posted..Nashville Hotel Review: Home2 Suites by Hilton Nashville VanderbiltMy Profile

  • Krista says:

    San Francisco is one of my all-time favorite cities. 🙂 When I lived in California for 8 years, I visited there nearly every month and have so many good memories. 🙂 It was lovely to revisit some of them with you. 🙂
    Krista recently posted..Into the Woods and a Lemon Cream TartMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      How great that you went there that often. We hadn’t been going nearly often enough, and after having such an excellent time this last visit, we decided to try to spend 5-7 days there twice a year. Such a great city!!

  • Emma says:

    Fantastic pics and some great spots… haven’t been to SF in such a long time, I’ve gotta get back there! Esp now that it’s so easy to travel with kids. Have you seen some of the new apps for traveling? There’s one called Bound Round that’s so good, it lets the kids choose what to do on holiday but keeps them entertained too! Hope they expand to SF before I travel there again. Regardless, definitely going to check out these awesome places! The conservatory of flowers looks especially beautiful..

    • Jenna says:

      It’s a great place to go with kids! The combination of nature and city is pretty special.

      • Douglas Slocum says:

        I went with my family to San Francisco last month. We stayed with a friend in the Inner Sunset and visited all the places you wrote about in Golden Gate Park. We also rented an apartment on College Avenue in Berkeley. We couldn’t believe how kid friendly the Berkeley neighborhood was. There were a ton of parks to visit, all of them had lots of toys for my son to play with. Most of the people I grew-up with in Sacramento live in the East Bay so we got together with several families and let our kids run around. You might want to explore the East Bay on your next visit.

        • Jenna says:

          I’ve spent a bit of time in the East Bay but definitely need to check it out more. I have heard it’s very family friendly there (parks, etc.). Thanks for the tip, Doug! 🙂

  • I just booked a flight to San Francisco and will be visiting for my second time. Many of these places may be for kids but they sound interesting to me too lol ~ love those dinosaur footprints!

    Probably not the ideal place for kids due to all the crowds but I love Chinatown. Would be a cool place for kids to try out different flavours for sure.

    Murissa
    The Wanderfull Traveler recently posted..Summertime in WhistlerMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      The way we travel with our kids is to go to places that we all enjoy. We might choose a place that’s really just for kids for part of one of the days, but in general we try to go to nature areas and do things that are cool for kids but also nice for us. These are all things I would recommend to adults going to SF (except maybe the 2-bedroom vacation rental, which is probably more than many travelers would need but was a great option for us as a family).

  • Perfect timing! We will be in San Francisco next week. We used to live an hour away from San Francisco, but we moved when my now 15-year-old was just two years old. He doesn’t remember it. We’re looking forward to going back! Golden Gate Park was one of my favorite places, but we haven’t been to the Presidio.

  • Hannah says:

    Hi Jenna!

    Thank you so much for writing this post. We just bought our tickets for SF and we’re already planning. Our baby will be eight-almost-nine months old when we go there, so I’m looking for things to do with the little one. We’ve been looking at hotels, but I love what you said about the vacation rental. Could you give me more details?

    Thank you!

    • Jenna says:

      How fun. I hope you have a chance to do these things. I left feeling like I needed another day just in Golden Gate Park!

  • Kate says:

    Your little dudes look like they had a fun few days.
    Kate recently posted..Free Things To Do In New York Each Day Of The WeekMy Profile

  • lola says:

    it’s been tooooooo long since i’ve been to San Fran! probably gonna right that wrong this September!!
    lola recently posted..The Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport, MaineMy Profile

  • Mike says:

    Jenna, I’m having one of those days and what perfect timing for a smiling cheer anyone up who’s reading it post! Thank you! Next to Seattle…The City by the Bay is my favorite in the world! Ok, I haven’t traveled the world. I grew up in the California Central Valley and we went there lots when I was a kid and I’ve visited there many times over past few decades. You can discover the most fantastic new activity each and every time! Your boys are adorable and thanks for the smiles! 🙂
    Mike recently posted..My Outward Bound Trip To Northern British ColumbiaMy Profile

  • Well, I may have been gone from SF for two years, but the fog hasn’t gone anywhere!

    • Jenna says:

      Oh, that’s for sure. A friend just came back from SF last week and told me that it was terribly cold and foggy there!

  • ELIA says:

    I’m planning a trip to SF and would like the rental inf.
    thanks in advance

    • Jenna says:

      Hi Elia,
      Here it is: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/49559
      We really loved it! It was very comfortable and even though it wasn’t super close to the center, it is just one block from a great street of restaurants, markets, etc., and a public transport hub. The neighborhood is beautiful and makes for fun drives.

  • Ann says:

    I am going to share this post with Kurt. He has an uncle in SF and I really think it would be fun to travel there next summer, with Betty of course. I love all of your family-friendly travel tips.

  • what fun! i LOVE that wood line!
    wanderingeducators recently posted..A Tour of the CaribbeanMy Profile

  • Katie says:

    We were just there a few weeks ago with our 6-year-old though. We pretty much did all the guidebook highlights with the exception of Alcatraz. Spent a lot of time eating in Chinatown, because we could walk from our hotel. Great city!
    Katie recently posted..Details For The 2013 La Jolla Christmas ParadeMy Profile

  • Love these ideas for exploring San Francisco, especially because they focus on exposing kids to the natural side of the city. Will keep in mind for our next visit!
    Colleen Lanin recently posted..Travel with Children Book CRAZY Holiday Discount – 40% Off The Travel Mamas’ Guide!My Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Thanks, Colleen. Because my kids enjoy the outdoors so much and SF has so much natural space to explore, it was easy to focus on the outdoorsy parts of the city.

  • Oh, so many fun things to do there! My kids would LOVE the wood line!

  • Ashley says:

    Look forward to using this as a resource on a future visit!
    Ashley recently posted..Shopping Sacramento: Scout LivingMy Profile

  • falana says:

    I’m planning a trip to San Fran in April. This is great info. I’d love the link to the listing for the vacation home. I agree 100% it’s the only way to travel with little ones…bedrooms with doors! Amen! Thanks!

  • Jonette says:

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned Alcatraz! The boat ride over, the stories of criminals & gangsters, & the beautiful scenery & flowers are right up my 10yr old little boy’s alley! Can’t wait to go back this summer. (We live 1hr east of Santa Cruz/Monterey, 2.5hrs SE of SF).

    • Jenna says:

      Thanks for mentioning it! I can see that that would be a great outing with an older child. My kids are 6 and 3, so Alcatraz is not appropriate for them yet.

  • Debra says:

    Great read! We love SF…can’t wait to go back. Riding bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge, eating lunch in Sausalito & back on the ferry was a highlight for our family. One of many!
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Jenna says:

      We did something similar on a recent visit and also enjoyed the ferry and walking across the bridge. Sausalito can often be too busy, though. I was just there today and it was insane!

  • Brilliant! Just the post I was looking for. Have you got any accommodation recommendations? Which area is best for families with small children?
    Bethaney – Flashpacker Family recently posted..It’s Our Two Year Bloggiversary!My Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Hi Bethaney,
      I have a big post of things to do in SF with kids coming soon, so stay tuned for that.
      I really like the areas around Golden Gate Park. They are generally quiet and being close to the park is convenient with kids. We travel with our dogs, so we stay in vacation rentals. We really liked both of these: http://www.vrbo.com/290217 and https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/49559. I prefer the location of the first, but the second has a ton of toys, a Pack-n-play, booster seats, a stroller, and things to make your kids feel at home. They are both close to public transport, and I think the second one is even more convenient in that respect because it’s one block from a transportation hub.
      Some of the family travel bloggers have stayed in hotels in SF and have ideas for that.

  • Falana White says:

    Just wanted to say THANK YOU for this blog post! We just got back from the most AMAZING trip to San Francisco. Anita’s house on Airbnb was perfect for us! We did many of your suggestions including: eating at Gotts, Wood Line walk in Persidio (my favorite), and viewing the GGB from Fort Point. We bought a City Pass which included a 7-day MUNI pass. Initially we were intimidated by using public transportation (and reluctant because of having 2 small kids and stroller) but it turned out to be really easy. I highly recommend the MUNI over paying high parking fees. Other things we did (with a 2 & 6 year old): Bay Aquarium, Pier 39, Bay Cruise, China Town, GGB Fortune Cookie “tour” (not a tour), road a Cable Car, Cable Car Museum (small but FREE), Presidio Park playground, Muir Woods, Exploratorium, and Academy of Sciences. Again, thank you for the recommendations. We can’t wait to go back!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *