Whether you have a full week to explore the city by the bay or only a long weekend, planning the ultimate San Francisco kid adventure can be a little overwhelming. Don’t fret! We’ve mapped out three amazing days on three modes of transportation that will get you on the cable cars, across the Golden Gate Bridge, down to see the Pier 39 sea lions and much, much more. Scroll through for your ultimate San Francisco itinerary below!
Day One: By Ferry
Make everyone happy, and start your morning off at the Ferry Building. Walk down the center aisle of this massive food hall before making your breakfast decision. Will it be a gluten-free goodie from Mariposa Baking Company or a jam`on y queso empanada from El Porteño? Maybe both! An iced coffee from Blue Bottle is a must to get your morning off to a good start.
If there's a chill in the air and the kids want to run around a bit, head across the street to the Sue Bierman Park where there's tons of grass, a cool climbing structure and gorgeous views of the Bay Bridge.
Walk north along The Embarcadero, and you will hit The Exploratorium at Pier 15. This super rad museum opens at 10 a.m. every day (except Monday, when they are closed) and offers some of the coolest hands-on exhibits we've seen. Kids can run around inside a tornado, tinker in the studio and learn about how to predict human behavior.
Keep heading north along The Embarcadero on foot (or grab at pedicab outside The Exploratorium), and you will reach Pier 39 just in time for lunch. Grab a bite at one of the food stands that line the pier or sit down at The Chart House for a delicious meal with stunning views.
After lunch, follow your ears to find the world-famous Pier 39 sea lions. These iconic animals have made their home at Pier 39 since late 1989. Swing by the sea lion center to learn more about these creatures and why they made their way to Pier 39 after the Loma Prieta earthquake. No visit to Pier 39 is complete without a ride on the San Francisco Carousel. See if you can spot the local landmarks carved into its design.
For a truly San Francisco adventure, reserve a spot aboard the Alcatraz Cruises. Kids will love riding the ferry to this former prison island as it gives you views of San Francisco from the water. The ferry drops you off at the island, and you are welcome to explore as long as you'd like until the last ferry departs the island. Visit the ranger station at the dock and find out how your kids can participate in the junior ranger program during their visit. Then follow the audio tour to hear from former guards and inmates about life on "The Rock." When you are ready to head home, stop by the ranger station again so that your kids can recite the pledge and receive their junior ranger badge.
Spend some time exploring Fisherman's Wharf and choose a spot to grab dinner. For authentic San Francisco chow (think cioppino and clam chowder), try Scoma's. Not only do they have a waterfront spot for bridge viewing but they have a great kids' menu.
End your night with a walk to Ghiradelli Square. Grab a sundae at the chocolate factory that has been in business since 1852. Pro tip: samples are given out at each of Ghiradelli Chocolate's five entrances so visit them all for a pocket full of sweets!
Day Two: By Cable Car
Get started early on your second day by heading to the Cable Car turntable at Beach and Hyde near Ghiradelli Square. Here you should grab a one-day pass that'll get you a full day of cable car and MUNI rides (otherwise the cable car will cost you $7 each time you get on). Hop aboard the cable car and hold on tight! The Powell/Hyde line will take you up Hyde Street to Lombard where you can hop off and explore the most crooked street in the city. Pedestrians can walk down the stairs on the side of the street to get the full view.
When you are done exploring, get back on the cable car and continue to Powell and California. Walk a few blocks, and you will be in the heart of San Francisco's Chinatown. Head to the Willie "Woo Woo" Wong Playground. to give the kids time to run and climb at this well-loved city playground.
There's no shortage of restaurants in Chinatown. Grab dim sum at one of these local spots or sit down and enjoy traditional Mandarin cuisine. Swing by the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory at Jackson/Ross to see how these delicious cookies are made. Samples of broken cookies are free, but it will cost you 50 cents to take a photograph while you are there! Afterwards, check out some of our other favorite activities in Chinatown. Head back to Fisherman's Wharf via the Powell/Hyde cable car after you are done exploring.
Hop on any Golden Gate Transit bus on the north side of North Point Street (Routes 2, 4, 8, 18, 24, 27, 38, 44, 54, 58, 72, 74, and 76) and ride it to the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center. Here you can view the majestic bridge that is the symbol of the city. Learn about the history, science, and engineering of the Bridge's construction through interactive exhibits. Then, walk all or part of the bridge on foot. The kids will be amazed at how large the screws and cables that hold the bridge together are.
When you are finished exploring the bridge, head back and check out The Presidio. This former military base turned National Recreation Area is right near the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge and offers history, recreation and even some great spots for dining like the Presidio Officer's Club. Check out all of our Presidio recs here.
Day Three: By Bike
Ready to add serious greenery to your San Francisco visit? It might be surprising that the 1,000+ acre Golden Gate Park is right in the middle of the city. To optimize your day there, grab a bike rental and set out on your journey (they even have kid seats, trailers, tagalongs and helmets to outfit your whole crew).
First stop: the Japanese Tea Garden. If you are visiting on Monday, Wednesday or Friday and you enter before 10 a.m. there is no admission fee! Leisurely wander these gorgeous gardens to find the arched drum bridge, pagodas and koi ponds. Stop for traditional tea and almond cookies.
Peddle on over to the de Young museum and take the elevator to the Harmon Observation Tower. The tower offers 360-degree views of the city, and it's a great spot to plan out your next destination in the park. Bonus: you don't have to pay the museum admission to access the tower.
Both the Sunset and Richmond neighborhoods that flank the park offer loads of options to grab lunch and refuel. Try the diner digs at Art's Cafe, carnitas and chilaquiles at Nopalito or the tried-and-true sandwichies at The Yellow Submarine. Then re-board the bikes and head east to where the park hits the sand. The Beach Chalet is a great spot to relax in the afternoon sun. During the summer months, there is often entertainment on the expansive grass just outside.
If you need more inspiration for your Golden Gate Park bicycle journey, check out our post with suggestions for other fun (and free!) things to do in the park, like visiting the resident buffalo!
Return the bikes and grab an Uber (or the Fulton Street bus) and head to the uber-trendy Hayes Valley neighborhood (you can make a selfie stop at the Painted Ladies along the way). This neighborhood has tons of fun shopping, like the kid store Fiddlesticks and it's grown-up teen store Orange Bird. The kids can run around in the Hayes Green and climb the webbed playground while you enjoy a scoop of fresh-churned ice cream from Smitten.
For dinner, the possibilities are endless with all of the eateries that flank the green. Grab a spot at the communal tables at Biergarten and order the soft pretzel to keep the kids happy. Or, just a block away is the super fun circus-themed restaurant Straw where a lucky pair can dine in an old Tilt-a-Whirl car. (For epic family fun, make sure someone orders the donut burger!)
What is your favorite stop in San Francisco? Let us know in a comment!