12 (More) Things To Do In San Francisco With Kids

by Jess Hamman
Originally Published: 

With San Francisco’s breathtaking bridges, legendary hills, and colorful Victorian row houses, it’s no wonder Fog City sees over 18 million visitors annually. If you are lucky enough to be taking a family to the Bay Area, here are some insider tips to avoid the crowds, save some cash, and enjoy Frisco like a local.

1. Glen Canyon Park: This hidden gem is a secret to even many native San Franciscans. Glen Canyon Park, located in San Francisco’s Glen Park neighborhood, boasts over 70 acres of hiking trails through a shaded, willowy eucalyptus canyon. Start your family hike on the trailhead off Elk Street and do the ¼ mile loop that ends at the newly refurbished Glen Canyon Park Playground. After an afternoon in the canyon, your youngsters will become familiar with San Francisco’s unique urban ecosystem and may even be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the coyotes, red-tailed hawks, or great horned owls that call this canyon home.

2. Japanese Tea Garden: Meander through the stone walkways lined with carefully pruned bonsai trees in San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden. Kids will love visiting with the massive koi that stock the ponds and jumping from stone to stone in the Zen garden. Stop for some green tea and edamame at the Tea House to refuel before heading back into the garden for more. Head to the Japanese Tea Garden on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday before 10 a.m. and admission is free.

3. Walter Haas Playground: Want to see some sights, but know all your kids want to do is play? Make your way to this quiet playground in San Francisco’s Diamond Heights District and you can have your cake and eat it, too. This playground will keep the kids content while you enjoy the stellar views of the Bay Bridge and beyond.

4. Twin Peaks: For the best 180-degree view of the city, drive the windy road to the lookout point atop Twin Peaks. This is San Francisco’s second highest peak and the views will not disappoint.

5. Ride the BART. Kids love trains – and you love to explore, so pair the two with a ride on San Francisco’s public transportation system, the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). Hop on the train at any point and take it south to the hip Mission District or north to the swanky Ferry Building. Use it as your own personal hop on/hop off bus tour and save some change in the process.


6. Mountain Lake Park. Head to the city’s clean-cut Richmond district and take a walk on the paths that line the city’s Mountain Lake. If you follow the paths west, you’ll hit an old-school San Francisco playground. Choose a park bench to watch your children join local kids sliding down the concrete slides on torn pieces of cardboard to maximize speed.

7. Baker Beach. While the crowds head to Ocean Beach or Crissy Field, gather a picnic blanket and head to San Francisco’s Baker Beach. Save your family vacation picture for this beach’s backdrop, which offers one of the best angles of the Golden Gate Bridge. Hunt for sea glass and keep your eyes peeled for the school of dolphin that frequents the surf.

8. Filbert Steps to Coit Tower. Coit Tower, on San Francisco’s famed Telegraph Hill, is a well-known landmark in the city, but one of the best parts of this destination is the journey there. For a real San Francisco experience, hike the Filbert Street Steps that climb the 31.5% grade hill that leads to the tower winding through the eclectic gardens of residences accessible only by stairs. Look for the legendary pandemonium of parrots that befriend the residents there.

9. Cayuga Park Playground. You won’t find many tourists in this Southern San Francisco neighborhood, but you will find one awesome, newly renovated park tucked into the Outer Mission. When your kids get bored of the playground (which will take a while), lead them to the field lined with the impressive hand-carved statues by a former park gardener. Let them explore in the woods that line the field and be rewarded by the several wood forts that kids have used as pirate ships for decades. This park sits below the elevated portion of the BART, so if you don’t mind the intermittent subway roar, this out-of-the-way gem is worth it.

10. Musée Mécanique. Admission is free at this wonderful and bizarre arcade housed on San Francisco’s bustling Fisherman’s Wharf. Be sure to come armed with a bag of coins because everyone in the family will revel in playing these antique games.

11. San Francisco Bay Ferry and the Golden Gate Ferry. Want your kids to explore the famed SF Bay, but don’t want to pay for a trip to Alcatraz? You have some great alternatives. Hop on the San Francisco Bay Ferry from a bunch of locations in the city for just over $6 per adult and $3 per child one-way (kids under 5 are free). Take the boat from the Ferry Building to Jack London Square in Oakland for lunch, or splurge and hop on the Golden Gate Ferry for just over $10 per adult and $5 per child (kids under 4 are free) and ride the boat to scenic Marin County with destinations in Sausalito or Larkspur. and

12. Park Chalet. Finish up your San Francisco family adventures with a micro-brew at the Park Chalet, a bar and bistro at the mouth of Golden Gate Park. Ask to sit in the garden and enjoy some garlic fries while your kids climb on the windswept cypress trees. Visit on Fridays and Saturdays in July for live music.

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