two women and child in san francisco waterfront

Plan a San Francisco trip the whole family will love. (Photo: Getty Images)

San Francisco

San Francisco with the Kids: The Ultimate Family Guide to the Bay Area and Beyond

With a little bit of everything to do in San Francisco, the compact and cosmopolitan city delivers world-class fun to every member of the family. From riding on the historic cable cars and getting touchy-feely at a local museum to hiking through giant redwood forests and biking across the Golden Gate Bridge, vacations don’t get much more memorable or picturesque than in this city by the bay.

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

Ride a Historic Landmark

cable cars in san francisco
Hop on a cable car for an iconic attraction. (Photo: Getty Images)

The iconic Cable Cars are a national historic landmark that clang up and down San Francisco’s steep hills. The Powell/Hyde line is especially scenic, running from downtown through the Russian Hill neighborhood, with a stop atop twisty Lombard Street.

The ride ends near Ghirardelli Square where you can reward yourself with some local chocolate.

And if the cable cars stoked your kids’ interest, the Cable Car Museum shows off the giant motors and wheels that keep the cable cars moving, and entrance is free.

Catch Some Air

For an indoor energy burn, head to Crissy Field and the House of Air, a trampoline park where kids can jump and tumble across dozens of connected trampolines. There’s even an activity zone for mini bouncers ages 3 to 6.

Bonus: Crissy Field is an unbeatable spot to take a walk along the beach and snap a family photo with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.

Spend the Day in the Park

japanese tea garden san francisco
Find Zen in the Japanese Tea Garden. (Photo: Getty Images)

The 1,017-acre Golden Gate Park is larger than New York’s Central Park and is jammed with museums, playgrounds, historic sites and stunning gardens.

But where to start? A favorite is the California Academy of Sciences, a museum/aquarium/planetarium where kids can discover a rainforest and outer space, see an albino alligator and touch sea urchins all in an afternoon.

Little ones love the playground and old-fashioned carousel at Koret Children’s Quarter, and the five-acre Japanese Tea Garden is an ideal respite for afternoon tea and cookies in a unique setting.

Bike the Bridge

Rent a bike from Blazing Saddles or Bay City Bike and two-wheel it over San Francisco’s most famous landmark. Provided maps lead the way along the waterfront, to the bridge and all the way to the Marin County town of Sausalito.

Pro tip: No need to bike back. Jump on the ferry in Sausalito for a return trip to the city.

Flit Through Fairyland

On the shores of Lake Merritt in Oakland, Fairyland is a whimsical 10-acre amusement park for small children that’s said to have inspired Disneyland.

Families will love its age-appropriate rides (sorry, no thrill rides), storybook sets and a beloved puppet theater. Opening days and hours vary by season. Check ahead.

Ogle Giant Redwood Trees

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Take a wander through Muir Woods. (Photo: Getty Images)

A mere 11 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, Muir Woods National Monument boasts some of the world’s tallest and oldest redwood trees, some 1,000 years old and towering 250 feet.

Children ages 5 to 12 can pick up booklets at the visitor center and earn a Junior Ranger badge by learning about the monumental trees. If driving, parking reservations are obligatory and can be booked online.

Root for the Home Team

For sports fans the Bay Area doesn’t disappoint. Baseball buffs can root for the Oakland Athletics or the San Francisco Giants, while hoops lovers whoop it up for the Golden State Warriors.

Head to Santa Clara where the San Francisco 49ers score touchdowns at Levi’s Stadium. If soccer is your jam, the San Jose Earthquakes pro team plays at PayPal Park, and there’s even a hockey team, the San Jose Sharks, that tears it up in the heart of downtown

Sports lovers, take note: Levi’s Stadium, Oracle Park and PayPal Park offer guided behind-the-scenes tours.

Enjoy the Outdoors

Located in Castro Valley, Lake Chabot makes for a delightful day out. There’s something for every outdoor interest here, whether your family prefers venturing along the park’s miles of flower- and tree-lined hiking and biking trails, throwing a Frisbee in a meadow or renting kayaks, rowboats, pedal boats or electric boats for a spin on the 315-acre Lake Chabot, stocked with trout and catfish.

Keep in mind, the lake is also a reservoir; there is no swimming allowed.

Get on the Water

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Angel Island is a stunner. (Photo: Getty Images)

The cool gray bay is one of the city’s best attractions, and Blue & Gold Fleet‘s excursions make it easy to experience.

Whisk across the water to Angel Island (the largest island in the bay) or to lunch in the waterfront towns of Sausalito and Tiburon. Take an “Escape from the Rock” (Alcatraz) cruise that goes under the Golden Gate Bridge before circling the famous prison, or opt for a mellow sunset cruise.

Tours sell out quickly; book tickets ahead and online to avoid disappointment.

Get Touchy-Feely

Watch your shadow freeze in a strobe light, learn how San Francisco’s fog is created and crawl through a tactile dome at Exploratorium on Pier 15, a hands-on science and human perception museum with hundreds of hands-on exhibits to satisfy curious kids. Plus, admission is free for children 3 and under.

Turn on the Tech

The Tech Interactive hands-on educational museum in downtown San Jose makes it easy to encourage family screen time with its interactive gizmos and gadgets that beg small hands to build robots, play cyber sleuth and learn how technology can change lives, all while supercharging young imaginations.

The museum also has an IMAX theater with a four-story wraparound screen and digital surround sound.