Looking for a city destination that’s as much fun for the kids as the grown ups? Then we give you San Francisco. It might be home to the 1960s hippie dream and cultural heavyweights like the Beat Poets – but it’s also a city where you’ll find wild animals roaming free, family-friendly attractions and world-famous landmarks. With a little something for everyone, the best things to do in San Francisco with kids will actually appeal to all the family. Here’s seven of our favorites.
1) Visit the world famous Alcatraz
Teach your kids the ultimate lesson in behaving themselves by showing them what might happen if they don’t. Despite being closed since 1963 and, only operating as a penitentiary for 29 years, this is still probably the most famous prison in the world. Believed to be inescapable – although rumors persist about one successful attempt – it’s a fascinating place to visit for the whole family. Book early though, as it’s one of the most popular San Francisco family activities.
2) Meet the sea lions at Pier 39
The shopping center, carousel and street performers down at Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 are enough to keep the whole family happy. But what makes this a must-visit is the colony of cheeky sea lions that call it home. Your little ones will love watching them play around, pushing each other off the docks – although they do give off a bit of a fishy pong.
3) Have fun in the park
Golden Gate Park is not just any open space. This legendary slice of green covers around 1,017 acres (4 square kilometers) in the center of the city. Visit the California Academy of Sciences to spark their imaginations or meet the bison that have roamed freely in the enclosure since 1891. You can even take a rowing boat out on Stow Lake and there’s a vintage children’s playground where they can work off some energy on the slides and 1912 carousel.
4) Take a winding walk
You might notice that some of the city is a little on the steep side, and it feels like nowhere more so than Lombard Street. With a 27% gradient, it’s far too steep for cars to drive straight up, so the road was designed with 8 switchbacks along its 600-foot (180-meter) length. The street has featured in numerous feature films and colorful flowerbeds complete its distinctive look . Walk up and down, although we’re guessing that little legs won’t get quite as tired as the grown-ups.
5) Feed young minds at the museums
Get the kids’ hair standing on end – literally – at the Exploratorium's 'static exhibition'. All the experiments are hands on – kids can learn about the fog that covers the city as well as feeling their way through the pitch-black Tactile Dome. The Children’s Creativity Museum gives little minds the chance to explore music production, stop motion animation and even invent video games.
6) Ride the cable cars
Hop on board the city’s ancient cable car system at the Powell Street Turnaround. From here you’ll rattle your way over Nob Hill and down towards Fisherman’s Wharf. You will have to hold on tight though, as it’s a bumpy ride and the carriages were designed and built long before safety belts were invented. Queues can get long for spaces, so try to arrive early for the best chance of getting on board.
7) Come face to face with a shark
As you wander through the glass tubes of the Aquarium of the Bay, you’ll be just a few feet from real live sharks. Enchanting but dangerous jellyfish will float by and there’s even the chance to pet the rays and sea stars at the touch tanks. A great way of introducing kids to the wonders of the oceans up close.