I took my nieces (ages 15 and 7), for a quick weekend getaway to San Francisco. While we were only there for about 30 hours, we covered a ton of ground!
As an adult, San Francisco is one of the best cities to travel solo, and I’ve got to say, I was pleasantly surprised by how kid-friendly the city is, too. I felt like everywhere we turned there was something to see and do.
If you’re wondering just what things to do in San Francisco with kids — I’ve got you covered.
Whether you’re coming for a weekend getaway, planning a staycation, or live nearby and are looking for fun things to do, I’ve put together a glimpse at our itinerary as well as other options to add on, depending on how long you have.
Here’s are the top things to do with kids in San Francisco, along with my weekend itinerary!
Four Seasons San Francisco
Where to Stay in San Francisco with Kids
We stayed at Four Seasons San Francisco — it’s in a great location as it’s right by Union Square. Here are a few more options depending on what your budget is:
Where to Eat in San Francisco with Kids
Pinecrest Diner: This old-school, 24-hour eatery slings generous portions and has all the typical diner classics.
Brioche French Toast
The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen: This place specializes in…you guessed it: grilled cheese! Offering breakfast and lunch they created upgraded takes on the grilled cheese sandwich, but don’t worry — you can still order a good old-fashioned one.
Mac and Cheese Grilled Sandwich
Pier 23 Cafe: Located just a few blocks down from the Exploratorium, their kids’ menu offers standard burgers, fish ‘n chips, as well as hot dogs, and grilled cheese.
Fish & Chips
Mac’d: For a fun twist on mac ‘n cheese, visit this counter-service shop on Russian Hill. Kids can choose which cheese sauce they’d like, pasta shape (shells or elbows), and any tasty mix-ins like bacon, hot dogs, or broccoli.
For those looking to venture outside the box, you can add truffle oil, hot Cheetos, or even lobster. They’ve even got a vegan mac & cheese.
Hot Cheetos Mac & Cheese
Plow: There are several well-known spots for this in SF, one being Plow in the Potrero Hill neighborhood. It’s a smallish simple cafe-like place, with seats inside, outside, and at the counter, and a wait that starts early and goes long.
If you’re able to get a table early, this place is amazing…but if you’ve got antsy kiddos who aren’t fond of waiting in line, skip this for another time. That said, if you’re able to snag a table, try the lemon ricotta pancakes!
A few other dishes of note: The Plow Platter and the gluten-free pancakes!
Fried Egg Sandwich
Boudin: A trip to SF wouldn’t be complete without a big serving of steaming hot clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. Boudin was established back in 1849 and it’s said that they still use the same starter yeast-bacteria culture they developed back in the California Gold Rush.
Clam Chowder & Bread Bowl
What to Do in San Francisco with Kids
Here’s the rundown of our itinerary — we arrived mid-day on a Friday and left Saturday evening.
It was a quick visit, but we were able to see and do a lot of things. While I’ve separated out each individual thing to give you a quick overview, I kept everything in order of our itinerary, so it makes sense geographically!
If you’re staying for the full weekend (or longer), I’m adding in some suggestions at the end to round out your visit! Like I mentioned earlier, we stayed at the Four Seasons San Francisco which was a great location in the middle of tons of things.
Hang Out at Pier 39
This is one of the most famous spots…and for good reason! It’s got a carousel, arcade, a mirror maze, and tons of snacks and food. You can even walk out and look at the sea lions basking in the sun.
Spend some time here enjoying the attractions and soaking up this quintessential San Francisco experience.
Eat at Boudin
You can walk from Pier 39 to Boudin at Fisherman’s Wharf. This is the perfect stop for lunch and an absolute MUST for anyone visiting San Francisco — especially if it’s their first time.
Boudin is known for their sourdough bread and how their original sourdough starter dates back to 1849 — as in during the California Gold Rush. How about lunch with a side of history?
I personally love their clam chowder soup in a bread bowl. While the kids weren’t a fan, there are a number of other options — burgers, sandwiches, grilled cheese, and more.
You can also buy cute sourdough loaves shaped like turtles and teddy bears. After lunch, wander around and explore some of the fish shops the area is known for.
Visit the Musée Mechanique
Just about a 5-10 minute walk from Boudin, you’ll find the Musée Mechanique. For Princess Diaries fans, you may remember some of the games and attractions in this building as this is where Julie Andrews battles a mechanical arm wrestler!
Entry to this museum is free but all of the games will require anywhere from a quarter to a few dollars. Take photos in the vintage photo booths or try your hand at an of the dozen old-school games.
Get a Sweet Fix at Ghiradelli Square
Keep trekking on, it’s about a 20-minute walk to the iconic Ghiradelli Square! You’ll walk along the waterfront on Jefferson Street until it terminates and you’ll turn at Hyde to go over to Ghiradelli Square.
Have a walk around, snap a few photos of the sign…and indulge in a sundae! I highly recommend the sea salt caramel hot fudge sundae — we got one to share and it was perfect.
Take the Cable Car to Chinatown
Save your feet and hop on the Cable Car! We stepped on at Hyde and jumped off at Bush Street to go visit Chinatown.
This is such an iconic thing to do and I would highly recommend it.
From where you get off on Bush Street, it’s about one or two blocks over to Dragon Gate, which is essentially the entrance to Chinatown (truly you can enter from so many different streets, but the Dragon Gate is iconic).
To avoid lines, you can prepay for your Cable Car ride using MuniMobile® (it allows you to buy tickets with credit/debit, PayPal, Apple Pay, or Google Pay).
Note: If you’re paying in cash, exact change will be required.
Walk up Grant Avenue and you’ll be able to see the whole length of Chinatown. There are a ton of things to see and do here: a matcha cafe, anime shops, tons of restaurants. Definitely a fun place to find souvenirs!
Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company
While this isn’t something we did — you may want to look into this!
Located at 56 Ross Alley, this is one of the only places to find handmade fortune cookies in the US. The legendary factory has been making custom fortune cookies by hand since 1962.
A visit to the factory won’t take too long, but you get to see how fortune cookies are made, as well as smell allllllll the deliciousness. You can purchase some while you’re at it. 😉
The Factory is open 9 am to 6:30 pm Monday through Friday, and 9 am to 7 pm on Saturday and Sundays. The space itself is quite small and can get very busy (especially on the weekends).
When you get there, the manager typically is handing out free (fresh) samples — and a majority of the time, they’ll be nice and warm as they’ve just come out of the oven. You’ll get to see the workers making the cookies and using a steel rod to shape them.
Fun Fact: The factory produces around 20,000 cookies per day.
Ramen for Dinner
After Chinatown, we walked back to the hotel and got ready for the evening. This is a great time to rest and recover, or, you may want to retire for the evening. Totally up to you!
We had big plans…a Broadway show! But, most importantly, food first.
I know that often it’s difficult to find unique places to eat with kids who are very specific about food. Fortunately, my nieces love any type of noodle soup, so ramen was on the table.
We chose Ippudo US and their veggie ramen is out of this world. They’re also really large portions so I shared a bowl with the youngest niece.
My teenage niece was able to eat most of hers, so two was plenty between the three of us! Sidenote: if your kids have never had ramen before, what better place (especially as the city gets quite chilly)?
See a Show!
Our choice: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Note that you probably need to already be a pretty big Harry Potter fan to follow the storyline of this show…especially as a child. They don’t recommend it for anyone under 8; however, my 7-year-old niece is a super fan.
The show is 3 and a half hours long. It does have an intermission but it’s not for everyone.
Unless you know your kid can sit through that long of a show and really, really loves Harry Potter, that’s the only way I would recommend this. However, there are all kinds of productions happening in San Francisco at any given time!
Brunch It Up
Explore the Ferry Building
This now leads to Saturday morning and a lot of things don’t really open until 10 am. We walked to the Ferry Building around 8:45, and if you’re staying Downtown, this is a relatively easy walk.
Most of the shops at the Ferry Building open around 9 am, and there was also a farmers market going on outside. While the farmers market caters more towards locals shopping for weekly groceries, there were some prepared food options.
Inside the Ferry Building, you’ll find a treasure trove of breakfast options, so if the little ones aren’t starving, you may want to wait to have breakfast here.
Have your pick from bagels, donuts, bao, empanadas, and more. There’s also a Blue Bottle Coffee for the adults who need their caffeine fix. Just be mindful that the wait can sometimes take up to 20 minutes for your brew, so it might be a good idea to put your order in, wander around, and then come back for your java.
For an extra special experience (and likely for kids who are a little older), check out the Imperial Tea Court.
Here, you can choose from an extensive selection of teas, have it prepared at the table, and find some delicious goodies to munch on (I’ve heard their barbeque pork buns are out of this world!).
Get Your Science on at the Exploratorium
This place opens at 10 am and it’s the COOLEST thing. We had only planned to be there for an hour and ended up sending about 3… We basically had to cut ourselves off so we could venture on to do other things.
There is so much to see and do here.
It’s a very interactive science museum with tons of exhibits and demonstrations—everything from robots to magnets to electricity. There are ways for kids to interact and learn about things, so you really could spend a lot of time here.
Lunch at Brenda’s Meat and Three
I mentioned above that my 7-year-old niece is pretty picky and requested Chick-Fil-A or Mcdonald’s…which I refused. Our compromise? Brenda’s Meat and Three: A place that dishes up Southern plates, featuring fried food and beignets.
While the fried chicken was a favorite for the girls, I was able to get a shrimp po-boy, and they also had a number of veggie or vegan-friendly options.
If you’re not in the mood for Southern food, Divisadero Street has a ton of restaurants, so you can find something you like there.
See the Painted Ladies
From Brenda’s, you can walk to Alamo Square Park where you’ll see the iconic Painted Ladies. One option to consider is getting your food to go and having a picnic in the park if it’s a nice day.
So this is a bit of a walk from Alamo Square Park, but we went for it. Be mindful that it’s slightly uphill, so if you’re going with a stroller or have really little ones, you may want to Uber.
Also, if you have very young kids, you may want to save Haight-Ashbury for another time. However, with a teenager in tow, this was the highlight of her trip.
Haight-Ashbury is all about vintage shopping and quirky shops so it’s not for every kid, but for older kids, it’s definitely a must.
You can walk down Haight Street, which has some of the best thrift shops like Buffalo Exchange, Wasteland, and Decades. It sort of caps off with Amoeba Music, and again, depending on your child’s interests, they may love this.
Conservatory of Flowers at Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park
We didn’t have a ton of time to explore Golden Gate Park because it’s MASSIVE (think of it as Central Park of San Francisco).
Where you enter from Haight Street, there’s a fantastic playground called Koret Playground. If you have little ones, this is a great place to go with its giant slides and fun interactive things to play on.
From Koret, you can walk to the Conservatory of Flowers. It closes at 4:30 pm every day (and isn’t open on Mondays), so plan ahead. From there, John F. Kennedy Drive is closed to traffic, so on the weekend, it’s buzzing with people riding their bikes and so much going on.
Peacock Meadow has a temporary light installation that is well worth checking out. Again, Golden Gate Park has so many cool things going on and you can spend a good amount of time discovering all of its hidden gems.
A few other things you may want to consider while at the park are the Japanese Tea Garden or the Botanical Gardens.
Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park
Other Fun Things to Add to Your Itinerary
We flew out that Saturday night, but if you were to stay on for another day, you could fill in anything you missed or choose a few of these activities to round out your itinerary.
These are just a few suggestions if you had three full days in San Francisco:
Japanese Tea Garden: Located within Golden Gate Park, this gorgeous Japanese Garden has a tea house in the middle and is the perfect place to have a zen moment. Fun Fact: This is the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States; it was built for the International Exposition of 1894.
Aquarium of the Bay: Located at The Embarcadero and Beach Street (just at the edge of Pier 39), this aquarium focuses on local aquatic animals from the Bay Area.
California Academy of Sciences: This research institute and natural history museum is one of the largest museums of natural history in the world. They’ve even got a planetarium.
Cable Car Museum: Curious about the Cable Cars? This museum delves into their history, the technology behind them, and even has its own gift shop. Located in the Nob Hill neighborhood, you’ll find the free museum at the Washington-Mason powerhouse and carbarn.
Seward Slides: Grab a piece of cardboard and fly down these incredibly steep slides. Don’t worry — they’re not nearly as treacherous as they may look.
Walk Across the Golden Gate Bridge: The most popular way to walk across the iconic Bridge is to start at the Welcome Center at the south end of the bridge. It’s free to walk or bike across the Golden Gate Bridge and there is a pedestrian walkway.
The walk itself is about 1.5 miles and you can get sweeping panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and City (weather dependent, of course). Be mindful to bundle up as it gets seriously cold and windy!
Lombard Street: This famously crooked street has 8 hairpin turns and gorgeous landscaped flowerbeds. Walk or drive down the steep hill featuring a 27% grade (woooweee!).
Baker Beach: This mile of rugged cliffs has a spectacular view of the Golden Gate.
City Lights Bookstore: This independent bookstore features literature from all over. Founded in 1953, it’s been a gathering place for readers, artists, writers, and activists through the years.
There you have it, folks! The top things to do with kids in San Francisco, and a good look at my itinerary for a weekend in the city with little ones.
What things would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments below!