Plan a family weekend trip to San Francisco and explore interactive science exhibits, make your own art or record a music album. Take the kids catamaran sailing to enjoy incredible views of the San Francisco skyline, visit an aquarium, stop at the zoo, and have the best ice cream in town. Our list of best things to do with kids in the Bay Area includes ideas for both younger and older children. Most offer indoor and outdoor areas where you can interact with animals, play hide-and-seek, crawl through tunnels, and admire scenic city views.
© Image by Amy Snyder, Exploratorium
The Exploratorium at Pier 15 is a 330,000-square-foot interactive science museum with 600 indoor and outdoor exhibits, a public plaza, bayside restaurant and amazing views of the San Francisco waterfront. You can spend your day learning about physics, human behavior, tides, marine animals, art, the environment and other topics. Children will be able to use their five senses to interact with engaging exhibits.
The South Gallery lets you “think with your hands” by constructing a Marble Machine from reusable materials, or turn knobs which animate characters on Tinkerer’s Clock. The West Gallery encourages children to experiment with feelings, social behavior and thoughts. The East Gallery is home to living systems where you can observe plankton, stem cells and fruit flies using research-grade microscopes.
Pier 15, San Francisco, California 94111, Phone: 415-528-4444
2.The San Francisco Art Institute
© The San Francisco Art Institute
The San Francisco Art Institute is one of the United States' oldest contemporary art education institutions, originally founded in 1871 as the San Francisco Art Association. Since its inception, the institute has trained internationally-renowned artists such as famed Rolling Stone photographer Annie Leibovitz. Institute visitors can explore the facility's Walter and McBean Galleries, which present experimental and avant-garde works by internationally-recognized contemporary artists. Student works are also showcased at two onsite galleries, including the Diego Rivera Gallery. Annual special events include artist's talks, film screenings, lectures, and symposia. Each year, the Adaline Kent Award honors a noted up-and-coming California artist at an official ceremony.
800 Chestnut St, San Francisco, CA 94133, Phone: 415-771-7020
3.Children’s Creativity Museum
© Children’s Creativity Museum
Children’s Creativity Museum is a multimedia arts and technology museum where children learn in an interactive environment. The Animation Studio lets kids create their own characters from clay and animate them on screen, guided by professional educators. Design Studio teaches how to use Adobe Photoshop to create a poster, album cover or an advertisement.
The Mystery Box Challenge in the Innovation Lab invites children to invent something using just the materials provided in the box. The Music Studio lets visitors play dress-up, perform in front of a green screen and record the performance on DVD. If you want to paint, draw and create unique art with a diverse selection of materials, head to the Spiral Gallery.
221 Fourth St., San Francisco, California 94103, Phone: 415-820-3320
More ideas: 18 Best Things to Do in Oakland.
4.The Bay Area Discovery Museum
© The Bay Area Discovery Museum
Set on 7.5 scenic acres with views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Area Discovery Museum offers hands-on activities designed to awaken creative thinking in children. Imagination Playground, designed by architect David Rockwell, lets kids engage in unstructured free play using giant foam blocks, slides and fabric.
Art Studios 5 and 10 encourage visitors to express themselves through art while learning about collaboration. Bay Hall simulates the busy Ports of San Francisco and Oakland. There is an underwater tunnel, a lift to lower containers, and a vintage train set. The 2.5-acre outdoor space features an authentic fishing boat, a scenic trail, the Sea Cave and many other exciting activities.
557 McReynolds Road, Sausalito, California 94965, Phone: 415-339-3900
Overnight trips with kids: 50 Best Family Vacations in California.
5.The Ice Cream Bar
© The Ice Cream Bar
For lunch, head to the Ice Cream Bar and eat delicious sandwiches, organic greens, soup and ice cream. Everything at the Ice Cream Bar is made in house using locally sourced organic ingredients. Kids will love the waffle cones, cookies, brioche, breads and handmade ice cream.
815 Cole St, San Francisco, California 94117, Phone: 415-742-4932
© Del Popolo
If you fell in love with Del Popolo’s delicious wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas when they were selling them from their glass-faced truck, you will love them even more now that you can sit and enjoy them in their cozy, modern pizzeria on Nob Hill. You can choose to sit at one of the large communal tables, at the small bistro tables with banquettes along the wall, or, if you are lucky, at the counter overlooking the giant fire-burning oven that is baking your pizza to perfection. Since they could not improve on perfection, they still do the pizza as they did in the truck, but added small antipasti as appetizers and a respectable list of wines and craft beers. The place is always packed, but the wait is worth it.
855 Bush St, San Francisco, CA 94108, Phone: 415-589-7940
© Children’s Fairyland
Children’s Fairyland in Oakland is the place where your child’s favorite fairy tales come alive. Step into the Crooked House, play on the Jack and Jill Hill, see the live Olde English Baby Doll Sheep, visit the Alice in Wonderland Tunnel, climb on Willie the Whale, and ride the Jolly Trolly which dates back to 1954.
Play in the beautifully landscaped gardens growing Mary’s silver bells and cockleshells as well as organic vegetables used to feed the animals. In addition to the sheep, there is a pony, alpaca, two goats, donkeys, ducks, rabbits, guinea pigs and chickens.
699 Bellevue Avenue, Oakland, California 94610, Phone: 510-452-2259
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8.Devil's Teeth Baking Company
© Devil's Teeth Baking Company
Devil's Teeth Baking Company is a small neighborhood breakfast place and bakery, located in the Outer Sunset area of San Francisco, that the locals would have liked to keep to themselves. The word is out that they make the best breakfast sandwiches in the world and their Beignets, which they bake only on Sundays, are a good reason to abandon the idea of a lazy Sunday morning at home and head for your share of sweet, powdery deliciousness.
The sandwiches are not complicated, just eggs and cheese in a biscuit - but what a biscuit! Freshly made every morning, flakey and soft, and big enough to keep the whole mess together. Their Beignets are so popular that they published the recipe online and people still keep coming in for their share. Don't look for a dining space, there is none, just a small cute park with a few benches in front of the store, or visitors can walk with their loot to Ocean Beach, which is only a few blocks away.
3876 Noriega St, San Francisco, CA 94122, Phone: 415-683-5533
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9.Dynamo Donut and Coffee
© Dynamo Donut and Coffee
Dynamo Donut + Coffee is a delightfully creative craft doughnut chain in San Francisco, originally opened in its first location in 2008 within the city's historic mission building. Today, the chain offers two full-service locations throughout the city, along with service at a wide range of pop-up locations, kiosks, and partner businesses. All doughnuts are prepared in house six days a week with the freshest seasonal, organic, and local ingredients, available for takeout or dine-in on the restaurant's quaint back patio space. Specialty flavors include delicacies such as passion fruit milk chocolate, chocolate star anise, and caramel de sel, with gluten-free flavors such as carrot cream cheese and lemon raspberry also available daily. Adventurous seasonal flavors available throughout the year include zucchini oat, hazelnut lavender, jalapeño lime, and hibiscus beet.
2760 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94110, Phone: 415-920-1978
Mocha is an interactive museum which lets children play, paint, sculpt and interact with one another. Open Studio, open on Fridays and Saturdays, lets you create art using diverse materials and technical instruction offered by the teaching artist. If you are planning a weekend trip close to a major holiday, you’ll be able to join an ARTventure, offered on Saturdays.
1625 Clay Street, Oakland, California 94612, Phone: 510-465-8770
More family destinations: Washington, DC, Portland OR, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Chicago.
© Batter Bakery
Batter Bakery is one of San Francisco's most delicious boutique bakeries, originally founded in 2008 by Jen Musty. The small-batch bakery utilizes premium ingredients and seasonal flavors in all its high-quality American-style treats, crafted with a personal touch for all customers. Baked goods are crafted with organic whole-grain flours, premium chocolates, local dairy and egg products, and sustainably-sourced spices, utilizing only flavors that are in season throughout the year. Savory and sweet scones, cream biscuits, and hearty quickbreads are served up throughout the morning hours, along with scrumptious breakfast options such as granola, quiche, and breakfast sandwiches served alongside cafe beverages from Equator Coffees and Yerba Buena Tea Company. Sweet treats range from gourmet cookies, brownies, and bars to frosted cakes and cupcakes in a variety of decadent flavors.
1517 Pine Street, San Francisco, CA 94109, Phone: 415-674- 1069
12.Flax Art and Design
© Flax Art and Design
For artists, having a well-stocked store with all the supplies they need is a key to being able to create. Flax has been at the heart of the Bay Area arts community since 1938. A family business, it is now operated by the 3rd generation of the Flax family. Flax offers an incredible range of art supplies to encourage and inspire anyone’s creativity. There are two locations - one in Oakland and one in San Francisco. The stores are known for their experienced staff who are always ready to offer expert advice and help customers find everything they need, from paint supplies and high quality art paper to all kinds of drawing supplies and art studio tools. Flax also offers framing options, art and craft supplies for kids, and interesting gifts for artistically inclined friends.
1501 Martin Luther King Jr Way (at 15th St.), Oakland CA, 94612, Phone: 510-867-2324
Fort Mason Center, 2 Marina Blvd, Bldg D, San Francisco, CA 94123, Phone: 415-530-3510
13.California Academy of Sciences
© California Academy of Sciences
The California Academy of Sciences is an incredible museum with exhibits for children of all ages. Early Explorers Cove, designed for kids ages 0-5 features a miniature garden, toys, live animals and dress-up costumes. Discovery Tidepool lets children touch sea animals. Earthquake Shake House is meant for children 3 and up while Planetarium shows are suitable for children ages 7 and up.
55 Music Concourse Drive, San Francisco, California 94118, Phone: 415-379-8000
Next read: San Francisco kayaking
© Bi-Rite Market
Bi-Rite Market has been an institution in San Francisco's Mission District for nearly a century, originally opened in 1940 by brothers Bill and Joe Cordano as the 18th Street Market. Though the market was reimagined in 1998 as a farm-direct grocery store and cafe, it retains its historic Art Deco-style facade and decor today, still known as the city's best spot for locally-sourced grocery and pantry items. The market strives to create community through food, selling a variety of unique and environmentally-friendly products stocked by area farmers, ranchers, producers, cheesemongers, and chefs. A delicious market cafe at the city's Civic Center Plaza serves up excellent breakfast and lunch deli sandwiches, health-conscious salads and bowls, and soft-serve ice cream delights.
3639 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110, Phone: 415- 241-9760
© Bob's Donuts
Bob's Donuts is a breakfast institution in San Francisco's Nob Hill neighborhood, originally opened in 1960 as a family-owned scratch-made doughnut shop. Today, the shop is one of the final remaining independent doughnut shops in the Bay Area, open to the public 24 hours a day throughout the week and serving up housemade doughnuts and pastries crafted via Old World baking techniques. Delectable doughnut varieties range from traditional glazed, sprinkled, and jelly-filled variants to European-style delicacies such as apple pandowdys, almond ring danishes, and sticky buns. The restaurant is also known for its famed Big Donut challenge, which challenges diners to eat a giant doughnut in three minutes for a full refund, a free beverage, a t-shirt, and a listing on the restaurant's Hall of Fame.
1621 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109, Phone: 415-776-3141
What started as a taco stand in San Francisco’s farmers market quickly grew into five locations all over the area where long-term fans go for their dose of delicious tacos, and even with five locations, you will still have to wait in line. Their charming Mission District location is colorful and has enough space to allow you to slowly enjoy your tacos, filled with home-made chorizos or braised chicken. You can sit at the large bar or one of the tall tables or on the nice patio, everyone’s favorite place. All tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, and sopas are made with fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients. They are inventive and mouth-watering and you will not have enough of them. Wash it all down with a cool beer or one of 100 specialty tequilas.
741 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110, Phone: 415-649-6077
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17.Pier 39 & Adventure Cat Sailing Charters
© Adventure Cat Sailing Charters
Pier 39 is one of the most popular tourist stops in San Francisco, home to amazing attractions such as Aquarium of the Bay, Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze, San Francisco Carousel, Sea Lion Center, street performers, restaurants and cafes. Adventure Cat Sailing Charters operates two family-friendly catamarans which take you on an exciting adventure with views of the San Francisco skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island.
Pier 39 Concourse, San Francisco, California 94133, Phone: 415-777-1630
18.San Francisco Zoo & Gardens
© San Francisco Zoo & Gardens
Take your children to the San Francisco Zoo where they can see unique animals, ride a miniature steam train, play on the playground, and explore beautiful year-round gardens. There are many exciting exhibits that let kids learn about animals and ecosystems from around the world, such as Australian kangaroos, bears and monkeys. The zoo is home to the largest outdoor lemur habitat in the country, Penguin Island, Lion House, Eagle Island, Insect Zoo, Gorilla Preserve and the Sea Lion Pool. Head to Greenie’s Conservation Corner where children can learn about energy conservation, and other sustainable practices.
Sloat Blvd., San Francisco, California 94132, Phone: 415-753-7080
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19.Aquarium of the Bay
© Aquarium of the Bay
Aquarium of the Bay is home to beautiful exhibits featuring thousands of aquatic animals, including Moray Eels, anchovies and newborn Skates. Under the Bay exhibit was designed to give you a scuba diver’s perspective of the San Francisco Bay, complete with Moon Jellies and Sea Stars. You can watch sharks and rays swim in the crystal clear tunnel exhibit above your head.
Kids love Touch the Bay, an interactive area which houses Leopard Sharks, Big Skates and Juvenile Bat Rays. If you arrive before the 12:30 lunch feeding, you can often touch the tips of playful Bat Rays.
Embarcadero & Beach St., San Francisco, California 94133, Phone: 415-623-5300
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19 Fun Things to Do in San Francisco and Oakland with Kids of All Ages
- Exploratorium, Photo: Image by Amy Snyder, Exploratorium
- The San Francisco Art Institute, Photo: The San Francisco Art Institute
- Children’s Creativity Museum, Photo: Children’s Creativity Museum
- The Bay Area Discovery Museum, Photo: The Bay Area Discovery Museum
- The Ice Cream Bar, Photo: The Ice Cream Bar
- Del Popolo, Photo: Del Popolo
- Children’s Fairyland, Photo: Children’s Fairyland
- Devil's Teeth Baking Company, Photo: Devil's Teeth Baking Company
- Dynamo Donut and Coffee, Photo: Dynamo Donut and Coffee
- Mocha, Photo: Mocha
- Batter Bakery, Photo: Batter Bakery
- Flax Art and Design, Photo: Flax Art and Design
- California Academy of Sciences, Photo: California Academy of Sciences
- Bi-Rite Market, Photo: Bi-Rite Market
- Bob's Donuts, Photo: Bob's Donuts
- Tacolicious, Photo: Tacolicious
- Pier 39 & Adventure Cat Sailing Charters, Photo: Adventure Cat Sailing Charters
- San Francisco Zoo & Gardens, Photo: San Francisco Zoo & Gardens
- Aquarium of the Bay, Photo: Aquarium of the Bay
- Cover Photo: Image by Gayle Laird, Exploratorium