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San Francisco: 50 Things to do with your children before they grow up

San Francisco: 50 Things to do with your children before they grow up

By Guest Contributor

By Jordan Ferney of Oh Happy Day

There are a lot of reasons for paying all that astronomical rent to raise children in San Francisco. Here are fifty.

SPECIAL ADDITION recommendation available only for August 2017: Experiential Pop-up Museum, The Color Factory, which is the brainchild of the author of this post, Jordan Ferney. It’s a 12,000 square foot space dedicated to color. There’s a 2k square foot ball pit all in yellow, giant coloring book rooms, scratch and sniff walls, and more. Color is used to delight the senses. You must buy tickets online.

1. Find the secret slides and go down them.

2. Crissy Field Beach when the tide is out and it is hot. It turns into children’s Mecca. The warm puddles and river are perfect for kids and toddlers to play in.

3. Camp at Kirby Cove right beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. Book early in the year (January) for the summer.

4. Go to the Westin St. Francis at Union Square and ride the glass elevators. Make sure you lean your head against the glass. You can see the whole city.

Things to Do With Kids in San Francisco

5. Hike the San Dunes at Fort Funston. There is a huge sand hill to run up and down.

6. Kid’s Happy Hour at Gorgio’s Pizza on Clement Street. The kids make their own Pizzas.

7. AT&T Park when there is no game. You can go in the back and play on the coke slide and run around the empty seats.

8. Ice Skating at Yerba Buena. Ride the Carousel.

9. Rent a Rowboat at Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park. Play around on the island in the middle.

Things to Do With Kids in San Francisco

10. See how fortune cookies are made at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company.

11. Ride the Cable Cars. Get the good seats up front and ask the operator to ring the bell.

12. Get hot cocoa at the Warming Hut at Crissy Field. Then walk out on the pier for a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

13. Spend the night in a lighthouse!

14. Take the Ferry to Angel Island and hike to the top. A moderate hike with amazing views of the entire bay.

15. Feed the birds at Mountain Lake Park – a great playground with a little beach to boot.

16. Play the old coin machines at Musee Mecanique. Get your photo taken in the photobooth.

17. Build a bonfire at Muir Beach.

18. Go Crabbing on Pier 7.

Things to Do With Kids in San Francisco

19. Rent Sea Kayaks and go Kayaking in Sausalito.

20. Walk across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Things to Do With Kids in San Francisco

21. Coyote Point Museum. Especially on Tuesdays when they have a toddler program.

22. San Francisco Farmer’s Market at the Ferry Building. Sample all the fruit. Ask the farmers about their produce.

23. San Francisco Zoo.

Things to Do With Kids in San Francisco

24. Alta Plaza Park. One of the most beautiful parks in the city.

25. Fly a kite at the Marina Green.

26. Behind JK Park in the Presidio there is a big sand hill with a makeshift fort near the top made out of branches and large tree roots – the kids will add onto it for hours. Especially great on a foggy day.

27. Visit the San Francisco Main Library.

28. Watch the Chinese New Year Parade.

29. Look for the parrots on Telegraph Hill.

30. See the sea lions, ride the carousel, and eat crab at Pier 39.

31. City Lights Book Store. See where the Beat movement was born.

32. Visit Japantown, eat sushi, get your photo taken at Pika Pika and sing karaoke.

33. Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito.

Things to Do With Kids in San Francisco

34. Go berry picking in Brentwood.

35. Pan for gold at the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Colma (where gold was first discovered).

36. The Pirate Store at 826 Valencia. Buy Lard, dig for treasure, barter.

37. Go see the whales migrating at Pt. Reyes.

38. Go to a Giants game.

39. Charter a boat and sail around San Francisco Bay.

40. Hiking in Muir Woods.

41. Chabot Space and Science Center. To infinity and beyond.

Things to Do With Kids in San Francisco

42. Art activity at the De Young Museum on Friday nights. Don’t forget to visit the tower.

43. Watch the fireworks on July 4th from Aquatic Park.

44. Visit the SFMOMA.

45. Exploring the old Boats at the Hyde Street Pier. The Merchant Ship is especially cool.

46. Sonoma Train Town. Ride the train.

Things to Do With Kids in San Francisco

47. Visit the restored San Francisco City Hall. Take a tour.

48. Spend a sunny day at Stinson Beach.

Things to Do With Kids in San Francisco

49. Attend the Nutcracker during the holidays.

50. Take a long bus ride on Muni to somewhere. Always an adventure.

(This series was inspired by Mommy Poppins’ 100 Things to Do with Your Kids in NY Before They Grow Up.)

Thank you to all my friends who helped me compile this list. And to Annie Ballard for providing the beautiful photographs. Jordan Ferney lives in San Francisco, where she tries to convince her husband to buy a sailboat. She blogs at Oh Happy DayAnnie Ballard just moved to Korea where she is compiling a list of the 50 best things to do with children there. She blogs at Chick that Clicks. She takes beautiful photographs.

Guest Contributor
About the Author

Guest Contributor

We often publish pieces by guest contributors. If you’re interested in being one, please drop us a line at contact[at]alphamom[dot]com.


We often publish pieces by guest contributors. If you’re interested in being one, please drop us a line at contact[at]alphamom[dot]com.

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  • d. Sharp

    July 30, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    These are great! Thanks, Jordan, I will bookmark this for our next visit.

  • Adrienne Penrod

    July 31, 2008 at 12:59 am

    Awesome list! We were just in San Francisco for our anniversary and are now addicted to that lovely city. I think the transportation alone would be so fun for kids (cable cars!). And here are 50 more reasons to go back already. Thanks for the list!
    PS–won’t someone do a list like this for the Pacific Northwest? Our family is about to move to somewhere in the Puget Sound area (Olympia? Tacoma?) and I would love a list to get me started and keep me from being a wee bit homesick.

  • Tim

    August 6, 2008 at 3:11 am

    Fantastic list! As a resident I’d like to add one more item: Visit the Exploratorium (near The Palace of Fine Arts) and discover science again.

  • tricia

    August 7, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    As a native San Franciscan, I’ve taken these sites for granted. Thank you for listing them all together.

  • Beth Allen

    August 10, 2008 at 5:56 pm

    We just got back from San Fran and I am missing it so bad that it is making be sick! It is my dream to live there someday! I just don’t see how the average joe can afford it!! LOVED the list!

  • Anonymous

    August 28, 2008 at 1:02 am

    very cool. wishin’ for a seattle area one!

  • Anonymous

    November 29, 2008 at 11:00 pm

    Thank you! I’m planning a trip with my 8 year old for her birthday and this list is PERFECT!

  • Angie

    May 24, 2009 at 6:35 am

    this is very cool. do you have a list for las vegas, yosemite and disneyland
    Editor: sorry not yet

  • Pam

    June 14, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    What a great idea this list is! I am planning an August trip to San Francisco with my husband and 2 boys, age 7 and 11. We are not sure how many days we should have in San Francisco. Can you recommend a good amount of days? We are from the East Coast and may not be back for a while.

  • Tami

    June 27, 2009 at 12:39 am

    WARNING – I just wanted to comment on one item you had for “things to do with your children.” I was looking through the list and went to the City Lights Bookstore’s website only to find nothing there for children. In fact, the entire bookstore is about literature, art and liberal politics. I’m pretty sure my 4 and 7 year olds don’t have any interest in these topics. Also, there were few books for children. One highlighted book was titled “B is for Beer.”

    • Steph415

      December 26, 2013 at 6:54 pm

      Downstairs is a large children’s section

  • Frugal fam of 5

    May 22, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    Awesome, thanks!!!

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  • Rhiannon

    September 13, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    Great list, but check your Colma/Collumah listing. the first discovery of gold in CA is actually hours north, close to Sacramento.

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