San Francisco is one of the those bucket list cities with plenty of things to see and do but what is it like visiting San Francisco with toddler or baby in tow? In this guide not one but two toddler mums give you insight on their visit to the city including the best places to stay with a baby or toddler to the best things to do in San Francisco with toddler in tow!
Things to do in San Francisco with toddlers and baby
Golden Gate Park and Koret Playground
If there is one landmark that San Francisco is famous for it is of course the Golden Gate Bridge. One of the things you must do in San Francisco is drive across the bridge – you will definitely do this if you are staying in San Francisco and want to head to Muir Woods (see later in the article for more info on this)!
But on top of driving across one place to get a great view of the bridge that your toddler will love is from Golden Gate Park and in particular the Koret Playground! The playground is in the Southeast corner of the park!
On top of the lovely playground equipment there is also a beautiful vintage carousel that children will love to ride!
There are other great family friendly attractions in the park including
- Conservatory of Flowers – one of the most photogenic spots in the city!
- San Francisco botanical garden – a great place to let children run free
- Japanese tea garden
The park is also home to the De Young museum and California Academy of Science. We didn’t visit these with our toddler but are certainly places I would love to explore on my own at a later date and I am sure my daughter would have loved to see the butterfly exhibit in the California Academy of Science! Another top thing to do at the California Academy of Science would be to see a planetarium show!
Visiting Alcatraz with toddler
After the Golden Gate Bridge the most iconic site in San Francisco has to be Alcatraz! But is Alcatraz doable with a toddler or baby?
In terms of accessibility you can navigate the terrain (stairs, ramps, uneven concrete) with a cheap umbrella stroller without too much hassle!
One of the biggest challenges for those travelling with toddlers in San Francisco however will be that you cannot eat in the prison. There are snacks and drinks for sale at the boat dock on shore and on the boat that takes you to Alcatraz and once you arrive at the Alcatraz boat dock, there are some picnic tables. I would suggest stopping to eat a few snacks before you start the walk up to the prison. Its likely you will be at the prison for 1-1.5 hours and snacking is not allowed.
Another top tip for visiting Alcatraz with toddlers is to be sure you bring suncream with you. There is not a lot of shade on the walk up to the prison or when waiting on Alcatraz for the return boat.
One nice thing to do at Alcatraz to commemorate your visit, especially when travelling with kids that won’t be able to remember the day, by buying a postcard (they only cost about a dollar) and have it stamped with your “prison date”aka your visit date. It’s a great souvenir!
Top Tip: the boat rides over to Alcatraz are limited so be sure to book your tickets online in advance!
Things to do at Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf with Kids
Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 are on any San Francisco Bucket List and are also great places to visit with toddlers and baby in San Francisco!
Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 are not exactly the same place – Pier 39 is just one part of Fisherman’s Wharf but it is a great place to visit with toddlers!
The main attraction at Pier 39 – at least in my daughters opinion are the world famous San Francisco sea lions! The sea lions arrived not long after the 1989 San Francisco earthquake and have remained and grown in population there ever since! There is even a free sea lion Centre where you can learn more about the creatures!
On top of the Sea Lions at Pier 39 there are lots of other attractions in the Fisherman’s Wharf area including
- Aquarium of the Bay – a must for families visiting the area – especially those who are not taking a day trip to Monterey! The aquarium is good to spend a couple of hours and is brilliant on a rainy day!
- Ride the Pier 39 Carousel
Ride the Trams
Fisherman’s Wharf is also a good area to pick up a tram/cable car which is another essential thing to do when in San Francisco! The trams / trolley cars can get very busy at peak time so I would recommend trying to avoid peak times and weekends! If you have a stroller you will need to fold it up and given how crowded the cars can get you may want to baby wear that day!
Once you have ridden the trollies another fun thing to do with toddlers is spot where in the world all the trolley cars are from!
From the Fisherman’s Wharf you can pick up the Powell / Mason Line which passes close to Lombard Street – one of the famous crooked streets in San Francisco – if not the world!
Walk the SF Crooked Streets
Again, another must to do in San Francisco is to walk one of the city’s famous crooked streets such as Lombard Street mentioned above! Now Lombard Street is one of the the most famous but if you are travelling with a toddler (and are happy not to see the flowers that line Lombard Street) then I would skip Lombard Street and head to either Vermont Street or Potrero Hill! These are actually just as crooked as Lombard Street and there aren’t the throngs of tourists there walking the streets or gathering at the base that will clutter your photos! This San Francisco hidden gem is a great alternative to get away from the crowds when travelling with a toddler!
San Francisco Zoo
Let’s face it what toddler doesn’t love a zoo! Though not as famous as the other California zoo at San Diego – San Francisco is still worth visiting!
There are some great interactive and learning experiences even for toddlers! If you get there early enough I would definitely recommend heading to the bear enclosure for 10am when the zoo’s two grizzly bears are fed (check the website for current timings)!
But don’t worry if you don’t make it there in the morning – in the afternoon you can get up close to the giraffe’s at Giraffe lodge!
On top of that there are many close up and even hands on activities especially at the family farm!
The zoo is located at Sloat Boulevard and Great Highway and is close to Golden Gate Park. This would be a perfect accompaniment to the playground on your San Francisco with kids itinerary! There is parking at the zoo for guests arriving by car!
Exploratorium – one of the easiest places to visit with toddlers in San Francisco!
The exploratorium is one of San Francisco’s best interactive museums and is one of the best places to visit in San Francisco with a toddler! The museum has over a whopping 600 interactive exhibits and also has daily demonstrations by trained staff!
One of the great things about the Exploratorium is that it is designed for children, especially young children in mind. This means that the galleries are all stroller friendly, that there are loaners for those that don’t have one with them and plenty of spaces for snacks, breastfeeding and resting throughout the gallery spaces making it one of the easiest places to visit with toddlers in San Francisco!
Some of the best exhibits to visit at the Exploratorium with kids include but aren’t limited to
- the kinetic sand display
- the tornado
- balanced ball
But don’t worry if you are an adult that fancies a go but don’t have kids – they have some late evenings that exclusively for the 18+market!
The Exploratorium is located at Pier 15 and can be reached by public transit or if visiting by car you would have to park in a local garage!
Children’s Creativity Museum
Smaller than the Exploratorium, the Children’s Creativity Museum is all about promoting creativity in children! And by creativity it deals with many forms – robotics, animation, music and more! Overall this is a great museum to introduce STEM or STEAM concepts to toddlers!
On top of that children will love riding the historic carousel in the museum!
Explore the Mission District
Another icon of San Francisco is the Mission District! Adults will love looking at the architecture of the area but there are lots of toddler friendly things to do in this area of town! The Mission Dolores Park is a must for those visiting the area with kids. Young children will particularly love the Helen Diller Playground which has a whole preschool area and a giant 45 foot aluminium slide that kids just can’t get enough of!
Ghirardelli Square is another one of those things that pops up on lots of San Francisco bucket lists – especially for the chocolate lovers out there! However this is something that in my opinion can either be skipped or adapted to make it far more toddler friendly! Ghirardelli Square is famed for its chocolate but you can pretty much buy all of the chocolate at any grocery store in America or at SFO airport for international visitors!
A word of caution – this place can get crazy busy especially if you are there on the weekend! A lot of people want to eat one of their famed ice cream sundaes in the cafe itself. The lines to get into the cafe are very long however if you go into the store you can actually purchase one of the sundaes to go! This takes about 10 minutes and you have a large choice of sundaes to choose from! You can then walk along the bay and enjoy your sundae. If you are travelling with a toddler I think this is the most enjoyable way to visit Ghirardelli Square.
Best Day Trips from San Francisco with Kids
Of all the things we did in San Francisco our favourite thing with or without children was visiting Muir Woods! This national monument will be known to many as it has featured in many films and tv shows and is one of the most iconic natural landscapes of California in my opinion.
It takes about 45 minutes from central San Francisco to get to the woods and is the perfect half day trip from Muir Woods!
Please note: you require a reservation to visit Muir Woods National Monument to park there. To book your reservation visit GoMuirWoods.com or call 1-800-410-2419. There is also a shuttle bus to the park for those that have to park further away! Please be sure to make your reservations before you go as there is no wifi or service at the site and you will have to drive back into town to make a reservation if you don’t have one!
For more tips on visiting Muir Woods with kids check out this post
Day Trip to Monterey Bay Aquarium from San Francisco
This truly is a day trip or even a weekend trip from San Francisco! Monterey is a beautiful place and you will not be disappointed with a day trip there! For toddlers the biggest draw of Monterey is obviously the aquarium! It is a pretty pricey day trip with admission being around 50USD a person but my toddler certainly go there monies worth here!
If you are looking for a good stopping point halfway then Santa Cruz is a great place to go out and stretch your legs!
Napa and Sonoma with Kids
When we were a couple we loved visiting wine regions! We wondered if it would be possible to do with kids in tow and we are happy to say that with a bit of forethought it definitely is! The key is to locate family friendly wineries and stick to those! For instance Larson Family Winery has lots of picnic areas and grassy areas where kids can run and you can enjoy the tasting!
Another great alternative is to take the Napa Valley Wine Train. Parents can enjoy the wine while children enjoy the train ride!
And even if you don’t like wine a day trip to Napa and Sonoma with kids is still worthwhile with lots of other attractions from trains to farms and family entertainment! One sure fire hit that I would recommend starting your day with is train town – where kids can ride a train and enjoy a petting zoo before you hit the wineries!
Where to Stay in San Francisco with Toddlers
Although I think Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 are a must for any San Francisco itinerary, I personally wouldn’t recommend staying in this area of San Francisco with toddlers!
We initially booked a hotel in the Fisherman’s Wharf area but we cancelled our reservation on arrival at the hotel as we found the area to be heaving with tourists, a bit seedy and truth be to the hotel wasn’t where I would have wanted to stay! Sometimes you just book a dud hotel right?! We soon changed hotel and we stayed at
Westin St Francis – a great family friendly hotel in San Francisco
This hotel is very modern and luxurious throughout and have some great touchers for those visiting with toddlers or babies! To this day my daughter still plays with her Westin dog that the concierge gave her on check in!
This hotel is also in a great location for shopping, transport and unusually for San Francisco has ample parking (though be warned – it is expensive to park)!
I definitely think the Union Square is much nicer than the Fisherman’s Wharf area when staying in San Francisco with kids!
If you would prefer to find accommodation with kitchen and separate bedrooms – which lets face it makes travelling with a toddler easier you might want to consider an Airbnb! A great area for family friendly AirBnB’s is Russian hill with easy access to LombardStreet!
We always recommend looking for AirBnB superhosts! Some superhosts in this area include:
- A three bedroom Pacific Heights apartment! Click here for rates and availability!
- A three bedroom Russian Hill apartment – click here for rates and availability!
Getting Around San Francisco with Baby or Toddler
Should I take a stroller to San Francisco?
San Francisco is famed for its hills however it is still possible to get around San Francisco with a stroller! We took ours and found we used it a lot. If you want to ride the trolley cars – and lets face it – it is a must do in San Francisco be sure to have a fold up stroller with you as you will need to collapse it to get on!
I would also recommend packing a carrier too!
What to Pack for San Francisco with Kids
No matter what time of year you go my biggest tip for packing in San Francisco is to take layers! The wind by the bay can be chilling especially for littles so be sure yo have plenty of laters with you!
Have you been to San Francisco with toddlers? What were your favourite things to do with toddlers with San Francisco?
And a big thank you to Ashley who provided added info and words on her experiences in San Francisco when she went with her toddler!