Are you visiting San Francisco with toddlers. San Francisco is one of the best cities to visit on a California family vacation. In this guide we round up all the best things to do in San Francisco with toddlers from the best parks, museums to the best San Francisco attractions and icons that have to be on your vacation itinerary with toddlers.
Things to do in San Francisco with toddlers and baby
Important Note: This post may contain affiliate links which means if you click through and make a purchase I will make a small commission at no extra cost to you!
Best San Francisco Attractions and Landmarks to visit with toddlers
Ride the San Francisco Cable Car
My kids love riding on unusual forms of transport. We don’t have cable cars or trams in our home city so top of my kids San Francisco bucket list was to ride the cable cars.
The cable cars have been running in San Francisco since 1873 and there are 3 main lines that run through the city. They are:
- Powell / Hyde
- Powell / Mason and
- California / Van Ness.
The Powell / Hyde and Powell / Mason are probably the most useful lines to use when visiting the city with toddlers due to their proximity to other main attractions. For instance Powell Hyde is useful for visiting Lombard Street (more on this below) and also has an amazing view of Alcatraz.
While Powell / Mason is perfect for those who want to visit Fisherman’s Wharf, the Ferry Building, the Exploratorium, and the sea lions all of which are great places to visit with toddlers.
It is worth noting that the cable cars can get very busy at peak times and at the weekend. Therefore if you are travelling with a toddler you may want to avoid these peak times. Also it can be difficult to board the cable cars with a stroller. Therefore we recommend trying to baby wear that day .
Another great activity when you are walking around the city is to try and get your toddler yo spot where all the trolley cars have come from.
Cross the Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is the most famous attraction in San Francisco and crossing it is a must on any itinerary. You can walk across the bridge, but for those feeling more active you can cycle. You will just need to rent helmets and bike seats for doing this with toddlers.
Also you can always just cycle across the bridge one way and catch the ferry back to San Francisco.
Walk the San Francisco Crooked Streets
San Francisco is famed for its’ crooked street. One of the most famous is Lombard Street which is actually the second most crooked street in the world.
This street has 8 corkscrew bends and makes for some pretty iconic insta snaps. If you want to walk the street with a toddler we recommend walking down the hill rather than up it as it is very steep and toddlers may struggle.
Also it is worth noting that Lombard Street is not a stroller friendly attraction. Lombard Street is very steep so hard work pushing the stroller up hill and there are lots of stairs which mean it isn’t stroller accessible. So either walk it with your toddler or plan to use a carrier.
Also if you want to visit a less crowded street then you could also visit Vermont Street or Potrero Hill. These have less tourists but are equally great spots to visit.
See the Sealions at Pier 39 / Fisherman’s Wharf
The California sea lions at Pier 39 were absolutely my toddler’s favorite thing to do in San Francisco. We spent much longer there than I had envisioned but my toddler was absolutely transfixed by them.
This is a great thing to do on a budget in San Francisco as seeing the sea lions is free as it the sea lion centre where you can learn more about these famous San Francisco residents.
Pier 39 Carousel
We always keep an eye out for carousels when we travel with our little one. The Carousel at Pier 39 is a beautiful double decker course and rather than just horses you can also ride marine animals. This makes it perfect to ride combined with a visit to Aquarium of the Bay.
Aquarium of the Bay
Whenever we travel we always find an aquarium sneaking onto our itinerary and San Francisco was no exception. The Aquarium is often overlooked in comparison to the Monterey bay aquarium nearby. However it shouldn’t be!
The Aquarium of the Bay is home to over 20,000 marine animals and some highlights for toddlers include the walk through tunnel and the Discover the Bay exhibit which is about local marine life.
But it is worth noting that the aquarium can get exceptionally busy especially during vacations and at weekends so we recommend you buy your tickets in advance.
Take A Cruise
The city on the bay is a must for any San Francisco itinerary with or without kids. The cruise is a great way to see the city from a different perspective. Depending on the attention span of your toddler and how much time you have in your itinerary will affect how long a cruise you should take as they are lots of different ones on offer.
Escape From Alcatraz Tour
Another great way to do a cruise is to book onto the Escape from Alcatraz tour. Now Alcatraz isn’t specifically toddler friendly but they will enjoy walking around the island and will always enjoy the cruise.
If you want to do this however we recommend booking this well in advance as tickets are limited and do sell out especially at peak time.
Also if you think your toddler may get tired on the trip it is worth bringing a carrier with you. As while you can take a stroller with you it must be left on the first level and there are some steps to navigate on the island.
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 this one is still worth adding to your San Francisco family itinerary.
I recommend heading to the zoo early and heading straight to the bear enclosure for feeding time. But even if you miss this you can find lots of other hands on experiences such as giraffe feeding and petting zoo. There are over 2000 animals at the zoo and can be a full or half day activity depending on how interested your toddler is.
Also the zoo is located at Sloat Boulevard and Great Highway which is close to Golden Gate Park. So the two could be combined for a great toddler friendly San Francisco day.
Take a Tour on a Fire Truck
The vintage open top fire truck is a great way to tour the city. Adults will love learning facts about the city but little ones will love the novelty of riding in an old fashioned fire truck.
Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze
The Infinite Mirror Maze may not be the most cultural thing to do with toddlers in San Francisco but is something that toddlers are bound to love. This is a traditional mirror maze but taken to the extreme with neon lights and seemingly endless mirrors.
Also this is great to do with toddlers as children under 5 enter for free.
SkyStar Observation Wheel
My kids love an observation wheel and the Skystar observation wheel is a great one. However we only recommend visiting on a clear day as on foggy San Fran days there is not much to see.
Explore Balmy alley in the Mission District
The Mission District is one of my favorite areas of San Francisco and a great place to explore with toddlers is the Balmy Alley which is famed for its street art and murals which is a great place to take family photos.
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 though – 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 Parks and Playgrounds in San Francisco
We always visit parks and playgrounds with our toddler on vacation and San Francisco is full of great ones. But perhaps the best is:
Golden Gate Park and Koret Playground
The Golden Gate Park is a beautiful green space in the city to visit with toddlers. But my toddler’s favorite place in the park is the Koret Playground near the West Entrance to the park. It is a fantastic playground for both children and older kids due to the variety of equipment.
Little ones will also love spotting the windmills near the West Entrance too. There is also a great carousel in the park that toddlers will love riding.
Helen Diller Playground In Mission Dolores Park
While I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit this playground it is worth knowing about for when exploring the Mission District. My little one particularly love the giant 45 foot aluminium slide in the playground.
Best Museums in San Francisco for toddlers
The exploratorium is one of San Francisco’s best interactive museums and is absolutely the number museum 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
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.
Note: children under 3 are free!
Children’s Creativity Museum
The Children’s Creativity Museum is smaller than the Exploratorium but is another great interactive space. The museum is aimed at 2 -12 year olds which is perfect for toddlers. The museum is dedicated to promoting creativity in children whether through animation, music. or even robotics exhibits. It is a great thing to do on a rainy day in San Francisco.
Bay Area Discovery Museum
We love the Bay Area Discovery Museum because of the great programs it has for children aged 6 months to 8 years-old. Toddlers will love that the museum has both indoor and outdoor exhibits to explore, while parents will also appreciate its amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
California Academy of Science
The California Academy of Science won’t be of interest to all toddlers, especially those at the lower end of the age bracket. However my dinosaur loving kid loves this natural history museum.
Best Beaches In San Francisco
Although the city on the bay, there are limited numbers of beaches to visit in the city. The best one in the city is Ocean Beach. It is a great beach for building sandcastles and flying kites but it is not a beach to go swimming with toddlers as the currents are very strong.
Given its proximity to the Golden Gate Bridge park, it can be combined in your itinerary to make your toddlers perfect day.
Baker Beach is Presidio is another great beach for toddlers. It stretches for a mile and is perfect for on shore activities. However children should no swim here. It is also a great place to take family vacation photos with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.
Also be sure to avoid the north end of the beach where clothes are optional.
Best Day Trips from San Francisco to do with toddlers
Muir Woods Day Trip with Kids
Our favorite day trip when we went to San Francisco was 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.
The trails here are all very fast and our toddler found them easy to walk them by herself. But the trailheads are stroller accessible.
It takes about 45 minutes from central San Francisco to get to the woods by car 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 information on visiting Muir Woods check out these posts:
- Muir Woods with kids
- Is Muir Woods worth visiting
- What to wear to Muir Woods
- What is the best time to visit Muir Woods
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. However you could substitute this with a visit to the Aquarium of the Bay.
Napa and Sonoma Day Trip 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.
If you are looking for a good stopping point halfway then Santa Cruz is a great place to go out and stretch your legs.
Note: On this trip we also visited some other cities as part of our Nevada – California Road Trip with toddlers. So if you want to follow our road trip be sure to check out some of our other regional city guides:
FAQs About Visiting San Francisco with toddlers
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. However there are some activities that are not very stroller friendly. For instance if you want to ride the cable cars it can be easier to do with a carrier as the trollies can get very busy at peak time.
How to Save money visiting San Francisco with toddlers
If you plan on visiting several ticketed attractions that are great for toddlers such as the Aquarium, the Exploratorium, it is worth checking out the San Francisco Citypass. This is a one price pass that gets you entry into many of the San Francisco attractions. We recommend planning your itinerary in advance and to work out if it will be a cost saving for you.
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 in Union Square at Westin St Francis.
We really liked the Union Square area and found it easy to get around with kids, though the parking lots in this area are very expensive.
Otherwise airbnbs in more residential areas are a great pick with toddlers.
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!