San Francisco is known as the crown jewel of California’s Bay Area and is revered for being one of the most desirable tourist cities in the world. With there being absolutely no shortage of attractions in the 46 sq. mile sized city, there’s no question as to how it’s upheld that distinction for as long as it has.
While rich in nightlife, San Francisco also boasts a truly cultural experience that the entire family can enjoy. Next time you find yourself in ‘The Golden City’, try and visit one (or all!) of these stops for activities that the entire household will remember for years to come…
Located along the Northern Waterfront of the city is a neighborhood called Fisherman’s Wharf, a San Francisco tourist spot that champions some of the best eateries and attractions in the county.
This area is most popular for being the home of Pier 39, a shopping center alongside the coastline of the bay that has clear views of the Golden Gate Bridge and no shortage of Sea Lions basking in the sun to see!
If you do decide to stop by, don’t expect to leave hungry! You can find some of the best seafood in California in this neighborhood at restaurants like Fisherman’s Grotto and Alioto’s. For dessert, make sure to pop into Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop for a treat or two.
Golden Gate Bridge
It wouldn’t be a visit to San Francisco without a pit stop at Golden Gate Bridge! Bright red-orange and inarguably breathtaking in real life, this suspension bridge is the face of San Francisco’s history.
Standing at more than 700 ft. high, it’s impossible not to be awestruck when in the face of this landmark. There are multiple different roads you can stop on to take pictures- make sure you do thorough research to ensure you’re ready for parking fees, that your vehicle is compact enough to fit in parking (no RVs!), and other issues that may keep your visit from going smoothly.
Perhaps the most historic tourist spot in San Francisco is Alcatraz Island, which used to serve as Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, a federal prison known for being impossible to escape from. Though it hasn’t acted as an active prison since 1963, the spot remains a popular location to visit for its well-preserved cells and deep cultural impact.
This attraction would be better appreciated by older kids, as the messages of the exhibit and subject manner are quite heavy. The tour of Alcatraz island delves deep into the history of American incarceration and the Native Americans who called the island home after the closing of the prison, so be prepared for some deep thinking!
Aquarium of the Bay
Get up close and personal with the aquatic inhabitants of Northern California with a visit to the state’s only Smithsonian-affiliated aquarium, Aquarium of the Bay. Featuring over 200 species of animals (including otters, octopus, and even sharks!), the entire family will enjoy getting acquainted with a fishy friend or two.
There are so many beautiful galleries to walk through at this aquarium, each with its own aquatic focal point. Whether you want to spend the day with the jellies or do some hands-on learning at the touch pool that features sea stars, stingrays, and sharks, you’re sure to leave this attraction with a newfound appreciation for the true locals of the California Bay.
City Lights Bookstore
Pick up the kiddos’ next bedtime story at City Lights Bookstore, an independent bookstore-publisher that appeals to poets, artists, and writers alike. For the book lover, this place is a treasure trove. The store has three levels, each one stacked floor to ceiling with different types of literature. From Anthropology to True Crime, you’ll be able to find your next favorite read here.
This place represents the heart of San Francisco, and with each purchase, you support the works of local authors and poets, making it a store with a whole lot of character too. We suggest taking a look at the ‘Upcoming Events’ tab on their website before your visit to see if the family can sit in on a reading, conversation, or other occasions,
Fortune Cookie Factory
There are a lot of cookies in your future! With a visit to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, not only will you get schooled on the history of this California-borne treat, but you’ll also get to see just how exactly they’re made.
Established in 1962 and located in the middle of Chinatown, this San Francisco business pumps out an average of 10,000 cookies a day. If that isn’t impressive, we don’t know what is! The cookies come in the traditional flavor, but you may also want to try their chocolate, strawberry, or even green tea flavored treats as well.
When you visit, expect to get a free sample or two. If you decide to buy a bag (and trust us, you will!), you’ll be pleased to find that the cookies are super affordable, and a great, tasty souvenir to take with you while you explore what the rest of the city has to offer!
Walt Disney Family Museum
Disney fans of all ages will love taking a trip to San Francisco’s Walt Disney Family Museum. This non-profit organization was founded by Walt’s daughter, Diane, who wanted to share her family’s story with the world.
The space is an impressive 40,000 sq. ft. and holds several attractions that the entire family will be taken by. Take a look at the Disney animation technology of years past to today, or bask in 200+ awards that Walt Disney was bestowed during his lifetime.
The museum is a monument to Disney’s life. From birth to passing, you’ll learn all about the man behind the mouse. For that extra special Disney touch, they also have a theater that plays Disney movies on loop (perfect for the fidgety kiddo!).
California Academy of the Sciences
Looking for an all-day endeavor? The California Academy of the Sciences is a massive research exhibit that will take upwards of 5 hours to enjoy to its full capacity. This is a fantastic location if you have school-aged children that are looking for a hands-on learning experience- but older kids will love the immersive experience, and mom and dad may learn a thing or two as well.
To give you an idea of how condensed this place is, you should know that it’s one of the largest museums of natural history in the world. It’s over 400,000 sq. feet of space and houses an aquarium, planetarium, museum, and literal rainforest (yes, a rainforest)!
Cable Car Museum
For a free attraction with a lot of photo-taking opportunities, bring the family to the city’s Cable Car Museum! There are tons of different preserved cable cars that made their rounds throughout San Francisco during their prime, and because the grounds overlook the active cable car channels of today, it can be considered a working museum.
Founded in 1974, this museum was established simply to pay homage to this iconic mode of San Francisco transportation. As a souvenir at the end of your walkthrough, treat yourself (or your little one) to a genuine cable car bell from the gift store.
San Francisco Zoo
Tucked between the city and the Pacific Ocean, you’ll find a wildlife institution that’s home to giraffes, lemurs, and kangaroos (among 200+ other species!). The San Francisco Zoo ; Gardens is a stunning location to take the family, and so deeply captivating that you’ll forget you’re in the United States and not in the African Savannah or the Australian Outback.
Conservation is the foundation on which this zoo was founded, and they strive to spread awareness on the topic through their mesmerizing animal exhibits and activities. They’re so dedicated to the cause, that they’re one of the few zoos in the nation that’s open 365 days a year, so your family can stop by whenever you get the chance to.