The City by the Bay is a perfect destination for families. It is a unique combination of ethnic neighborhoods and fun attractions making it a veritable amusement park for children of all ages.  Fisherman’s Wharf is the most hands-on and kid-friendly district of the city.  The carnival-esque atmosphere of Pier 39 offers a variety of shopping and dining opportunities, a Venetian Carousel and a colony of rather vocal and photogenic sea lions.  Another great stop for kids is the Musee Mecanique located at Pier 45 (at the end of Taylor St.).  This often overlooked “museum” is stocked with functional old time penny arcade attractions, mechanical music contraptions, games of skill and gypsy fortune tellers from days gone by.  On the more serene end of the Wharf (towards the Golden Gate Bridge) you can relax at the Aquatic Park, learn about maritime history at the Hyde St. Pier and then warm-up with hot chocolate or indulge in a hot fudge sundae at Ghirardelli Square .  One last thing you cannot forget to do on the waterfront  is to sail through the bay on a Golden Gate Cruise with Red and White.  The View of the bridge from the water is magnificent and Red and White gets you as close as you can. 

Once away from the waterfront, getting around is an adventure all in itself; a ride on a cable car will put a smile on even the biggest kid in your group and time exploring Chinatown is not to be missed.  Stop by the Fortune Cookie Factory on Ross Alley.

A short (but uphill) distance from Chinatown is San Francisco Municipal Railway's Cable Car Museum at 1201 Mason Street at the corner of Washington Street.

Parents should not overlook the Sony Metreon and Yerba Buena Gardens, a short walk from the Union Square area. The Metreon, located at 4th Street and Mission Street, and Yerba Buena Gardens, tucked inside the block between the Metreon and the Center for the Arts, is a great oasis in the middle of the city. Green lawn, waterfall and a great, accessible urban park, combined with a shopping center-movie complex, complete with IMAX theater and casual dining food court, plus a few sit-down restaurants with table service. YBG boasts a bowling alley, ice skating rink AND an antique carousel. Behind the waterfall is the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial that is worth a walk through, and linger by the rushing water. And there is Zeum, a children's tech and art museum all in the same area.

Finally, two additional attractions are great for kids: The Exploratorium (an interactive science museum located next to the Palace of Fine Arts at 3601 Lyon St. in the Marina) and the Golden Gate Park – a huge green belt that includes the impressive Japanese Tea Garden, The San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum , and a herd of bison!  Also inside the park is The Conservatory of Flowers, a national historic landmark.

The kids (and adults) will love the San Francisco Zoo.   It is located next to the ocean, at Sloat and 47th, the last stop on the L train.  The zoo is arranged by continent, Africa, Australia,etc. and landscaped likewise.  Besides the Gorillas, Penguins, White Tiger, Emus, Howler Monkeys, Giraffs,  and many other fun and exotic animals, the zoo also has a carousel, a playground,a train and a children's zoo.  Plan to spend several hours; it is well worth it.

 Families on a budget should look to the Go San Francisco Card, a multi-attraction pass which get card-holders general admission to over 45 attractions in the San Francisco area for one low price. Some of these family-friendly inclusions are  The Exploritorum, Botanical Gardens, Conservatory of Flowers, Zeum, Cable Car Museum, Harbor Tours, Bike Rentals, Six Flags Marine World and many more attractions.  The card is easy to use, fun, and come in Adult and kids pricing. The card also includes discounts for shopping and dining, too for added value.

 

 

                           Sea lions "posing" for the camera at Pier 39.