I’ve not yet taken my kids out west to San Francisco, but I’m really looking forward to doing so, particularly given how much there is to do (and how much there is to do that is free). Take a look at 20 fun, fabulous and free things to do with kids in San Francisco.
Things to Do With Kids in San Francisco
1. Explore Golden Gate Park. There is so much to do at Golden Gate Park, including the Koret Children’s Quarter, a fantastic play area with swings, a carousel, and climbing structures. You’ll also find plenty of walking trails, gardens, and even a herd of buffalo (so make sure to visit the Buffalo Paddock).
2. Take a Free Walking Tour. Enjoy a free walking tour offered by San Francisco City Guides. Multiple tours take place each day allowing you to learn about different neighborhoods, like Nob Hill, as well as popular attractions, like the Japanese Tea Garden at Golden Gate Park.
3. Visit Museums on Free-Entry Days. Multiple museums offer free admission on certain days of the week or month. For example, the Asian Art Museum offers free entry the first Sunday of every month. Or, head to the de Young Museum to get in for free on the first Tuesday of each month.
4. Run the Bases at the Fan Lot. Head to AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, for free fun at the Fan Lot. Run the bases, slide down the Coca-Cola Superslide or pose for pictures in the photo booth. There is no charge on select non-game days. Ticket holders can also visit Fan Lot on game days.
5. Visit the Sea Lions at Pier 39. It’s a must to befriend the sea lions that make their homes along the docks of Pier 39. The prime time to see these chubby sea lions is from late-July to mid-May. You’re not allowed to feed them, but children will love to watch them bark and play.
6. Enjoy the Views from Baker Beach. Walk along Baker Beach for unmatched views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific Ocean. Go fishing, enjoy a picnic lunch, build a sandcastle or take a hike along the Coastal Trail. However, swimming is not suggested given the rough waters.
7. Take in the Houseboats in Sausalito. Cross the Golden Gate Bridge into Sausalito for a self-guided walking tour of the houseboats (aka “floating homes”) docked in the marina. One of the largest and most famous houseboats worth checking out is Taj Mahal.
8. Learn All About the Famous Cable Cars. Make a stop at the Cable Car Museum, which is free every day to visitors. Inside you’ll find three antique cable cars, as well as various cable car memorabilia, souvenirs and cable car bells. An annual cable car bell ringing contest takes place each July.
9. Take a Free Shuttle Tour of the Presidio. Hop on the PresidiGo “Around the Park” Shuttle, which offers a look at the park by way of two separate 30-minute loops, including the Crissy Field Route and the Presidio Hills Route. Pick up the shuttle at the Presidio Transit Center.
10. Enjoy Family Sundays at the Cantor Arts Center. Make the short drive to the Cantor Arts Center at nearby Stanford University. Admission is free and special tours and hands-on activities are offered on Sundays just for families. The museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
11. Explore the Presidio. Look for lots of hiking trails and picnic sites at the Presidio as you enjoy the Golden Gate Bridge and Pacific Ocean in the background. Enjoy beaches, playgrounds, birding, even history. Park rangers offer free guided tours throughout the year.
12. Take in a 360-Degree View of San Francisco. Even if you don’t have time to see the exhibits at the de Young Museum, do go to the observation deck on the ninth floor. It’s separate from the museum and free to anyone who wants to enjoy a 360-degree view of the city.
13. Go on a Presidio Treasure Hunt. Using a map to explore the southwest region of the Presidio, children will want to find the hidden stamp boxes on this map (page 12). Use GPS coordinates or solve riddles to find the special stamps within the park.
14. Take a Tour of City Hall. On weekdays, head to City Hall for a free tour of one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. You can also download materials for a self-guided tour. Children will enjoy the City Hall Fun Book, which includes a crossword puzzle and other fun learning activities.
15. Feed Goats and Sheep at Tilden Little Farm. Head to the Red Barn at Tilden Little Farm (inside Tilden Regional Park) to pet and feed goats, sheep, cows and pigs. You can also visit with the chickens, ducks and rabbits that make Tilden Little Farm their home.
16. Take in the Murals at Balmy Alley. Located in the Mission District, Balmy Alley is a block-long alley that features a variety of wall murals all up and down the street. It’s free to view murals or you can pay a modest fee for a guided mural walk to learn more about the art works.
17. Drive Along the Zigs and Zags of Lombard Street. Or, watch plenty of cars drive the zigs and zags of Lombard Street. Located on Russian Hill, this famous block in San Francisco has eight sharp turns to navigate as you make your way down the block.
18. Enjoy Free Concerts at the Stern Grove Festival. Between late-June and late-August, attend free concerts every Sunday afternoon as part of the Stern Grove Festival. Bring a blanket and a few lawn chairs. Or, ride your bike to Sigmund Stern Grove and enjoy complimentary bike valet service.
19. Have a Picnic in Front of the Painted Ladies. One of the most famous rows of homes in San Francisco can be found at Alamo Square. Called the “Painted Ladies,” these Victorian-style homes sit across from a park that’s perfect for picnics and offers sweeping views of the city.
20. Watch Hang-Gliders at Fort Funston. Head out to the bluffs of San Francisco’s Fort Funston for an afternoon watching hang-gliders, particularly in March and October when the hang-gliding is supposed to be quite good. It’s also a good place for hiking and horseback riding.
What are some of your favorite free things to do with kids in San Francisco?
Photo Credit: Victor