5 Fun and Free Things to do in San Francisco with Kids
San Francisco, the City by the Bay, has a vast collection of culinary delights, landmarks and attractions that makes this one of the most culturally diverse and enjoyable places to visit. It has consistently ranked in many Top Ten foodie or cities in various publications and is one of the world’s top tourist destinations. The city has so many free attractions to offer families but these are our favorite free things to do in San Francisco with kids.
1. Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is undoubtedly San Francisco’s iconic symbol and is a sight to behold (with or without the fog). This is one of the most beautiful bridges in the world with its distinctive color and design. We’ve never biked or walked across but can imagine it would make for some wonderful adventures and some very cool pictures and views of the city. Biking or walking across the bridge is free. The walk, spanning the bridge, is about 1.7 miles one way.
While a walk across the bridge may not be feasible for some kids, walking a quarter of the way or halfway will surely make for a fun experience. Toll is collected from cars and motorcycles when entering San Francisco which start at $6.
San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown in North America as well as the largest outside of Asia. It is a major cultural immersion and a wonderful experience for the whole family to visit. There are also plenty of stores selling those trinkets and toys only kids will love.
A stroll through Chinatown awakens one’s senses. From the enticing aroma of all the exotic food coming from the herbal shops, restaurants and bakeries to the visual delight of the architecture of the historical buildings. Go here for some of the best and cheapest food you’ll have in the city.
3. Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39
A visit to San Francisco wouldn’t be complete without a trek to the famous Fisherman’s Wharf. Countless shops, seafood eateries, restaurants and street entertainers line the waterfront with plenty of other tourists to keep you company. From here, you can catch a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island.
My kids love passing by Boudin Bakery to see the workers shape the sourdough bread into various animals. You can even witness the whole baking process of these delicious breads often used as bowls for San Francisco’s famous clam chowder from their street window.
Go to nearby Pier 39 to visit the loud and adorable sea lions that lazily sunbathe along the platforms. Be warned that it does smell very fishy here. During the summer months, their numbers dwindle a bit since they travel south to breed but there are always enough here to entertain the kids. We loved watching how the sea lions interacted with each other and admired their playful nature.
4. Lombard Street
Driving through many of San Francisco’s street is such a roller coaster ride that can be exciting for the kids and nerve-wracking for some adults. The steep hills, deep dips and one way streets have made me sworn off driving in this city. But, there is one famous street worth the drive or a quick detour. Lombard Street is known as San Francisco’s extremely crooked street.
Consisting of eight hair pin turns on a 40 degree slope, it can make for a long drive down on a busy day. But the scenic view, pretty flowers and rowhouses along the street make for some good distraction. We’ve seen people walk on the street which didn’t seem like a good idea especially with kids. I think it’s more fun watching the cars slowly navigate the one way street. If your family is keen on making the drive, come early in the morning. There is also a stairway on the side to watch the action. Use 1099 Lombard Street for directions to get to the top of the street.
5. Palace of Fine Arts
This is one of the most picturesque places in San Francisco. This site was part of the 1915 Pan-Pacific International Exhibition to celebrate the Panama Canal’s completion and the city’s recovery from the earthquake and fire in 1906. The buildings here today were reconstructed in the 1960s that now house the Exploratorium, an interactive science museum and a 1,000 seat theater.
The beautiful structures were based on Roman and Greek architecture. I always feel like I’ve stepped into a little piece of an Italian garden everytime I come here. We like its more quiet setting in the midst of a residential neighborhood.
The area is well-maintained and clean with plenty of green spaces for kids to run around or have a picnic. My kids love feeding the ducks, swans and geese in the lagoon or looking for turtles and birds. Its beautiful walking paths along the artificial lagoon make this one of the best places to relax in the city.
- San Francisco has numerous top-notch museums. During the first Tuesday of the month many of these museums offer Free Admission. These museums include the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the de Young Museum .
- San Francisco Zoo offers Free Admisson on the first Wednesday of the month for San Francisco residents. Valid ID required.
*Have you visited any of these free San Francisco attractions? Any favorite free attractions you’d like to add?
This is a part of a series called Five Free Family Friday. I hope this will grow into a collective guide of free family-friendly attractions of places all over the world. If you’d like to contribute with the free attractions in your home city, I would love your guest posts.