5 great places to take young kids in San Francisco

This past weekend we took a quick day trip to San Francisco to take some pictures of little Miss. I love that we only live a few hours from the city. We have taken pictures of all of our kids around the same age, in the same spot, wearing the same hat.
Yes, it is pretty stinkin' cute.

PS, how did this happen already?! Wasn't I just posting that this little Miss was born?!
Ugh, time and tide wait for no man, I suppose; or mom.
Anyway, I have always loved San Francisco (although driving in the city ins another matter, don't even get me started, I think it's worse than LA and that's saying something) and you've got to admit that it's a beautiful city with a ton to do! There are so many great things to keep you busy whether you go with your spouse for a romantic weekend away, or you go with your extended family for a fun vacation.
You can also spend a heck of a lot of money there.
For real.
I mean, aside form all the amazing food, there's Alcatraz, boat tours, the California Academy of Sciences (amazing!!), the Exploratorium, and the Aquarium of the Bay, just to name a few of the places willing to take your cash. And I'm not saying that you shouldn't go to them (well, at least some of them); but, if you wanted, you could have a totally full and fun trip without spending an extra money on entertainment or attractions. 
I've compiled five of my favorite places to take our kids in San Francisco, and they're totally free.
Trust me, we're cheap frugal.


One cost you're not going to escape are the tolls for bridges. If you're a tourist, don't let it surprise you, fines are hefty so be prepared with cash! Although, if you're crossing over the Golden Gate, you can pay ahead of time or up to 48 hours after crossing... find out more {here}. Find other bridge toll information {here}.

I guess I'll start with the Marin Headlands, since on the visits when we take pictures that's always our first stop. Driving south on US 101/ SR 1 to go over the Golden Gate bridge, the exit you take is the last exit before the bridge, I think it says something like "Last exit before toll". If you're there on a weekend or holiday period make sure you get there early because parking fills up fast! There is a bathroom (a real plus with potty-training toddlers!) and great vantage points for pictures; I think it's one of the best spots for pictures with the Golden Gate bridge in the background. The Battery Spencer area is where we like to go, my kids love exploring the old ruins there; but farther up the road there's a visitor center. It's a beautiful place to walk around on a nice day!


We'll stop at Fort Point next since it's just right on the other side of the bridge, an easy stop before you continue on with your adventure. I have been going to this little fort located right under the Golden Gate Bridge since I was a kiddo myself and I was so pleased to see that my kids love it just as much as I do! Built in the 1850's, it is so cool to wander around and check out the displays, you really feel like you stepped back in time. Another plus is that I have NEVER been here when it's been crowded or there was no parking.


I definitely HAVE to mention Golden Gate Park. Oh my gosh, it is like every child's dream park. Heck, it's like my dream park. With over 1,000 acres, you could spend a couple hours there and not see everything. My kids love the Koret Playground (Bring a cardboard box, you'll thank me!), but try to find time to explore other areas as well. Tons of green space, historic spaces, and museums fill this gorgeous oasis in the middle of the city. There's also a Botanical Garden, various sports fields, a Conservatory of Flowers, a Japanese Tea Garden, and a Bison Paddock. Yes, a Bison paddock.
Yes, that is the man I married, a doctor no less, sliding down a slide in a cardboard box.


Not too far from Golden Gate Park you'll find the Sutro Baths, which have really come a  long way since I first started going as a kid. Back when I was little, it really was just some ruins dating from the end of the 19th century, but now there is actually a visitor center, gift shop, and cafe. Honestly though, the coolest things are the ruins, the giant sea rock you can climb on (watch out for the tide!) and the awesome cave. My kids LOVE running around here, but keep a close eye on them, there's lots of places where they could fall and either get hurt, or land in filthy, stagnant water. Another place with some cool history behind it.


Well, I couldn't talk about taking kids to San Francisco and not mention the Fisherman's Wharf area, which is probably the most touristy of all the places I've mentioned. But still, it's not a trip into the city without walking through Fisherman's Wharf. We generally will park at one of two free spots (if you're not using a parking garage be sure to check street signs carefully), then walk to Ghirardelli Square and down to Pier 39 all in one trip.
At Ghirardelli Square we always stop in the Ghirardelli chocolate stores to get our free samples, and I usually purchase a little something too. ;) Kara's Cupcakes is another yummy stop if your sweet tooth hasn't been sufficiently satisfied, and Lola Toy Shop is a cute place to let the kids window shop for a bit.

Walking along the shore down to Pier 39, you'll come across the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, and it's free to walk down the pier and look at the boats, but if you want to go on them you'll have to pay some money. My kids love looking at "the pirate ships" and "Bucky" down on the water. :)
Down at Pier 39 we like to eat at Boudin, yum. When you're done eating make sure you walk down to the end of the pier and check out the great view of Alcatraz, then walk over and see the Sea Lions playing king of the mountain on the floating docks.

There really are so many great places to go and things to do (and eat, oh my, so much good food in that city!) and I know as a mom it can seem overwhelming trying to create a fun experience for you little ones; but I've learned that really, they can have fun pretty much everywhere. Everything is new and exciting to them, and experiencing things that you've done a million times is always more fun when you get to see the excitement on their bright faces. :)

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