Family Attractions in San Francisco

If you’re taking a family vacation then San Francisco is definitely some place you should consider visiting. San Francisco is a unique city with a combination of family activities that ranges from haunted history to modern fun. Each family attraction you visit can be turned into a fun learning activity for the entire family.

Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge spans the area where the San Francisco Bay meets the Pacific Ocean. It was the longest suspension bridge in the world when it was completed and is easily recognizable in many films and television programs. The bridge is open to autos and bicycles 24 hours a day, pedestrians are allowed on the bridge during daylight hours. Take the family across the bridge on foot to really get an idea of its immensity. City Guides also offer regular free tours of the bridge if you’d like a more in-depth experience. One side note you may not want to share with your family is that the Golden Gate Bridge is the most popular place to commit suicide in the United States and one of the most popular in the world. There is no exact number of suicides but the estimate is that there is an attempt made at least once every two weeks.

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island is one of the most infamous prisons in the world but it also is noted for its 18 month occupation by Indians of All Tribes and it’s amazing natural beauty and bird colonies. Even though the history at Alcatraz Island is actually quite varied, it’s the prison history that has given it its most infamous nickname, The Rock. This small island originally housed a lighthouse and still remains host to this lighthouse, the oldest operating one on the west coast of the United States. Eventually its location proved to be a good one for defenses and became a military fort. The fort was officially converted into a prison in 1907 and became a federal prison in 1933. Tours of Alcatraz Island feature in depth information about the prison and its notorious inmates but it also introduces guests to the other aspects of the island including the American Indian occupation and the natural habitat.

Winchester Mystery House

The Winchester Mystery House is a fascinating house and the attached ghost story is sure to give your kids a little thrill and chill. The home once belonged to Sarah Winchester whose husband was the famous gun maker William Wirt Winchester. Mrs. Winchester believed her home was haunted by ghosts of people killed with Winchester rifles so she insisted that construction builders work round the clock from 1884 until her death in 1922. The house is a mess of nonsensical rooms, hallways and staircases. It was seven stories high until the 1906 earthquake which destroyed a large portion of the house. The home was then rebuilt at only four stories high and today includes about 160 rooms, 40 bedrooms, two ballrooms, 47 fireplaces and 17 chimneys, two basements and three elevators. Tours are open to the public daily but if you’ve got older kids who really like a scare try to schedule your visit to coincide with a Halloween or Friday the 13th flashlight tour.

Aquarium of the Bay

Aquarium of the Bay is a 65,000 square foot facility with acrylic tunnels that wind through 700,000 gallons of Bay water. Visitors get to experience more than 20,000 aquatic animals including sharks, bat rays, skates, octopus, jelly fish and many more. The Aquarium of the Bay is organized into three different environments, Discover the Bay, Under the Bay and Touch the Bay. At Discover the Bay you are introduced to the environment and the marine life that is most prevalent in the region. Under the Bay takes you beneath the bay to a unique view of life above the tunnels. Touch the Bay is an interactive lab with local and exotic land animals.

Cable Car Museum

The Cable Car Museum chronicles this history of cable cars in San Francisco from its first run in 1873 to the present. Visitors can learn about the inventor, the technologies that made cable cars possible, the great rise in popularity and fall and what is being done now to keep them alive. After your visit through the Cable Car Museum there is nothing better than actually taking a cable car ride through the streets of San Francisco.

Haas-Lilienthal House

The Haas-Lilienthal House is a beautiful Queen Anne style Victorian home built in 1886 and it’s the only private home from that period open to the public. The home is furnished with authentic pieces and artifacts and tour guides are available to give you information on both the home and the furnishings. In addition you’ll learn more about the Haas-Lilienthal family who settled in the area in 1868 and amassed a fortune.

Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf is one of the most popular tourist attractions in San Francisco and Pier 39 is probably its most popular destination but the wharf has a lot of exciting activities for the entire family including Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum, the Musee Mecanique, the Wax Museum at Fisherman’s Wharf, Forbes Island and a number of stores, restaurants and excitement for everyone. A streetcar runs through the area and two of the cable cars run close so you can combine this visit with another family attraction and make a big venture out of the trip. But no matter what you do, make sure you stop to have some fresh seafood at the wharf, it’s some of the best in the world because it’s so remarkably fresh.


Perfect for the kids is the Exploratorium in San Francisco with its hundreds of hands-on exhibits designed to give insight into science and art. If you’d like to prepare your children for the visit the website has several activities that children can do and learn from online before their visit. The Exploratorium features several areas including: Seeing, Traits of Life – a Living Laboratory, Matter/World, Listen, and Mind. Plan on spending an entire day at the Exploratorium with your children or tailor your visit to coincide with their specific tastes and interests.

Creative Commons License Photo credit: Schlüsselbein2007