Traveling with kids can squeeze your budget and it is especially so when you visit expensive cities like the golden city of California, San Francisco.
But you do not need to worry. Even though this golden city can be hard on your pocket, it does have some incredible things to do that are absolutely free and very much worth doing/experiencing.
Relax and enjoy your holiday. I got you covered with all the awesome free things to do in San Francisco with kids 😉
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Here are the top 14 free things to do with kids that are totally FREE in San Francisco. Enjoy 🙂
1. Golden Gate Park
This huge expanse of greenery also includes lakes, beautiful(albeit artificial) waterfalls, gardens and picnic areas in it. Golden Gate Park has 38 points of interest out of which many are free attractions.
Do print the map from its official website and check out all the free spots. Kids would love to walk around Huntington Falls at Stow Lake.
Japanese Tea Garden is amazing and it has free admission if you enter before 10 am on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Kids aged 4 and below are free all days!
2. Gorgeous Beaches
San Francisco is blessed with many stunning beaches. Check out the beautiful and large Ocean Beach, Baker Beach-it has a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge and an awesome picnic area, and the long Stinson beach.
Don’t forget to pack a few sand toys for the kiddos. Whales migrate along the ocean all through the year. So, keep an eye out for them, especially at Ocean Beach.
You can also check out the ruins of the famous Sutro Baths near Ocean Beach. If you have some time, you can take a free walking tour that is conducted here.
3. Golden Gate Bridge
Enjoy walking along the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Take a free walking tour with a guide if you are interested in the history of the bridge. Of course, you can easily do the walk on your own. The walk is stroller-friendly. Take jackets with you even if it is sunny. It can get quite windy and chilly on the bridge.
Stop and enjoy views all around (hopefully it is not a foggy day). You would surely spot marine life when you look into the water below. Kids especially enjoy watching seals swimming around along with the occasional dolphins.
4. Lands End
If you are new to San Francisco, you may not have heard of this area. Lands end is a secret gem of this beautiful city. It is a park that includes the whole package: a stunning beach, great views of the Golden Gate Bridge, a gorgeous coastal hiking trail and even a cool labyrinth.
Land End is in the northwest side of San Francisco and as many people do not know about this place, you can find parking easily. The hiking trail is not stroller-friendly and also not recommended for very young children. It has sheer drops, heed all the warnings posted along the way. Do not enter fenced areas. Keep your children very close to you and off the edges.
5. Incredible City Views (Ina Coolbrith Park and Mission Dolores Park)
Ina Coolbrith park is another hidden gem of San Francisco. Nestled in the Russian Hill neighborhood of the city, this park is a cool spot for enjoying great views of the golden city.
There is no parking at the park and the hike up to the park is quite steep. If you enjoy the exercise, you will surely be rewarded with awesome views of the Bay and the city from this park.
For a good children’s play area, Mission Dolores Park is good, but it can get crowded. Still worth visiting as it offers great views of the city too.
6. Palace of Fine Arts
The second-most photographed icon of San Francisco, Palace of Fine Arts is a cool spot to take a stroll and also enjoy looking at beautiful architecture. Make sure you have your camera with you as this is the perfect spot for a great photo shoot.
7. Lombard Street
If you have a lot of time on your hands, walk down the crooked Lombard Street. It has beautiful houses with gorgeous lawns in front of them. Many people drive through the street too. So, be careful.
8. Painted Ladies
These famous Victorian houses in a row at Alamo square are quite a sight to behold. They are often called ‘the postcard row’. Instagramers go crazy with pictures from here and of course these are photographed quite a lot. Sometimes there are tours to the houses itself. Check out the official website and plan a trip.
9. Check out the Murals and Paper Lanterns
If you are into this form of art, check out Mission district. All over this district you can find amazing murals, that is if you did not get your full quota with the awesome murals in Chinatown!
Chinatown is a visual overload of colors, shops and food. Walk along to enjoy looking at the famous paper lanterns and murals when you stop here for lunch.
10. Rincon Park
Click a photo of the giant bow and arrow called ‘Cupid’s span’ in this park. Also, you get to enjoy great views of the Bay Bridge from here. This park is at Embarcadaro and is a great spot for your photo shoots.
11. Window shopping at Ferry Building Marketplace
Opened in 1898, the Ferry Building was created as a terminal for ferries traveling across the San Francisco Bay. Located at the bottom of Market Street, it’s in a prime location which is easy to access through Muni, Bart or ferry. It’s gone through several uses from its conception: ferry station to office building to food market – in which capacity it operates today.
Not only known as a beautiful place to stroll under stunning high arches, the ferry building is also famed for its fresh produce, artisan products and local coffee. It’s a fantastic place for the whole family to window shop and enjoy the city’s ambiance.
The marketplace is open Monday to Friday from 10am to 7pm, Saturdays from 8am to 6pm and Sundays from 11am to 5pm. In addition to the marketplace, a farmer’s market operates three days a week: Tuesdays and Thursday from 10am to 2pm and Saturdays 8am to 2pm.
12. Views from Twin Peaks
Some of the best things in life are free and this is especially true for the Twin Peaks in San Francisco. On a clear day, you can drive to the north peak (one of the two high summits) or hike up the hiking trails and take in 180-degree views of the city.
You’ll even see the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. Visit during the day or at sunset for the best visibility and head to one of the many delicious San Francisco brunch spots if you’re on a budget.
13. The Wave Organ
The Wave Organ is an interactive sculpture placed in the Marina harbor. It was installed in 1986 as part of the Exploratorium’s artists-in-residence program. It is just one of many cool/strange things you can do in San Francisco. It sites out on the small jetty in the Marina’s small boat harbor.
The organ itself is made up of twenty-five PVC and concrete pipes which are sunk into the bay at varying depths. The fluctuating tide pushes the water into and around the pipes, creating an ethereal sort of music. You can put your ears up to the pipes and hear gurgling music that evolves with the changing motion of the water.
The jetty and benches that surround the pipes are re-purposed concrete from a demolished cemetery. The whole effect has a whimsical yet eerie quality. But don’t let that stop you from hanging out there and gazing out at the bay views that stretch from Alcatraz Island to the Golden Gate Bridge.
14. Sea Lions at Pier 39
They say that the best things in life are free, and that sure seems to be true for families in San Francisco who want to see sea lions. These great beasts are usually around in great numbers on the west side of Pier 39, where they like to bask in the sun on floating docks. Also free is a new Sea Lion Center where you can learn all about sea lions through interactive displays, education videos, and more.
Kids will love touching a sea lion pelt and sizing themselves up next to a sea lion skeleton. Should you miss this show in person, check it out via Pier39’s webcam. After, enjoy browsing the Pier’s specialty shops and dining in a casual restaurant with water views.
About the sea lions: On our recent (July 2018) visit to Pier 39’s sea lion center, the naturalist informed us that the sea lions at Pier 39 are all male and every July-August period they migrate to Santa Barbara for mating. So, there were no sea lions resting on the benches in the water.
But there is lots more to do at Pier 39. Live shows of magic, music and acrobatics also happen here when the weather is good. Check out this page for more tips regarding your Pier 39 visit. It has lots of useful information.
For a great family fun outing, you should try the colorful double-decker carousel there ($5 for single ride, $10 for 3 rides) and also check out Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze (Entry $5). May be try the ferry rides too. We took the Bay Cruise around Golden Gate Bridge and it was $33 per adult.
The ice cream and fish and chips are divine here. There is cotton candy, churros and all the kids’ favorite food around the area too.