San Francisco Local Highlights

Published on July 21, 2022 - Updated on July 21, 2022

San Francisco is a huge city with so much to do! It can be overwhelming to narrow down the choices if you only have limited time to spend exploring. Here are some of our favorite activities-- from museums and zoos to hikes and playgrounds-- for you to enjoy with your family!

San Francisco Highlights and Local Favorites

Aquarium of the Bay

Pier 39 Embarcadero at Beach St, San Francisco, CA 94133

Aquarium of the Bay

The Aquarium of the Bay is a sanctuary that houses 20,000 marine animals for you to visit. All local species, this magical aquarium will have you feeling as though you're submerged under the very bay it overlooks. The staff is overwhelmingly educated, inspired, and eager to share their knowledge with everyone. There are five main exhibits to explore: Discover the Bay, Go With the Flow, Under the Bay, Touch the Bay, and River Otters. There is no need to pick favorites because each has its special charm.

Nearby family-friendly attractions:

+ It’s located on the famous Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco’s busiest tourist area - with a ton of nearby attractions like the Maritime Museum and the historic ships at the Hyde Street Pier, Ghirardelli Square, and Pier 41 where you can catch a ferry to Angel Island or Alcatraz.

+ Stop at Boudin At the Wharf for an obligatory clam chowder in a sourdough bowl!

+ Don’t miss the famous sea lions at Pier 39 and be sure everyone is packed with layers - it can be especially chilly along the bay.


Pier 15 Embarcadero at Green St, San Francisco, CA 94111


This wildly imaginative interactive museum is truly fun for all ages and sits right on the San Francisco Bay, overlooking Treasure Island. It's close to the notoriously touristy Pier 39 and has several delicious dining options. Toddlers will be wonderstruck as they stand inside a man-made tornado, dig and build with magnetic sand, create mega bubbles, and so much more. There are six exhibits: Observing Landscapes, Outdoor Exhibits, Living Systems, Seeing and Listening, Tinkering, and Human Phenomena. All of them have their own unique charm and you could spend hours playing, experimenting, and observing with each installment.

California Academy of Sciences

55 Music Concourse Dr, San Francisco, CA 94118

California Academy of Sciences

This museum, located within Golden Gate Park, is a top choice no matter the age of your children. It is among one of the largest natural history museums in the entire world. Hosting an aquarium, rainforest, an albino alligator, old-school dioramas of various animals and native environments, a penguin exhibit, hands-on science exhibits, a planetarium, and natural history museum, this massive establishment is home to 40,000 animals your children will delight in observing. There are also daily programs and seasonal outdoor exhibits worth checking out! Also fun to see is the living roof, especially in springtime! Take the elevator to the top floor roof access and check out the rolling hills covered in plants and flora.

Nearby family-friendly attractions:

+ Within the museum, The Academy Cafe and Terrace Restaurants are based on sustainable food programs and offer a wide variety of foods to choose from including salads, pizza, sandwiches, grill items, sushi, and healthy grain bowls.

+ Check out Stow Lake where you can rent rowboats, electric boats, and pedal boats that seat up to six people.

+ The Koret Children’s Quarter, also located within Golden Gate Park, hosts a playground, the Herschel-Spillman Carousel, a climbing wall, a rope climbing structure, a historic concrete slide, and the Sharon Art Studio which offers art classes for all ages.

The San Francisco Zoo

Sloat Blvd &, Upper Great Hwy, San Francisco, CA 94132

San Francisco Zoo

Make sure to visit this awesome zoo, open 365 days a year, that hosts over 2,000 species of animals. The zoo also features a petting zoo, carousel, and steam-engine train rides. And the 36,000-square foot Elinor Friend playground features 3 distinct bio-region-themed animal ecosystems and is designed around age groups: River Play for toddlers, the Polar Zone for preschoolers, and a Banyan Tree climbing structure for big kids. Definitely plan for extra time at the zoo once your kids spy the playground! Nearby is a climbable exhibit of bronze animal sculptures. There are various cafes, kiosks, and restaurants around the zoo with fairly basic concession-style food and pre-made sandwiches.

Glen Canyon Park & Recreation Center

Elk St and, Chenery St, San Francisco, CA 94127

Glen Canyon Park

Glen Canyon Park & Recreation Center offers 70 acres of open space within Glen Park Canyon. There are tons of trails and natural solace tucked away from the urban landscape of the city. Children will enjoy exploring the trails, especially in springtime when the wildflowers are in full bloom, where they can venture through massive Eucalyptus and Gum trees, up to rocky chert outcroppings, search for the “fairy house” and scan the banks of Islais Creek (one of the few remaining free-flowing creeks in San Francisco) for birds and wildlife. This park is also dog friendly and has a fantastic all-ages playground & recreation center.

Muir Woods National Monument Trail

Mill Valley, CA 94941

Muir Woods

Located about 40 minutes north of downtown San Francisco, Muir Woods is a popular place to escape the urban landscape of the city for a richer, more relaxing type of vibrance. Pristine old-growth redwood trees, wildflowers, and a rushing river make this 2.2-mile loop (with only 144 feet of elevation gain) a wondrous place to adventure with kids of any age. Due to the mountain slope, this area has higher precipitation and moisture, so it tends to stay quite cool year-round. With a fascinating history, and near ruin in the early 1900s when Sausalito planned to dam the area and flood the region, President Roosevelt declared it a national monument in 1908 to protect it. Named for famed naturalist John Muir, who is credited for helping establish the National Parks System, Muir Woods is truly a spectacle of nature and a testament to the work of nature preservationists.

In Chan Kaajal Park

3100 17th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

In Chan Kaajal Park

This Mission District park was built in 2017 and was the first new park that the city built in 10 years. The park's name means “my little town” and was built in response to the Latino and Indigenous Mayan communities of the Mission. The park boasts a great playground, a fitness area for adults, a community garden, and interactive seasonal water installations for when the weather is warm.

Nearby family-friendly attractions:

+ There are lots of nearby restaurants, taquerias, and cafes in the Mission and a few blocks away on the Valencia Street Corridor as well. Check out Smitten Ice Cream for a sweet treat!

Alta Plaza Park

Jackson St. &, Steiner St, San Francisco, CA 94115

Alta Plaza Park

This park in Pacific Heights is great for the whole family. There’s a playground for the kids, a park for the dogs, a tennis court, a basketball court, and a grand staircase that leads to beautiful views of the city. There are restrooms on-site, but only street parking is available (which can be especially tough in this neighborhood). There are a lot of nearby restaurants, cafes, and shops around California Street at Fillmore Street shopping district.

Mission Dolores Park aka ‘Dolores Park

Dolores St &, 19th St, San Francisco, CA 94114

Mission Dolores Park

This park benefits from being sandwiched between the warmer city microclimates of the Castro neighborhood and the Mission District. It includes the large, recently renovated Helen Diller Playground, which features two large slides, two swing sets, a granite climbing structure, a sandbox, and climbing nets. The playground is also accessible to children with disabilities. West of the playground area you'll find sloping hills filled with weekend sunbathers, frolicking dogs, and sweeping panoramic views of downtown San Francisco. The Park also has tennis and basketball courts. At nearly 16 acres and on the J-Church MUNI line, Dolores Park is one of Central San Francisco’s most beloved parks.

Nearby family-friendly attractions:

+ Nearby you'll find tons of restaurants, cafes, and shops like Bi-Rite Creamery, Tartine Bakery, Bi-Rite Market, Pizzeria Delphina, and The Boba Guys.

+ From the park you can easily walk to both the Castro and Valencia Street shopping districts.

Land’s End Trail Hike

Lands End Trail, San Francisco, CA 94121

Land's End Trail

This coastal trail in Golden Gate National Recreation Area is a little longer and steeper (534 feet in elevation gain with lots of stairs) than the others in the area, but it's absolutely worth the challenge, especially if you have kids who are eager to hike. It’s a 3.4-mile loop that offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, Golden Gate Bridge, the Marin Headlands, and various other natural phenomena that keep this popular trail busy at all times. Watch for wildlife, shipwrecks, ruins of the Sutro Baths, and old landslide sites too! It can also be hiked as an out and back trail to shorten it. Keep your eyes peeled for signage for the labyrinth about midway through the hike-- it's off the main trail, but a really cool find and worth the detour!

Have you been to San Francisco? Does your family live in this Bay Area city? Let us know what your favorite local spots are or tag us in your photos on Instagram @gethappyly for a chance to be featured!

Interested in other amazing cities around the U.S.? We've got a whole bunch of local-recommended spots in major (and not major!) cities across the country. Check out our blog for great advice on cities like Chicago, Denver, Maui, Chattanooga, and more! Or, if you are interested in getting information about taking the family to the national parks, we've got some great tips on Saguaro National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Haleakala National Park, and Mt. Rainier National Park!

For even more local activities and attractions at your fingertips, be sure to download the happyly app, the country's only mobile-first family activity planning app, for fast access to all of our frequent blog content, favorite activities, and expertly designed curated days, both locally and in many communities and travel destinations across the country.

Thoughtfully captured by:
Team Happyly
More posts by Team
While it may feel like a chore to pull on all your winter gear and leave the warmth of your cozy house, being outside in the winter has many benefits
If you are looking for a city that offers pretty much everything, look no further than Boston. The city's historical past and vibrant present-day blen
Although often written off as too rainy, Seattle is a beautiful city with lots of places to explore. The city is bustling and surrounded by nature tra