San Francisco with kids: a local’s toddler- (and parent-) friendly favs

There is nothing like visiting a city with a local. They know the best places to eat, which tourist traps aren’t worth your time, and what parks you and your kids will both love. Jenny from Hint Mama shares her favorite hometown finds when exploring San Francisco with her daughter. 

As a parent of a 19-month-old daughter I know that planning itineraries can be tough, given that you generally have to account for naps and difficulty eating out, to name just a few of the hurdles you have to overcome on such trips.

But Keryn, it’s important not to let being a parent stop you from fulfilling your wanderlust and enjoying your trip while you’re at it.

So, with that in mind, here are three of my favorite toddler- (and parent-) friendly San Francisco activities. These things to do in San Francisco with kids are all easily done in the afternoon or morning (i.e. before or after naptime), and they all involve a perfect mix of sites for both your toddler and you.

With that said, check out my list, which is sure to help you leave your heart – rather than your sanity –in the city by the Bay.

San Francisco

Sunday “Off the Grid” Picnic at the Presidio

Eating out in a restaurant with a toddler can be tricky, to say the least. So that’s why my husband and I often love to hang out at this spring, summer and fall Sunday event.

Held over at the Main Parade Ground Lawn in San Francisco’s Presidio Park, the Off the Grid Picnic is a great because your toddler can run free on the grass while you sample a bunch of the culinary delights San Francisco has to offer.

Plus, since you’re already in the Presidio, you can visit the various sites in the park (including a playground with great views) before or after your picnic lunch.

Hint Mama
Check out the Little Explorers room at the California Academy of Sciences (Photo Credit: Hint Mama)

Golden Gate Park (for the energetic and the lazy)

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco’s version of New York’s Central Park, is a 1,017-acre park containing some of the city’s best museums and playgrounds, a win-win for parents and their little tikes. My husband and I like to see the park in two different ways, depending on our state of mind:

· The energetic version: When we want to get a workout in, we’ll strap our daughter into her stroller and take her on a jog through the park (making sure to run around Stow Lake, through the paths around the Conservatory of Flowers or through the San Francisco Botanical Garden). Then, we’ll finish the run at the Koret Children’s Quarter, one of the best playgrounds in the city, and finish our outing with lunch at the nearby kid-friendly Pacific Catch restaurant.

· The rainy (or lazy) day version: We’ll start the day at either the de Young Museum or the California Academy of Sciences, both great museums for kids and adults’ alike. Then, we’ll head on over to the “Early Explorers Cove,” a toddler playroom (think inside playground of sorts) in the science museum, and finish up with lunch at the science museum or at Pacific Catch.


Hint Mama
Enjoying a meal at Pacific Catch post a trip to Golden Gate Park (Photo credit: Hint Mama)

The Mission

No visit to San Francisco is complete without a walk through the trendy and artsy Mission District. I’d suggest walking along Valencia Street around 18th Street with your tot in a stroller, checking out the cute shops. Then, grab some pizza to go for lunch at Pizzeria Delfina and head on over to Mission Dolores Park. There, you’ll find a newly renovated playground, a huge lawn perfect for a picnic and tons of great people watching.

As you can probably tell from the above, I’m a huge fan of mixing playgrounds in with other activities on trips. I think of them as a thank you of sorts to my daughter for allowing my husband and me to enjoy what might be considered more parent-friendly activities, like shopping and jogging.

Looking for more San Francisco vacation inspiration? Keryn covered some more ideas. Have you been to the city by the Bay with a baby or tot in tow? What great kid- and parent-friendly spots did I miss?

Jennifer Saranow Schultz is a writer based in San Francisco, where she lives with her toddler and husband. You can find her daily hints to help make parenting easier and cheaper at, on Twitter at @HintMama and on Facebook at Before leaving journalism in 2011, she was the lead writer for The New York Times “Bucks” personal finance blog and spent seven years as a reporter at The Wall Street Journal.

San Francisco with kids

2 thoughts on “San Francisco with kids: a local’s toddler- (and parent-) friendly favs”

  1. sherezade

    great ideas!! we want to come upcoming September to SFO and our son wil be 10 months by them. It’s a difficult to plan because we don’t have yet a “eat-sleep-schedule” (and if we would have one now, most probably it would be different in a couple of months).


  2. Karen

    Hello! We lived in SF for three years with our babies before moving to Oakland. Strolling along Cortland in Bernal Heights ( is a nice walk, with bookstores, cafes, restaurants, and a recently renovated public library and playground behind it, to boot. (Our family loves public libraries!) Holly Park is just up the hill and offers more playgrounds and real estate for running around. Pier 39 is over-the-top touristy, but there’s a wonderful merry go round, lots of fun shops and treats, and amazing views of the city and Alcatraz — plus, the famous sea lions and an aquarium that’s just the right size for smaller kids.

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