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14 Best San Francisco Museums for Families With Kids (2023)

San Francisco, California is known for a lot of things—the Golden Gate Bridge, sourdough bread, an amazing climate, and more.

But it’s also a cultural hub, with some of the best museums on the West Coast. Although many of these museums are oriented towards adults, there are also lots of great kid-friendly museums in San Francisco.

Here are our top picks for museums in San Francisco for families with kids.

First, a bit about me. I’ve lived in the San Francisco area for 10 years and I have three kids. So I’ve been to many of these places 10 or more times.

1. California Academy of Sciences

Cal academy features an indoor rain forest

Cal Academy is one of the best science museums in the world. 

Located in Golden Gate Park, it has an indoor rainforest in a giant dome, a full aquarium, an albino alligator (Claude), a colony of penguins, a massive green roof, an earthquake simulator, and more. My kids love the fog room, which simulates SF’s famous fog.

This is a fantastic place for kids to run around, see animals and fish, and learn about California. There’s even an on-site cafeteria with a giant fish wall!

Buy Cal Academy tickets now

2. The Exploratorium 

Amazing location on the Embarcadero

In terms of interactive museums, nothing beats the Exploratorium. 

The museum features hundreds of custom, interactive displays demonstrating everything about science, movement, and nature.

Get ready for tons of interactive exhibits

There’s also an outdoor section with a massive camera obscura and views of the bay. Its location on the Embarcadero is super convenient too.

I find that the Exploratorium’s exhibit area. It is advanced for the youngest kids, but 3 years and up is the perfect age for a visit. Even teens will find things to enjoy here.

Check the availability of tickets now.

3. Aquarium of the Bay

Aquarium of the Bay is in the thick of things at Pier 39

If the aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences isn’t enough for you, check out the Aquarium of the Bay.

Located near Fisherman’s Wharf, it’s a fun and interactive (if somewhat small) aquarium focusing specifically on the San Francisco Bay’s aquatic life. There’s a giant fish tunnel, sharks, jellyfish and more.

It’s also nearby to the famous Pier 39 sea lions!

Book your visit to Aquarium of the Bay now.

4. Children’s Creativity Museum

Art activities are super fun at the Creativity Museum

The Children’s Creativity Museum is a San Francisco original that’s best known for its lovely indoor carousel.

Located in the Yerba Buena neighborhood, the museum also has some really nice interactive exhibits focusing on music and art.

Your kids can create an animation, use giant music boxes to craft a tune, and more. The museum isn’t too big, but it’s definitely worth a visit. 

My kids really liked the art activities. This is a great one for really little kids, too, as the museum’s small size makes it easy to navigate. Parking can be tough, though, so plan ahead if you’re driving.

5. SFMoma

Bright red sign for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA) in the South of Market or SoMA neighborhood of San Francisco, California, August 2, 2018.

Okay, so a lot of the art at SFMoma (the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) isn’t kid friendly. 

There are plenty of galleries with priceless paintings to knock over or bump into, not to mention site-specific installations that fill whole rooms with delicate crepe paper and the like.

Still, especially if you’re traveling with somewhat older kids (or a stroller-bound baby who’s likely to sleep through the visit), this is a great museum to check out.

Kids will find a lot of the contemporary art cool or amusing, even if they perhaps miss the deeper symbolism. And the museum has programs specifically for families visiting with kids.

Book your SFMoma tickets now.

6. Cable Car Museum

San Francisco’s famous cable cars aren’t free, but this museum is! The Cable Car museum showcases the fascinating history of one of San Francisco’s most iconic attractions.

You’ll see antique cable cars, and learn about how the cable cars work, the role they’ve played (and still play) in San Francisco, and much more.

Appropriately, you can (and should) ride the cable cars to this museum, which is located on top of Nob Hill.

7. Japanese Tea Garden

The Tea Garde is a San Francisco classic

This living museum is a San Francisco classic. My grandma and grandpa went here in the 1950s, and little has changed!

The tea garden is a stunning outdoor space in Golden Gate Park with a traditional tea house, zen gardens, Japanese statues, a pond, a classic barrel bridge, and more.

Kids will love running around the garden. My kids also enjoy getting mochi and other sweets at the tea house in the center. Grab some matcha to keep your own energy up after a day of family travel!

8. Walt Disney Family Museum

Located in the Presidio, the Walt Disney Family museum showcases everything Disney!

Kids may get super excited hearing about this one and thinking they’re going to Disneyland. In reality, this museum skews more informative and educational. There are no rides or rollercoasters.

Most of the exhibits focus on Walt Disney’s life and legacy, Disney animation, and more. For diehard Disney fans, though, it’s definitely worth a visit.

Grab your tickets for the Walt Disney Family Museum here.

9. Contemporary Jewish Museum

The CJM has a great space for kids, the Zim Room

The CJM is a world-class Jewish museum focusing on the American experience of the Jewish diaspora, as well as many other aspects of Jewish history.

Many of the exhibits will be too advanced (or will have challenging content) for the youngest kids. But the museum’s Zim Room is a special kids-focused area that little ones love to explore.

It has a light wall, maker table, books, and kid-friendly ties ins to the museum’s exhibits as well. The CJM also often has kid-friendly traveling exhibits. I recently went to see an exhibition on the Muppets there!

Traveling muppet exhibit at the CJM

One thing all kinds will love? The amazing food at Wise Sons deli in the museum’s lobby. Their potato latkes and french fries are favorites in my family.

10. Asian Art Museum

The Asian Art Museum has cool exhibits for your budding samurai

The Asian Art Museum is another museum that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend for the littlest kids. 

But for the 5+ set, there are some really neat things to see here! Budding ninjas will enjoy the museum’s samurai swords and samurai armor exhibits. Seeing the real thing sure beats LEGOLAND’s Ninjago ride, at least in my book.

And everyone will enjoy the gift shop in the center of the museum, which includes a wide range of kids’ books and toys with Asian flare.

The Asian Art Museum also recently added an interactive kids’ art space which my little ones love. The activities tie into the museum’s current exhibits in creative ways.

11. San Francisco Zoo

Penguins galore at the SF Zoo

The San Francisco Zoo isn’t a museum in the traditional sense, but there’s still a ton of learning and exploration to do here.

Located on the city’s West side, the San Francisco Zoo has elephants, tigers, bears, penguins, giraffes, and much more.

My kids love riding the Little Puffer, an antique steam train that whisks you around the zoo. Be prepared for a long wait for the train on busy days, though.

If you’re visiting the zoo, I suggest getting a San Francisco Citypass, which includes admission to several other SF attractions on this list as well (Cal Academy, etc.)

Nearby to the City

If you’re willing to venture just a bit outside SF proper, there are several other amazing kids’ museums you should check out.

12. Bay Area Discovery Museum

Who wouldn’t want to play here?

The Bay Area Discovery Museum, located just over the Golden Gate Bridge in Sausalito, is one of the best kids’ museums in the world.

Located in a restored historic military base dating to the early 1900s, the Bay Area Discovery Museum features a large outdoor exploration space, a maker studio, a giant train table that fills an entire room, the Tot Spot (an indoor space for kids 5 and under), How Stuff Works (which shows cut-away views of common household appliances and items), and so much more.

I’m a member of this museum and go at least twice per month. It’s a fabulous experience for kids from 6 months up to about 12 years.

To get there, you can drive or take an Uber over the Bay Bridge. Ambitious families with older kids can rent a bike and bike there over the Golden Gate.

13. Junior Rangers at Muir Woods

Muir Woods is an easy bus ride from SF

The iconic Muir Woods National Monument recently introduced a very cool virtual museum called Junior Rangers. Kids can stop at the visitor center to get a Junior Ranger book, which takes them on a virtual learning tour of the park.

They get to learn about Leave No Trace hiking/camping, the flora/fauna of Muir Woods, and more. It’s super fun, and at the end they can redeem their book and get a badge from a real park ranger.

The easiest way to get to Muir Woods with kids is to book a Big Bus, which will drive you there over the Golden Gate Bridge. The Big Bus tour also includes park admission. Book early, as the tours fill up quickly.

14. Oakland Museum of California

Kids-only spaces at the Oakland Museum

The Oakland Museum is a fantastic history museum just across the Bay in Oakland. You can get there easily via BART.

The Oakland Museum has interactive exhibits on California’s history, as well as a great kid-friendly about the state’s natural history. 

The Oakland Museum also features Town Fare, which has the best fried chicken in the Bay Area, as well as lots of kid-friendly food. That makes the Oakland Museum a great choice for a day trip, since you can spend hours exploring the galleries and grab a bite to eat on site.

There you have it, the best SF museums for families with kids. Enjoy your visit, and say hi to Claude for us if you go to Cal Academy!

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Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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