How to spend a day in Golden Gate Park with kids

Families looking for things to do in San Francisco will want to devote at least one day to exploring and enjoying Golden Gate Park. In fair weather or foul (San Francisco gets a few of those, you know), Golden Gate Park offers indoor and outdoor fun for families in a unique San Francisco environment. How to spend a day in Golden Gate Park with kids? Read on for our itemized Golden Gate Park itinerary for families (with rainy weather alternatives and age-by-age guides). All attractions are located on the east side of the park, and all are easily accessed by MUNI bus:

Japanese tea garden

1. Start your day at a museum.

First off, be sure to grab or download a Golden Gate Park map. If you have school-aged or preschool kids, head straight to the California Academy of Sciences, where you’ll experience a planetarium, life sciences museum, and aquarium all in one. Located directly across from the Music Concourse (right through the park entrance at the Felton and Park Presidio MUNI stop), the academy could fill a whole morning for school-aged kids (and at least a few hours for toddler and preschoolers). If the weather is nice, be sure to visit the top floor’s Living Roof. Note: if you’re driving to the park for the day, use the underground parking garage right next to the academy, and plan to park there all day.

living roof

If you have tweens or teens (or kids interested in fine art) you might opt for the DeYoung Museum instead. It’s located directly across the street from the California Academy of Sciences, so it’s entirely possible for families to split up. If you decide to take all ages of kids, there is an art studio located in the De Young where an artist-in-residence provides hands-on activities, but that will be offered in the afternoons, so be sure to check the schedule. The museum’s permanent exhibits include all manner of fine art, sculpture, photography, fashion, and texture.

Best of all, both the academy and the museum are included on the San Francisco CityPASS and can be selected on the Go San Francisco Card.

2. Eat lunch on the Music Concourse or at local food trucks.

If it’s raining, families may opt to eat at one of the museum cafes (both have one), but if the sun is shining, it’s far nicer to eat on the concourse. (We were lucky enough to settle down with our picnic right as a school band was beginning an outdoor concert.) A number of food trucks (we saw Indian food and hot dogs on our visit) park on the end of the concourse next to the Japanese Tea Garden.

children's playground golden gate park

3. Spend the afternoon at the Children’s Playground or Conservatory of Flowers.

If you have young children (really, anyone 12 or under), head east to the first children’s playground to be build in the U.S. (according to locals), which you can access via foot from the Music Concourse area. The playground, located on your park map at Koret Playground, features lots of nice climbing equipment, a huge ‘spider web’ net, and the original concrete slides build into the hillside. (These look a tad dangerous by today’s safety standards, but we didn’t see any injuries. Kids slide down on pieces of cardboard…of which there’s plenty laying around for this purpose.) Next to the play area is the historic carousel, which is a real deal at $1 for kids and $2 for adults (adults can also help kids on and take photos without paying for a ticket).

carousel at children's playground

If it’s raining, walk just past John F Kennedy Drive to the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers instead, which is much more fun for kids than it sounds. Not only will you be warm and dry, but the huge arborium is beautiful winter or summer, and features temporary exhibits such as ‘Plant-o-sorus’, which teaches kids all about prehistoric plants from the dino days. Hours are 10 am to 4:30 pm, closed Mondays, and tickets are economical: most families can visit for under $20.

Bonus: read about additional botanical gardensadditional botanical gardens to visit across the US.

slides at children's playground

4. If you still have time, visit the San Francisco Botantical Garden or Stow Lake.

Walking west past the baseball diamonds, families will reach the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Similarly priced to the concervatory, the gardens are open longer hours as they’re out-of-doors, and provide more paths for kids to stretch their legs. If more gardens aren’t your thing, continue west to Stow Lake, where you’ll find picnic grounds, a boat house, and plenty of ducks to feed. In nice weather, families can rent pedal boats ($14-19/hour at the time of our visit), or can otherwise walk along the shore or rent a surrey bike.

Head back to your car, or if you didn’t drive your own vehicle, catch a ride back to your San Francisco hotel from MUNI along John F. Kennedy Drive or near the De Young (at Park Presidio and Felton)!