San Francisco Pier 39 attractions for kids

Families touring San Francisco could easily dedicate a full day to the busy, touristy region of Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. And while not to replace visiting other parts of the city, a day here is well spent. We definitely suggest beginning your day with a family tour of Alcatraz Island, but this still leaves you with an afternoon and evening to fill at the wharf. Here’s our picks for how to spend a day at Fisherman’s Wharf with kids:

pier 39

Pier 39 and Aquarium of the Bay:

Pier 39 is bright, busy, and filled with fun (kids especially love the many street performers), and families could certainly wile away an afternoon browsing the shops and riding the carousel. If you have young children (whose attention span may not warrant to trip to a larger aquarium) and/or have San Francisco CityPASS booklets, make a stop at the Aquarium of the Bay. Not as large or professionally undertaken as the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park (if you plan to go there, skip this one), the Aquarium of the Bay is still a nicely done exhibit for kids. It can be toured in an hour, and features fun hands-on touching pools for young kids and a pretty darn cool shark tunnel. Housed primarily under the bay, museum staff ushers families into elevators for each section of the aquarium. This means you need to be sure to hit bathroom stops when you see them!

shark tunnel aquarium of the bay

General admission is $16 for adults and $10 for kids 3-12, and is only worth the ticket price if you don’t have plans to visit any larger aquariums. Admission is included in CityPASS and Go San Francisco Card offering by far the best deal. (Warning: there is a gift shop at the end, and it’s full of enticing plush marine animals.) Afterward, stroll to the end of the pier to check out the seals and sea lions in their natural habitat.

The Embarcadero and National Maritime Park:

The Embarcadero runs many blocks from the Alcatraz cruise dock past Pier 39. On one side will be the new location of the Exploratorium, one of the best hands-on museums for kids in the country (it’s currently located in the Presidio). The Exploratorium is an CityPASS option, and will easily engage kids for hours. Kids will want to stop en route to watch the sourdough bread being made at San Francisco’s famed Boudin Factory, and shop for trinkets along the street. Further down, toward Ghiradelli Square, it’s fun to stop at the fish markets and see (and smell!) the fresh seafood offerings.

aquarium of the bay

The San Francisco National Maritime Park makes for a great place to stop just as legs start to get tired, and kids can walk the pier to see the USS Pampanito submarine and other historic vessels.It’s located at Pier 45, and the visitor’s center is open 9:30 am to 5:30 pm. What’s nice is that families can opt to buy tour tickets for the Pampanito, or just view the vessels from the dock.

ghiradelli square san francisco

Ghiradelli Square:

Directly above the Maritime Park is Ghirdelli Square, where families can (must?) stop for ice cream at the famed chocolatier. (At the information booth in the square, ask for coupons if you plan to purchase sundaes.) We opted for sundaes for lunch (such a healthy choice…not!) but Ghiradelli makes for a great evening choice, too.

Between the Maritime Park and Ghiradelli Square, you’ll see the San Francisco Cable Car turnaround. This is a great place to hop on-board and take a ride, though you’ll likely wait in line. (Elsewhere in San Francisco, particularly along California Street), it’s easily to jump on and jump off cable cars.