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San Francisco

The Best of San Fran for Kids: California Academy of Science

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The California Academy of Sciences is a natural history museum in San Francisco, and is one the the largest museums of natural history in the world. The museum is home to over 26 million specimens, .

Just one ticket allows you to explore an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum, rainforest, 40,000 live animals, and more—all under one living roof.

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The Academy is a family-friendly museum with lots of exhibits, programs, and activities designed with kids in mind. Strollers are allowed everywhere in the museum – the only exception being the Shake House section of the Earthquake exhibit (you can park your stroller outside the exhibit).

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Eating at the Academy
We found decent kid-friendly food options at the Academy Cafe. You’re also welcome to bring your own food and drinks and use the indoor and outdoor seating available.

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Top Picks for Kids:

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Osher Rainforest
Over 1,600 live animals live in the four-story rainforest. Housed inside a 90-food-diameter glass dome, this is the largest rainforest exhibit of its kind in the world. From 250 free-flying birds to exotic reptiles, amphibians, golden silk orb-weaver spiders,jewel-like poison-dart frogs and stunning blue morpho butterflies that glide overhead, this is an exhibit that will create awe in kids and adults alike.

Note from the Cal Academy website: The rainforest is suitable for all ages, but because it is a hot, humid, and one-way exhibit, we recommend dressing in layers. Please note that there are no restrooms inside the rainforest dome, but you’ll find one immediately after exiting through the Amazon Flooded Forest tunnel.

Early Explorers Cove
Especially designed for kids aged 0-5, the Early Explorers Cave is a space where families can take a bit of a timeout in a smaller space with plenty of interactive activities. A miniature garden, books, toys, puzzles, live animals and dress up costumes await.

Discovery Tidepool
Kids of all ages are invited to gently touch a variety of tide pool creatures.

Earthquake Shake House
Visitors over the age of three can see, hear, and feel two earthquakes in the “Shake House”. This immersive experience can be a bit scary for littlies. Cheese was a bit scared while the house was shaking, but she also found it exciting and wanted to do it again.

Planetarium shows
The world’s largest all-digital planetarium with shows every 45 to 60 minutes. Planetarium shows are recommended for kids aged 7 and older, with kids under 4 not permitted.

Daily Programs
Check the daily schedule for story times, crafts, penguin feedings and other programs designed with young visitors in mind.

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Steinhart Aquarium
One of our favourite sections of the academy. The aquarium is home to nearly 40,000 live animals including Claude the albino alligator, tortoises, lizards, and African penguins.

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Changing tables are available in all restrooms on the museum floor, and a family-specific restroom is located next to the Swamp.

California Academy of Science
55 Music Concourse Dr, San Francisco, CA
Prices: Adult $34.95, kids 4-11 $24.95

Christine Knight
Christine is the editor of Adventure, Baby! She loves cake, her tolerant husband and her busy preschooler.

The Best of San Francisco For Kids: Children’s Creativity Museum

 

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Children’s Creativity Museum is a hands-on, multimedia arts and technology museum for kids of all ages. It’s the kind of place that kids never want to leave as it’s full of open ended play opportunities that will literally keep them occupied for the entire day. The biggest challenge you’ll have is removing the kids to grab lunch when you’re desperate for a snack yourself.

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The museum is broken up into several different levels and labs. Some of the areas, such as the Animation Studio, were best suited to older kids than our preschoolers, but we were still able to find more than enough to entertain two three year olds for an entire day.

  • Animation Studio
    Geared towards older kids, children will learn the basics of stop motion animation by creating their own clay characters and bringing them to life on screen.
  • Community Lab
    Until Jan 3 the Community Lab will feature Brain Teasers 2, an interactive exhibit featuring 21 hands-on puzzles.Children's Creative Museum via chistineknight.me
  • Imagination Lab
    The area where we spent the majority of our time at the museum, the Imagination Lab is a hands-on environment encouraging building and creating with materials like blocks, Magna Tiles and craft. The dress up and puppet theatre was particularly popular with the preschoolers. 
  • Innovation Lab
    Kids are given the Mystery Box Challenge – a box filled with materials and a brief to create an object using only those materials. It was a lot of fun for the kids to think about basic design concepts as well as letting their creativity reign.Children's Creative Museum via chistineknight.me
  • Music Studio
    The girls’ favourite part of museum, no surprise. Pick a song from a selection of over 2,000 to sing in front of a green screen. The girls chose “Let It Go” (no surprises there) and sang it against an icy background reminiscent of Arendelle. They were in heaven.
  • Tech Lab
    A fun way to introduce kids to coding. A bit too old for our kids, I’d love to return another time to try this lab.

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Before leaving the museum, take a spin on the hand-carved wooden carousel out the front. It’s the oldest operating carousel in San Francisco with a whimsical menagerie of animals to ride on. Be warned, it’s extremely fast!

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Children’s Creativity Museum
221 Fourth St. San Francisco, CA
Price: General admission $12. Kids under 2 free.

Christine Knight
Christine is the editor of Adventure, Baby! She loves cake, her tolerant husband and her busy preschooler.

Travel Guide: San Francisco with Kids

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San Francisco is a great place to take kids. We’ve been several times with Cheese, from baby to preschooler, and each time we find new things to do together. Here are a few ways to spend your family holiday in San Fran so everyone has a great time.

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Children’s Creativity Museum
Children’s Creativity Museum is a hands-on, multimedia arts and technology museum for kids of all ages. Take a ride on the hand-carved carousel, sing your heart out in the recording studio or build a masterpiece. Kids will never want to leave. Cheese particularly enjoyed the dress ups, puppet theatre, magna tiles and singing studio. She belted out “Let It Go” into a microphone and was filmed singing against a blue screen that transported her into an icy Arendelle. Priceless! Read more about our experience here.

San Francisco with Kids via christineknight.meChildren’s Creativity Museum
221 Fourth St. San Francisco, CA
Price: General admission $12. Kids under 2 free.

San Francisco with Kids via christineknight.me

Aquarium of the Bay
This little aquarium has over 20,000 marine animals to visit. With a focus on conservation, kids will learn a lot about taking care of our water and the animals within, while getting up close to exotic and local aquatic life. Highlights include 300 feet of crystal clear tunnels with marine animals from San Francisco Bay and nearby waters and Touch the Bay, featuring touchpools with sharks, rays and sea stars.
Aquarium of the Bay
2 Beach St, San Francisco, CA
Prices: Adult $22.95, kids 3-12 $13.95

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Alcatraz Island
A very popular day trip, Alcatraz Island is located 1.5 miles offshore from San Francisco. A visit to Alcatraz offers a close-up look at the site of the first lighthouse and US built fort on the West Coast as well as the infamous federal jail.

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As well as being steeped in history, the Rock is also home to tide pools, bird colonies and stunning views of San Francisco Bay. Wear very comfortable shoes, bring a light jacket no matter how warm the day begins, and be sure to book your tickets well in advance.

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Alcatraz
Buy tickets for the cruise across to Alcatraz online.
Ferries depart from Alcatraz Landing at Pier 33.
Prices: Adult $31, kids 5-11 $19

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Golden Gate Park
You could easily spend a week just exploring everything Golden Gate Park has to offer. This 1,017 acre urban park is open to the public for free (however there is an entrance cost for some of the attractions). Be sure to check out the American bison who have happily lived in the park since the 1890s.

San Francisco with Kids via christineknight.meOther attractions of note include Golden Gate Park Aquarium, Strawberry Hill (where you’ll find a waterfall and gorgeous views), Koret Children’s Quarter with its new and improved playground, Japanese Tea Garden, Carousel, windmill and tulips and the California Academy of Science.
More info at Golden Gate Park.

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Fisherman’s Wharf
This is considered the “touristy” part of town, but I think it’s worth a visit as it’s right next to the aquarium and has a few fun things for kids to see.

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Visit the California sea lions at Pier 39, where several hundred sea lions like to doze in the sun (be warned, they smell and are very loud!).

San Francisco with Kids via christineknight.me Eat at Boudin’s Bakery, home of the most delicious sourdough bread. This is their flagship location.
More ideas and info: Fisherman’s Wharf

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San Francisco Cable Cars
An absolute must when you visit San Francisco. Check out the route and jump aboard an historic cable car to see San Francisco from a unique point of view. We like to catch the Powell-Mason from Powell/ Market streets up and over Nob Hill and down to Bay Street at Fisherman’s Wharf.

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Tickets are $5 each way for ages 5 and up and can be bought at turnabouts (the beginning points) or from the conductor as you board.

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Lombard Street
This topsy-turvey street is like something out of Dr Seuss book. Lombard Street is famous for a steep, one-block section with eight hairpin turns past beautiful Victorian mansions. Be warned, kids will want to bolt down at high speed.
More info on Lombard Street.

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California Academy of Science
One of the highlights of our time in San Francisco, the California Academy of Sciences is a natural history museum in that is among the largest museums of natural history in the world, housing over 26 million specimens – 40,000 of them live. Inside the one building is an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum and rainforest – all under one living roof (literally – the roof is alive!). The Academy has plenty of hands-on exhibits and activities for kids to explore. Our favourites were the Shake House section of the Earthquake exhibit where kids can experience what it would feel like to be on top of an earthquake, the aquarium with its immersive glass tunnels, the dinosaur in the foyer, and the rainforest with live butterflies and birds. Read more about our experience here.

San Francisco with Kids via christineknight.meCalifornia Academy of Science
55 Music Concourse Dr, San Francisco, CA
Prices: Adult $34.95, kids 4-11 $24.95

San Francisco with Kids via christineknight.me

Cupid’s Span
Kids absolutely love this sculpture by artist Coosje van Bruggen on the Embarcadero along San Francisco Bay. The art work was inspired by San Francisco’s reputation as the home port of Eros.

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Palace of Fine Arts
While the Palace of Fine Arts is actually home to art exhibitions, visitors also go to enjoy the beautiful structure (originally built in 1915), walkways and lagoon. The palace is iconic in San Francisco, and is a popular destination for family and wedding photos. Kids will particularly enjoy spotting the swans who live in the lagoons.

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Palace of Fine Arts
3301 Lyon St, San Francisco, CA
Prices: It’s free to walk around the grounds.

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Golden Gate Bridge
And lastly … don’t forget to check out Golden Gate Bridge. While the bridge can be seen from Alcatraz and various points on around San Francisco Bay, my favourite place to photograph it is Battery Spencer, on the Marin Headland just north of the bridge.

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Christine Knight
Christine is the editor of Adventure, Baby! She loves cake, her tolerant husband and her busy preschooler.