Cool things to do in San Francisco with teens

Would we enjoy San Francisco with teenagers in tow? Would the teens enjoy San Francisco with us in tow? Could we find cool things to do in San Francisco with teens? Turns out that visiting San Francisco with teens was every bit as good as we had hoped it would be.

View of San Francisco downtown skyline from Mission Park
San Francisco

What to do with Teenagers in San Francisco

San Francisco was one of our favourite cities to visit before children, but visiting with teenagers is a whole new ball game. No idling in cute cafés or hanging out in hip bars. We know that visiting cities with the teens can work well, as our visit to Berlin proved. Here’s what we got up to with our San Francisco CityPASS in hand.

Escape from Alcatraz

Riding the cable cars and visiting Alcatraz were top of our San Francisco wish list. Not surprising really, as I think that they are at the top of most visitors’ wish list. Do not just turn up and hope to hop on the next boat to Alcatraz. Book ahead and book early. You can book up to three months in advance. We visited in July, I was on the website as soon as midnight ticked by and still all the tickets for the first boat in the morning were sold. We booked for the second boat, opting for early to avoid the rush.

Is a visit to Alcatraz worth it? YES, this was my third visit and it is still just as amazing as the first time. You get an audio tour which is one of the best of its kind. Former inmates and jailers tell you about life in the prison. On a fine day the views are stupendous: on a rough day you appreciate just how cold and cut off Alcatraz is.

Alcatraz Island with bay bridge and San Francisco skyline

Play on Pier 39

Pier 39 has something for everyone. Our CityPASS booklet told us that if we showed it at the California Welcome Centre they would give us a clutch of discounts at various Pier 39 outlets. The lovely lady behind the desk also handed both teens a $10 card to be used in the Player Sports Grill and Arcade. Sealions had been top of my list to see at Pier 39 but now we had a new prime destination. Mr CW and I sat down and had a drink overlooking the Bay whilst the teens played Mario Kart and air hockey.

Two boys playing Mario Kart Pier 39
Cultural Mario Kart

Lunchtime now and the Fog Harbor Fish House offered a discount with the voucher pack. I chose clam chowder served in a huge bread bowl and everyone else opted for fish and chips. Our table overlooked the bay, we always enjoy eating seafood looking out to sea.


Sealions first came to Pier 39 in the aftermath of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Their sudden appearance caused much consternation to the fishermen based on the pier. Within a year 300 seals had taken up residence, now thousands call Pier 39 home.

Sealions basking at Pier 39 San Francisco
Sealions Pier 39

Cruise under the Golden Gate

I confess that I was doubtful about the Blue and Gold Bay Cruise, after all we had just been on a boat to Alcatraz. It was included in the CityPASS and so we clambered on board. How wrong I was. We sailed past Alcatraz and up toward the Golden Gate Bridge. The views are stunning. In fact we sailed right up to the bridge, turned round underneath it and headed back. Not only do you get amazing Golden Gate views, you also get a real sense of San Francisco as a great maritime city, vast container ships slide by, sail boats zip past, this is a busy shipping lane.

Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco with boat wake
Golden Gate Bridge

Aquarium of the Bay

Seen one aquarium and you’ve seen them all. That roughly summed up my opinion of aquariums as we stood outside the Aquarium of the Bay. Both teens pointed out that we could jump the queue with our CityPASS and that they liked an aquarium. Once again, I admit I was wrong. The marine life of the Bay Area is explained and on show in the Aquarium of the Bay. I would visit again purely to see the jellyfish. We also took part in an art activity that resulted in a linoprint of an octopus. When the teens were small I used to pretend that taking part in such things was for their benefit. Now they take part to keep me happy, maybe that was always the way it was.

Yellow jelly fish at San Francisco Aquarium
Jelly fish

Ride the Cable Car

The San Francisco CityPASS comes with a 3 Day MUNI pass that enables you to ride on the iconic cable cars as often as you want. Be warned that you will queue for a long time at either end of Powell/Hyde and Powell/Mason lines. We rode the California/Van Ness line and were able to jump on at any stop we liked without queuing.

Cable Car San Francisco
Van Ness Cable Car

Ride a vintage Street Car

Cable Cars are not the only iconic vintage transport in San Francisco. There are numerous street car lines around the city but the F line has vintage buses. The F line runs from Castro to the Fisherman’s Wharf. Even better there were no queues for the cute street cars.

Vintage red street car f line San Francisco
Vintage Street Car

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Way back in the mists of time the San Francisco Museum of Art was where I saw my first ever Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo paintings. Taking the teens to SFMOMA was on my list of must do’s. Whilst the teens were not as blown away by Diego and Frida as I was, we all enjoyed creating our own art with a Lightbox and a camera. Shamefully I cannot remember what this was called or locate it on the museum plan. Suffice to say all four us were utterly adsorbed for the better part of an hour!

Light Box family portrait
Lightbox Cultural Wednesday family

Explore Street Art in the Mission

Whilst we were in San Francisco we arranged to meet Phoebe from Lou Messugo blog who was visiting with her teenage family. Where to meet with someone that you have met only online and your families not at all. We hit on a day of discovering Street Art in the Mission. Strolling around the Mission area proved the perfect way to spend a day with teenagers in San Francisco.

Women's Building Mural San Francisco
Women’s Building Mural

Visit the oldest building in San Francisco

Mission Dolores is the oldest building in San Francisco and the one which gave the city her name, aka Misión San Francisco de Asís was built in 1782 from traditional adobe. Next door is an altogether more ornate basilica constructed in 1913. Why Mission Dolores? After all Mission of Sorrows is not a particularly cheerful name for a church. Well it was named after a nearby lake.

Adobe Mission Dolores oldest building in San Francisco
Oldest building in San Francisco

Take in a Show

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was preparing to open when we visited. However Mr CW really, really wanted to see the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, we booked tickets online from the UK and spent an evening at the Symphony. I think that it would be fair to say that this was not the teens favourite evening of our Californian holiday. Not a cool thing to do with teens in San Francisco. Mr CW and I loved it.

San Francisco CityPASS

What do you get with the San Francisco CityPASS? You get entry into the California Academy of Sciences, which I hear is fantastic but we opted to explore the Street Art in the Mission instead. We did take advantage of the Blue and Gold fleet bay cruise which we loved. On top of that you can choose two of either the Aquarium, the Exploratorium, San Francisco Zoo, the Walt Disney Family Museum or the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. An adult pass (children over 11 count as adults) costs $84.

Is the San Francisco CityPASS worth it?

If you want to do the things included in the ticket yes. If Alcatraz, China Town and cycling across the Golden Gate are on your list top of your list then don’t bother.

DISCLOSURE: CityPASS gave us two San Francisco CityPasses, all views and a new found fondness for cruises round the bay are my own.

On our Californian road trip we visited Yosemite and stayed in a Tent Cabin, not something we have done before and we were a bit bemused as to what we would find. After Yosemite we headed North to Lassen Volcanic National Park every bit as spectacular as Yosemite with fewer people and more volcanoes. Our journey was inspired by the many books I have read about California over the years.



  1. October 30, 2019 / 8:19 am

    My teens loved SF this Summer. I would add : The Boudin Bakery Cafe – wonderful sourdough and a chance to look down on the bakers working and the Californian Academy of Sciences: a sort of aquarium, rainforest, planetarium combo. Oh! and the shopping malls … apparently :D

    • October 30, 2019 / 8:26 am

      We ran out of time for the California Academy of Sciences….. next time.

  2. Jane Ayres
    October 30, 2019 / 11:29 am

    Fab info. I don’t have any teens but I rather fancy going myself

  3. October 31, 2019 / 6:45 am

    What an amazing trip. I’ve always wanted to got to San Fran. Maybe one day…

  4. November 2, 2019 / 10:37 am

    What a lovely trip – it’s still on my to-do list and i want to go even more now! It sounds to be a great city to visit with teens. #culturedkids

    • November 2, 2019 / 5:44 pm

      Fantastic city with and without teens

  5. Julie Stock
    November 2, 2019 / 6:50 pm

    Reading this couldn’t have come at a better time for me! We’re off to San Francisco with one of our teens in January 🙂 Thanks so much for this really helpful blog of your trip.

    • November 2, 2019 / 8:22 pm

      Enjoy! Pop back and tell us what you got up to

  6. November 2, 2019 / 8:30 pm

    We have good friends in SF and promised will be back with the boys in tow, so this is all v handy! My boys as you know are not quite teens but then they would love every bit of this! BTW you truly amused me with this and can totally relate 😂 ‘When the teens were small I used to pretend that taking part in such things was for their benefit. Now they take part to keep me happy, maybe that was always the way it was.” some lovely #CulturedKids material as always! 😍

  7. November 3, 2019 / 1:52 am

    This post brought back so many incredible memories of my time in California. Such a beautiful place ❤️ #CulturedKids

    • November 3, 2019 / 2:40 pm

      We loved it, so much to see

  8. Alma
    November 3, 2019 / 6:11 am

    Sounds like really great things to do to amuse teens as well as adults! I’m sure your teens will remember these moments fondly.

  9. November 3, 2019 / 6:58 am

    Of all the things, I would love to see the sealions :D

    • November 3, 2019 / 2:40 pm

      They were the things I was most excited to show the teens

  10. bavariansojourn
    November 3, 2019 / 8:22 pm

    it looks amazing! We were meant to move to San Fran a few years back, and parts of me still wishes we had! #farawayfiles

    • November 3, 2019 / 8:57 pm

      Strikes me as a very liveable city

  11. November 4, 2019 / 2:39 pm

    I’d love to take mine to SF, just need to convince the husband. The city pass sounds great for making the most of the city and getting to the front of queues! Loved the bit about taking part in the art – for whose benefit!? #culturedkids

  12. November 5, 2019 / 9:07 am

    I would love to go to SF. My husband has been to many SF many years ago and he always has lovely things to say. The city pass sounds great. SF is on my list #culturedkids

    • November 5, 2019 / 7:41 pm

      He should take you next time!

  13. Clare Thomson
    November 5, 2019 / 2:07 pm

    You’ve been to Alcatraz THREE times? Clearly I ought to go at least once then! I think it would be on my list of things to do in San Francisco with teens though. I went pre-teens too – hung out in those cool cafés and went rollerblading in the park. I’d love to see the sealions with my kids – I missed those first time round. Thanks for sharing on #farawayfiles

    • November 5, 2019 / 7:41 pm

      Yep three times, first time it was just me and I really wanted to go. Second was with husband who really wanted to visit. Third was with a friend who was living in the Bay Area and proudly told us he had tickets for us all, so we just pretended we’d never been! NOW I realise it is FOUR times and this time when we really wanted to take the teens. Ooops need to correct the text ….

  14. November 6, 2019 / 3:50 pm

    Sounds like City Pass is the way to go. I would definitely rub my girls up the wrong way and head straight to the San Fran Symphony too. #culturedkids PS Cool selfie.

  15. November 6, 2019 / 6:54 pm

    We did so many of the highlights above when my husband and I visited before children – we were like a couple of teenagers so it seems appropriate! Cycling over the bridge was a definite highlight, as was Alcatraz. #CulturedKids

    • November 6, 2019 / 10:33 pm

      Would love to cycle over the bridge

  16. November 7, 2019 / 6:20 am

    I loved doing all these things in San Francisco. It’s been a few years since I’ve been there, so I’m sure the street art has progressed massively. #farawayfiles

  17. November 7, 2019 / 8:00 am

    One of my dearest friend’s dad was a security guard at Alcatraz. They used to have reunions Each year with the prisoners and guards! I’ve visited once though and that was enough 😀

    • November 7, 2019 / 8:17 am

      How amazing. I don’t think I need to go again 😉

  18. November 7, 2019 / 12:10 pm

    Thanks for mentioning me and my blog, it was great to meet you in SF and spend our first day in your hands at the Mission. It was brilliant start to a brilliant holiday with our teen. We did much of the same stuff as you but didn’t get to a show or the Museum of Modern Art. We did however cycle across the bridge in thick fog and high winds which was quite an experience!

    • November 7, 2019 / 7:32 pm

      Cycling across the bridge is on my list for next time xx

  19. November 9, 2019 / 6:48 pm

    I’m sad to admit I’ve never been to San Francisco (especially as my dad lived there during my teens). Alcatraz and those historic trams would be top of my list, and great to hear there’s plenty that teens find fun too (maybe we’ll skip the Symphony Orchestra though 😂) #CulturedKids

  20. November 11, 2019 / 10:08 pm

    I think San Fran would be a great city for teens!! #FearlessFamTrav

  21. November 12, 2019 / 8:02 am

    We’ve only given ourselves one day in SF next summer! The kids will love the sealions and the trams…and now I’m adding city cruise to our list of things to do too. #fearlessfamtrav

    • November 12, 2019 / 8:22 am

      Good choice for a taster of San Francisco

  22. November 12, 2019 / 9:47 am

    I had no idea the sealions hung out there. We were last in SF with a baby about 10 years ago so I’m looking forward to returning with older kids!

    • November 13, 2019 / 9:36 pm

      All those hills with a buggy must have been challenging

  23. November 21, 2019 / 9:25 pm

    It’s several years since I’ve been in San Francisco, and that was very much pre-kids. We did lots of these sights and activities though and I’d Loe to go back with my boys. Thank you for sharing on #fearlessfamtrav.

    • November 21, 2019 / 10:41 pm

      We were nervous about visiting with teens in tow but it was fantastic

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