San Francisco has the fewest kids per capita of any US city and, according to SPCA data, 5000 to 35,000 more dogs than children live here. Yet many locals make a living entertaining kids – from Pixar animators to video-game designers – and this town is full of attractions for young people.

Need to Know

Change facilities Best public facilities are at Westfield San Francisco Centre and San Francisco Main Library. Availability and cleanliness vary elsewhere.

Emergency care San Francisco General Hospital.

Strollers and car seats Bring your own or hire from a rental agency like Cloud of Goods.

Kiddie menus Mostly in cafes and downtown diners; call ahead about dietary restrictions. Most San Francisco kids eat from the same menu as their parents.

Alcatraz & the Piers

Prison tours of Alcatraz fascinate children, while older kids enjoy the spooky evening tours. Hit the award-winning, hands-on exhibits at the Exploratorium to investigate the science of skateboarding and glow-in-the-dark animals, then free the world from Space Invaders at Musée Mécanique. Don't be shy: bark back at the sea lions at Pier 39, and ride a unicorn on the pier's vintage San Francisco carousel.

Freebies

See SF history in motion at the free Cable Car Museum, and take free mechanical pony rides and peek inside vintage stagecoaches at the Wells Fargo History Museum. Cool kids head to 24th St to see Balmy Alley murals and hang with skaters at Potrero del Sol/La Raza Skatepark. The free Randall Junior Museum introduces kids to urban wildlife, earth science and the fascinating Golden Gate model railroad. Daredevils can conquer the concrete Seward Street slides in the Castro, hillside concrete slides at the Golden Gate Park kids playground, and the Winfield Street slides in Bernal Heights. Lunchtime concerts are free at Old St Mary's and, in summer, at Yerba Buena Gardens and Justin Herman Plaza. Kids can graze on free samples at the Ferry Building, and score free toys in exchange for a bartered song, drawing or poem at 826 Valencia.

Nature Lovers

Penguins, buffalo and an albino alligator call Golden Gate Park home. Chase butterflies through the rainforest dome, pet starfish in the petting zoo and squeal in the Eel Forest at the California Academy of Sciences. Get a whiff of insect breath from carnivorous flowers at the Conservatory of Flowers – pee-eeww! – and brave the shark tunnel at Aquarium of the Bay. San Francisco Zoo is out of the way but worth the trip for monkeys, lemurs and giraffes.

Cable Cars & Boats

When junior gearheads demand to know how cable cars work, the Cable Car Museum lets them glimpse the inner workings for themselves. Take a joyride on the Powell-Hyde cable car to Fisherman's Wharf, where you can enter submarine stealth mode aboard the USS Pampanito and climb aboard schooners and steamships at the Maritime National Historical Park. Future sea captains will enjoy model-boat weekend regattas at Spreckels Lake in Golden Gate Park.

Warm Days

On sunny Sundays when Golden Gate Park is mostly closed to traffic, rent paddleboats at Stow Lake or strap on some rentals at Golden Gate Park Bike & Skate. Crissy Field and the southern end of Baker Beach are better bets for kid-friendly beaches than Ocean Beach, where fog and strong currents swiftly end sandcastle-building sessions; drownings happen at Ocean, and swimming and even wading is considered a risk; heed the signs and watch your children carefully. Hit Chinatown for teen-led Chinatown Alleyway Tours, and cookies at Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company.

Museums & Interactive Activities

The Children's Creativity Museum allows future tech moguls to design their own video games and animations, while the Exploratorium has interactive displays that let kids send fog signals and figure out optical illusions for themselves. At the Walt Disney Family Museum, kids can get to know their favorite characters better – and find out about the animators who brought them to life. Kids are strongly encouraged to explore art in San Francisco, with free admission for those aged 12 and under at the Asian Art Museum, SFMOMA, Legion of Honor, de Young Museum, Museum of the African Diaspora and Contemporary Jewish Museum. To make your own hands-on fun, hit Paxton Gate kids' store for shadow puppets and organic play dough.

Playgrounds

Golden Gate Park Swings, monkey bars, play castles with slides, hillside slides and a vintage carousel.

Dolores Park Jungle gym, Mayan pyramid and picnic tables.

Yerba Buena Gardens Grassy downtown playground surrounded by museums, cinemas and kid-friendly dining.

Huntington Park Top-end playground in ritzy hilltop park.

Portsmouth Square Chinatown's outdoor playroom.

Old St Mary's Square Skateboarders and play equipment.