San Francisco is a city well-known for its great food scene, hip bars, artsy vibe, and natural beauty, but it may not be on many families’ radar as a wonderful destination for children. In fact, the City by the Bay has so much for traveling families that it has become one of my favorite destinations.

What makes San Francisco appealing to me as a mom and traveler is that it has something for everyone. The morning can be spent at a kids’ museum, while the afternoon can be devoted to something more geared to the adults’ interest, all enhanced by the fact that almost everywhere you look, beauty abounds. The icing on the cake is that within less than an hour of San Francisco is a rich array of sights that could keep anyone busy for a very long time.

San Francisco has a few “must-dos” for kids.

11 San Francisco Travel Tips:

At the top of that list is the new Exploratorium, an interactive museum that has reopened on the Bay, with plenty of cool exhibits and other features to keep parents and kids happy.

The California Academy of Sciences, in Golden Gate Park, is another wonderful place for kids to explore. Highlights include its aquarium with tanks that create tunnels that visitors walk through, the green roof, the rainforest, current exhibits, and the planetarium (for kids 6 and up). Keep in mind that some areas require waiting in line, and peak times can be very crowded; also, this museum is quite expensive compared to the Exploratorium and other activities in San Francisco.

Besides these two top-notch museums, traveling families may enjoy some of the other well-known sights, such as the aquarium, Pier 39 to see the sea lions (go in the morning to avoid crowds), a ferry ride across the Bay (start at the Ferry Building at the Embarcadero), and the Golden Gate Recreation Area on the other side of the bridge.

However, there are plenty of less touristy, family-friendly activities in San Francisco.

The Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park:  With plenty of secret paths and open grassy areas for the kids to explore and unusual plants to keep the adults interested, this huge botanical garden is one of my favorite spaces in San Francisco. If the weather is nice, bring a blanket and snack and hang out on the grass a while.

The Conservatory of Flowers: Also in Golden Gate Park, this beautiful old conservatory building contains greenhouse rooms full of tropical plants and flowers. Have fun with your kids spotting the variety of orchids, huge carnivorous plants, and other unusual species. Because the inside is hot, you may not want to stay long, but outside the building is lovely, too, with a dahlia garden and room to run and admire the flowers.

Wood Line: Just inside the southeast entrance of the Presidio National Park is a walking path called Lovers’ Lane. It’s a fairly short walk, but the reason to visit is an almost hidden art installation in the eucalyptus grove that runs alongside Lovers’ Lane. Wood Line is a collection of tree trunks that form a snaking pattern through the grove. Let the kids walk around and on it, but be careful for mud if it has recently rained.

The Fort Point area in the Presidio: At the far corner of the Presidio is Fort Point, a former military building that actually sits under the Golden Gate Bridge. It offers self-guided tours. From here,  you can walk across the bridge or make your way back along the coast, under former military tunnels, toward Crissy Field, a large beach decorated with huge sculptures. Nearby is the Warming Hut, a good place to stop for hot chocolate. Be careful—the weather at this location tends to be colder and windier than the rest of the city.

The Ferry Building: This is a haven for foodies, but kids will enjoy it, too. Highlights for kids are the view of the Bay Bridge from the back deck, Ciao Bella gelato, Gotts Roadside (a great place for a family-friendly meal), and the enormous fountain across the street that you can actually walk through and on top of.