What to See on the BigBus Tour of San Francisco

Whether you are visiting from across the country or playing tourist on staycation, seeing all the sites in San Francisco with kids requires a lot of planning. Enter…the Big Bus Hop on Hop off buses. There is a lot to cover in seven or 14 hours (if you do the two day option) so take our family friendly (and sometimes free) recommendations for each bus stop and plan to get hopping!

Photo: Fisherman’s Wharf

Stop 1: Fisherman’s Wharf
With 16 bus stops, it makes sense to start your tour with the first bus of the day that leaves from Fisherman’s Wharf at 10 a.m. Metered parking is as low as $.50 per hour in some spots with multiple nearby parking garages and you can also take Muni to get to the first stop. While much of the Wharf is closed until 10 a.m. or 11 a.m., the views of the Bay and the early morning energy of the wharf are lovely and families can easily spend a full day here.
Hyde Pier (opens at 9:30 a.m.) has amazing food with a view and Ghirardelli Square‘s beautiful rainbow stairs are the perfect place to enjoy fantastic ice cream sundaes. Aquatic Park has a lovely beach that is mostly blocked from the wind making it ideal for little ones to wade in and Umbrella Alley offers up gorgeous murals perfect for fun creative photos. Tucked away and often overlooked by tourists, Musée Mécanique is across from the bus stop and with its antique and vintage arcade coin operated games, is truly a unique SF experience.

More information: Fisherman’s Wharf

Photo: Sarah Montoya

Stop 2: North Beach and Chinatown 

Strolling the Italian shops on Columbus Ave and the alleys of Chinatown in one bus stop is a beautiful testimony to the diversity that built San Francisco. A visit the Fortune Cookie Factory is a must for curious kids along with a stop at Willie Woo Woo Playground, one of the most beautiful and unique playgrounds in the city. For a more typical tourist option climb the hill to Coit Tower for a beautiful view of the city. Head downstairs at City Lights for diverse children’s books while experiencing some of San Francisco’s Beat Poet history.

You can’t go wrong with any of the Chinese or Italian spots in this part of town. However, if you are looking for something different The Red Window is an adorable Spanish restaurant serving to-go options. Picnic in picturesque Washington Square park and don’t forget to grab a coffee from Caffe Trieste, a fixture of the North Beach neighborhood for over 50 years. 

Photo: Sarah Montoya

Stop 3: Embarcadero Center

Big Bus labels this bus stop as the Exploratorium but note that the museum is an 11 minute walk from the stop and best enjoyed as a full day visit to experience its many rooms and exhibits. Food trucks are a significant part of San Francisco food culture so head over to Off The Grid at Vallejo and Front on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Kids will enjoy nearby Sue Bierman Park which has a lovely playground for kids.

This stop is close enough to the Ferry Building stop that it is also an easy stop to skip without fear that you are missing out.

Photo: Kate Loweth

Stop 4: Ferry Building

The Ferry Building is one of the most beautiful landmarks in San Francisco. The plaza hosts a beautiful and educational farmers market on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays with food demonstrations, organic tastes and treats along with fascinating people watching. Even on non-market days the building has some of the best restaurants in the city and amazing views. You can read a more complete list of suggestions here

If you are looking for a unique photo opportunity go on a short walk to Rincon Park to see Cupids Bow with a view of the Bay Bridge.

Photo: Sarah Montoya

Stop 5: Union Square

Union Square is an iconic stop for any visit to San Francisco. It is absolutely magical at Christmas but worth stopping here year round. The square is lined with gorgeous high end shops which aren’t the most kid friendly experiences and can be found in most major cities.

It is fun to experience the hustle and glamor of this part of the city, but with kids you will find more joy on a short walk to Yerba Buena Gardens and the Children’s Creativity Museum and Carousel. The Carousel is only $5 per ride and both are located in the same area as the SFMOMA. The SFMOMA is great with kids and worth taking time to enjoy.

Insider’s tip: If you want an excuse to go inside but you don’t want to commit to tickets, Diego Rivera’s Last Mural is free-to-see in the lobby until summer 2023.

Stop 6: Redemption Canter/Hilton Hotel  

With 16 stops some stops are worth skipping and this is one. 

Photo: Sarah Montoya

Stop 7: Civic Center

San Francisco’s City Hall is gorgeous and worth a quick visit just to see the beautiful architecture and maybe catch a glimpse of a beautiful couple celebrating their big day. The Helen Diller Civic Center Playground is fun and the photos will be beautiful with City Hall in the background. The Asian Art Museum is right there and with a short walk you can visit the Symphony Hall, War Memorial Opera House and Herbst Theatre. If you have time to visit the museum, the collection at the Asian Art Museum is stunning and one of a kind, but it is worth setting aside a longer portion of time.

All of the buildings on this stop also have beautiful exterior architecture and can be enjoyed from a distance on the bus if you are feeling rushed.

Stop 8: Alamo Square

The iconic Painted Ladies make the perfect postcard photo with views of the city in the background. This park also has a great playground and views of San Francisco’s City Hall. You can also experience some of San Francisco’s famous public murals lining the sidewalk. If you are there on a Friday or Saturday you can grab amazing local coffee from Lady Falcon, a San Francisco mom owned business.  

It is difficult to get a picture of the Painted Ladies from a moving bus, but if seeing the Painted Ladies is enough, this is another stop that can be enjoyed from the bus.

Learn more: Alamo Square

Stop 9: Haight 

The Haight Ashbury is a great neighborhood to get a feel of San Francisco’s hippy history. 

If you have older kids who love to thrift or are dying for tie dye, hop off here and spend a moment window shopping, grab a snack at Haight Street Market or Ritual Coffee and check out the world’s largest independent records store Ameba, if you want a sit down meal Pork Store or ChaChaCha has you covered; however, if you are with younger kids or you just feel like there is too much on the itinerary the neighborhood can be enjoyed from the comfort of the bus. 

The Panhandle Playground is recently renovated and is mostly frequented by locals making it a beautiful way to escape the crowds and take a breather under the trees.   

Photo: Sarah Montoya

Stop 10: Golden Gate Park

Note this bus stop is only available Monday-Saturday and with so much to do you could easily spend a full day at Golden Gate Park. The Japanese Tea Garden is small enough for a short visit while The De Young (viewing tower and sculpture garden are free) and The Academy of Sciences require a few hours to fully enjoy.

Sneak away to the hidden Blue Playground tucked away through a tunnel out of the Music Concourse for a break from the crowds. Standing 150 feet tall, a 12 minute ride on the The SkyStar Wheel is unique way to see the city with the kids, but you will need to plan ahead to purchase tickets and plan to wait in a long line.

For a longer visit at this location walk to Stow Lake to visit the Pagoda and Waterfall. The Rose garden is a longer walk away and further away you can see the Conservatory of Flowers, but they are in opposite directions from each other so you may need to choose one depending on how much time you intend to spend in the park.  

Photo: Cathy Hill @thewaywebay

Stop 11: North Vista Point GGB

Driving across the Golden Gate Bridge is the best part of this bus stop. The vista point is beautiful and worth a visit if your kids are up for the walk. Family photos with the city in the background are a tourist’s dream, but if you are concerned about convincing kids to walk and keeping them safe on a windy, crowded hill you will still have a fantastic experience if you simply ride the bus across the bridge and back.    

Learn more: Visiting The Bridge

Photo: Sarah Montoya

Stop 12: Palace of Fine Arts 

The Palace of Fine Arts is one of the most beautiful and unique landmarks of San Francisco. Built for the World’s Fair after the 1908 earthquake to show the world that San Francisco was rebuilding, photos of this location are always beyond comparison. 

Stop 13: Marina Cow Hollow 

This stop is great for a more local experience—Lucca’s Delicatessen is a classic San Francisco spot for sandwiches. The Marina Library and playground are lovely. However, if you are on this bus tour with the goal of checking off major tourist destinations, the stops before and after this one are much more significant for seeing the beauty of San Francisco.  

Photo: Christine Lai

Stop 14: Lombard Street

Although not actually the crookedest street in the world, let alone San Francisco, the famous winding Lombard street should be on every visitor’s to-do list. The gardens surrounding the twisting road are gorgeous making it an easy spot for beautiful photos. It’s worth it to walk down to the bottom to get photos of the turns from the base and with nearly 2 million people coming to this spot each year, plan on this bus stop taking more time than you expect.  

Within a short walk is one of the newest and largest parks and playgrounds in San Francisco. The former site of one of San Francisco’s oldest reservoirs, Francisco Park boasts amazing views, a large open field, brand new picnic tables, public restrooms and a playground with a toddler area and a big kid (up to 12) area.    

Stop 15: Pier 35 

This pier is primarily used for boarding Alcatraz tour boats. The pier also hosts special events throughout the year. If you haven’t booked a cruise in advance this is probably a good stop to skip.  

Photo: Sarah Montoya

Stop 16: Pier 39 

There is so much to do here that you could spend a full day here. Pier 39 is most famous for the sea lions (note the sea lions leave from mid-May to late July). Trish’s Mini Donuts opens early and kids will love watching them make their donuts so be sure to grab a half dozen to start your day. The pier itself is full of shopping, dining, a carousel and street performances. A meal at any of the restaurants here will boast a view but be prepared to wait for a table.  

Pier 41 just next door offers a respite from the crowds. Walk to the end for a beautiful view. 

There is so much to see and do in San Francisco. With good food, entertainment, and playgrounds available at nearly every stop everyone in the family is guaranteed to enjoy the bus tour.

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