What To Do In The San Francisco Bay Area

17799356_10102172962692400_4700821454525289366_n
In a few weeks we have a good friend from Ireland who will be coming to California for the first time. Ok, ok…she’s more than a friend. She’s my all-time favorite babysitter, and I’m kind of hoping she’ll fall in love with America and move here forever. And by “here” I mean the spare mattress in our guest room. And since I want her to love America, I thought I’d give her some ideas of top-notch destinations to see once she arrives.

I logged in to my blog to pull up a post on what she should do when she visits the Bay Area only to realize that I have never written that post! How have I lived here for 3 years and never given you all ideas of what to do when you come? Better late than never, so here are a few of my favorite things to do in the San Francisco Bay Area:

San Francisco:
If you are coming to the Bay Area, it’s likely because you want to visit the foggy city. Even though it’s only an hour away from our house, I don’t venture up to San Francisco that often. I have kids with small bladders and it’s a bit of a to-do…and it’s cold in The City (California has made me soft–so soft that minor temperature changes have become deterrents. I’m sorry.).

There are hop-on-hop-off tour buses in the city that will take you to many of the top landmarks, or you can buy a MUNI (bus) pass to get around quite easily. If you have your own car, you may want to just park it somewhere that doesn’t cost more than your mortgage and walk or take public transportation within The City because parking here is no bueno. San Francisco is only 7 miles x 7 miles, so it’s totally do-able to see most things by foot anyway.

Now, on to my favorite spots to visit in the city.

Golden Gate Bridge (duh)
I always start my venture over the bridge at the view point and visitor center on the San Francisco side of the bridge. If you’re driving your own car you can park for $1 per hour while you hop out to look around and shop for Golden Gate souvenirs. I always walk out on the bridge so I can look up at the copper spans and down into the deep blue water.

After stopping by the view point I like to drive over the bridge and up to the Marin Headlands. You park up by the old Army barracks and take a short walk out to the best view of the bridge anywhere–you’re slightly above the bridge looking down at it, and it’s absolutely breathtaking.

If you’re feeling more adventurous you can rent a bike on the city side and ride over the bridge on 2 wheels (there are several spots to rent bikes, but we got ours at the Sports Basement when we did this ride pre-kids). You can ride over the bridge and right back to where you started, or you can ride all the way to Tiburon and catch the ferry back to the city.

Fisherman’s Wharf
This is a fun area to explore. There are lots of (overpriced) shops and restaurants, and even a Madame Tussaud’s wax museum. Go check out the sea lions on the pier, eat some bread bowl clam chowder, or even charter a boat out around the San Francisco Bay (highly recommended). We like to walk up to the Buena Vista for an Irish Coffee and then over to Ghiradelli for free chocolate samples and ice cream.

Fisherman’s Wharf is also where you catch the boat out to the most infamous prison in America: Alcatraz. If you want to visit Alcatraz, plan ahead–the only way out there is by boat, and spots fill up quickly. Your best bet is to buy tickets ahead of time and reserve your spot online as soon as you know the day that you want to go out to the island.

Trolley Rides
Speaking of Fisherman’s Wharf, there’s a great spot to watch the trolleys turn around in front of the Buena Vista and, if you want to, go for a ride! Taking a trolley ride is a lot of fun and about as iconic as you can get! I like riding the route between Fisherman’s Wharf and Union Square (shopping, hotels, restaurants, and more shopping). This route passes close to Lombard Street if you want to hop off and check out the twisty-turnies.

Golden Gate Park
Go for a walk on the gorgeous trails, rent a boat at the Stow Lake Boathouse, or check out some of the museums–the California Academy of Sciences (where you can walk through a 3-story rainforest biodome and view a myriad of sealife in the aquarium) is my fave.

Chinatown and Little Italy
There is so much to explore in these little neighborhoods of San Francisco. Eat your way through the streets, poke your head into the little shops, and enjoy the world-class people watching.

Catch a Giant’s Game
San Francisco loves their hometown heroes, the San Francisco Giants (Baseball, people. They’re a baseball team.). Head over to AT&T park for a game or, if you’re like me, just nosh on some garlic fries while enjoying the gorgeous views over San Francisco Bay.

San Francisco Zoo
I loooooooove zoos! Every time we travel I have to see the local zoo, and I love visiting the local zoos where we live. The San Francisco Zoo is a good-sized place with all of your favorite animals: giraffes, monkeys, penguins, polar bears, lions, and a tropical rain forest building. There’s also a cute little train ride that goes around part of the zoo and decent food in the cafes. It’s definitely worth checking out if you have an open day!

Bay Area Discovery Museum
This is more for those of you who are traveling with little companions aged 1-7 years old. Just over the Golden Gate Bridge in Sausalito, I love this children’s museum for its interactive exhibits, indoor/outdoor play spaces, and pirate ship playground overlooking San Francisco Bay. Insider pro tip: the first Wednesday every month has FREE admission!


Day Trips From San Francisco:
Outside of The City there is still plenty to do! Here are a few of my top picks:

Wine Country
Take a tour bus out to Napa or Sonoma for a day of wine tasting and soaking in the beautiful scenery. Or, if you still want to go wine tasting without the crowds, head south toward the Santa Cruz Mountains (where we live!) and sample dozens of local wineries in a single afternoon.

Beaches
From San Francisco your best bet is to head over to Half Moon Bay so you can dip your toes in the Pacific. Continue south to Santa Cruz if you want a day of amusement park fun at The Boardwalk: rides, fair food, and a giant wooden roller coaster await.

The Redwoods
Ummmm…some of the biggest, oldest living things ON EARTH. Need I say more? It’s worth a trip. Some forests to check out if you’re near San Francisco: Muir Woods (12 miles outside of the city), Big Basin, Portola Redwoods State Park, or Butano State Park.

Silicon Valley
Now, I’m partial to Silicon Valley because this is where we’ve been living for the last few years. It really is a unique spot to visit, especially if you’re into technology and tech companies. All of the big tech companies are based here, and many have visitor centers you can check out: Apple, Google, Facebook and Netflix to name a few.

Monterey and Carmel-By-The-Sea
These are some of my all-time favorite coastal towns. They’re just so quaint and beautiful and slow-paced that they make you feel a million miles away from any care in the world. If you make it to Monterey, be sure to check out the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, go sea kayaking with the marine life, or go out on a whale-watching tour. If you’re in Carmel, drop everything you’re doing (which is probably not much of anything if you’re in Carmel), and eat brunch at Mission Ranch. Just trust me on this one, and send me your thank you card later.

Now that you know what to do, all you have to do is come enjoy your own San Francisco treat!

October Visitors

October has been a busy month for us: it was our first full month in our house, our boy turned four, and we celebrated our first Halloween in California. And, to make the month already sweeter (not that we needed any help with sweets after Halloween…) we had some very special visitors come to stay.

First up was Jon’s mom–better known around here as Grammy–who flew down from Leavenworth, WA for a quick birthday surprise. David came with me to the airport to pick up his “present” and he was ecstatic to see Grammy walking out to greet him. Grammy stayed with us for a long weekend. In usual Peterson style, we crammed as much into that long weekend as we could.

We went to our new church’s annual Trunk-or-Treat (where the kids go from car-to-car rather than house-to-house begging for candy. It was a good pre-funk to the actual holiday):
IMG_0070 We visited the Winchester Mystery House, a very beautiful–and even more unusual– landmark in the area. You see, Mrs. Winchester’s late husband created the Winchester rifle in the late-1800’s and the guns were used as the primary battle weapons through two world wars. After Mr. Winchester died, Mrs. Winchester was left with loads of money…and a very unhealthy fear of the ghosts of those killed by her husband’s rifles. Fueled by her fear and financed by her riches, she spent the remainder of her life constructing the most insane house that has ever been built. In order to confuse the “spirits” she built rooms with no doors, windows at strange heights, uneven stairways, secret passageways…and she just never stopped. Her house was under construction 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for nearly two decades. Eventually poor Mrs. Winchester passed away and construction on her house finally ceased. Today you can pay a cool $40 to tour the inside of the house (bah!) or tour the extensive gardens for free (that’s more like it):IMG_0144 Grammy helped us bring David to preschool on his birthday so he could celebrate with his classmates. To the teacher’s delight, we even brought neon blue cupcakes to share (in this photo you can even see the blue mustache lingering on David’s face):IMG_0147 After school we had a little birthday dinner for David at home, then invited our neighbors over for cake and ice cream. The adults enjoyed wearing birthday hats, but the kids, not so much:IMG_0158 On Grammy’s last day in town we visited Jon at work. We got a small tour of the Apple campus and brought a picnic lunch to eat on the lawn outside of Tim Cook’s office:IMG_0168 And, just like that, the weekend was over and it was time to say goodbye to Grammy. We made one last stop at the San Jose rose gardens before dropping Grammy off at the airport:IMG_0183 After Grammy left, we had a day to clean the house and stock up at the grocery store, because our next visitors were already on their way! Next up: Aunt Jessica (my sister) and Uncle Chris from Seattle!IMG_0232Again, this was a quick long-weekend visit, so we didn’t waste any time getting the fun started. As soon as we’d picked Jessica and Chris up from the airport, we headed out to Santa Cruz for some beach time. We watched what few surfers there were (apparently we had just missed a huge surfing competition that wrapped up an hour before we arrived. Dang!) and then walked down to the beach. The boys had a great time building sand castles (read: throwing sand at people) and wading in the water (read: getting knocked over by waves as they broke on the shore). This is one of the only G-rated photos I got at the beach because it literally took about 15 minutes before both boys decided it would be best to run around stark naked. Gotta love October in California!
IMG_0256 The next day was Halloween. We spent the morning at David’s preschool Halloween party where all the kids played games, ate loads of food, and marched around in a costume parade:IMG_0289 Later in the day, we got our next group of visitors who had driven up from southern California: Aunt Erin (my other sister), Uncle Toph, and cousin Noah!IMG_0304The boys had a great time playing together and dressing up in their Halloween costumes. They were the cutest Wolverine, giraffe, and pirate I’d ever seen:IMG_0320 We all went over to our neighbors’ house for a pizza dinner before it was time to hit the streets:IMG_0344 Then it was time for what is probably the most unusual American tradition: Sending our children to strangers’ houses in the dead of night to beg for candy. This was Jacob’s first time trick-or-treating, and he handled the event like a pro. After about 45 minutes everyone’s treat bags were overflowing and we decided to call it a night.IMG_0352 The next morning after we’d all recovered from our candy comas, we moved on to our next great adventure: San Francisco! Here I am with my sisters at the end of Pier 39 with the infamous Alcatraz Island in the background:IMG_0396 We spent our day in “The City” wandering around the waterfront, eating soup from sourdough breadbowls, and taking in the beautiful views (if you look closely, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge in the background here):IMG_0406 We went to the Ghiradelli chocolate factory where we saw how chocolate is made and sampled their offerings:IMG_0412 We wanted to ride on the cable cars, but they were really expensive and the line was massive and we had tired children…so we just hopped onboard a parked trolley and snapped a photo instead. Good enough.IMG_0422 We made our way down to the marina where we boarded a boat for a short tour of the bay:IMG_0429 Our captain was awesome and he even let all the kids take turns steering the boat. David was having so much fun that he started spinning donuts and nearly steered us right into a pier:IMG_0450 From the boat, we got some incredible views looking back at the city skyline:IMG_0455 And we even drove up to the docks where hundreds of sea lions were basking in the sun:IMG_0461
Thus concluded our epic day in San Francisco.

The next day we decided to head south for one last adventure before Erin, Toph and Noah had to drive back home to L.A. The Monterey Bay Aquarium was right off the road they would be taking home, so we all went along for some fun:IMG_0487 The aquarium is incredible, and we liked it so much that our family bought an annual membership so we can return. There were massive tanks filled with every imaginable sea creature:IMG_0490 Our favorite spot, though, had to be this room where you got to stand inside a “wave” as the “tide” came in. IMG_0506 The kids were fascinated by the water running over their heads and splashing down by their feet.IMG_0510 We spent a bit of time wandering around Cannery Row outside of the museum so we could find some lunch. Monterey is such a cute little town, and I’m excited that we live close enough to visit again soon.

IMG_0520

 

Then, after an amazing couple of weeks, it was all over. Everyone went back home and we were left with a house that was a lot more empty, yet full of so much more joy. We made wonderful memories with our even more wonderful visitors–and hopefully we’ll get to host and explore and memory-make again soon!

Our First Day In Ireland

Today was our first full day in Ireland. We slept in and then spent the rest of the day exploring.

We started by going to a Vodafone store in town and signing up for new cell phone plans. Priorities, people! We now have (local) calling/texting capability as well as Internet access.

After getting our phones taken care of we drove up to our new house. We can’t move in until Monday, but I still wanted to see where it was.

Here is the outside of the house–it’s a middle unit in a 4-unit townhouse:

20130712-192226.jpg

There is a nice grassy field across the street from our house in the middle of our neighborhood. David and Bota will have so much fun playing here!

20130712-192358.jpg

We walked down the block to Garryduff Sports Center, the sports complex that our yard backs up to. They have soccer fields, tennis courts, and even a small golf course:

20130712-192705.jpg

After walking around our neighborhood for a while, we decided to go check out the walking path that leads to Jon’s office.

20130712-193031.jpg

It was a nice walk that took us over the water, past a small castle, and through the woods.

20130712-193150.jpg

We went in to Cypress and saw Jon’s new office.

20130712-193253.jpg

On our walk back from Cypress we stopped by the Mahon Point Shopping Center to look around.

20130712-193347.jpg

We got smoothies and let the boys play in the shopping center play area. I can see myself spending many rainy days here!

20130712-193523.jpg

We ate dinner at our rental house then had some playtime out in the courtyard.

20130712-193733.jpg

It’s already the boys’ bedtime here–good thing, because we’re all tired from our busy day!

Our Anniversary Weekend Getaway In Seattle

largest

Last week Jon and I got to do something that all parents dream of: we left our children. Overnight. For two whole days. It was…amazing. We had a lot to celebrate last week: my birthday, our anniversary–and the fact that we are about to move 5,000 miles away from grandparents who willingly take in our offspring when we need to get away for some Mommy-Daddy time.

So where did we go for our thrilling weekend “away”? Our own hometown of Seattle! This was our first time leaving baby Jacob overnight, so we decided to stay close to home in case he started freaking out and we needed to go back and rescue him (or if I started freaking out and needed to go back and see him). Plus, Jon and I were both feeling a bit nostalgic now that we know we’re actually leaving this place for the next 2 years. It ended up being a wonderful weekend getaway that we will always remember. Here’s our itinerary if you want to check out some of our favorite local spots for yourself!

Where We Stayed:
Since there were lots of things we wanted to do in the downtown area, we chose a hotel right in the middle of all the action. We stayed at the Sheraton Seattle, located at 6th and Pike. I’ve always wanted to stay there because at Christmas time every year they host a fancy gingerbread house showcase in the hotel lobby–I have many fond memories of wandering through the hotel looking at those gingerbread houses (and wondering if anybody would notice if I sneaked a bite off one!). The hotel was every bit as beautiful and comfortable as I imagined it would be. The staff was helpful and friendly–they even sent a complimentary bottle of wine up to our room when they found out we were there celebrating our anniversary.

Where We Played:
Our first afternoon was spent shopping downtown. We went to all of our (and by our, I mean my) favorite stores. I’d gotten a few gift cards and some cash for my birthday, so it was fun for me to be able to shop to my little heart’s content with no little voices whining at me from a stroller. After my shopping spree we dropped off our bags at the hotel then started walking toward Lake Union for dinner. It was a gorgeous day–and I knew we were about to stuff ourselves silly at dinner–so the mile walk was quite welcome.

photo

After dinner we flagged down a cab to get us back to the hotel (the walk to dinner was great–however, my choice in cute yet inappropriate-for-walking shoes was not the best idea). Then, after a quick shoe change, we were ready to go again. Time for a movie! We love going to movies but rarely have the opportunity to get out to an actual theater. The Meridian 16 movie theater was across the street from our hotel so we just walked over a few minutes before show time. We saw the new bank-heist movie Now You See Me–it was pretty entertaining, and such a treat to see it before it hit Red Box.

On Day 2 we slept in. Late. Really, that’s all either of us wanted to do for the whole weekend away from our kids. We even got a late check-out so we could sleep uninterrupted for as long as we wanted. It was glorious. I’d be happy if the whole weekend just ended there, but we did actually have more exciting things planned for later in the day.

After our late start, we headed down to Pioneer Square so we could go on the Seattle Underground Tour. Back in the 1800’s Seattle basically burnt to the ground and the residents decided to rebuild on top of the old city. There are still about 36 blocks of underground passage ways and old store entrances that you can visit on the tour.

seattle-underground-tour

We used a brand new tour company called “Beneath The Streets”. They started about a week ago so they don’t have a website yet, but it was a great tour. I’ve been on the main underground tour before, but this one went to the same places and was half the price. Their office is located less than a block away from the other Underground Tour location on 1st and Cherry.

After our tour we headed back up the hill for our favorite treat: massages! There’s a great urban spa across the street from Westlake Center called Ummelina. They start every treatment with a foot bath, tea and relaxation in their “sanctuary”. I’ve been there probably half a dozen times, and they never disappoint. We were feeling great after our afternoon of pampering, so we decided to top off the day with a delicious pizza dinner down the street.

Then, it was time to go back to reality. We picked up fancy cupcakes (for us) and a coconut cream pie (for the babysitting-grandparents) at Dahlia Bakery–then we left our dreamy “vacation” to drive back to our children. It was an incredible two days away, but somehow we still missed those two little munchkins like crazy!

Where We Ate:
Pasta Freska
A great Italian restaurant recommended to us by my sister-in-law. There are no menus: the chef comes out and personally greets each customer to discover their food preferences. Then he goes back to his kitchen and prepares you a custom 7-course meal. Everything we ate was delicious and we’ll definitely be going back!

Specialty’s Bakery– We stopped by to pick up a late-morning breakfast on our way down to Pioneer Square. We both ordered warm ham and cheese stuffed croissants. I also bought a peanut butter chocolate chunk cookie to munch on after our tour.

Serious-Pie-in-SeattleSerious Pie-Tom Douglas’s iconic pizza kitchen in downtown Seattle. They had a great happy hour until 5:00 with personal-sized pizzas for only $6 (there were also drink and appetizer specials). We ended up getting three wood-fired pizzas and a ham terrine–all were fantastic.

Dahlia-Bakery-2Dahlia Bakery– Another Tom Douglas institution. They’re known for their coconut cream pies and fresh sandwiches. The “fancy cupcakes” weren’t half-bad either.