What To See and Do With Kids: San Francisco

Moving on to part 2 of this little travel series (If you missed part one’s adventure to Portland, check it out here!).  Today’s location is one that is near and dear to my heart: San Francisco, California. I’ve spent a total of 5 out of the last 10 years living in the San Francisco Bay area–2 years while Jon was in grad school (when our only child had fur and four legs), and then a few years later when we returned for another 3-year stint with our kids.

While we never lived in San Francisco proper, we did spend enough time in The City to discover some special kid-friendly spots (which is really saying something considering I don’t think any actual children live in San Francisco any more). Read on for a few of our favorites!

DISCLAIMER: All tips and tricks are based on my limited and biased perspective. I am the self-proclaimed expert here because I have actually been to these places with actual children and have survived to tell the tale. I always love hearing from other experts, though, so if you have your own tips, tricks, or favorite insights to share please leave a comment at the end of the post!

San Francisco, California
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Where To Stay:
Since we were day-trippers into the city I  don’t have much solid advice for you on this subject. I will note a few tips, however, if you’re trying to find lodging in San Francisco:

  • Parking in The City is scarce and very expensive, so try to stay near a public transportation line such as Muni (the city’s bus and metro system), the cable car lines or, if you plan on exploring areas outside of the city, the BART (commuter train).
  • Try to find lodging in the city center.
  • San Francisco real estate is *ahem* quite pricey which drives up the hotel rates–consider renting through a vacation rental company such as Airbnb or VRBO.

What To Do:
Before I get into this I need to say one very important thing about visiting San Francisco: it’s cold. You may think that it’s warm because it’s in that land of eternal sunshine called California, but San Francisco is a land unto itself. A cold land. Do yourself (and your kids…and your sanity…) a favor and pack along some warm layers and a rain coat. You’re welcome.

Moving along to more exciting matters now…

My very-favorite kid spot in San Francisco, and one that I made a point of visiting frequently when we lived in the area, is Bay Area Discovery Museum (BADM). BADM is located across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco in the seaside town of Sausalito–which means the first part of your adventure to BADM involves a trip across one of the most famous pieces of architecture in the world.

Take some extra time to explore the bridge before or after you visit the museum–you can either pull over on the San Francisco side right before you get to the bridge (there’s a fun little gift shop and visitor center here), or cross over the bridge and drive up to the Marin Headlands for a birds-eye view of The Golden Gate.

Once you get to BADM park in the large fields out front and enjoy your day exploring the indoor exhibits (they’re all set up inside former army barracks) or take a trek outside to hike on the nature trails and play on the giant pirate ship play structure.

Once you get back into San Francisco, spend some time exploring Golden Gate Park. This giant park in the middle of the city is full of trails to explore, ponds to paddle on, and museums that pique every interest.

My favorite kid-friendly museum in Golden Gate Park is the California Academy of Sciences. The museum itself is breathtaking with a grass-covered roof and an indoor 4-story rainforest where you can climb through every layer of the rainforest. The museum also has natural history exhibits (DINOSAURS!!) and an aquarium. There are plenty of hands-on activities to keep little hands and minds occupied.

Another must-do when you’re in San Francisco is a trolley ride. I like to hop on the Powell-Hyde trolley at the Powell stop downtown. Get off the trolley at the top of Lombard Street where you get a great view of the “twistiest street in the world” (It’s not actually THE twistiest street in the world, but it’s definitely in the running for that honor and a visit there makes for some great photo-ops and entertaining tourist-watching).

After you’ve gotten your fill of watching cars try to navigate the zig-zags on Lombard Street, hop back on your trolley and continue down to the other end of the line at Hyde. You’ll get off near Ghiradelli Square, so take a brief detour to get some chocolate or ice cream sundaes at the Ghiradelli Chocolate cafe (Or, if you need an afternoon pick-me-up, an Irish Coffee at The Buena Vista next door).

While you’re in the area, visit Fisherman’s Wharf to watch the sea lions on the docks or take a boat ride through The Bay. And speaking of boats, this is also where you can catch a boat out to one of the most infamous (former) prisons in the world: Alcatraz. If you plan on visiting Alcatraz, definitely try to buy your tickets in advance–this is a popular destination and tickets sell out quickly during tourist season (Which, as far as I can tell, lasts from approximately January 1 – December 31 each year.).

If your kids enjoy animals (What kids don’t like animals?!) head over to the San Francisco Zoo. The zoo is a good sized with all of the expected animals (the giraffes even have a view of the ocean from their enclosure). There’s also an indoor rain forest exhibit, a train you can ride through the park, and an epic playground where your kids can let out their inner monkey. After you’ve seen all of the animals, head down the road for a little play time at Ocean Beach so your baby can eat sand and you can dip your toes in the Pacific.

What To Eat:
San Francisco is a melting pot of people and cultures, so I would recommend treating your dining experience as a trip around the world. You can visit Chinatown for dim sum (Do yourself a favor and head straight for the oldest–and best–restaurant in Chinatown: Sam Wo); Little Italy for pasta or 40-clove Garlic Chicken at The Stinking Rose; the Mission District for authentic Mexican food at La Taqueria; or Ethiopian food at Tadu in SOMA.

The Farmer’s Markets are also amazing and most of them operate year-round–check the current offerings by day or neighborhood here. While you’re at the market, grab some goodies that you can pack along for a picnic by the beach–maybe you can nibble your organic veggies and vegan cheese while you watch your children frolic in the waves.

Pure. Bliss.

I know that this just scratches the surface, so now it’s your turn! What are your favorite things to see and do with kids in San Francisco?

 

A Visit From Flat Stanley

I love getting mail. Especially mail that doesn’t contain the words “statement”, “due” or “billing”. And I really, really, really love getting mail from home (hint, hint). We were all excited, then, to receive a special package a couple of weeks ago from a friend of mine back in Washington.  Inside there was a letter from her first-grade son and a paper cutout of a little boy: Flat Stanley.

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If you have ever met Flat Stanley yourself, then you know what a special treat it is to welcome him into your home. If you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, then let me enlighten you. Flat Stanley is a children’s book (actually, now, a series of books)–it is incredibly entertaining, and I actually used to read it to my class every year. The book is about a little boy named–you guessed it!–Stanley, who gets squashed flat as a postcard when a poster falls on him. Now that Stanley is flat, he can do all sorts of things that he couldn’t do before: slide under locked doors, fly like a kite, and even fold himself up in an envelope to travel the world. And this, of course, is how Stanley came to arrive at our house in Ireland.

We had fun taking Stanley with us around town to show him what life is like here in Ireland. And, although we didn’t have any big adventures planned for the time that he was here visiting, I think we still showed him a pretty good time.

The first place we took Stanley was the harbor town of Kinsale. It is a short drive to Kinsale from our home in Cork, and is one of our favorite places to visit. Kinsale is known for it’s gourmet food scene, art, and history (it is the site where the English defeated Spanish forces in a 1601 battle of the Spanish War).

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While we were in Kinsale, we took Stanley on a walk through town.  We ate lunch at a yummy cafe called Lemon Leaf, toured Desmond Castle, did some shopping, and visited an arcade to drive the bumper cars. I think Stanley was pretty worn out from all of the excitement, so we decided to head back home for some naps in the afternoon.

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Later in the week we took Stanley to our favorite walking path. The path goes along Cork Harbor for miles and miles–I have no idea where it actually starts or ends because we haven’t found them yet. We did, however, spend some time on this beach right off the pathway. David took Stanley down to the shore to throw stones into the water while I tried to convince our dog to get out of the water and rejoin us for our walk (whose idea was it to let her off the leash, anyway?).

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Stanley enjoyed looking at all of the fishing boats that were anchored offshore. I bet he was trying to figure out how he could act as a sail for one of the boats and carry it out to sea.

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Stanley spotted this playground by the path and he wanted to stop for a little play break, so I obliged. Jacob was happy to help Stanley go for a swing.

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We finished our walk in the town of Passage West. Stanley thought that this building, The Shamrock, seemed very Irish. He insisted that I take ONE MORE photo of him here to prove that he was in Ireland (this Stanley is going to make me look like a Japanese tourist. Geesh!).

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The next day Stanley woke up early to help us drive Daddy to work. After we dropped Daddy off we went right up the road from Daddy’s office to a castle called Blackrock Castle. The tower of Blackrock Castle was built in 1604 to help protect the harbor from pirates (!) and Spaniards (?). Now there is a science center, an observatory, and a restaurant inside the castle.

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Stanley enjoyed Blackrock Castle so much that he was practically begging me to take him to another castle. And, since there are over 3,500 castles in Ireland, we had several to choose from. The next morning after we dropped David off at Preschool we drove out to another castle a few miles away (shhh! Don’t tell David that we have fun while he’s away at school!).  This castle is called Barryscourt Castle:

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Barryscourt Castle is a Tower House–a castle that a family built as their personal home (a very well-fortified home). This particular castle was built in the early 1600’s and was home to Lord Barry and his family (this family controlled most of County Cork in those days).  Today the castle has been restored using traditional building methods (only stone, mortar, and wooden pegs hold this place together!). Inside, several rooms have been set up with period furnishings and fittings so you can get a picture of what life would have been like in the castle. Stanley even climbed right up onto Lord Barry’s chair to see what it would be like to eat a feast fit for a king (it was a big chair for a small Stanley–look really closely and you’ll see him!).

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We were all getting hungry by now, so after we picked up David from preschool we stopped by our Farmer’s Market for lunch. Stanley ate some pizza and raspberries, then he helped us buy some milk and yogurt from the dairy stand. He thought that the fresh Irish milk was yummmmmmmmy!

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For our final adventure with Stanley, we decided to go somewhere truly memorable. We took an incredible day-trip out to Killarney, and Stanley got to join in all the action. He rode with us on a horse-drawn carriage called a trap through the Gap of Dunloe:

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He walked with us to beautiful lakes (he really wanted to go swimming, but we told him it was too cold for that right now):

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And, because he loves them SO much, we took Stanley to one more castle. This castle is called Ross Castle, and it was one of Stanley’s favorites. He liked looking out at the big blue lakes from the top of the tower.

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Stanley wanted to stay in the castle longer, but he knew that it was almost time for him to leave our family. Even flat little boys start to miss their homes. He had a fun visit here in Ireland, and he can’t wait to come back again some day!