Last summer Brian had to go on a business trip to San Francisco which was scheduled to include a weekend. That was a good opportunity for Phoebe and I to tag along and spend a couple of days there while he worked, and then do the touristy stuff together during the weekend. I did my research of all the standard “must see” places but, considering that (a) our time was limited, and (b) 5-year olds’ attention span is too short to do exhaustive touristing, we had to prioritize. The goal was to see as much as we can without stretching ourselves thin, and to just have a great time.
What we saw:
The first place we explored was Mission district. We had high expectations for this eclectic area but found it to be not as exciting as we had hoped. It felt dirty and dilapidated. We went there right after flying in, we were tired and were getting hungry so that might be a part of it. Still, we were glad to have checked it off the list and it was good to see that side of San Francisco. We did find some fun murals that resonated with Pink Panther fans among us:
A “Pink Panther” fan.
San Francisco is a compact city, and a short walk or drive north took us to a completely different scene.
From the Mission District we took an Uber to the Chinatown area. We didn’t go into the Chinatown itself but walked around the surrounding area and to the Dragon Gate, stopping to explore interesting objects.
This area of San Francisco is called “Little Italy”. It’s been originally settled by Italian Americans and there are a lot of Italian restaurants in this area, as well as Saints Peter and Paul Church.
We spent some time at the Washington Square and then walked around the area. It was quite a hike with the insanely steep hills but it is part of San Francisco character and we enjoyed the walk, in spite of having to carry Phoebe and her booster seat when she’d runout of gas.
Notice the cars in the background. Parallel parking is not allowed due to steep grade.
Running out of gas on the steep streets of Little Italy
More steep streets
While Brian was at the office, Phoebe and I spent a morning at the Maritime National Historical Park. We spent a few hours exploring the historic ships at Hyde Street Pier and the Maritime Research Center. This is the place to go if you are interested in learning more about the history of San Francisco and the area. We loved it.
After meeting Brian for lunch, Phoebe and I went to Yerba Buena Gardens. Our first stop was Children’s Creativity Museum, followed by the Children’s Garden and the LeRoy King Carousel. Yerba Buena gardens are located within a few minutes walk from our hotel, so it was very convenient. Once we were nice and tired we returned to the hotel to wait for Brian.
Sonoma/ Sausalito/ Muir Woods tour
This was our favorite part of the entire trip. We booked a tour last minute, and it was not the cheapest tour because Phoebe was charged as an adult (although she didn’t participate in wine tasting — ” a rip off”, as the kids would say). It was well worth the money though and was a highlight of the trip.
We started by crossing the Golden Gate Bridge with a short stop at the bridge for pictures.
It was foggy that morning (typical San Francisco weather) but we could still see most of the bridge and the mountains surrounding it.
Our next stop was Sausalito. Our tour guide, also our driver, gave us an overview of the history and the background of the area and let us explore for about an hour. Sausalito is a picturesque residential community and a fishing village.
The next stop was Sonoma. I was expecting to see a Tuscany-like green hills and lush landscapes but it turned out to be very similar to a dry and arid steppe where I grew up half the way around the globe. We stopped at Sonoma for lunch and visited two wineries and sampled some great local wine. Phoebe got to see where grapes come from.
On the way back to San Francisco we made a two-hour stop at the Muir Woods National Monument. Brian and I wished we had more time to explore the redwoods. They are simply magic– serene, lush, and magnificent. If you like outdoors and have time for only one activity when you are in the area– I would highly recommend visiting Muir Woods.
To make the driving part of the trip manageable for Phoebe, we stocked up on coloring books, stickers, and activity books. A tablet with a some movies also came handy when she got tired of drawing and looking out the window. All in all, she handled the trip better than we had expected.
By our last day in SF we have covered all the attractions we had on our to-do list. We had a few hours to kill before heading to the airport and decided to visit Golden Gate Park Aquarium. The aquarium wasn’t open, unfortunately, so we just explored the park and stopped by the de Young museum (do not recommend this one if you have little kids with you), watched an AIDS Walk (which Phoebe decided it was a dog parade as every other participant had a dog).
fascinated by the “Dog parade”
We also had a quick stroll through San Francisco Botanical Garden which contains plants from around the world grouped by the region of origin. After a short break at the playground, it was time to find lunch and head to the airport.
On the way to the airport we drove past the Painted Ladies. They were cool to see but we were glad we had not made them a destination during this trip. A drive-through the area was sufficient to take in their unique architecture.
Getting around San Francisco
Our choice of transportation, other than walking where possible, was Uber and Lyft. San Francisco is pretty compact, at least the areas with the tourist attractions. So Uber ended up not too expensive considering the convenience of being able to get anywhere fast and on our own schedule. Another big plus of using Uber was the fact that we got to see a lot of San Francisco. Every driver had their own preferred route of getting around the city and we were driving through different streets and areas every time.
Originally I was inclined to do a hop-on/off bus but after reading lots of reviews, it looked like there are long waiting times between buses, they come by packed with no room for you so you have to wait for the next one, and we only had a couple of days for this trip.
We brought Phoebe’s booster seat and had to lug it everywhere which was not the end of the world. I’d recommend looking into collapsible booster seats, although I don’t know of any specific brand I can recommend.
This is an important topic for families with little ones. San Francisco is not very accommodating to situations when your kid has to go RIGHT NOW. There are no fast-food restaurants or pharmacies where you can hop in. So whenever we left the hotel or a restaurant after a meal I’d make sure Phoebe used the bathroom, even if she “doesn’t need to at the moment”. Once you are out exploring, keep an eye out for places like Starbucks or chain stores. You will have to locate a store associate with a key to the bathrooms, and possibly buy a coffee because the restrooms are for patrons only.
Places to eat
This trip was a business trip for Brian so we ate a lot of our meals at his work cafeteria. Out of the few restaurants we ate at, we loved Fang for authentic Chinese food. We asked for what the chef recommended and they brought out a few outstanding dishes that were all unique and we’d never thought of ordering ourselves.
If you are in the area of the Golden Gate State Park, Peasant Pie has inexpensive and freshly made mini pot-pies with various types of filling. Our favorites were beef & potato and spinach & feta. It was a healthy fast-food kind of place with no wait (which is very rare in SF).
What are your favorite things do in San Francisco? Do you have any tips for travelling with kids?