We arrived into San Francisco’s ” Summer of love”, a celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of a new revolutionary culture, the hippie movement, which saw young people travelling across America and beyond to be part of something new. Hippy culture embraced foreign travel as a means to find oneself and communicate with others, something that really resonates with me!
Despite being a different era, you get a sense of that same free spirit being truly alive in this fabulous place today. That is what makes it so great and accessible as a city to start our family road trip. Cities can sometimes be an overwhelming proposition with young kids but there is something about San Francisco that enables you to get into the holiday groove and embrace all that a world-class city has to offer.
We spent three nights at the start of our road trip here and that felt just right. You need time to relax and get over the flight and will up early so there will be plenty of time to explore.
Here are some of my top tips to experience that relaxing San Francisco vibe!
1. Location, Location, Location
Keep things simple, especially if this is your first stop after a long haul flight. I had read before that its best to keep your expectations low in terms of what you can achieve in your first few days and this was great advice (there is a temptation to want to max out on experiences after you have come all this way!). There is of course so much to do and see but choose a few things to really do well and look to stay central to enable you to get from place to place easily if the kids are tired from jet lag.
The Westin St Francis was our pick of hotels, with great sized family rooms and a prime location on Union Square. It provides good value (it’s all relative, be prepared to up size your budget in this city!) and is a beautiful hotel in terms of its architecture and history. We opted to exclude breakfast to keep the budget as manageable as possible (the hotel caters for lots of business people so the breakfast rates were $30) and found an in-house Starbucks for our breakfast fix really handy. If being in the middle of things isn’t for you then try Fisherman’s Wharf or the Business district which also have a good selection of hotels.
2. Ride a cable car
Experience San Francisco’s trademark mode of transport, the kids will be blown away as you climb the hills and zoom down the slopes of the city. Board the Powell-Mason line from Union Square which will take you down to Fisherman’s Wharf for an afternoon of sightseeing. Be prepared to hang on for your life as they get packed, but keep the kids seated its pretty hairy! You will get some great views of the bay and Alcatraz as you travel in style through the city’s streets.
3. Head down to Fisherman’s Wharf for fairground fun, sea lions and clam chowder (and hotdogs for the kids!)
The Fisherman’s Wharf area of the city reminds you that you are in a city by the sea, a star quality for San Francisco enabling you to quickly get away from the buzz of the inner city. Take an afternoon out to enjoy all that is has to offer, and embrace the fact that yes it’s touristy and busy in the summer but all part of the San Fran experience.
- Pier 39 and its iconic sea lions – a wonderful experience to see these beautiful creatures, watch them tussle, bark and swim. It really captivated the kids who stood for ages as the sea lions got up to all sorts of antics!
- Ride the carousel on Pier 39, good traditional fun in the boardwalk area
- Grab a souvenir at one of the many gift shops
- Gaze out to Alcatraz, is it just my kids that are fascinated by jails and baddies?! (Or even take a trip out there if you fancy).
- Experience the best Clam Chowder in town at Boudin, and if that isn’t your thing then there are hot dog stands a plenty!
4. Go back to nature at Golden Gate Park
Discover this oasis in the city stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the centre of San Francisco. At 3 miles long this park provides something for everyone with a beautiful Japanese tea garden, carousel, playground and plenty of grass to run around and picnic on. It is also home to the Californian Academy of Sciences, which sounds high-brow but is actually a really engaged place to take the family! Spend a good few hours in this attraction which includes a rainforest dome complete with parrots and butterflies flying free, a super aquarium with in-house divers, an excellent outdoor play area and that all important cafe serving a good range of food. Don’t forget to head to the “living roof ” for a great view over the park.
5. And after all that walking…. enjoy the melting pot of foodie experiences
The great thing about San Francisco is that there is a real range of food on offer, reflecting the eclectic mix of cultures and experiences in the city. Realistically with kiddies in tow we were never going to be going high-end, but here are some of our favourites that balanced everyone’s needs:
- The “must do” breakfast diner experience – the morning after we landed we fought off our jet lag with a ” like you see in the movies” breakfast. The Pinewood diner (just off Union Square) didn’t disappoint with its gigantic pancakes and maple syrup and coffee re fills to make you smile. Top Tip:get there early to avoid the queues, which won’t be a problem when the jet lag kicks in first day!
- Go oriental in China Town – San Francisco has the oldest Chinatown in North America and draws more visitors each year than the Golden Gate Bridge! There are plenty of places to try, a popular one being the R&G Lounge, Kearny Street.
- Dinner in a booth – try the Daily Grill, Geary Street for American comfort food in a family friendly but chic little restaurant.
- Build you own Pizza, American style – a great way to keep the kids occupied, Puccini and Pinetti, Ellis Street enables you to style your own dinner, just the way you want it!
There is so much to see and do, it’s such a friendly place where people take their time to enjoy life, it’s a great introduction to a big city holiday for kids! Perhaps it’s the nostalgic vibe, or the proximity to the water that draws you in but as someone who is not really a fan of urban city living I felt at home and refreshed and ready to start the next part of our road trip adventure….Lake Tahoe here we come!