January 30, 2020

Spring Break Travel Plan

Well, this post is a rarity. I am actually going to keep it super duper short today! I have been publishing my posts at 9:00 every evening, but it's already 10:30 and I haven't written anything yet. However, I want to keep my daily streak going.

Jerry was off today, and we spent the whole morning trying to figure out the final plans for our vacation this spring. Like I wrote in a previous post, I'd been planning a road trip through the southern and western states.

No matter what I came up with, it was going to cost a fortune. Flights down to Florida or Alabama, the cost of the car rental (with a huge premium for returning it to a different location), plus hotels would have put us over budget for sure.

I'd been planning to reach a goal of seeing the 48 contiguous states before turning 40, but I've decided to let that goal go. I'd like to eventually do it someday, but I don't want to make trips stressful just so that I can fit in the states I haven't been to. Also, it'd be nice to spend more time in each state as opposed to just driving through quickly to say I was there.

So, we had to start from scratch as far as our vacation plans for the kids' spring break. I just couldn't come up with anything! I've seen the entire eastern coast a hundred times and have no desire to stay anywhere east. I'd love to take the kids to Portland and Seattle, but I want more time to plan that trip, so we'll probably do that next year.

I went though lists of cities, trying to find something that appealed to me--someplace I'd never been, but a place that I think would be fun to take the family.

And then when I saw it, I knew it just had to be the destination: San Francisco!

I've been to California a few times, but I've never been further north than L.A. and I think San Francisco would be a fun place to visit. Jerry loved the idea, too, so we started looking for places to stay. And we decided on a hotel in Fisherman's Wharf.

When I go places that are new to me, I don't like to do the super touristy things... I am usually visiting a friend, and I just go to the places they enjoy. But since we don't know anyone in San Francisco, I'm wondering if any of you have suggestions?

I loved all of the ideas that you suggested for the states down south (I wrote them down and will be referring to them again when I plan more trips!) but as far as San Francisco goes, my slate is clean. So I'd love ideas!

Now, I'm going to go to bed. G'night :)


  1. Definitely do the Alcatraz tour. Just be sure to book it in advance. I tried to go same day last time I was there and wasn't able to get a ticket.

    1. I'm excited to do Alcatraz! I know it's super touristy, but Jerry and I both put that on the "definitely do" list. Thanks!

    2. Alcatraz is amazing! Book your tickets now! It's also something that locals do (and multiple times). If you can't get tickets (yes, even this far out it can be tough) there are bay cruises that give you a lot of the history and a view of the city/bridges that is worth doing.

    3. Take the evening tour if you like it a little spookier! It’s not too spooky for the boys, IMO.

  2. We rented bikes and cycled across the Golden Gate Bridge. The town of Sausalito is lovely and then we took the ferry back. The ferry terminal has a lot of great food options so that's always a good time. The farmers market on weekends is amazing.
    Alcatraz is a definite - book tickets ahead of time.
    We also rented bikes to go around Golden Gate Park and we went as far as Lands End to see the Sutro Baths and hiked a bit around there.
    There's a burger place called Roam that has a couple of locations - fantastic burgers and shakes.
    SF is such a great city to just walk around and explore. All of the different areas have their own feel and style.

    1. That sounds amazing!! I love cities that you can just walk and explore--my favorite thing to do on vacation. Cycling and taking the ferry sounds perfect, too. Thank you for the great ideas!

  3. Go to the Musée Mécanique! IT's right where you're staying and your whole family will love it. https://museemecanique.com/

  4. San Francisco is amazing, but be prepared for the stench. Plus it is getting super dirty so carry hand sanitizer and use it often. Getting around is pretty easy as there are lots of public transportation options. So much to do near Fisherman's Wharf, you could spend a whole day just wandering around there. Be sure to visit the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory for ice cream...I know how much you love it. You should also take the cable car to Union Square. Great place for shopping, but food is really expensive in this area (anywhere in San Francisco really) due to high rents for business owners. There is a 8-10 story Macy's with a Cheesecake Factory on the 8th (?) floor. Most amazing views at night, so although it's a chain, it's a really cool one. It gets packed though so go early or be prepared to wait. Consider a tour that will take you to Haight Ashbury and see the painted ladies and Golden Gate park. Something like this would be fun: https://www.viator.com/tours/San-Francisco/Painted-Ladies-San-Francisco-City-Tours/d651-75013P1?accountid=T03PT8L&mcid=58086. You could spend a week there and not run out of things to do, there is so much history and culture. I'm a travel agent in California, so you have any questions or need help finding things, let me know, I would be happy to give you tips. You can email me smerkel@dreamvacations.com if you have any specific questions.

  5. A walk through Muir Woods! The have a paved trail through beautiful old-growth Redwoods. In Golden Gate Park - Japanese Tea Garden, California Academy of Sciences (planetarium, aquarium, museum of natural history), walk around Strawberry Hill (views of Mt. Tam and the Golden Gate Bridge). Strawberry Hill is an island in the middle of Stow Lake. You can also rent pedal boats or row boats. A meal at the Cliff House - it is right on the coast and has panoramic ocean views. Chowder in a sourdough bread bowl at the Wharf. San Francisco is a great city for walking (they do have hills so it's not always an easy stroll) and the public transportation is easy to use too.

  6. Take the ferry to Angel Island. You could extend your ride from Alcatraz (a must do!) on to Angel Island or do a separate trip. Beautiful biking or hiking, views of of the bay and Golden Gate Bridge, trolley tour of the island, and fascinating history!

  7. Second the Alcatraz tour, and also highly recommend a visit to China Town! We took an Uber from Fisherman's Wharf, but ended up walking back because it is not terribly far. Don't be afraid if the restaurants look a bit sketchy on the outside. :-) The food is delicious!

  8. I second what everyone says, definitely get Alcatraz tickets early (the night tour is awesome) and golden gate park is really fun with tons to do (strawberry hill is one of my favorite walking /running spots!).

    Check out Fun Cheap SF - http://funcheapsf.com/ - it has all sorts of random activities and you can sort by date

  9. I love all of the above suggestions! I think your boys would probably find Haight Ashbury cool. I think Lombard Street (the crookedest street), is fun to walk or drive down, but when I went there, there wasn't a lot of people, so I don't know how it would be if there's crowds. I live an hour north of San Francisco, and hope to do a bunch of touristy things there some day!

  10. Chinatown is fun and there are some super yummy "dive" restaurants. Coit Tower is a fun hike (take the stairs!) with amazing views. And there are several art museums if you like that sort of thing but I loved the grounds and views at Legion of Honor. Golden Gate Park was kind of meh for us but the California Academy of Sciences is fun. If you have a rental car and are okay to drive ~1-1/2 hrs, Hwy 1 from Pescadero to Santa Cruz is amazing (as Moreno's TAcos and Marianne's Ice Cream in Santa Cruz).

  11. Go to Golden Gate Park!

  12. We love love love the Academy of the Sciences. San Francisco is a really fun city! Have an amazing time!

  13. Fisherman's Wharf is really touristy so you may not enjoy it that much. Hopefully not though!

  14. Highly recommend bringing along a warm jacket as it gets pretty chilly - at least in the Fisherman's Wharf area. We ended up buying jackets at a local souvenir shop :(.

  15. I love Muir Woods and second the recommendation. We rented a car for the day and spent most of the day there- definitely worth it, so beautiful and magical.

  16. What a fun place to visit. I took my boys and MIL a few years ago. Be prepared everything is super expensive. We had pizza delivered and it was a fortune so don't hesitate to get groceries and bring to hotel.
    I loved the park I think called golden gate u can walk thru the gardens and it's so peaceful. It's there you can see the houses that look like the scene from Full House and they have a nice carousel.
    We loved China Town and Ghirardelli chocolate. Best tip I can give you is get up early and explore while the streets are just waking up.
    We used Uber and the driver was nice and took us to the best views while the sun was rising. We were the first to hit the trolley and it made the day very enjoyable. If we slept in then we would have just sat in lines and crowds.
    Enjoy there is so much to do there you will have a great time.

  17. Make sure to take a day trip up to the big trees! You can even drive through one!

  18. Definitely check out the Sutro Baths and Lands End. It's stunning - when I lived in SF I went there frequently. You can walk north along the ocean from the Sutro Baths towards the Golden Gate Bridge (you can walk all the way there if you want) and there are just some incredible spots to see the bridge from there.

    Also check out the 16th Ave tiled steps - it's a "hidden gem" of the city and if you climb all the way up you get a fantastic view of the Pacific, the Bay, and the city. Also it's free!

  19. San Tung is a very casual, busy Chinese restaurant that has the best chicken wings in San Francisco, and definitely in the top three I've ever had. If you're planning on Golden Gate park, it's walkable from there. https://www.thrillist.com/venue/eat/san-francisco/restaurants/san-tung-chinese-restaurant

  20. Of course you go to San Francisco after I moved. LOL! It's a great city with a lot to do in and around so here are a few suggestions. I'd be happy to send more your way.

    - You have a few Star Wars fans in your family so I recommend heading to the Presidio for a visit to LucasFilm HQ. Outside is a Yoda statue and inside there's a Darth Vader one you can take photos with. :)
    - Muir Woods is a great spot! You will need a car to get there, and a few scenes from Return of the Jedi were filmed there so your guys would like that. :D It can get packed on the weekend so try to go go during the weekday, but it's still a magical place. If you're up there and want to stop for lunch I recommend the Pelican Inn. It's a sweet little pub/hotel but also can be busy on a weekend.
    - Want a good burrito? Head to the Mission. My favorite is Papalote and get extra of their sauce it's not spicy but it has a lot of flavor.
    - Walk the Embarcadero, it's actually one of my favorite running routes but its perfect to stroll.
    - Stagecoach Greens - a place you can mini golf and across the street are food trucks. So much fun.
    - Salesforce Park its relatively new but something different to see.
    - Bi-Rite Creamery is an institution for ice cream. It's across the street for Dolores Park so its fun to get ice cream and then sit in the park to people watch. Salt and Straw is also a go to for me if I find it, they have the craziest flavors but so yummy.
    - If you want to try Burmese Food I recommend Burma Superstar. Get their tea leaf salad.
    - San Francisco is 7x7 square miles so it can look walkable but she's got hills!!! I recommend trying to get passes for the Hop On-Hop Off bus. It'll pretty much take you the length of the city and across the Golden Gate bridge without paying for an Uber.
    - If you're up for it. Walk the Golden Gate, it's so beautiful. The presidio is one of my favorite places. Tons of trails there.
    Go to the top of Twin Peaks one of my favorite views of the city.
    - And above all else, remember one thing: The coldest winter Mark Twain ever experienced was a summer in San Francisco. Bring layers!! The city is known for micro climates, so always have a jacket with you. Its windy by Fisherman's Wharf but then a little warmer more inland.
    - Sound like a local: the Fog is named Karl, he has his own twitter handle.

  21. Well, the first thing I would suggest is finding a different place to stay. Fisherman’s wharf is easily the most touristy part of the city. I don’t think locals go there unless they have to.

    Just down the pier from FW is the Ferry Building. This is a fun place to come shop and eat. Humphry Slocombe is a delicious ice cream place that is worth a visit - I love the malted chocolate flavor. You can get food and sit outside and enjoy a great view of the bay bridge.

    I prefer to stay in the city, near Union Square. It’s still fairly touristy in the area, but is also closer to public transit and other cool neighborhoods.

    I have been to Alcatraz twice. It’s not something you need to do twice, ever. Once is enough. The best thing about it, honestly, is the view from it. The history might be cool/interesting to your kids, but you could enjoy the best part (the views) just as easily by taking a (less expensive) bay cruise. Another island that is right next door, Angel Island, is a more intriguing option. There is a ton of hiking and outdoor things to do, and the island even has its own history - it was the Ellis Island of the West.

    As another commenter mentioned, make sure you go to the Mission - there are tons of good restaurants (especially Mexican) in the area. Definitely get a cone at Bi-rite and climb up into Dolores Park for the view. Roasted banana is my favorite flavor. There’s a cool indoor putt-putt place nearby - Urban Putt. Your kids would probably enjoy it (fun for adults too).

    Definitely spend most of a day in Golden Gate Park. You can rent bikes and take your time exploring. ocean Beach is at the end of the park - very pretty (not safe for swimming or other water activities). I also really love the Sutro Baths ruins - stunning ocean, golden gate, and views to the north. Interesting history at the baths, too (they were massive public baths).

    Another good (and free) way to enjoy the city views is to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge and back - they have a large pedestrian walking/biking area. Sausalito is across the bridge and a charming little town to check out.

    Make sure you get pizza/Italian food in North Beach. There is a very popular pizza place there called Tony’s Pizza Napoletana that has a huge menu with all different regional styles of pizza. I love the new haven (coal fired) style! There’s a lot of history in the area - read up on the beatnik movement of the 1950s.

    If you want to do a road trip outside the city, I recommend Monterey (great aquarium, touristy city but worth a visit) it Big Sur (incredible drive on Highway 1, amazing scenery, lots of hippies).

    A lot of people trash talk Oakland, but it’s right across the bay and a cool city in its own right. I have visited many times for work. I love Drake’s dealership, a great pizza place and beer garden, and Lake Merritt in the city is lovely.

    Hope this helps!

  22. We were there in November, seriously one of my favorite places!! We rented a VRBO or Airbnb near the Haight. It was super cool, it was the top floor of one of the old cool Victorian style houses. I'm glad we stayed there, it was walking distance to Alamo park (that's the park you can see the Full House - house from - I think it's called post card row). We also enjoyed Sausalito and the Ferry Building had some super yummy food. We tried to see Muir woods but they were full and we didn't know that you had to register online ahead of time for parking. The big bus tour is kind of a fun way to get around the city for a day and you learn so much! Most of the guides are pretty good, it is pretty touristy but you learn so much. You pay once for the day and then can hop on or off at any of the stops, another bus comes a long in like 16 minutes. Have fun!

  23. I also recommend going to Angel Island. You book the ferry in advance with the same company that runs the ferry to Alcatraz. You can rent bikes and take them with you there, you can hike or you can take a bus tour. Angel Island was the Immigration station for those entering the US from the West coast, as well as a military base from the Civil War until WWII.
    I thought Alcatraz was very touristy. I went in October and felt like herded cattle going through the tour. It's interesting, but be prepared for lots of people and each person has their own audio tour in the main prison.

    Yank Sing is a fabulous dim sum restaurant, but expensive.
    The Fortune Cookie factory was off the beaten path down an alley in Chinatown.

    It can be cool, so take layers. It's very hilly. The public transportation isn't hard to use, so try it all. You can buy multiple day passes at Fisherman's Wharf that will allow you to ride as much as you want.
    Have a great time! I hope to take my boys some day!

  24. love san Francisco! Alcatraz for sure, but book soon!!!!! I did a tour on a refurbished trolley car (not the hop on hop off) it hit highlights and was so much fun. I was the only one on it, my husband and boys were on a charted fishing trip. fisherman's wharf is a lot of fun.


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