Back in April we did a 2 week west coast trip that started with 3 nights in San Francisco. First time any of us had been in the city, so we wanted to play tourist. However, we needed to be easy going as we were adjusting from east coast time (3 hours different) and have kids who nap. Half the time it was rainy, but not enough to keep us from having fun. We had a blast!
Fly into San Francisco Airport (SFO) and take a taxi to our rental. We landed about 1:15 pm and got to our rental near Fisherman’s Wharf about 2:30. We used VRBO to find rental properties both for San Francisco and for Monterey. For San Francisco, we stayed at this property and really enjoyed it–pack n play provided for the youngest, plus a trayless booster and some toys. It is 2 bedrooms and 1 bath, but as a bonus the master bedroom’s closet is big enough to stick the pack n play in for some separation. She also had a bit of food already in the house, including Annie’s Bunnies and coffee. Plus it is just a 2 block walk to Safeway and Trader Joe’s for food and less than 10 minutes to Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. Great location. We did not have a car there, but you can get a parking spot from her too. We were able to do early check-in, which was great.
Put DS down for a nap and DH stayed with him while DD and I headed to Safeway for some groceries. I love staying in rentals as we can then do some of the meals at home, especially breakfast and save money! Plus, we all eat at different times.
After his nap, the four of us headed out for some sunshine to try and beat jet lag. We headed down to Pier 39 and found a cute playground by the marina. It is near the intersection of Grant and Embarcadero by the Aquarium of the Bay right by the water. Played a bit and then took a walk along the water and through the shops at the Pier. Lots of food choices, plus a ton of sunning sea lions who climbed all over each other and barked. The kids adored it. DS also had his first carousel experience at the Pier. Lots of options for inside or outside eating and shopping.
Kids woke up way too early on Day 2, so DS got first nap out of the way before we even headed out! Our first order of business was the Exploratorium. It is a huge hands on science museum that is great for kids of all ages. It is a 20 minute walk from Pier 39. You can buy tickets ahead of time to skip the buying line. Our technique was to get there at opening, then race to the back of the museum. We had the farthest back 2 exhibits practically to ourselves. It was great. DD ran around exclaiming how great everything was and yelling “look at this!!”
By the time we worked our way closer to the front, it was packed. Crazy packed. Tons of school groups who were not properly chaperoned. I think afternoon would have been better when school groups were headed back to school. We ended up skipping whole sections. DS was desperate for a nap and was having a hard time sleeping in his stroller with the chaos and DD was wearing out as well. It is worth going to, but be prepared for crowds. There is an outside area where you can eat lunch if you pack food and there is an attached cafe for buying food.
We headed back to our apartment for naps. We all needed them!
In the afternoon we did a long walk. We had the stroller and the hiking backpack so that we could transport both kids as needed. We started off at the Joe Dimaggio Playground on Lombard St between Powell and Mason. This is a really great playground. Tons of space, lots of cool structures and some unique features we hadn’t seen elsewhere. Really nice time playing.
Then we headed off to the twisty portion of Lombard St. One thing to remember about San Francisco is that it is very hilly! Be prepared for a lot of ups and downs. DH wins the prize–he carried DS on his back and pushed DD in the stroller up hill and down! Our walk was ending with icecream and he sure earned it!
We decided to view Lombard St (well, the twisty part between Leavenworth and Hyde) from the bottom as that made more sense for our route. You can walk up it, but it is stairs and not stroller friendly and to use the stroller would have meant a big detour. It is crazy steep!
Then we headed downhill to Ghiradelli Square for icecream. Here is a trick. There are THREE places in the square to get icecream. The biggest, flashiest, most obvious shop is right at the entrance at the intersection of Larkin and North Point. It had a really really long line. This is more sit down restaurant style. I winded my way through the square as I swore I remembered reading there was another option. I found it! 10 min line. It is towards the middle of the square on the upper level and called the Ghiradelli Marketplace. They sell icecream, chocolates and have a store for buying sweets and gifts. They have plenty of seating and we found a great window seat looking out over the Bay. You stand in line and order and they bring it to you. Kids and I sat while DH ordered. Delicious!! On the lower level at Beach and Larkin there is a Ghiradelli-to-Go stand as well.
After ice cream, we headed along the water through Fisherman’s Wharf. DH got some hot sauces at the Pepper Palace and we got dinner as well. We got dinner to go at Boudin Bakers Hall and it was delicious (you could also eat there). Lots of other food options as well along the Wharf. Headed back home to eat dinner and head to bed! I really loved being near Fisherman’s Wharf for lodging as I found so many kid friendly things down there.
The third morning we headed out to Alcatraz Island to see the old jail. The ferry to the island departs from Pier 33, which wasn’t far from our apartment. You have to buy tickets and it is HIGHLY recommended to buy them ahead of time as they normally sell out. We got the first ticket of the day. Boarding starts at 8:15 for an 8:45 departure. There was already a large line when we got there at 8:10. Boarding was really slow. The boats were nice. Entry level was stroller friendly and you could stay inside or park the stroller and walk upstairs to better viewing, including an outside level. There are some great photo opportunities approaching Alcatraz (way better than departing).
On the island, you can eat right by the dock but food is not allowed the rest of the island. They don’t check your bags for it, so you can carry it, but don’t eat it. Bathrooms are right at the dock and on the boat, plus again at the top. It is stroller friendly, though expect a big hill! Even inside the building they allow strollers to use the elevator as needed to get up a level.
We wandered around outside for quite a bit and then headed inside. There are audio tours you can do. DH enjoyed it, but I found there was too much talking at each spot, which wasn’t practical with a kid in a stroller who wanted to move and a preschooler who was bored just watching me listen. But there is plenty of signage and I just read those. We enjoyed walking around. There is a wealth of information there. DD enjoyed it too and liked making scary faces in the jail cells, looking at the birds outside, and checking out the view.
We spent a couple hours, then headed back down to the dock. Boats depart every 30 min and it is first come first serve for departure. There is also a gift shop that had some cute things. We ate a packed lunch while waiting in line.
Back at the apartment we all rested for afternoon adventures!
Post nap, we headed off to Chinatown to track down some fortune cookies! The original goal was to take a bus there, but we waited and waited at the bus stop and it never came. The signage was a perpetual “arriving in 2 min.” So we walked. It wasn’t all that bad, though we didn’t have the stroller so DD had to walk. She was worn out.
In Chinatown, we headed to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. It is on a side alley called Ross Alley connecting Washington and Jackson between Stockton and Grant. They make the fortune cookies right there and you can watch. Pictures cost 50 cent a piece. You can also buy fortune cookies and they give you samples. We bought “adult” ones thinking they would be funny to eat with my brother, his wife, and my cousins. However, they were maybe PG at best and mostly just really confusing. I wish I had photos of them!
Strolled through Chinatown, got DD a pink fan, and then worked to figure out how to catch a cable car. I really wanted to ride one, so despite’s DH’s arguments that they were too crowded, we managed to get on. I can’t say I saw much, but I can say I rode one! In honor of Chinatown, DH picked up Chinese food for us and we ate at the house.
DH walked down to Enterprise to pick up our rental car, we loaded up, and headed off to Monterey! Getting out of the city wasn’t too bad, though we did miss one turn and had to do a massive trip around the block that took forever.
In Sum, my top tips are:
*If you have kids, stay near Fisherman’s Wharf. So much is walking distance and the wharf and piers are fun to explore. Downtown is more popular with hotels though. Still walking to stuff, but not as close.
* If staying near the Wharf, take a taxi from the airport. The train system only goes to Downtown and then you’d need to get a taxi anyway. If staying Downtown, the train works fine from the airport.
*Bring a stroller! It is hilly and kids will get tired!
*Rent an apartment to make naps and meals easier! There is a Safeway and Trader Joe’s near the Wharf. VRBO and AirBnB have options. If you dig around, you can find ones with cribs and kid supplies.
*Buy tickets ahead of time for Alcatraz. Pack snacks to eat at the dock on the island before or after touring.
*Time the Exploratorium to avoid school groups!
Day 1: Arrive, walk around Pier 39, explore the playground and watch the sea lions, eat dinner at the Pier
Day 2: Take a walk and stop at the Joe Dimaggio playground, twisty Lombard St, Ghiradelli Square and Fisherman’s Wharf. Back home for rest time. In the afternoon, do the Exploratorium. It closes at 5 pm. You could also the reverse and get there at the 10 am opening and do the walk in the afternoon.
Day 3: Alcatraz Island in the morning (buy tickets ahead of time). Back home for rest time. Chinatown in the afternoon. There are also many other options, including the Aquarium by the Bay, other museums, and botanical gardens if preferred.
Day 4: Depart