Since we were going to central California to visit Stu’s family for Christmas, we figured why not stay a while? See a city we haven’t seen enough? I looked at resorts and Legoland in LA for a hot minute before deciding a) the weather could be cold and therefore not pool/beach friendly and b) Finn, at two, has no business in an amusement park. And since flights were better into San Francisco to get to the central coast anyway, our decision was made.
So the last time Stu and I were in San Francisco was waaaaaaay back in 2005, the first Christmas we were married. We flew into San Francisco for a couple days before hitching a ride with Stu’s step-sister, Holly, to Yosemite to meet the rest of the fam. It rained, THE WHOLE TIME.
We had no money and, apparently, really bad taste in clothes, and weren’t in that great of shape back then.
I’m never cutting my hair again.
And kids weren’t even on the horizon. We did everything we could on our very visit and have fond memories, even if our jeans were soaked to the waist by the end of both days.
Anyway, fast-forward to December 2016, this time we had an ambitious list that began with tall trees, involved lots of walking, delicious food, and plenty of kid-friendly activities. It started with a stop at the Monterey Bay Aquarium on our drive back to the city and a swim in the hotel pool—so I’m counting that as a 1/2 day. Here’s how the others broke down…
Ever since we saw the National Parks movie at the St. Louis Science Center (it was narrated by Robert Redford and totally spectacular), Ethan and I have been planning trips. In movie, we learned about John Muir and how he helped to start the parks system, so clearly the first stop on our San Francisco trip had to be Muir Woods!
This magical place is about 45 minutes from downtown San Francisco, meaning we got to drive across the Golden Gate bridge, which was absolutely thrilling, past Sausalito, which is gorgeous, and through winding, narrow roads that go up and down very large, steep hills. Stu had to make some work calls so I drove to the park and seriously, it’s a bit of a crazy drive. Crazy but short and fun and in no time we were there.
Parking is an issue. The lots are small and it gets really busy as the day goes on. I’d say we arrived around 9:45am and didn’t have to walk too horribly far from our spot on the side of the road. By the time we left though, around 12:30, it was packed and people were trolling for spaces. So just a heads up!
The weather cooperated every day of our trip, this one was no exception. It was sunny and brisk but in the shade of the gigantically tall trees it felt like we were wrapped in a cocoon. The air was damp and warm and there was a piney smell, moss and ferns covered the ground along the boardwalk paths. Walking paths snaked throughout the park, making the journey easy for the whole family (that means Finn did fine). Ethan and I explored one of the mystical elevated paths that frequently branch off the boardwalk, examining a fallen tree that was cut through to clear the way. I could have walked up there for hours but it wasn’t stroller or toddler friendly, so after a few minutes we went back down to join Stu and Finn.
We wandered the boardwalk in a huge loop, reading informational plaques between gazing skyward, just kind of in awe of this place where the trees surpass one’s wildest imagination, until Finn started getting fussy and it was time to go. So let’s say it’s a kid friendly place but you’ll be limited in your explorations. Which was ok because we had more on our list.
My California-born friend told me we HAD to see the Palace of Fine Arts. I had no idea what that was but it was right by the bridge when we crossed back over and so we checked it out.
Ok my picture doesn’t do this place justice. It’s incredible. There’s a charming pond all around the fabulously detailed structure, with ducks and benches and people picnicking on the grassy knolls. Ethan was kind of obsessed with pigeons on this trip so he and Finn had a blast chasing them around while Stu and I did some learning about this structure, which was originally constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. Very cool. And there’s a beach right across the street.
Here we thought we’d get a nice family picture with the bridge in the background, but in the 30 seconds it took to get the uber-embarrassing selfie stick set up (I only have it for family pictures, otherwise it’s hidden in the bottom of my bag), the boys had run to the middle of the sand to start playing. Apparently they’ve been deprived of sand play because this was like Disneyland. My picture was forgotten and we let them play.
After filling their shoes and clothes with sand, they humored me for exactly seven seconds for this one precious shot. Since this was “Date Night” for Stu and I, we headed back to the hotel a little early to take Ethan for a swim and let Finn have a short nap. Later we walked a couple blocks to the Yerba Buena gardens to run around the fountains and people watch. Another attraction right here is the Children’s Creativity Museum which we didn’t visit, but looked really fun. If the weather had been bad, we’d have been there.
That evening we had hired a babysitter through Destination Sitters in order to have a date night. It’s something we wanted to make sure we did so we had some child-less exploring time, and this service came through with a really wonderful babysitter. Since we had two adjoining hotel rooms (thank you Stu’s work traveling for all those points!), there was space for Ethan and the sitter to hang out after Finn hit the rack. If you can swing it, two rooms is the way to go when traveling with kids.
Our plan was to just walk around see things, so we headed for Union Square and all it’s touristy goodness. It was absolutely packed with people and entertainers and Christmas lights so we of course instantly regretted leaving the kids behind. But we got over it and found Pacific Cocktail Heaven (or as the sign said PCH) and happily consumed a few of their delicious concoctions. Next we headed a few blocks west to The Saratoga, known for it’s whiskey and steaks. We ordered a few delightful small plates, our favorite by far being the Banga Cauda-Poached Tomato.
Truth? We were exhausted and were home by 9:30pm. But having some kid-free time in a new city is a must and we were grateful for the break.
The kids’ favorite morning ritual became eating single-serve cereal cups of Cheerios while watching cartoons on the hotel couch. In matching pjs. Day two was going to be busy! We had lots of walking planned, but the first stop for what was touted as the best coffee in San Francisco: Blue Bottle.
They had me at the inconspicuous and wordless blue bottle logo on the door. After one sip, we were huge fans. This place takes coffee very seriously, so basically they were speaking our language (our city feels the same way). The kids snacked on over-priced-yet-delicious yogurt parfaits while we enjoyed our lattes in a sunny booth.
Next up, the Dragon Gate. Just a short walk from our coffee haven, appearing around an unassuming corner, was the beginning of Chinatown. We window shopped as we slowly walked up Grant Ave., popping in and out of overflowing stores, inspecting trinkets and treasures. Ethan picked out a special “moon rock” in one store, and we grabbed the boys some kid chopsticks in another. We found the shop where we bought our wok in 2005 and stopped at a park where the kids played on the playground after watching a group of people practice tai chi.
It killed me that it was too early for lunch and we weren’t hungry because oh man the food smelled SO good. And I know the kids would have loved dim sum. Next time. We did get to stop at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory to see how the little folded treats are made. After that we were excited to catch the Powell street car, but it pulled up to the stop packed to the gills with tourists—people were hanging off the sides like in the movies. And since we had our BOB stroller to haul along with us, we decided to see how things went on foot.
The best thing about walking is finding places you’d otherwise drive right past. Like the Joe Dimaggio Playground located just a few blocks from our lunch destination, Fisherman’s Wharf. Just as Ethan was starting to complain that his “legs were killing him”, this playground appeared in the distance like a mirage. The kids tore onto the astro-turfed and fenced play space with renewed energy.
It’s listed as one of the best playgrounds in the city for a reason. Almost every piece of equipment was new to us. A sling-shot-like swing, enormous rope climbing structures, metal slides build into a hill (which seem to be a san fran favorite)—all of it exactly what we needed. The boys played happily until they were starving, so we hit the road for chowder.
I usually hate big, touristy areas, but Fisherman’s Wharf stayed on our list because we knew the kids would love it. Ethan is a huge fan of seafood soups so he was jazzed to try this clam chowder in a bread bowl specialty of San Francisco. We snuck past the crazy lines at Boudin Bakery and ducked into Sabella & La Torre for soup and calamari. We ate, regained our energy, and stepped back out on the boardwalk to see everything. Street artists, junk shops, piles of sea lions, huge ships in the harbor—Finn missed most of it while passed out in the stroller but Ethan was enthralled. We walked along the Embarcadero until we hit the Ferry Building for some well deserved ice cream.
After that, we caught a street car! Finally! We took it to Market Street for a very important errand. This day was December 28th, making the next day was Ethan’s sixth birthday, so we thought a little surprise was in order…The Lego Store!! His little life was made when he saw that big red and yellow sign. We walked back to the hotel for a swim and some movie/snuggle time before bed.
Just for fun, here’s a map of our day. We, with credit mostly going to Ethan, walked almost six miles.
Our walking day in San Francisco – Purple line is walking, Red is street car.
The day dawned with stiff bodies and a six year old in our midst. Though we were flying home this day, we had plenty of time to fit in a few more sights, namely, Tartine Manufactory.
Sure it was technically Ethan’s day, but I just HAD to stop by this new venture by Tartine, it’s been taunting me on Instagram. We made the short drive over to the amazing, industrial space in an up-and-coming part of the Mission District. To my absolute astonishment, THERE WAS NO LINE. We walked right in to order pastries, coffee, and breakfast sandwiches surrounded by racks and racks of fresh bread. By the time we left the line was around the corner.
Stu found a promising green space a few minutes away so we decided to check it out. Little did we know it would be like walking through the Full House opening sequence. Beautiful houses surrounded the Mission Dolores Park and Helen Diller Playground, everything situated at a 45 degree angle to account for the hill. The boys raced to the incredible playground, yet again thrilled to explore all the unique equipment with a breathtaking view of the city.
Ethan’s favorite part was the extra-wide metal slide. Finn, our playground purist, liked the swings. And I can’t help but mention the bathrooms. They were THE nicest park bathrooms I’ve ever seen in my life. San Francisco, your park game is strong. This place was just what we needed to burn some energy before the long flight home.
After a drive across the Bay Bridge we arrived at the Oakland Airport. The boys were ready to zone out to some toons while I spent four hours coming down with the full-on flu. What way to end a spectacular trip!
Overall I’d say San Francisco is a fantastic place to travel with kids! We were so thrilled to have nice weather but we went prepared for the worst, with winter coats and plenty of layers. If we had to spend more time inside, a few things on our list were Children’s Creativity Museum, California Academy of Sciences, the Aquarium of the Bay (though that would have been overkill after already stopping in Monterey!), and the Exploratorium.
While we had a rental car that was super helpful to get to Muir Woods and Tartine, we tried to walk and use public transportation/Uber as much as possible, which is pretty easy in SF. A stroller is recommended!!
We stayed in the Courtyard Marriott Downtown and liked the location. It had plenty of amenities, was updated and clean, plus it had a small pool and hot tub, nothing fancy but perfect for the kids.
So what did we miss? What is your favorite place in San Francisco?
Are you there?
Am I here? Maybe? What year is it? 2017?! Whew. I couldn’t take one more second of 2016.
There is truly no more motivating way to enter a new year than with a snazzy case of influenza, featuring a very loud and fairly constant cough and severe body aches. Since touching down in St. Louis on December 29th—also Ethan’s sixth birthday—I’ve felt like doing pretty much not one single thing other than blow my nose and sleeeeeeeeeep.
Then the rest of the family got sick too, including my mom who was visiting for the week. It was awesome.
But now, today, January 9th, I’m finally starting to feel like myself. The part that really gets me is I lost so much of the momentum gained from our amazing holiday break. Seven days in California celebrating Christmas with Stu’s family and exploring gorgeous San Francisco…it was incredible! Ethan turned six! We started a new year! I turned 3-…another year older!
So let’s focus on all that stuff in a few “highlights”…because I want to write about all of it in great detail but it would take you a week to read a post that long and I don’t have the stamina to write it. Therefore, here’s some bullet points to sum it all up until I get a few more posts done.
1. Christmas with Stu’s family in California was amazing! We flew into San Francisco then drove down to Paso Robles to a house full of cousins and siblings. We didn’t see much of Ethan as he and the other big kids played all. day. long. It was awesome. Finn bumbled around with his week-younger cousin Peyton. We saw Stu’s dad play keyboard with his band, my favorite part was his keytar solo on The Power Of Love…it was face melting. It was mighty chilly so we spent only about five minutes on the beach in Cambria, but the kids didn’t seem to mind the temps and spent tons of time exploring grandma and grandpa’s backyard. We consumed tons of food and Firestone 805 beers and laughed a lot.
2. The day after Christmas we headed north to Monterey for an afternoon at the aquarium. Stu and I visited this place ages ago, on my very first trip to meet Stu’s family in California when we were dating in college (14 years ago to be exact), so we were a little nostalgic about being there again—this time with the kiddos in tow. My favorite creature was the octopus, Ethan liked the moray eels. Finn was totally jazzed about the whole place before he passed out cold in the stroller, allowing the rest of us to take our sweet time.
3. Next stop, San Francisco! We spent three nights in San Francisco, another place Stu and I visited back in the day, before kids. Our first morning was spent across the Golden Gate Bridge in Muir Woods, a place we’ve been learning about throughout the last year. We were mesmerized by the giant trees in the gorgeous forest and could have spent all day wandering the paths—too bad we had a two year old with us.We stopped at the Palace of Fine Arts after crossing back over the bridge (even if I drove that every day I’d still be exhilarated!!) and walked over to the beach for a family pic…but the boys just wanted to play in the sand. By some miracle they sat for this picture.
That night we had booked the worlds most expensive babysitter (but she was amazing) through a service and had a proper date night. We walked a few blocks to the Yerba Buena Garden then on to Union Square to see the lights and festivities before popping into a couple places for drinks and dinner.
4. Day two in San Francisco included a walk through Chinatown and continued to Fisherman’s Wharf for clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls—over five miles of walking and Ethan handled it like a pro. We meandered through the streets exploring, stopping in a shop or at a park or to watch a street artist work. The sun was shining and the boys seemed to enjoy everything.
They were pretty excited to take the street car home from the Ferry Building…we were all exhausted. We ended the day in the hotel pool, which was tiny but totally perfect for our boys.
5. Ethan’s sixth birthday was our day of departure, so we stopped at the Lego Store the night before to let him pick out a new set. We grabbed breakfast at Tartine Manufactory and played at a fantastic park overlooking the city skyline before catching our flight. To Ethan’s absolute delight, the whole plane sang him happy birthday. Southwest is the best!
6. Our first egg!! The day we arrived home from our trip we were surprised to find our lady Rex had left us a gift. I think they may have missed us, it was just to timely. Now each day we head out to collect our one little “fairy egg”, always with the anticipation of finding a second or third. Remarkably, the chickens are all 100x more friendly now that they are full “hens”, they follow us around for pets and love treats. And the eggs are delicious!
7. My mom paid us a visit for some grandson snuggle time but I have not one picture because I was sick when she arrived and she was sick when she left so pictures were the last things we wanted. But it was great, the boys loved the one on one time with her and I appreciated the post-holiday help!
8. Ethan’s birthday party was a Bowling Bash shared with his classmate and our neighbor, Will. It was the most low-key birthday party I’ve ever thrown—didn’t include a single homemade decoration—and was super tons of fun. The kids had a blast. Finn only had his fingers run over in the ball return once, so I consider it a success.
9. And finally, I increased my age by one year. We celebrated in a dive-y bar, with dear friends and plenty of karaoke, till the wee hours. I may have needed ALL day Sunday to recover, but it was worth every minute.
There I did it, I made a blog post. It’s been ages since my last post and I’ve had a gnawing dread each time I decided to forgo writing. The question of whether to keep the blog going has crossed my mind, does it make sense anymore? Does it need a revamp, a new name? My kids are no longer “peanuts”, more like just “nuts”, but the thought of doing a redesign and redirect seems exhausting in this moment.
Look out for possible changes in the future, until then I’ll be making an effort to post more because at the end of the day I really still enjoy keeping this “journal”. It still works it’s magic of helping me stay on top of photo editing and life documenting.
So happy new year! Hope everyone had a fantastic holiday.