A Few Days in San Francisco with Kid (s)

san francisco

If you follow me over on Instagram, you know that I love to travel, take photos, explore, with kids/without kids, eat, study a city’s history while I’m there and wander.  Head over right now and you’ll follow my recent travels while visiting the wonderful city of San Francisco.  It’s a city I’ve ventured to many times in my life, probably around a dozen, having had close friends and family out there to visit throughout my adulthood.

Each time I go, I experience a new feeling. When I was younger, I experienced its culture seeing Lily Tomlin live on stage, Sinead O’Conner in concert and Kiss of the Spiderwoman before it hit Broadway. I also explored its culinary diversity and heritage in Napa. I climbed the streets, took cable cars and wandered into its nooks and crannies all over the city – from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Presidio to Union Square to Haight Asbbury to Golden Gate Park. I explored the murals and art galleries in the Mission and walked the curviness of Lombard Street. I always felt enraptured by the lure of the Golden Gate Bridge and the amazing views captured from various parts of the city.

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During my recent visit to San Francisco, I took my 10 year-old daughter for four days, two of which were spent primarily with friends in the Bay area, so the time we had in the city was very narrow and precious.  As soon as we arrived late on a Wednesday night and made our way to our Hotel Union Square, I felt jittery with both excitement and nostalgia. Upon first sight, the hotel doesn’t appear to be anything special as it’s sandwiched between commercial shops in a busy area, but the hotel was the perfect place to spend the first night. It’s a historic hotel, having been built in 1913 for the 1915 Pan Pacific Exposition. You can’t beat the location and the art deco interior came as a nice surprise, as was The Kids Suite. People can’t quite believe it when I tell them that my daughter was entertained by a computer, Wii, toys, books and more.

It actually provided a nice transition to the hustle bustle of touring while jet-lagged. While spending much of my first morning surrounded by toys wasn’t fully in my plans, watching her in total bliss was a great way to start the trip.  We also got our first cable car ride in and did a bit of shopping in the area. The suite sleeps two adults and two children and can be booked by calling 800.553.1900. The hotel offers free Wifi, on site parking and very reasonable room rates.

Knowing that we only had a few days, we decided to go with the San Francisco CityPASS ticket booklet. Valid nine days, starting with the first day of use (retail price is $84 for adults and value is $148.90). The CityPASS includes:

·         7-Day, unlimited-use Cable Car and Muni transportation passport
·         Exploratorium OR de Young Museum and Legion of Honor 
aquarium of the bay
It was a really great choice for us, given our limited time, as we hopped on and off Cable Cars and Muni buses during our visit.  I let my daughter choose our destinations during this trip, given all the times I had been to San Francisco and the fact that it was her real first time (the other times she was too young to remember anything).  She chose the Aquarium of the Bay and the Exploratorium, two museums that were made for kids.  At Aquarium of the Bay we got up close and personal with more than 20,000 local marine animals.  I really liked this Aquarium.  It may be small but it was good to hold my daughter’s attention span for the whole time (including my own) and its series of connecting undersea tunnels, explored on foot or via moving sidewalk, made for a unique experience. It also offers petting pools and had a really good sea otter exhibit that the aquarium seemed especially proud of.
Located in Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf, it’s easy to get to, easy to park and it’s reasonable priced. Children ages 3 and under get in free. It’s $10 for children ages 3-11 and for seniors 65+, and $16.95 for kids 12+ and adults. A Special Family Rate of $46 covers 2 children and 2 Adults. Purchasing tickets online in advance is encouraged.
Further down the pier is the Exploratorium, which is literally a science playground for kids. This hands-on science museum was founded by physicist, educator and blacklist victim Frank Oppenheimer (1912-1985), the brother of the Manhattan Project’s J. Robert Oppenheimer. We went about five years when it was located in the Presidio and it was amazing then, but after a $300 million investment, it’s utterly wonderful. Located at the Embarcadero at Pier 15, it’s full of experiments for the curious. The exhibits are interactive, magical and educational and instructional.  My daughter was mesmerized for hours. It’s so big, she only saw a quarter of the museum.
Admission is $25 for adults, with lower rates for Bay Area residents, youth, seniors, students, teachers and the disabled. Advance ticket purchase is strongly recommended; in order to minimize lines and avoid overcrowding, all tickets through September 2013 will feature timed entry. Clearly, the CityPASS cuts down on costs.
hotel triton

For our second night, we stayed at the Hotel Triton right outside the front gate to Chinatown and just blocks from North Beach. I immediately felt at home with the young, international staff (because I’m so young, of course). The rooms are whimsical, with writing on the walls by Jerry Garcia, Wyland and Santana. The rooms’ color palette is bright and fresh and funky furniture in the typical Kimpton style. The hotel offers free Wifi, docking stations and a lovely gym.  There are also nice touches like wine from 5-6pm, a French cafe right next door, a fire place in the lobby and comfortable chairs to hang out on and an eco-friendly conscious. While the rooms aren’t tremendous, they are comfortable and the hotel offers great rates that make it quite affordable given the location.

Other highlights of our trip included a trip to the Ferry Building (a culinary adventure in its own rite), a visit to Musee Mecanique, one of the world’s largest collections of coin-operated mechanical musical instruments and antique arcade machines in working condition, a hop on-hop off bus tour of the downtown area, a walk around Chinatown and North Beach, Mexican food in the Mission District, a ride around town from the Golden Gate Bridge to Golden Gate Park, dinner in the Castro, a trip to Ghiradelli, to name a few.

Traveling with one child certainly made the adventure more doable in many ways but we also missed the other half of our family and look forward to taking them back to show them our San Francisco…and to see more. Also, at age 10, my daughter really took in the surroundings and enjoyed the beauty of the city in ways she never has before on any of our prior trips. When the tour guide talked, she listened, and she was able to recount facts back to family and friends afterwards. The experiences she and I had on our own were priceless and will remain etched in our minds for days to come.

Disclosure: I was provided with complimentary lodging by the two hotels mentioned and the City Pass was provided to me to facilitate this review and others. As always, all my opinions are my own and no one asked me for a specific point-of-view.

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