Family Travel Guide to San Francisco

Who plans to take a family vacation to the other side of the country while in the midst of a costly home renovation? We do! Was it the best financial decision? Maybe not. But after living through months of construction and terrible winter weather, planning a vacation to California seemed like a great idea.

Our theme song was “California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day” by the Mama’s and the Papa’s!

Having lived in the San Francisco Bay Area when I was in my 20’s, I was eager to share my love of this magnificent city with my family. In addition to doing the usual touristy things, I wanted to do some things that I had never done before, too.

Best Laid Plans

I had so much fun planning our ideal trip! I mapped out each day. Booked our flights. Reserved our hotel room.  Secured tickets for Alcatraz,  the Blue and Gold Ferry to Sausalito , and transportation to Muir Woods. I researched various restaurants and made dinner reservations. And then, disaster!

The night we were scheduled to leave, our flight was canceled. I will spare you the nitty gritty details but suffice it to say, rescheduling our flight was nothing short of a nightmare. But after a few tears, many hours, and a conversation with the nicest airline employee ever, I managed to get us rebooked two days later. This time we’d leaving from Baltimore instead of Philadelphia.

I was able to re-arrange and re-book everything expect for Alcatraz which was kind of a bummer for the kids. For the most part, everything else worked out perfectly.

Day One:

Having landed late the night before, we woke up hungry and ready to explore. Our hotel, The Argonaut,  was located at the end of Fisherman’s Warf. The location was perfect. It wasn’t smack dab in the middle of the Warf which is a total tourist trap. But we were close to the cable car, Ghiradelli Square, and best of all, beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Our kids taking pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge on our first morning in San Francisco

Ghirardelli Square just steps from The Argonaut Hotel

We started off our day eating breakfast at a restaurant called 8 am. It was within walking distance to our hotel. It was the best breakfast we had while we were away and kept everyone full until late afternoon. After breakfast, we explored the surrounding neighborhood of Russian Hill. It was quintessential San Francisco: hills, gorgeous views, Victorian homes and Lombard Street, the so-called crookedest street in the world. 

After our amazing kayaking trip in Maine, we thought it would be fun to do something similar in the San Francisco Bay. And it was definitely not something I had done when I lived there before. To be honest, we were also inspired by the previous season of the Amazing Race and ended up booking with the same kayaking company, City Kayak. I had warned the kids not to expect balmy weather in San Francisco but we lucked out with some unseasonably warm weather. It was perfect to spend the afternoon on the Bay. We paddled under the Bay Bridge towards downtown San Francisco and the Ferry Building. It was so cool to see the City from the water. We then made our way towards AT and T Park.

We had a late lunch at the Ferry Building where there were lots of delicious options to satisfy all of us.

kayak tour in San Francisco by AT & T Park
Kayaking by AT & T Park

kayaking under the Bay Bridge in San Francisco
It was so cool to kayak under the Bay Bridge

Day Two:

After grabbing a quick breakfast, we headed over to Bay City Bikes. Biking over the Golden Gate Bridge and taking a ferry back to San Francisco from Sausalito is a popular option. But since we would be driving over the Golden Gate Bridge and going to Sausalito later in the week, we opted to stay in San Francisco. From Fisherman’s Warf, we biked through the Marina along Chrissy Field to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. We had gorgeous views all along the way and lots of opportunities to take pictures. Traveling with teenagers, getting that Instagram worthy photo is a priority! 

Biking along the Marina in San Francisco towards the base of the Golden Gate Bridge
View from our bike ride

I admit that we got a little lost after leaving the base of the Bridge.  We hit a lot of hills on our way and got to see much more of the Presidio then I had originally planned. At various points, my family was plotting a rebellion! Luckily, my promise of food and more Instagram-worthy pictures was enough to keep them going.

Our efforts were rewarded when we stopped at Baker Beach. In hindsight, this would have been a great spot to just relax on the beach and have a snack. My crew was hungry and eager for lunch. So, our pit stop was brief. We hopped back on our bikes for a challenging ride through the Sea Cliff neighborhood and then onto Lands End and the Sutro Baths. This was something I had really wanted to do since I had never been there before. It was worth the long bike ride. Even my exhausted family agreed!

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Baker's Beach
Baker’s Beach after a rather grueling bike ride

We had lunch at the Cliff House where we enjoyed magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean, were treated to wonderful service, and a delicious lunch. Energized, we made our way through the Golden Gate Park. This is probably my biggest regret of the vacation. Since our ride in the morning was so much longer and more challenging than anticipated, everyone was too tired to spend much time in the Park.  Otherwise, this was a highlight of the trip for everyone.

Cliff House; Pacific Ocean; Lands End
Our efforts were rewarded with amazing views of the Pacific Ocean and a delicious lunch at Cliff House

After returning the bikes, we rested for a little while in the hotel before making our way to Oracle Park to watching an interleague spring training game between the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants. Great food, a wonderful ballpark, and a colorful Lyft driver made this a perfect way to end our day!

Day Three

Luckily, the first stop of the Powell/Hyde Cable Car line was steps from our hotel. We waited in a short line — which grows as the day goes on – and went to Union Square.

San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia

After a quick breakfast, we wandered through Union Square to Chinatown which is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia. There are tons of interesting food stores and little shops to explore. We continued our Amazing Race theme by visiting the Fortune Cookie Factory which had also been featured in a recent season of the show. The factory was tiny but it was cool to see the cookies being made. We got to make our own fortune to put in a freshly baked cookie, too!

We made our way via MUNI to Alamo Square. Again, it was an absolutely gorgeous day. We soaked up the California sunshine and hung out in Alamo Square. The kids worked on getting Instagram shots of the Painted Ladies.

My kids thrilled to be sitting in front of the “Full House houses” aka Painted Ladies

Good thing we rested because from Alamo Square, we walked to the Mission District in search of a burrito. It was a pretty far walk but we were entertained with the murals and rewarded with delicious, giant burritos and icy, cold beer for my husband and me. We people watched in Delores Park before taking the trolley back to our hotel.

One of many amazing murals in the Mission District

Day Four:

For most of our trip, we managed to do well without renting a car. We either walked, rode bikes, used public transportation or used Lyft. However, due to our cancelled flight we had no choice but to rent a car to get to Muir Woods. Parking there is limited and shuttles, at the time we visited, run only on the weekends. Luckily, we were able to rent a car a block from our hotel.

We made the drive across the Golden Gate bridge and headed to Muir Woods. Hiking through the redwoods was magical. There are lots of different trails and lengths of hikes available for all levels. My son and I decided to hike a little further than my husband and daughter.

Under the canopy of the redwoods
Take a break during our hike
Enjoying the view of the Pacific Ocean

After a morning of nature, we had all worked up a good appetite. We made the short drive to the adorable town of Mill Valley where we had an amazing lunch at Playa. We had one of the best meals of our vacation.

Since we had a car, we decided to go to Oakland so I could show the kids my old stomping grounds. My son was also eager to see the Oakland Coliseum, home of the Golden State Warriors. driving from Marin County to East Oakland at 4:00 in the afternoon is not an easy drive. But after all of the physical activity of the last few days, everyone was happy to sit for a little while!

We literally did a quick “drive by” before heading to the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland. We had dinner at one of my favorite places from when I lived there: Zachary’s Pizza. I definitely recommend the deep dish spinach and mushroom. The neighborhood had a changed a little but the pizza was as good as I had remembered!

Day Five:

Our last day in San Francisco was just as picture perfect as the rest of our vacation. Brilliant blue skies, mild temperatures and warm sunshine. And just like the previous days, we did a lot of walking and eating!

We started by walking to Telegraph Hill to see Coit Tower. This was a must do for us because my daughter had done a school project on Coit Tower several years ago. Telegraph Hill is a steep walk but the top of Coit Tower provides 360 degree views of the Bay Area. In a word, it is breathtaking.

The view from the top of Telegraph Hill

From there we made our way back to Fisherman’s Warf where watched the sea lions before we caught the ferry to Sausalito. Seeing views of the City and Marin County from the ferry was heavenly. We enjoyed the sights and soaking up the sun.

I will never get tired of seeing this!

Once in Sausalito, we walked away from the crowds to Bar Bocce where we enjoyed an amazing meal al fresco. This was one of our best meals and favorite restaurants during our trip.

Sitting outside at Bar Bocce in Sausalito

Our last night in San Francisco we had dinner at Original Joe’s in North Beach. It was a nice walk from our hotel. People watching in Washington Square was fun.

We squeezed a lot into a short time in the City by the Bay. My goal was for my children to love San Francisco as much as I do and I have to say: Mission accomplished!

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1 Comment

  1. Regards for helping out, excellent information.

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