At the beginning of July in 2018, we decided to tack a trip to San Francisco on to a trek to the Bay Area for a family birthday party. You can read how we saved and what we splurged on in my post all about our budget here. Now I’ll go through our itinerary and give you our impressions of the attractions we enjoyed.
Sunday, July 1
In order to maximize our time in the city, I picked an early flight time to begin our trip. The only drawback is that we are not early risers (well, except Bryan), and the airport lounge is not open that early. We packed breakfast in the car on the way and made the best of the wait at the gate. Getting into the city early meant the rest of the day for touring. We had to store our luggage at the hotel and were on our way to our first attraction, The Exploratorium, by noon.
The Exploratorium was a lot of fun. They have so many hands-on exhibits, but without being packed into a small space since it is in a converted warehouse. There are indoor and outdoor exhibits as well, and all of it is science-based, so lots of learning going on. We met up with some cousins, and the kids had fun reconnecting and exploring the exhibits together. Being a Sunday in the summer, it was busy, so a weekday may have been better to plan a visit.
Everyone was getting a little hangry since we had essentially skipped lunch, so we started to walk towards Fisherman’s Wharf from the Exploratorium. There is so much going on in this area. The other family that joined us was heading back to their car, so we all walked together instead of taking the streetcar that goes back and forth on the Embarcadero. We passed by the dock for the ferry to Alcatraz which we did our last trip. We also noted the location of the Blue and Gold Fleet for our cruise later and the Aquarium of the Bay right next door. There were street performers everywhere, some of which were very talented.
We decided to eat dinner at The Grotto, which used to be called Fisherman’s Grotto, and is very iconic. Bryan even remembers the same carpets from when he was a kid. It was very yummy, but Maggie couldn’t order a side of shrimp with her meal, so we went down to the counter outside and ordered them a la carte from there.
Aquarium of the Bay
The aquarium is open later than the other venues, so I was okay with saving it for later. However, we ran out of time to do both the aquarium and the cruise. We decided to save the cruise for either Monday or even Tuesday night if need be. The aquarium was very small, but felt like a welcome respite from the craziness of the Embarcadero. The kids especially liked the virtual reality room where they got to play with penguins, orcas, a seal, and a polar bear. Such fun!
We were quite far from the hotel at this point, but we wanted to stop at the grocery store on our way back to the hotel, so we just started walking. On this other side of the Embarcadero, we passed by a neat little park with interesting hardscapes and landscapes called Sea Wall park. The kids just had to explore this area before we could finish our walk to the store. At Safeway, we picked up some fruit, mini bagels, and cream cheese for breakfast in our room since our bid to get lounge access was shut down.
Monday, July 2
When I was looking up the information about visiting the Presidio, I found out that there is a free shuttle that goes from various points around the city to the Presidio. Then there’s another free shuttle that runs around the Presidio and includes the Golden Gate Bridge area. Happily, there was a stop right outside our hotel. We simply stepped outside and waited for the bus. We got off right near the main buildings to our first venue of the day.
Walt Disney Family Museum & Presidio Officers’ Club
Maggie and I headed into the Walt Disney Family Museum while Bryan and Carter headed to the Officers’ Club museum. I highly recommend the WDFM for anyone interested in the history of Walt Disney and his impact on so many aspects of American culture. It’s definitely a must-see for Disney fans. It is very much a museum, so it is best-suited for older children. The best part of this collection is the model of the Disneyland of Walt’s dreams. Since Disneyland could never be finished and is constantly changing, this model depicts a mash-up of different attractions, but is nothing that captured a moment in time. I could literally stand there and look at this thing all day. So many memories flooding back of riding the People Mover or the train through Nature’s Wonderland, or imagining what the park was like when my mother visited as a child.
Unfortunately, all of my planning didn’t catch one important detail. It turns out the Officers’ Club Museum is closed on Mondays! Bryan and Carter found another, smaller museum that grabbed their attention, but ended up just lounging on the giant grass field in the quad until we were finished.
Lunch at WDFM
We decided to eat lunch at the little cafe in the Walt Disney Family Museum. They had soups, salads, sandwiches, and mac and cheese available, which was pricey, but really yummy. Instead of eating inside, we decided to picnic outside on the lawn furniture.
Golden Gate Bridge
We hopped back on the PresidiGo shuttle to ride over to the pedestrian entrance to the Golden Gate Bridge. Last time we were there, we drove across the bridge, but there is something to be said for actually getting out on the bridge. It is a marvel! Turns out that since posting on Facebook while we were there, my aunt let us know that her (and my dad’s) sister and mother went out on the bridge for the opening day since a relative (Charles Alton Ellis) was responsible for the structural engineering of the bridge.
Dubbed the crookedest street in the world, Lombard Street is not easy to get to and from, let me tell you. We missed the PresidiGo stop closest to this street, and I kid you not, I felt like we were climbing up both ways. We decided to hoof it between here and Coit Tower, but we completely misjudged and underestimated the elevation. Everyone was really starting to feel all of the trekking uphill and down.
Joe DiMaggio Playground
Joe DiMaggio saved us! We came upon this little gem of a playground on our walk up to Coit Tower. There were so many cool structures and areas for all ages of kids. Bryan and I were grateful for a rest, and the kids were happy for some unstructured play time.
As soon as we were able to finally tear the kids away from the playground, we were on our way back up Telegraph Hill where Coit Tower is located. There’s a path at the end of Greenwich Street that goes into the park surrounding the tower. There was a considerable line inside waiting to go up, but the murals on the wall were interesting enough to pass the time looking at the details.
The funniest part of our day happened in the elevator on the way up. We crammed in with the family of four in line ahead of us, and as soon as the elevator door closed, the operator said, in the most deadpan and flat voice you could imagine, “Once you exit the elevator, turn right and walk up the final 38 steps.” The kids both groaned out loud since we had just walked up and down and up again from Van Ness, but I thought his delivery was so funny that I wasn’t going to let that last 38 steps get me down!
Unfortunately, our view was obscured by some fog that had rolled in over the past hour. It was still an amazing experience, and I highly recommend it. There is so much history in the building, and the views of the city can’t be beat, even with the fog.
Blue and Gold Fleet Bay Cruise
We headed down the other side of the hill to Pier 39 to make our 7:00pm departure. This was the perfect way to relax after our day of hiking all through the city. The trip was narrated with history and landmarks noted, but the kids and I spent a lot of time outside on the deck to enjoy the sights first hand, and it was hard to hear the speaker out there. It was especially thrilling to see the Golden Gate Bridge from a different perspective since we had just been up on it earlier in the day.
No trip to San Francisco would be complete without a trip to Ghirardelli’s chocolate factory. I don’t think they actually make chocolate at this location anymore, but they do have a demonstration of the process that you can watch while you’re waiting for your order.
From here, we decided our poor legs couldn’t take another step, so we ordered a Lyft back to the hotel. This is about the time of the trip that I wished I would have booked a hotel with a hot tub!
Tuesday, July 3
BART and Muni
I mapped out our path to get to the zoo without using Uber or Lyft, mostly to have the experience and check out San Francisco’s public transportation. The BART station was right outside our hotel, and we rode it for a few miles until we had to get off to transfer to a bus or Muni. The entire ride for the whole family was only $10!
San Francisco Zoo
The Zoo and I didn’t get off to a great start since they wouldn’t discount Bryan’s ticket on our reciprocal membership. They made up for it with a super cute zoo. We were able to explore most of the exhibits, but the kids spent the most time at the elaborate and innovative playground. So many things to do and climb and places to hide. Bryan and I relaxed on a nearby lawn in the shade, which is what most of the adults were doing as well.
Uber for the Win!
Instead of taking public transportation back into the city, we decided to use a credit I had on Uber. Instead of paying over $25 for the fare, we ended up paying a little less than $9. This is because Uber participates in a program that gives you credit at small businesses and restaurants whenever you use a connected credit card. Score!
Quick Stop in Chinatown
We had just enough time in between the zoo and when we had to pick up our rental car to have the Uber driver drop us off in Chinatown. I wanted to see the Dragon’s Gate in person, and we thought it would be a good place to shop for souvenirs. Unfortunately, the kids had a bad case of the “I don’t know”s when it came to picking their souvenirs, so we finally just had to pick a shop and have everyone get something from there. We wanted some Chinese food, but couldn’t find a suitable place that we could grab and go to make it back to the hotel in time to get our car, so…
San Leandro Chinese Food
Turns out other cities have great Chinese food as well! We headed out of town to the other side of the Bay, and while I was driving, Bryan found a great little place just around the corner from our next hotel. The food was so good and plentiful that we didn’t have to buy anymore food the rest of the trip. We had leftovers for lunch the next day, plus snacks, plus lunch the following day!
Since the rest of the trip was spent visiting family, I won’t go into the details. The only thing that mattered to me was that the hotel in San Leandro had an indoor hot tub! We put the car to good use by visiting family in the South Bay, but then had to drive back up to Oakland to fly back home. I love it when we can double dip on a family trip and turn it into something more!
If you would like to see our original itinerary with the markups from what we actually did each day, click here. Enjoy the gallery below with all of our pictures from the trip.