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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Traveling with Kids - San Francisco version

Golden Gate Bridge -
 the boys now know it's painted International Orange.
Our family vacation in San Francisco and the greater Bay Area this year was incredible. It's been several years since I was out there and this visit was short, only three days. So we certainly didn't do everything on a huge list of possibilities but if you're considering traveling to San Francisco with your kids, here are some tips:

1. Pack your own snacks and entertainment. Even though our flights were over 3 hours, American Airlines did not provide snacks or in-flight entertainment. I was pretty disappointed by this low level of service especially since AA charges a bag fee. I packed Fiber One chocolate brownies, yogurt covered raisins, Kind bars and Go-Go Squeeze. Later I realized I should have added a few salty snacks to balance some of the sweet ones. Lesson learned for next trip.

2. Airports have places for kids to play. Even though airlines don't seem to be making it easier for families, airports are doing a better job.

We were in six different airports over our entire trip and found the kid's play area in four airports - even a very, very small airport! Play areas are always worth a visit there to give my kids a chance to blow off steam. Since the airlines weren't feeding us we also used our layovers to re-fuel. Thankfully the food options in SFO were excellent. My kids enjoyed the Cereality Bar in Dallas/Fort Worth but my husband loved the Frontera Grill in Chicago O'Hare.

The tide pools were terrific
At the Aquatic Park
4. Hit the beach. A visit to Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in the Half Moon Bay area is a MUST. The tidal pools captivated my children and we stopped there two days in a row! Once in San Francisco families can enjoy the Bay by visiting the Aquatic Park in front of the Ghiradelli Factory. I think next time we're there I might even try a swim myself. None of these beaches were really warm, and at both the wind was pretty brisk, but we loved them both.

5. Early is Easier. Hopping on the trolleys at Fisherman's Wharf in the early morning was the perfect way to enjoy the experience with young children. Shorter lines, less crowds, and a better chance of getting a seat. There was no way I was letting my kids hang off the side of the trolley on this trip. But San Fran can be chilly so pack jackets and possibly long pants if your kids get cold.

Inside the world's tallest trees

6. Boats Beat Trees.  Even though our kids begged us to see redwoods, the actual visit to Muir Woods wasn't peaceful and full of nature-loving wonder. The boys fussed on the drive there, I struggled with the ledginess of the Hillside Trail, and the cafe was packed.

I'm still glad we did the trip to Muir Woods. I think the boys will appreciate it a bit more when they are older. They did enjoy counting insects and visiting the gift shop. They love gift shops.

But frankly the 90 min Bridge to Bridge cruise on the Red and White Fleet held their attention better. They boys actually listened with great interest to the audio recording! And the snacks and beverages on board did make life a little easier. Views of the bridges were amazing and I couldn't believe the number of gigantic tankers cruising in and out of the bay. Heading out toward the Golden Gate Bridge the water was rough and choppy and the wind picked up. I went outside the cabin to get a photo and a somewhat large wave crashed on the side of the ship and the spray hit me right in the face!

I bought tickets for the cruise while were eating lunch via the Viator app and found it very easy to use.

Final tip for parents: If you can, get dinner at Benu. We hired a sitter through the hotel and managed to enjoy an unforgettable evening dining there. You can thank me later. 

A bad photo of an incredible oyster

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