Wanderlust {San Francisco}

I know this is going to come as a complete and utter shock… but we are planning a trip to somewhere other than Disney.  *cue dropped jaws and stunned silence*  Honey’s precious cousin is tying the knot in San Francisco and we are going to embark on our first cross country flight with the littles!!     I’ve barely scratched the surface of researching all of the must-dos, must-eats and must-sees of San Fran, but would absolutely LOVE for y’all to weigh in!  What’s not to miss??  Where should we stay??  (Unfortuch I fell in love with the Fairmont, and Honey proceeded to have a stroke over the prices.)

  • We are planning to have four days on our own before the wedding.
  • We will have the littles with us (7 and 10ish).
  • It will be winter so I’m already a little scared of freezing to death.
  • We probably won’t rent a car unless y’all deem that a necessity.

So, if you will, post your thoughts in the comments.  I’ll compile them later for everyone to use and I will definitely report back as we firm up our plans!!! xoxo

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40 thoughts on “Wanderlust {San Francisco}

  1. Yay!!! I've been to San Francisco a couple of times, but not with littles (yet)! It's one of my most favorite cities to visit. Things I'd recommend, all pretty touristy, so they're probably all on your list, already! – Alcatraz, Sausalito, the Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard Street, Ghirardelli Square, Sears Fine Food for famous pancakes & riding the cable cars!

  2. Wow, what an adventure! I have only been to San Francisco once, but I will say that you will want to be sure to check the forecasts carefully. I went in August and knowing how hot it is below the Mason Dixon at the end of summer, I just assumed the temps would be comparable because all you ever hear about California is "sunny." Um…no. I froze during my entire visit. Since you're going in winter, I'd think you'd expect chilly temperatures but be sure you know how chilly. If you still want a taste of Disney, you can visit the Walt Disney Family Museum to learn about the man behind the fabulousness. California Academy of Sciences is big fun with littles. It features so many different science aspects–planetarium, aquarium, rain forest, earthquake experience–and you could spend a whole day there because there's so much to see. Your little guys might also enjoy seeing Lombard Street just for the crooked novelty of it, and the architecture nearby is pretty astounding. Happy planning! Looking forward to reading your adventure story :)
    Amber in NC

  3. San Fran is one of my favorite city's. Redwood forest , trolley car, the bridge, lombard street and Alcatraz are must dos. We stayed are the bridge in sausalito ( great town) and drove up to sonoma and napa ( may be a better trip with the kids but one of the best trips that my husband and I have ever done.

  4. Oh, and weather… I'm sure that you have readers in San Francisco who can give you tips on that, but from what I've always understood, it's pretty consistent year round with not a huge variance…generally the 50s-60s, but because of it's location, it's windy. I've always gone in the spring & while days were very nice, you're going to definitely want layers for night. Can't wait to read about what all you decide to do!

  5. Sounds like a fun trip! We have done many cross country with our girls (from the time they were in preschool). The boys are the perfect age. We have never been to San Fran, but will actually be flying there in April. Just a one day stop however, to break up the trip to Hawaii.

  6. I lived in SF for many years and have taken my children back to visit. 2 "must does" are ride the cable car and Alcatraz. Especially with boys. I would strongly encourage you to book your tickets in advance for Alcatraz as it is a popular destination. The boat ride to the prison is fun and has beautiful views of the city. Fisherman's Wharf is fun also. A little touristy but hey you're tourists right, Fog City Diner is a dining suggestion and it used to be kid friendly. It's hard to get a bad meal in SF. China Town is a good place to explore. It is a very walkable city just get ready for lots of hills. If you don't rent a car you can walk down Lombard Street on the crooked sidewalk. Have fun.

  7. You will be overwhelmed with so much to do. I'd definitely book Alcatraz with the boys. It's amazing. And of course you'll do the trolley and such. I find the warf tooooooo touristy. Espcially with so much to do. However, I'd dine at one of the restaurants down there that is off the beaten path with water view. China town. If you can go early a.m. it's fun to see all the vendor before it gets busy. Time change is on your side. The bridge (take a cab). Lastly and the boys will DIE and you will be a hero and you will thank me……b/c I owe you for Disney…..Tonga room at Fairmount. DO IT. It's like Disney but crazy.

  8. Be sure to take warm clothes because it will be cold. When we went when our kids were little we did all of the things above and we rented a car to drive to the Muir Woods to see the redwoods and one day we even drove to Yosemite (a few hours away but worth the drive.) We took small Lego kits in lunchboxes for the kids to play with on the long plane ride and to play with when they woke up at 4AM because of the time change!!

  9. Don't rent a car, parking is expensive and can be hard to come by. They have great public transit with mini, street cars and Bart from the airport. Look into a pass for muni and know it's San Francisco and you'll encounter off people on public transit. Winter in the city isn't as cold as other places though it can be foggy and windy. Do take a jacket so you don't look like a tourist is an sf sweatshirt/jacket.

    The Disney museum in the presidio is supposed to be great. Staying around union square is a good central point. There are some areas to stay away from like the tenderloin which is right next to a nice area. The zoo is pretty good. The wharf and Alcatraz are a must. I think there's still a Ripley believe it or not museum along the wharf which the littles might enjoy. The wharf area is the most touristy.
    I went to college in sf it's a great city. Don't call it San Fran, it's the city or San Francisco :)

  10. You got lots of good suggestions for the city, and I do agree that if you have the time a day spent driving to Muir Woods to see the redwoods is great. And they just happen to be quite near some fabulous wineries in Sonoma:-)

  11. You will probably hear this a lot but of course Alcatraz ( but you'll have t get tickets early), trolley car rides, Golden Gate, Lombard Street, Chinatown, Union Square and Fisherman's Wharf. If you do rent a car there is Napa the Redwood Forest and coastal drive available close. I know lots of people think the weather is great but I thought it was cold. Like Heavy Coats cold, but I'm from Orlando so that might account for that. Have a great time. I think your boys will love it.

  12. It will probably feel much colder than you expect. Think what you call winter in Georgia. When that cold wind blows in off the water, it is really cold. No car for use in the city itself.

  13. What fun! San Francisco is such a beautiful city! I know, the Fairmont is beautiful, isn't it? I stayed with my friend's family when we were there years ago but we had brunch at the Fairmont and were able to enjoy the gorgeous view from there. I don't know if they still do a brunch but it is something to look into. I agree with the above comments – Alcatraz, etc. I think you will have plenty to do with the kids! Can't wait to hear your plans!

  14. I grew up in the Bay Area and love taking my littles into the city when we are up at the grandparents. (As someone else said, it is "San Francisco" or "the City.") Also, it does get cold there. We can always tell the tourists because they have had to buy a San Francisco sweatshirt. The littles would LOVE the Exploratorium (it is a hands on science museum that is amazing). Also, I highly recommend the night tour at Alcatraz. It adds to the "atmosphere." China town is delicious. Ghirardelli Square has amazing ice cream sundaes. Public transportation is great, parking is hard and expensive. If you plan to stay in the city, I wouldn't get a car. Between the very fun trolley cars (there is a trolley museum, too), buses, taxis, and Bart (and walking!), it is easy to get around. You will love Union Square for fancy shopping. So much to do in Golden Gate Park. Musee Mecanique was fun when I was a kid. It has moved to Pier 45 and haven't been to it's current location, but would probably be fun for the kiddos (it is a museum with all sorts of old penny arcade machines that you can still play). The Cliff House is a beautiful place to have a meal and look around. Fort Point is under the Golden Gate bridge, so might be a fun place to go and also see the bridge at the same time. So much to do, so much to eat……….Enjoy!

  15. Amanda.
    I would highly suggested visiting the bakery La Boulange. They are all over the city. Their pastries and French macaroons are amazing. Starbucks recently added La Boulange pastries to their store.

    Papa Beards: it's just a cream puff shop. Seriously. Creamy deliciousness.

    Boudin-famous bread bowls with clam chowder. Amazing Sam Francisco sourdough bread.

    We are heading to Disney next week! Taking our 5 year old for the first time. I discovered your blog a few years ago while doing a Disney search. We will be using your tips. Have a fun time in San Fransisco.
    Paula R.

  16. Layers for sure and I missed if you said which month you are going, but it is Winter so rain is very possible, it's Northern California so forget warm until Summer. But you will have a great time.

  17. My boys were about the same age as your guys are when we took them the first time to SF and they loved it. Coit Tower has great views of the city along with all the other attractions that have been mentioned such as Alcatraz, Sausalito, the Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard Street, Ghirardelli Square. The trolley museum is interesting too. The boys will get a kick out of watching the sea lions sunbath on the wharf while you eat. If you do rent a car, my suggestions would be to travel south to San Jose and go to the Winchester House. http://www.winchestermysteryhouse.com/index.cfm My boys got a real kick out of this tour. Then you can go on down to Santa Cruz to the ocean and play on the Boardwalk. http://beachboardwalk.com/history/ One of the last of the classic seaside amusement parks in the United States, the Boardwalk is considered the best seaside amusement park in the world.They have weekend hours starting soon. Sometimes we fly in to SF and out of San Jose so we can enjoy both areas and the flights out of SJ are cheaper at times. If you want a beautiful view of the ocean, you can drive back up to SF on Hwy 1. Lots to do everywhere you turn in California.. Enjoy!

  18. My boys were about the same age as your guys are when we took them the first time to SF and they loved it. Coit Tower has great views of the city along with all the other attractions that have been mentioned such as Alcatraz, Sausalito, the Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard Street, Ghirardelli Square. The trolley museum is interesting too. The boys will get a kick out of watching the sea lions sunbath on the wharf while you eat. If you do rent a car, my suggestions would be to travel south to San Jose and go to the Winchester House. http://www.winchestermysteryhouse.com/index.cfm My boys got a real kick out of this tour. Then you can go on down to Santa Cruz to the ocean and play on the Boardwalk. http://beachboardwalk.com/history/ One of the last of the classic seaside amusement parks in the United States, the Boardwalk is considered the best seaside amusement park in the world.They have weekend hours starting soon. Sometimes we fly in to SF and out of San Jose so we can enjoy both areas and the flights out of SJ are cheaper at times. If you want a beautiful view of the ocean, you can drive back up to SF on Hwy 1. Lots to do everywhere you turn in California.. Enjoy!

  19. I vote rent a car and go to Stanford, Palo Alto and San Jose one day! Beautiful scenery, imposing university and you get to see where google is located! Also, if you husband likes to golf you should drive to Carmel and take the 17 mile drive down into the Pebble Beach area. Beautiful scenery!!

  20. I've been many times and I just love the city. Our first trip we did the Hop On/Hop Off bus which is a great way to see the city and spend more time at certain stops/sites. Also Alcatraz is a great stop for kids & adults but book your tix way ahead of time. There is a taffy store at Pier 39 that has barrels of taffy in 100 different flavors…its soooo good!! And try to get a Ghiradelli Crepe at the crepe place at the Pier too…you will fight over them they are soooo good. We've only stayed at the Kimpton hotels and they are more boutique so might not be what you are looking for…but the one by the wharf is charming and very upscale and great service. Anything you do I'm sure you will enjoy…its a fun city with so many great things to see & do. Enjoy it!

  21. What a super fun adventure for your family! I'm from North Carolina, but have been living out here in the San Francisco Bay area. It was supposed to be a fun, 2 year adventure that has turned into a 16-year, "Will I ever get to return to my beloved south?" kinda deal! Anyway, there is SO much to do and see in San Francisco! You don't mention what month you will be here. Will it perhaps be during the Christmas season? How I would spend fours days here would be dependent upon the month. Regarding the weather. "The City" as we call it, has its own micro climate. I live 45 minutes from the city and it can be 30 degrees cooler there, no joke. The famous Mark Twain quote you will hear while enjoying a cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge is, "I've never experienced a colder winter than a summer in San Francisco." True. Dress is layers. Northern California in general has beautiful, sunny days and then cool nights that require an extra layer of clothing and heat lamps burning while dining al fresco. You'll have an exceptional time in this beautiful city! Although, it's not my beloved South, it is very special.

  22. First off, ya'll are going to have a great time! We've been to San Fran a few times, once over New years…. chilly, but bearable.. and my hubby is really miserable in cold weather (we're from Texas…)… Our whole family of 14 met there this past June to hop on a cruise ship to Alaska… We went in 4 days early as our son (college age) hadn't been… In our large group was 4 kids from 5-12 in age… You've recieved some great suggestions already… Alcatraz for sure… and get tickets ahead…. Don't rent a car. Just take a cab to and from airport. Get a muni pass for the days you need when in the city… we purchased a three day pass… we were able to ride cable cars, buses and street cars…. Easy to get around and find where you need to go. We stayed on a prior trip at "The Mark" The Intercontinental Mark Hopkins… across from your Fairmont… :-) Pricey There is a cool restaurant at the "Top of the Mark"…. There is a huge window on one side of the restaurant… that is where all the War brides/girlfriends would watch their sailors ships depart San Fransisco during the war…. … This past summer, stayed at PIer 2620 Hotel near Fishermans wharf…. It was just great! Will definately stay there again. San Fran is pricey anywhere you stay. Here's a few restaurants….. Tadich Grill (oldest restaurant in California) In financial district; be there for lunch right when they open. Awesome food. John's Grill near Union Square, Great food… and the setting for the book "The Maltese Falcon"! In and Out is down around the area of the Wharf….. In Chinatown, which is awesome, has a *great* dim sum place… cheap and small… (you take your goodies outside to eat'em)… Good Mong Kok Bakery… Then be sure to go to the Golden Gate Fortune cookie factory… it's in one of the alley's….. you watch them actually make the cookies… and of course you can purchase a bag of them… Also, I seem to remember they charge you a buck to take pictures… LOL so worth it. The boys will get a kick out of that. Also, being Disney fans… the Family Museum is great. We only went the three of us… I didn't think my neices and nephews would really get the full effect so they didn't go. But it is a nicely done museum…. Too bad you're not there during baseball season…. went to a game there this past summer. A great venue! I may think of a few other things; I've rambled on, but these are some strong suggestions to make….

  23. Hi Amanda…love your blog! The Fairmont is amazing, but for a more cough*affordable*cough option, the Stanford Court is just across the street. Great location with the Powell/California Street Cable Car stop just outside. Quick downhill walk to Union Square…and the uphill walk back will help you burn off the Boudin's sourdough bread bowls!

    Have a great trip!

  24. Oh how exciting. I lived in SF for a couple years and it was such a fun city. While in the city you do not need a car, the public transportation can get you around just fine. There are some breathtaking drives right outside of the city and it might be worth it to get a car to explore the other side of the bridge. Sausalito is a cute little town on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. There are companies that rent bikes to ride there and it is only around 5 miles but FYI it is uphill back to the city and the companies usually do not mention that part. If you do not have time to leave the city, a trolley ride is a must do and when people came to visit that was a number one request. Going down to Golden Gate park is fun and if it is not foggy the views are spectacular. I lived in Cole Valley and we had a excellent brunch place called Zazie's. (Beware long line on weekends, but worth it.) If you have any questions I am happy to answer.

  25. Amanda, I grew up in San Francisco and, even though I live in Santa Barbara now, my family visits The City ( what the locals call it) several times a year! You & your family will have a BLAST!!! First, you must take the little to Alcatraz. Even if that is the only suggestion you take, it is essential. They will love it (and Honey & you will, too). Chinatown is a blast! My kids loved seeing a place where they actually show you how they make fortune cookies. Ride the cable car and get off at the stop near Lombard Street – the curviest street in the world. It is so fun to walk down and the gardens are very cute. Take a walk on the Golden Gate Bridge. If the littles are nervous, you don't have to go very far. Finally, go to the Ferry a Building and have breakfast at the Market Bar. It is a bit of a splurge, but it is the BEST breakfast my family and I have ever had!!! Don't worry about freezing. A sweatshirt and hat are all that one usually needs (but bring a jacket just in case). After all, this is CALIFORNIA! It gets foggy in SF, but the temps are still not that bad.

  26. P.S. I forgot the Exploratorium. With as much as your family loves science, you must take the little there!
    Michelle from simplysantabarbara.blogspot.com
    Let me know if you have questions…

  27. Hey Amanda, San Francisco is amazing! I went for the first time when I was about John's age and had a blast. I blogged about a trip my husband and I took in April, 2010 (my first time away from my first child) if you want to go see pictures and all we did: http://joeandlindseybuck.blogspot.com/2010/05/san-francisco.html – Alcatraz is a MUST and for you and Honey: Irish Coffees at the Buena Vista Cafe. My husband and I rented bikes and rode over the Golden Gate and had lunch in Sausalito. Coit tower, cable cars, Ghiradelli, Lombard Street, Fisherman's Wharf, so many great things to do! We also took a full day and went over to Napa and toured a few wineries. Happy planning!

  28. Yay! San Francisco is one of my most favorite cities! There's SO much to do and see, it's difficult to even think what to share. :) I haven't read each comment but scanning I see tons of recommendations for Alcatraz. I think that you will all enjoy it, especially the boat ride for the littles. Don't rent a car unless you plan a trip to Muir Woods, Napa, etc. You can walk anywhere, eat yourself into oblivion and not feel guilty 'cause of all the walking! :) Of course, the Wharf and sidewalk food ~ clam chowder, fish, etc. Ghiradelli Square ~ the chocolate treats are to die for. By all means, you MUST ride the cable cars and the museum is very interesting. Union Square is full of interesting things going on. Go to Gump's! Shopping in SFO is addictive. Lombard Street, take a ride on BART ~ the boys will love it! Go to Sears for breakfast! No, not the "Sears" we all think of ~ it's an incredible restaurant and all the food is delish but the waffles will knock your socks off! You must get there early though…lines form quickly. Chinatown ~ the food and the shopping. Coit Tower, Nob Hill and go to the Top of the Mark for drinks and watch the sunset! (Mark Hopkins hotel) Go over to Sausalito ~ such a quaint little village and so unique! Not sure how the littles would do with the Golden Gate Bridge but it is amazing!

    Dress in layers. The temps can change in a heartbeat ~ especially when the fog rolls in and it feels colder. Whatever you do, wear comfy shoes and I'm sure you'll need socks. If you're not comfortable, it won't be as much fun! :)

    I know I'm forgetting many things but I feel sure others will share them. Can't wait to see what you think! Oh, and there are fresh flower markets along the streets and you will want all of them ~ :)

    P.S. Check with your hotel re: shuttle/car service from the airport.

  29. I am so excited to read this because we are also currently planning a trip to San Fran! We have never been either and I would love to see what everyone recommends for a first timer. So far on our list we have Alcatraz, biking across the Golden Gate bridge, lunch at the Ferry Building Marketplace, a trip to the California Academy of Sciences, and a hike in Muir Woods. We are staying in Union Square which I have read has the easiest access to all sources of public transportation. I can't wait to hear about the trip!

  30. Our son lives in San Fran (Nob Hill) and we've been there many times. If you are a Disney Vacation Club member you can use your points at the Fairmont if you reserve it in advance. We've stayed there using our points, great place and it includes breakfast. Don't miss the Tonga Room, tacky but so cool!! Take clothing you can layer for sure and book Alcatraz early! Enjoy!!

  31. Hi Amanda
    I have been a follower of your blog for many years, a Southerner stuck in SF for the last 13 years! We just moved from the city to Sonoma as our little boy was starting kindergarten. :)
    Anyway I will give you a few non tourists spots that are fun for kids too. The House of Air is on Chrissy Field by the Presidio (my little loves this place)..it is a trampoline park by the Presidio and looks out on the bay. You can take a picnic (they have a restaurant too) and sit out on the green and the boys can jump and exhaust themselves! Chrissy Field is just a beautiful spot to watch the sailboats and run around. Muir Woods is in Marin but a great place for an easy hike in the redwoods.. you would have to rent a car or take a bus. Uber cars are all around the city and better than taxi cabs. Gott's hamburgers in the Ferry Building is a must..and great for kids. Chestnut street in the marina has cute shopping (you will love Toss) and another good hamburger place called Super Burger. Fillmore street has more upscale shopping and a great dive pizza place called Dino's (the owner is always there and such a nice man..loves kids). On Fillmore the Grove, Boulangerie and Florio are great eating spots. Go to the Tonga Room at the Fairmont at night, the boys will love it. Although it is a Tiki bar it is family friendly and super fun! Definitely go to AT&T park and see all the fun SF Giants stuff (maybe you can catch a game)! Yerba Buena park has ice skating and bowling. Also, Little Italy is so fun and the best off the beaten path restaurant is Sodini's..it is where the locals go and not touristy. I hope this helps, if you have any more questions I am happy to answer! Have fun!

  32. We haven't stayed at the fairmont yet but we usually stay at the sir franis drake hotel. It's an older boutique hotel and we lve it. It's at union square on the trolley line and close to everything. You don't really need at car with Bart, muni & über available throughout the city. Y'all will have a blast. The Golden Gate Bridge Alcatraz ghiradelli Lombard street fisher mans wharf-look for the sea lions they like to louge on the wharf…enjoy!!

  33. We stayed at the Hyatt at the embarcadero last spring. It was reasonably priced, large rooms, above BART stop (took train to airport). It's right across from the ferry building which has great restaurants and farmers markets. We have done the antique Fire truck tour of the city and across the golden gate bridge twice and we love it. You can find it on google. The slanted door at the ferry building is amaZing.

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