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Trip List by Victorianna

San Francisco, Time Travel Gold Mine

Jun 8, 2006  Canadian parent of 4 boys, 5-18.
4.5 of 5 stars based on 9 votes

San Francisco is a great city for families to visit, even big ones! We recently returned from a spring vacation week with our four sons to Gold Mountain City.

SF is a city that not only offers something for everyone, but something from every time. From the ancient artifacts at the Legion of Honor, to the 18th century Spanish mission that founded the city, to the Hippie kingdom of Haight Ashbury, your trip to San Francisco will make your head spin as you leap from century to century, decade to decade. And if you leave your heart in San Francisco, you will no doubt find it's turned to pure gold when you come to retrieve it.

  • Explore locations featured in this Trip List: San Francisco, Oakland
  • Category: Recent trip
  • Traveler type: Culture, Sightseeing, Never been before, Repeat visitors
  • Appeals to: Couples/romantics, Honeymooners, Singles, Families with small children, Families with teenagers, Large groups, Seniors, Students, Budget travelers, Tourists
  • Seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
  • 1. San Francisco CityPass
    http://www.sanfrancisco.com/citypass/

    If you are going to San Francisco as a tourist, do not pass go, but skip directly to any of the attractions listed on the San Francisco CityPass and buy one! Our family found this a fantastic way to give our trip direction, get to know the city, and save money!

  • 2. San Francisco Zoo
    San Francisco Zoo, San Francisco, California

    In our family, on every trip, each person picks an itinerary item. Boys 2 and 3 almost always insist on a trip to the local zoo. We knew we wouldn't start our CityPasses until day 2, so after dropping our luggage at the hotel, we headed straight for the Zoo to spend our first afternoon. This zoo is quite special, especially if you have any interest in monkeys or apes. The primate discovery centre is spellbinding. After listening to a Siamang song, you can eat at the Leaping Lemur Cafe.

  • 3. Alcatraz
    Alcatraz, San Francisco, California

    No, this is not on the pass, but it is an amazing piece of American history, not to be missed. It is heartwrenching at times, but also strangely uplifting to see how this place affected those who lived here, prisoners, workers, and families. Teenagers find the true stories about such legendary crime figures as Al Capone and Machine-gun Kelly fascinating. Special headset tours are provided for kids, and my five-year-old's most treasured possession is his Alcatraz cell key.

    One tip--save yourself a lot of grief and book directly from Blue and Gold Fleet at least 2 weeks ahead. Early tours are best as the Rock gets very crowded.

  • 4. Bay Cruise
    http://www.blueandgoldfleet.com

    Yes, one of these is included in your CityPass, and is well worth doing. The views from the boat and from just under the Golden Gate Bridge are amazing. I promise this is the best look at the bridge you will ever get. The commentary is loud, but entertaining.

  • 5. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
    San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), San Francisco, California

    We spent a great afternoon touring this sometimes fanciful, sometimes moving collection of modern art. It will interest even those who think they don't like modern art. Kids love this place; it's a visual feast and it's on CityPass. I was enthralled by the Diego Rivera. My 10-year-old loved the wire sculptures, especially the fish tank. But I defy anyone to not be impressed, and maybe unnerved, by the lifesize gold and white sculpture of Michael Jackson and Bubbles. With very red lips.

  • 6. California Palace of the Legion of Honor
    Legion of Honor, San Francisco, California

    Another great museum, this one is nice because it gives you a little bit of Europe from a lot of different centuries (it covers more than 4000 years). It is actually a three-quarter-scale model of the Palais de la Legion d'Honneur in Paris, so you feel like you're in Europe when you're really in Lincoln Park. It's dedicated to the California men who died in France during World War I. The other fabulous thing about this museum is its golden sunset views of San Francisco. Yep, CityPass.

  • 7. Fisherman's Wharf
    Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, California

    We covered off this famous landmark twice--once after Alcatraz, and once before our Bay Cruise. The fish restaurants are great, and of course we had to visit the sea lions. This is also a great place to pick up some Ghirardelli Chocolate (in gold wrappers--a great souvenir), and a short walk to the cable cars. We rode up to Lombard Street, and had a look down that twisty turnpike.

  • 8. Chowders
    http://www.chowderspier39.com/

    We stopped for a quick bite at this cafe on Pier 39, and it was great value for money. The kids loved the fish and chips, and we had chowder in a bread bowl. Great for tourists in a hurry on a budget. Added value, excellent view of the bay.

  • 9. Mission Dolores
    Mission Dolores, San Francisco, California

    This was maybe my favorite San Francisco sight. The old church is the oldest building in San Francisco, and the ceiling, painted by Native Americans in traditional patterns, is a fascinating juxtaposition to the European altar and art in this little Catholic mission. The more modern basilica next door is as beautiful as many European churches. It has stained glass windows representing all the California missions.

  • 10. Haight-Ashbury
    Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco, California

    Our hotel was just a block from the Haight, so we spent lots of time wandering the street and feeling as if we had taken a time-machine trip to the summer of love. My uncle lived right at the corner of Haight and Ashbury streets in 1968, so I got a special thrill when I took the requisite tourist street-sign picture there.

  • 11. Squat and Gobble Cafe II
    Squat and Gobble Cafe II, San Francisco, California

    Eight of us had a varied dinner at this landmark Haight Street cafe one night. It's lots of fun, the menu offers something for everyone, and it's inexpensive too. Service was great.

  • 12. Amoeba Music
    http://www.amoebamusic.com/www.amoebamusic.com2/

    After dinner at the Squat and Gobble, we spent a great evening in this enormous store (also on Haight Street), and our 18-year-old loved the CD/DVD selection here. He spent most of his birthday money on those hard-to-find disks and movies he can't get in Canada. The rest of us were equally impressed. No surprise it's been voted the Bay's best music store.

  • 13. Golden Gate Park
    Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California

    Well of course! You have to visit Golden Gate Park in the City of Gold. We drove around and through several times before attempting a walk. It's huge! We spent one morning split into two groups, as my husband and the two younger boys played in the park, while the older boys and I and our friends visited the Japanese gardens.

    Next time, I will definitely spend more time here, especially at the Conservatory of Flowers, a gorgeous glass and wood Victorian confection that survived the 1906 earthquake, and has recently been restored. This time I only got to see it from the outside, and that was impressive enough. You could spend days in this park.

  • 14. Asian Art Museum
    Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, California

    We started our last day here, at our 16-year-old's request. This was his favorite place in San Francisco, as he is really into India. It's great whatever Asian culture you are interested in--it covers them all. The building itself is worth attention--it is a conversion of the the city's old Beaux Arts main library into a modern, light-filled palace, courtesy of the same Italian architect who converted an old Parisian rail station into the Musee d'Orsay. Lots of gold in this museum. It's a CityPass inclusion.

  • 15. Chinatown
    Chinatown, San Francisco, California

    Of course everything is gold (and red) in Chinatown. We spent our last afternoon eating dim sum at the Four Seas restaurant on Grant Street (as good as anything we had the year we lived in Hong Kong) and wandering around buying all the little take-homes for friends. It's an easy walk from Chinatown to City Lights Books.

  • 16. City Lights Bookstore
    http://www.citylights.com/index.html

    This literary landmark, founded by Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and still a bastion of alternative thought, is a gold mine for book lovers. We bought children's books about the cable cars there for our younger kids; it's a great way to re-visit the city.

  • 17. Cable Cars
    Cable Cars, San Francisco, California

    The Cable Cars are included in your City Pass, and this saves some of your own gold! The obvious ride is the one up Hyde Street hill from Fisherman's Wharf, but we also took the car on California Street up to Nob Hill to visit Grace Cathedral.

  • 18. Grace Cathedral
    Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, California

    Finished in 1964, this is the third-largest Episcopal Cathedral in the U.S. It's golden Ghiberti doors are worth the trip, and the Cathedral has a labyrinth children enjoy walking, as well as beautiful modern stained glass windows. We stayed for a Sunday night Eucharist service, and it was one of the most beautiful moments of our trip. The regulars invited us for coffee, and we actually got to talk to real San Franciscans.

  • 19. Inn 1890

    Speaking of locals, we also got to know some when we stayed at this beautiful bed and breakfast inn just steps from Golden Gate Park and Haight Street. This is a great affordable spot for families, and our room not only had two bedrooms (one is very tiny) but a full kitchen. The Inn was built in the year 1890, so you have the thrill of staying in a pre-earthquake/fire building. The breakfast provided in the main kitchen was great (pie every morning!).

  • 20. The Queen Anne Hotel
    The Queen Anne Hotel, San Francisco, California
    Show Prices
    Avg price: $306

    This is where I stayed last year with my mom and sister. This hotel has a most welcoming ambiance--the staff are extremely friendly and helpful and the antique-filled lobby is absolutely charming. I found the rooms comfortable and cozy. Each of us had our own queen bed room for a very reasonable price, especially for San Francisco, of under $100 a night. The continental breakfast was more than adequate. Complimentary tea, coffee and cookies are offered throughout the day.

    The furniture includes a large number of antiques, to suit the nature of the building (also built in 1890 and considered the "jewel of Victorian architecture" in San Francisco). The building was originally built as a girls' finishing school. It is supposedly haunted by the original headmistress of the school, Miss Mary Lake. In fact, a ghost tour starts from the hotel on certain evenings.

    Add to all this that the Queen Anne is in an excellent location on Sutter Street, close to everything, and you have just the most fabulous, romantic, affordable accommodation you could want. We loved it.

  • 21. Oakland International Airport/Southwest Airlines
    http://www.oaklandairport.com

    Air travel from Canada is often expensive, so as a family of six, we have discovered that it is often much more affordable for us to drive to Seattle and fly from there. This time we flew Southwest for the first time, and hence arrived at Oakland International instead of the San Francisco airport. The price was about half that of flying Vancouver/SF. Oakland was a most pleasant choice, and we had no trouble getting a relatively inexpensive rental car for the week here as well. I am now a Southwest believer.

  • 22. Best Western Park Plaza
    Red Lion Hotel Oakland International Airport, Oakland, California
    Show Prices
    Avg price: $150

    We stayed here for one night the night before we returned to Canada. It was a great choice--inexpensive but very comfortable and the staff were extremely helpful. They even ordered pizza for us so that we wouldn't have to go out as we had such an early flight the next day.