San Francisco! Words like fog, steep rolling hills, Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf, and cable cars may come to mind.  It is a bustling city with many nooks and crannies to explore and a variety of cultural experiences to find.

Back to SF

My husband and I would frequent San Francisco when we were newlyweds. A job with a summer camp offered us the opportunity to visit the city usually twice a year. But it had been 13 years since our last visit and we now had 3 kids added to the mix.  We shared lots of memories with our kids about our trips to San Francisco and decided it was time to turn some of the stories into memories as a family.

We visited the area for three days and I am going to share our itinerary step by step. Here are some disclaimers about my family because our priorities on a vacation may be different from your family. First, we always travel on a budget so we tend to enjoy free attractions before we spend money.  Also, we are not a foodie family so we don’t prioritize food. We would much rather spend money on experiences. But I am gluten free so we choose locations that have gluten free options.  And last, we don’t mind an older hotel, as long as it is clean and safe.

Ok, are you ready? Let’s Travel!

Quick Glance (with links!)

HOTEL:
Best Western Corte Madera Inn

FOOD:
Starbird Chicken
Boudin Bakery At the Wharf
Extreme Pizza 
Boba
Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory
Il Parco Cafe Pizza Bar

ACTIVITIES:
The Marine Mammal Center
Rodeo Beach
Muir Woods
Fisherman’s Wharf
Ghirardelli Square
Chinatown
Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory
Fort Point
The Presidio (The Tunnel Tops)

TRANSPORTATION:
Pier 39 Parking Garage
SFMTA (MUNI) Cable Cars

Day 1 – Travel Day

7:30am On the Road

My family left earlier in the morning so we could still have time in the area this first day. We live in Simi Valley and it took us just 6 hours.

2:00pm The Marine Mammal Center

My daughter dreams of becoming a veterinarian or zoologist, so a visit to see ocean mammals  at The Marine Mammal Center was a must. At any given time, the center is filled with mammal patients that are there to receive care and hopefully returned back to the wild.  When we visited, the center was filled with baby elephant seals.  We were able to watch them and the team there take care of them. They have a visitor center, as well as paid tours.

Family Trip to San Francisco
(C) Personal Photo from Cascia Smith
3:30pm Rodeo Beach

We headed just down the road to enjoy Rodeo Beach. The beach is known for being covered with unique red and green pebbles.  The cliffs and lagoon were beautiful.  We enjoyed walking the whole length of the beach.

4:30pm Hotel and Dinner

It started to rain so we decided to check into our hotel. My husband and I absolutely love Best Western Corte Madera Inn.  It is in my opinion one of the best family-friendly hotels to stay at and here is why.

  • Family Trip to San Francisco
    (C) Personal Photo from Cascia Smith

     

  • Heated Pool (Nov. – March)
  • Basketball courts, ping pong tables, shuffleboard, and a small putting green.
  • A large jacuzzi
  • FREE delicious breakfast!
  • Just 15 minutes from Muir Woods
  • Just 20 minutes from San Francisco

We then went to dinner at Starbird Chicken.  It was an easy meal that the whole family enjoyed and I was beyond happy to enjoy crispy gluten free chicken nuggets for the first time in about 15 years!

Family Trip to San Francisco
(C) Personal Photo from Cascia Smith
6:00pm – Swim Time and Bedtime

With full tummies, it was time for a beautiful night swim (remember the pool is heated) and a competitive game of shuffleboard.  We ended the night relaxing in the jacuzzi.

Day 2 – Muir Woods and The City

9:30am – Muir Woods

Returning to the Muir Woods and sharing the experience with our kids was at the top of our vacation list. We could not wait to walk among coast redwoods and be in awe of the beauty. We spent several hours exploring the woods.  Here are some tips for your visit.

  • Reservations are required! We purchased our tickets and parking pass ahead of the trip and it made it very smooth when we arrived.
Pro Tip: Become a Muir Woods Junior Ranger.
  • Kids and adults (YES! Adults can become one too) can participate in the Jr. Ranger program.  Check in with a ranger at the visitor center and receive your booklet to complete during your visit. After spending time in the forest and filling out the pages in the book, return to the visitor center. There you will take an oath and receive your badge.
  • The woods are significantly cooler than the outside temperature and it can often be wet or damp. Bring a jacket and shoes so you don’t mind getting muddy or wet.
Family Trip to San Francisco
(C) Personal Photo from Cascia Smith
Family Trip to San Francisco
(C) Personal Photo from Cascia Smith
12:00pm The City

It is time to finally head into the city of San Francisco!  One perk of staying in Marin County is that the drive into the city will give you a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge as you come into the city.

We headed straight to Pier 39 Parking Garage.

Pro Tip: Purchase your parking reservation ahead of time to save big time! It is just $25 for a full day of parking.

From the parking garage we were just a walk across the street from Fisherman’s Wharf. We went here for two main reasons… Sourdough bread bowls filled with clam chowder and the sea lions on the docks!  The food at Boudin Bakery At the Wharf will warm your belly and keep you going throughout the day.  Since I am gluten free, I opted for the tomato soup and a salad.

Then we walked the shops and stopped at the docks to view the sea lions. The sea lions are loud and funny to watch.

Family Trip to San Francisco
(C) Personal Photo from Cascia Smith
2:00pm Let’s Explore

You can not visit SF without trying a delicious treat at Ghirardelli Square.  And since the shop was a short distance away, we walked there along the pier to take in the vendors and sites. A banana split and chocolate shake (so good!) was shared by everyone in my family. Make sure to go see the chocolate wall in the back of the shop.

Pro Tip: Head up stairs to enjoy your treat in a cable car replica.
Family Trip to San Francisco
(C) Personal Photo from Cascia Smith
3:30pm – Cable Cars and Chinatown

Riding the cable cars was the top of the list for my boys.  They were so excited to hang out the cable cars, ride up and down the steep streets, and take in the city. It was so fun riding SFMTA (MUNI) Cable Cars!  We chose to sit in the very front of the cable cars to get the best views. It is truly a unique way to see the city.

Pro Tip: Purchase your times at the kiosk at the Hyde and Powell Cable Car Location (right next to Ghirardelli Square) .  Don’t pay per trip, purchase an all day pass which is good for the cable cars and street cars all day.

We got off at the Chinatown stop and after just a short walk we made it to a wonderful section of the city.  Since it was later in the day we didn’t get to spend as much time there as we would like and we plan to spend more time there on our next visit.  Here are some activities you won’t want to miss.

  • Family Trip to San Francisco
    (C) Personal Photo from Cascia Smith

     

  • Visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. You can watch someone making fortune cookies, receive a free sample and purchase your own cookies.
  • Grab some boba.
  • Walk the streets and take in the sites.
Family Trip to San Francisco
(C) Personal Photo from Cascia Smith
6:30pm – More Cable Cars

We enjoyed the cable cars so much we spent a good hour just riding it around the city. It was pretty magical hanging off the cable cars and watching the sunset through the city. We took it as far as we could and rode it back to the Hyde and Powell Cable Car Location. From there it was a short walk to our parking garage.

Pro Tip: Check when the last cable car runs to avoid a very long walk.
8:00pm – Dinner and Relax

As we headed out of the city, we placed a pizza order with Extreme Pizza, which also has a great gluten free pizza! We picked it up and ate outside on the picnic tables at the hotel. After a fun and long day of running all over the city, a long relaxing dip in the Jacuzzi was perfect.

Day 3 – Fort Point and The Presidio

9:00am – 11:30am

The hotel pool (did we mention it is heated!) was calling our name.  My kids love swimming, so spending time in a pool is just as fun as any sight seeing or activities. We decided to sleep late, enjoy breakfast and then let the kids swim…swim…swim!

11:30am – 1:30pm

With two boys who love history and building forts, we were looking forward to visiting Fort Point.  The fort is located under the Golden Gate Bridge so it offers views of the bridge you can not find anywhere else.  We spent several hours exploring (many times running because hey it’s a fort!).  We did the Jr. Ranger Program so this helped our kids really learn about the fort and slow down enough to really take in the uniqueness of Fort Point.

  • Find a ranger right away to get your Jr. Ranger Workbook.
  • It is very windy here most days, so dress accordingly for a cooler day.
  • There are lots and lots of halls and rooms and little areas to explore. If you have younger kids, it is best to keep them close.
  • The ranger let us know that many times you can see whales from the top of the fort if you are patient enough to watch.
Family Trip to San Francisco
(C) Personal Photo from Cascia Smith
Family Trip to San Francisco
(C) Personal Photo from Cascia Smith

1:30pm – 4:00

We did not have it on our  itinerary, but the ranger at Fort Point encouraged us to visit the Presidio because we could participate in another Jr. Ranger Program.  My kids really love learning about the locations they are at and receiving the ranger badges, so we decided to head here next.

Family Trip to San Francisco
(C) Personal Photo from Cascia Smith

The Presidio is beautiful! It offers a stunning view of the Golden Gate Bridge, a garden and a large grassy area.  It is my new favorite sport in San Francisco!  We first stopped by the Presidio Visitor Center and completed the Jr. Ranger Program to receive our third badge!

Family Trip to San Francisco
(C) Personal Photo from Cascia Smith

While at the Presidio Visitor Center, we saw people enjoy these really fun rotating chairs.  My kids loved spinning in the chairs and enjoying the garden right outside the visit center. And look at that view! It was amazing.

Family Trip to San Francisco
(C) Personal Photo from Cascia Smith
Family Trip to San Francisco
(C) Personal Photo from Cascia Smith

By this time we were starving, so we headed to Il Park Cafe and Pizza Bar right next to the visitor center.  We enjoyed the most wonderful Focaccia and desserts.  They also offer salads, sandwiches, hot plates, and a variety of drinks, including adorable mini wine bottles.

Not Ready to Say Goodbye

We truly debated staying one more night because we still had so much we wanted to see, but at last it was time to say goodbye! It was a perfect place really to end the trip as we could see the Golden Gate Bridge and the city.  We reluctantly waved goodbye but vowed to return soon!

More to See

Three days was just not enough. We are already planning our next visit. Here is what is on our list that we still hope to do.

San Francisco
(c) Canva – by bluejayphoto from Getty Images Pro
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Cascia Smith
Cascia was born and raised in the Arizona heat. While receiving her Pre-Med degree at HIU in California, a blonde, surfing, skateboarding boy stole her heart. In 2004, she married Chuck and had many adventures living in Arizona, California and Colorado. They now call Simi Valley home and have three wild and curious children - Becker (10), Bodie (7) and Lyla (6). She has been blessed to be a teacher, summer camp staff/program director, SAHM and now the owner of Ventura County Mom Collective. Playing guitar, writing songs, and reading any and every parenting book helps keep her sane and happy! A good cup of coffee or a bubbly La Croix can usually be found in her hand! She tries to live by the motto "I'd rather recover from failure than live with regret.

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