Tuesday, May 21, 2013

San Francisco in a Day (and a half) with the Family

Before beginning our Northern California tour, we spent a day and a half in San Francisco. With such a short time and ages that spread from 6 to 69, we had to plan our trip carefully so that we would get a genuine San Francisco experience for the whole group.

First stop, we parked near Pier 39 and took the F-line streetcar all the way to the cable car turnaround at Powell St. and Market St. We then bought cable car tickets ($6 each) and waited for the scenic Powell-Hyde line cable car that would take us back to Fisherman's Wharf. Here's a great map of the route. The wait in line for the cable car was about 45 minutes, but there was plenty to keep everyone occupied by watching the cars arrive and turn around on the turntable (and let's not forget the people-watching!). Most folks waiting in line must have read the same cable car advice we had, because the not-quite-as-scenic Powell-Mason cable car left the turnaround virtually empty every time.

On the walk back toward Pier 33 (where the Alcatraz tour boat departs), we stopped at Cioppino's, a local restaurant, for some delicious local fare.

Then Alcatraz! Tickets must be purchased ahead of time since they generally sell out several days in advance. The boat ride over provides great views of the city, the Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz itself. Photo ops abound! Alcatraz was well-worth the trip over. It's a steep climb to the
top, but the audio tour of the prison is thorough and well-done. It was a little long for our younger two, but they still really enjoyed it. From departure to return, the trip was 3 hours, but we could have stayed longer if we'd been more leisurely.

To finish off the day, we strolled through the shops Pier 39 and ate supper at Bubba Gump's (Pier 39's parking garage will validate parking for lunch and dinner receipts). And of course we took time to watch the famous Pier 39 seals!

One our way out of town the next day, we wished we had checked a city events calendar. We got stuck in major traffic for the Bay to Breakers 12K. The route chops the city in half, making it very difficult to get across to the Golden Gate Bridge. From our observation, it seems most "racers" seem more interested in crazy costumes than in racing, so in addition to an impromptu tour of the city, we also got to see quite a variety of costumes (including one wearing his birthday suit)!

After crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, we pulled off at Vista Point briefly for a few photos of the bridge. Then we took the Alexander Road exit to access the breathtaking bridge views from the Marin Headlands on the west side. Here's a great map of the area. Although we could have spent a lot of time in the Marin Headlands (it's beautiful), we were headed north to Point Reyes National Seashore and redwood country, so we didn't have time.

We packed about as much family-friendly San Francisco into 36 hours as we could, so we headed on to leg two of our road trip -- the North Coast. You can also read about leg three (Shasta-Cascade) and leg four (Napa Valley).

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