Now that the holidays are behind us, it’s time to think ahead to Spring Break or Summer Vacation. One of my all-time favorite family destinations is San Francisco. Every time I return to the “City by the Bay,” I am reminded of just how special and unique it is. From the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and cable cars to the hilly, windy streets and colorful Victorian houses, San Francisco has so much to offer. Each of the city’s major neighborhoods has its own distinct flavor and charm. Most first-time visitors would want to include:
Fisherman’s Wharf – Follow the barking sounds of the sea lions sunning along the docks on Pier 39 and then, once the fog clears, take in the views of the Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. Enjoy the many restaurants, shops and fishing boats. Then head over to Ghiradeli Square for a chocolate treat.
Chinatown – The oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest Chinese community outside of Asia is thriving with restaurants, shops and pagoda rooftops. Be sure and get a photo at the famous Dragon Gate on Grant Avenue. One of my favorite stops here was the tiny Fortune Cookie factory tucked away on a small side street.
Nob Hill – High up above the rest of the city lies this wealthy neighborhood where turn-of-the century industrial leaders once built their mansions before the great earthquake of 1906. Today it’s where most of the expensive hotels and high end restaurants are. To the north
lies Russian Hill where you will encounter Lombard Street, “the crookedest street in the world,” with its tight turns, intricate gardens and beautiful views.
Haight Ashbury – If you want to experience the hippie vibe of the 1960s where the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane called home, head over to “the Haight.” Funky bars, cool eateries, tattoo parlors and eclectic music shops are what you will see there. If you are “of a certain
age,” you might want to try the Flower Power Walking Tour or the Magic Bus to visit Jerry Garcia’s home and other gems of the era.
Union Square – If it’s shopping you are after, you’ve come to the right place. High end department stores like Saks, Bloomingdales and Barneys mix with luxury boutiques as well as chain stores and restaurants. For more interesting boutiques and cool, trendy cafes, head
to upper Fillmore and Cow Hollow in Pacific Heights.
Pacific Heights – If you are willing to climb, you will be rewarded with some of the city’s best views and some of the wealthiest homes belonging to tech magnates, politicians and foreign consulates. Don’t miss the row of beautifully restored, colorful Victorian homes on Steiner Street, dubbed “the painted ladies.”
There is unlimited outdoor fun when planning your time in San Francisco. I highly recommend a half day trip to Alcatraz Island, the federal penitentiary where America’s most notorious criminals, such as Al “Scarface” Capone, were once imprisoned. There is a terrific audio tour and the views from the island are outstanding. I would also recommend a day trip across the bridge to Muir Woods, home of the giant redwood trees, and a visit to Sausilito.
Golden Gate Park, one of the largest public parks in America, has miles of trails for strolling or biking and also contains the California Academy of Sciences, botanical gardens, the zoo, and the Japanese Tea Garden. The trip wouldn’t be complete without a ride on
the famous cable cars which still run on two lines.
There are also plenty of indoor options, such as the Exploratorium, a hands-on, interactive science museum on Pier 15, the Walt Disney Family Museum, the newly renovated Museum of Modern Art, the Cable Car Museum, Musee Mecanique, filled with antique penny
arcade machines and giant pinball machines, and many other renowned museums. When you have had enough sight-seeing, you will discover that San Francisco is a foodie town, with restaurants and cafes catering to all tastes and price ranges.
As Rudyard Kipling said, “San Francisco has only one drawback – ‘tis hard to leave.”
I hope this ignites your interest in planning a family trip to the Bay Area. I guarantee it will become a favorite destination of yours!