We have been contemplating a trip to San Francisco since I can remember. Trying to tack it onto this trip or that but it really needs to be a trip all its own (or many trips!). So when Rob’s dad invited us to a Sunday Giants game we jumped on the opportunity to make a weekend of it. And now looking back, with this trip having gone so well, I foresee many more weekend trips to SF in our future!
Without traffic, Fresno is roughly 3 hours from San Francisco so we got up Saturday morning and headed out around 9am. Unfortunately we did hit traffic so it took us a bit longer, but our ride along the Altamont Pass kept us entertained with lots of awesome sites. Our favorite being the breathtaking modern white windmills. I remember the smaller older windmills from these trips to the Bay in my childhood but these new ones are AMAZING! Driving through them felt like a travel experience in itself! As we enter the Bay Area, San Francisco was visible in the distance and the anticipation of seeing it and then crossing the Bay Bridge added to the excitement of the trip. The kids were thrilled to go over the bridge and Rob and I were in awe of the newly (to us) renovated bridge architecture. The silvery white bridge was lovely. (And I didn’t even know the beautiful show it would give us later in the evening).
We finally got to the The City around 1 and headed straight for the Embarcadero. We decided that we would be conquering the city one district per trip, so for this weekend we explored the Embarcadero starting at the Exploratorium. I have very fond childhood memories of field trips to the Exploratorium and I was excited to take the kids. The newish location on Pier 15 and Pier 17 is really convenient, with a parking lot just across the street. Now, perhaps the real reason it’s taken us so long to visit SF… it’s so expensive! All day parking across from the Exploratorium ($20). Exploratorium entrance is also pricy but children 3 and under are free and so are CA teachers if you apply here. I had been concerned that the exhibits would be too complex for the kids to enjoy but after reading some other family travel blogs I felt pretty confident the kids (almost 3 and almost 5) would have fun… and they absolutely did! There is so much to do, see, and really just play with, the Exploratorium is an incredible place for people of all ages!
By the time the museum closed at 5pm, Bridget was exhausted from a long nap-less afternoon, so she conked out immediately upon buckling into her seat. We decided to take in a little more of the city while she rested before we picked a place to eat. There is so much to see along the Embarcadero all the way to Ghiradelli Square. And a huge shout-out to Rob for navigating the city flawlessly! It made for a really enjoyable ride even for an anxious passenger like myself. Because we had started our day on the Embarcadero we decided to finish it there with a touristy but quintessential piece of SF… Pier 39. This time we parked in the structure right across from the pier and walked across the bridge. Also, if you park on the far side of this structure, there are great views of the city including Coit Tower and the Transamerica Pyramid. If you are planning on having a meal be sure to bring your parking ticket to have the restaurant validate.
Pier 39 has tons of food options but we wanted to go with a classic seafood dinner. We decided on Pier Market Seafood Restaurant to have a real taste of the city on the bay, and we were pleased with its large menu, relatively reasonable prices, and good seafood. The wait for an inside table was going to be 30 minutes, so we opted to be seated immediately and people watch on their patio on the inside of the Pier. We were comfortable with their heat lamps and our outerwear, but we watched many tables sit and then leave because they thought it was too cold. Bring an extra layer. The quick service, relaxed outdoor setting, and endless people watching made the ocean chill totally worth it- especially with kids!
After dinner we walked around and explored the rest of Pier 39. There are tons of shops and places to spend your money, including a giant carousel. The kids were fixated with it but we were feeling the burn on our wallets, so we were going for the redirect, when out of the evening sea air arose a song about chocolate. Who could resist? We were called to The Fudgery where we were entertained by the lively and soulful chocolatier and the promise of a sample at the end of the demonstration/show. The kids were enthralled. Honestly, so were Rob and I. It was really fun and FREE… well it was until we decided that the show was so good we had to have dessert from there. The most expensive and most delicious caramel apple and slice of fudge we’ve ever had. In retrospect… totally worth it, but the initial sticker shock was severe! We decided to call it a great day and drive to Foster City where we were staying at a hotel with the rest of the family.
Now onto hotels. Before we decided on Townplace Suites by Marriott in Foster City, we searched The City for places to stay. And we found a couple of cool places… but the PRICES… and then with PARKING, so when my father-in-law said they were staying in Foster City for $169 and free parking and free breakfast, WE WERE IN!!! Oh, and I almost forgot. Driving out of SF along the Embarcadero after dark… The Bay Bridge is incredible. It lights up the evening City sky. Like, we’re talking as good as the Eiffel Tower at night (in my humble Francophile opinion)! Breathtaking! If you haven’t seen it, you need to! Ok, back to the hotel. The drive was quick and smooth… maybe 30 minutes… maybe. The hotel was clean, cozy, and comfortable. Totally worth saving the hundreds of dollars.
The next morning, we got up and joined our family for breakfast then off to the commuter train in San Mateo. Parking was free on Sundays (yes!!) and the train was on time for us. The ride into The City was crowded but we all got a seat and the kids absolutely loved it! It took about 40 minutes and then a quick little walk to the ballpark! So worth staying outside of The City! Especially with the kids… no wild nights on the town for us, so driving in the evening was totally fine and the train was a highlight for the kids. Plus the savings!!!
Alright, onto the ballgame! SF Giants tickets are inexplicably 😉 reasonable this season, so there were lots of options for rooting on our favorite team! The food was a little less reasonable, but so much a part of the experience that we had to get hot dogs, pretzels, and the famous garlic fries (they also have a ton of less traditional and highly acclaimed food but we went with the baseball staples). Also note: pack lots of layers… it gets COLD and WINDY!
Finally, the icing on the cake… we didn’t know until we got there, but Sundays after day games, kids get to run the bases… and parents get to go on the field (and if you’re Rob, run the dirt of Oracle Park through your fingers). But really, it was pretty cool. The line was ridiculously long but quick and totally worth it!
Although the Giants lost, we’re calling this 36-hour trip to San Francisco a win for sure! We only took in a tiny piece of The City but I feel like it was a great introduction for the kids, and they’re thirsty to see more of this awesome place on future weekend trips.