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Report 1798: Spring Break '10: Family Trip to Disneyland and San Francisco

By Amarena from New York, Spring 2010

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Page 2 of 2: San Francisco

photo by Amy Baker

My boys checking out the cable cars near Ghiradelli

After Camarillo, we flew up to San Francisco on Virgin America for about $50 per person. What a great deal!

Originally I had planned on driving up the coastline, which has it’s merits, but we’ve never spent time in San Francisco so I decided that we needed a few days here – I don’t like cramming in too many sights and activities in each day. I’ve found that our family does better if we have time to relax a bit in the afternoons, maybe some time for swimming, reading or watching a movie. Anyway, this means that we usually need more days to see things than other families. Next time, I want to spend time in Monterey and Napa.

Virgin America is a nice airline. I’ve flown Virgin Atlantic before, and really enjoyed it. Flight attendants were friendly, too, which goes a long way with me, after having flown many a time with some surly ones. And an in-flight entertainment system ranks high on my son’s list. Virgin has a good one.

We stayed at The St. Regis in the SOMA neighborhood. Ended up getting a really great rate, so didn’t use points but racked up mega points because of a special promotion right now. We also got upgraded to a suite thanks to Jamie’s platinum status.

The hotel is gorgeous and has a lovely lounge bar, indoor infinity pool, spa which I sadly didn’t get to know, and a fitness center which I should have been using and now I’m regretting. Ugh – too much good food and wine in California!

The St. Regis was a fantastic choice, as it is across from a very kid-friendly area. Right across the street is Yerba Buena Gardens, which has a fabulous playground, a bowling alley, an ice-skating rink, and The Metreon, a complex, which holds a huge movie theater, an arcade, shops and restaurants. We saw “How to Train Your Dragon” in 3D Imax our first evening.

Also in the Yerba Buena center is Zeum – a fantastic children’s museum. Zeum has a facility to make your own movies with special effects which you can put onto a DVD to take home. You can also make animated features using clay or other objects. My kids really, really loved this place.

And the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is right next door to the St. Regis. What a wonderful museum. My kids couldn’t last more than an hour in this place but they did stay entertained for most of that hour.

I purchased the San Francisco City Pass for all of us, which turned out to be a great deal. It gives you free transportation on the MUNI busses, trolleys and cable cars, PLUS entrance to all the museums we toured except for Zeum. It also included the Alcatraz tour and ferry. Cost was $64 for adults and $39 for kids. We didn’t go to two or three of the museums in the booklet but we still ended up saving money.

Other Activities We Enjoyed

  • California Academy of Science. The boys were really excited from the moment we entered this museum. This is a natural history museum/aquarium/planetarium all in one building. Even the roof is cool – the “Living Roof” was designed by Renzo Piano, and it has grassy hills resembling a park.
  • Golden Gate Park. Giant urban park where the California Academy Of Science is located. There are lots of gardens, lakes and two or three museums here.
  • Alcatraz. You gotta do this, right?! I’ve never been. Jamie went when he was nine, and so it meant even more to him to take our nine year-old. We had a great time, despite being pretty cold. Make sure you book in advance.
  • Fisherman’s Wharf. Touristy wharf close to the Alcatraz ferry pier. But you can see sea lions at the end of the pier. AND, there is an aquarium here which we toured. Not the best, but they do have sharks and jelly fish, and a room where you can touch sting rays and star fish. If you like that kind of thing.
  • Ghiradelli Square. Also touristy, but necessary for sweet-lovers such as ourselves. The boys also had fun by the seaside. We attempted to take the Powell/Hyde cable car but couldn’t stomach the probably hour-long line to do so. Instead we grabbed a cab whose driver was nice and took us on a little tour down Lombard Street. I had fun filming as we drove down.
  • Japantown. We love Japan, so we walked all the way to SF's Japan Town one morning. It was a tiring walk by the end, but it was fun walking past Hyde Park and the streets around there. Japan Town is only a couple blocks big, and has an unattractive indoor mall with authentic Japanese shops and restaurants.

    I was hoping that there would be a Cherry Blossom festival during our visit since they were blooming but it wasn’t until the next weekend. The boys bought some Yu-gi-oh cards at a toy store here, which cost most of their souvenir money BUT amazingly provided several hours of entertainment over the next few days.

  • Grace Cathedral. We were in San Francisco for Easter weekend, so we were excited to go to Grace for their Easter service. The cathedral is huge and beautiful, with amazing stained glass windows and interior frescoes. The procession was magical – a chorus of only the men which sounded like a Gregorian chant, along with the banners, the cross, the swinging incense... I felt such peace.

Restaurants

  • California Pizza Kitchen – across from the hotel. The boys liked this place so we ate here for a late lunch one day, plus got take out from them for two late-night dinners. This was much cheaper than room service. We had fun checking out the free DVDs from the hotel concierge and eating pizza in our room.
  • Borobudur Indonesian Cuisine in Laurel Heights. We are going back to Bali with the boys this summer, so wanted to reminisce with Indonesian food. It was fun, and the food was good, not great. But then again, this isn’t Bali! Still a fun place and very crowded. Not fancy or expensive.
  • Restaurant LuLu in SOMA, near Yerba Buena center. French, but not stuffy. More like an Americanized French bistro. But it is handsome, and has two wood burning ovens – one for pizza, and the other for rotisserie items. Our waiter was friendly and efficient despite being very busy. The pizza was very, very good. The rotisserie lamb was too orange-tasting. And our steak was good, though more medium than medium-rare, which we ordered. A nice touch – I didn’t like our bottle of wine after a few sips. Just wasn’t going down well. We asked if we could order another one and just cork the first one to take with us. Waiter said he could return the bottle and just charge us for one glass if we preferred. He then suggested a Napa Cab which was much better.
  • Cha Am Thai – on Folsom near our hotel, across from Moscone Convention Center. Pretty good Thai food. Pad Thai was flavorful and not sticky like most. The vegetarian green curry was excellent. Spring rolls, not so much. Beef salad, not great either. Good and friendly service. Not much style to the décor but pleasant. Inexpensive.
  • Yank Sing -- Dim Sum close to our hotel on Stevenson. This is the cart-style dim sum but it was all pretty hot and fresh. Favorite was the Shanghai Soup Dumpling... yum!! Wish I could go back now.
  • Capurro’s – overpriced, not very good restaurant close to Ghiradelli Square. We sat outside with a wonderful view of... a parking lot. But it was sunny, we were in San Francisco, and happy. I did get steamed clams which were pretty good. Bread, pizza and calamari were not so good.
  • St. Regis lobby lounge – good cocktails and snacks. The truffled parmesan fries were fantastic!
  • Fog Harbor Fish House – Fisherman’s Wharf. Surprisingly good for this touristy area. We had a table right by the windows with a view of the harbor. The bread was really, really good... it was hard to resist eating the whole basket and we didn’t. We started with steamed clams with roasted peppers, corn and chorizo butter – very fresh and tasty. The boys liked these too. I got a clam chowder in a sourdough bowl with a salad. Yum, yum, yum. We didn’t expect much from this area, didn’t even research a restaurant, so this one exceeded our expectations.
  • The Grove – Mission St/SOMA. This was a great little café across from the hotel where we ate breakfast most mornings. Fresh squeezed orange juice was served in a huge pilsner glass. Cappucinos were fantastic. Wonderful freshly baked muffins. My six year-old liked the Raul Bagel – warm bagel sandwich with scrambled eggs, cheese and a thick country bacon. My other son liked the fresh fruit cup and homemade blueberry muffins. This was counter service, but a very pleasant dining room with wooden tables, comfortable chairs or benches with kilim pillows and a large fireplace. Like everyplace else in San Francisco, the service was very friendly.

We had a wonderful trip, though the weather in San Fran was much chillier than I was expecting, and I was expecting it to be chilly. I certainly can see us returning to northern California in the future, and of course to southern Cali with our family there.

In the words of LL Cool J, just slightly changed, “I’m going back to Cali, Cali, Cali, I’m going back to Cali... hmm, I really think so.”

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