Our California Family Road Trip: Home to San Francisco
Doing a road trip down the California coast has been a dream of mine since I was younger, but for whatever reason it was never the right time and we didn’t ever get round to doing it. However a fair while ago now we started seriously contemplating doing a road trip and we started to research ideas. When I was looking on blogs, You Tube and on other websites, I couldn’t find a great deal about doing a road trip with young children. It got us thinking, do people do road trips like this with a 6 year old, 4 year old and 10 month old? Were we mad even considering it? Then we decided we weren’t mad, we love to travel and show our children the world and this would be the most incredible adventure. Don’t get me wrong travelling with children can be stressful at times, but so can staying at home with them. Travelling can also be nerve wracking and stressful at times too, but the few stressful moments are completely over taken by the amazing memories that you make. So we set about planning the biggest trip we have ever done…
I am going to write a couple of posts (or maybe film a video, I’m not sure yet?) all about how we planned our trip and also do a full itinerary of where we stayed and for how long etc at the end of these California posts, but I thought I would start off by sharing our holiday diary in photos and video, as it may help if you are planning a trip like this yourselves. The biggest thing I want to say is that I completely recommend it, we truly had the most amazing time. Yes there were tired meltdowns, the odd tantrum, times where we thought ‘yikes this intense’, but for the most part everyone thrived on spending 17 nights together, the longest ever amount of quality time we have had as a family.
We chose to do our trip in the Easter holidays, mainly because we originally looked at summer and it was a lot more expensive, plus after researching on the Visit California website we realised that a lot of people said Spring was the best time to visit. Plus we flew with British Airways and amazingly they launched a new route from Gatwick to Oakland (edge of San Francisco) in March 2017 which meant that the flights were incredible reasonable. So that was it, our minds were made up, and we set about planning and plotting where we wanted to visit (which I will talk about more in my round up post).
To give you an idea of how much we travelled, we travelled for 17 nights, staying in 10 hotels, covering over 1450 miles in our little (actually big!) hire car who we nicknamed Mick the Minivan. We started in San Francisco and ended up in San Diego.
Jon made me this little graphic map of our trip, I love it!
The flight was just under 12 hours long, but if you think about the time you spend in the airport before hand, in the plane waiting to take off, at the airport on the other side etc, it ended up that we were travelling for almost 18 hours in total. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about the plane journey, I am not the best flyer as it is and although we have flown long haul before, 12 hours seemed like a very long time indeed with a baby who had only just started crawling. But we got to Gatwick and realised that we had an absolute treat ahead of us- because flying to Oakland was a brand new route and only the second day they had flown, the plane was literally empty. There were only something like 80 people on board this huge plane, so the ladies blocked us out a row. It was such a godsend as it meant that I could lie our baby boy down and let him sleep and he slept for almost three hours even though it was a day time flight. The way back was harder even though it was a night flight as he didn’t relax as much being on me for hours. The flight was long, but it wasn’t actually that bad, the girls were great, and as soon as we were there we forgot about it. We had hired our hire car (a mini van!) through Hertz so we collected that and set off on the 40 minute drive to San Francisco.
So many bags!
FRIDAY 31st MARCH 2017
Our first full day in San Francisco began with us checking out our hotel breakfast- our favourite meal of the day. We were staying in the Hyatt Regency San Francisco, a modern hotel that is literally opposite the Ferry Building and in the Embarcardo area of the city. The hotel was in a great location, with it not being in a crowded area but still close to the action. The lobby was massive and apparently has the world’s biggest hotel lobby with lots of little areas to sit and relax in. The breakfast was great and the one thing that we noticed a lot about California was just how friendly everyone was to the children, people went out of their way to chat to them and be kind to them. The staff were great and really chatted to them lots.
It was soon time to head somewhere that has been on my bucket list since I was young- Alcatraz. I don’t know why but I have always be fascinated with the place and I was so excited to be heading off on a tour there. We went with Alcatraz Cruises and the boat ride alone was worth the ticket to see a great view of the city, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge.
For part of my degree I studied prisons and the psychology of prisons and so I have always been really interested in them. Alcatraz didn’t disappoint, it was such an interesting tour. We did the free audio tour and I highly recommend it, Mads and Lottie got headphones too, and Mads was really interested in it, she really took a lot of it in which I was really pleased about. We spent a good few hours there but we definitely could have spent more as there was lots going on. Mads was fascinated at the end because one of the former prisoners William G Baker was there just as part of a special event signing copies of his book- he had been in and out of prison his whole life and ended up in Alcatraz, he is 84 now and it was crazy imagining him actually being there.
Having a rest before getting the ferry back.
Next up we headed to Pier 39, a touristy but fun way to spend a couple of hours.
The main reason we went was to visit the world famous San Francisco Sea Lions who basically hang out on the pier. They began arriving in droves in January 1990, shortly after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. At first they numbered from 10-50, but due to a plentiful herring supply, available dock space and the marina’s protected environment, the population grew to more than 300 within a few months. Each winter, the population can increase up to 900 sea lions, most of which are male. During the summer months, the sea lions migrate south to the Channel Islands for breeding season, but in recent years a small group stays year-round at PIER 39’s K-Dock. There were a good couple hundred of them when we were there and the girls found it hilarious that they made so much noise and kept having fights with each other.
We hadn’t tried a Bubba Gumps before but it was so much fun. It is basically a themed sea food restaurant based on the film Forrest Gump. Such a weird concept but it was really fun and the food was good too, just burgers etc, plus their speciality shrimp. We aren’t seafood lovers so stuck to other things, but it was a great family friendly place to eat.
There was an amazing old fashioned (and modern) sweet shop on Pier 39 so we let the girls get a couple of things each, they were so excited. I think they have been watching too many American candy videos on You Tube as they knew exactly what everything was.
I absolutely love this photo of the girls on one of the famous San Francisco cable cars, we loved seeing them whizzing around the streets, although it was quite scary seeing people hanging off them going up these huge hills.
Next up we walked further down the piers and headed to Fishermans Wharf, another quite touristy part of town but definitely worth the trip. We went specifically to check out the Musee Mechanique which I had heard about online, it’s basically a museum full of old fashioned arcade games- the girls absolutely loved it. It’s free to get in and really cheap to play all the games, most take quarters.
Speaking of huge hills, after Fisherman’s Wharf we headed up the steepest hill ever (San Francisco certainly is hilly!) to go and check out Lombard Street. It is coined as the crookedest street in the world and cars go down the hairpin turns almost at right angles. It was such a steep walk and the photos don’t do it justice, we were all so out of breath when we got to the top. I was so proud of the girls as we walked such a long way that day and they didn’t complain (much!) at all.
After all that walking around, we stopped off a cute little cafe in the North Park area of the city. We then spent the rest of the afternoon in the Joe DiMaggio Playground, again in North Park. It was a great little playground with loads to do for the kids and they had a great time running around and enjoying themselves. I love this photo of my girls.
SATURDAY 1st APRIL 2017
After a very early night we were all ready for our second day of checking out the beautiful city of San Francisco. We had already planned our activities for the day before we left, and that was to cycle the Golden Gate Bridge, but we had some free time in the morning so we headed over to Union Square, which is where a lot of the big shops are. When we were checking into our flight from London one of the ladies at British Airways told Mads that she had to look out for the famous San Francisco hearts and take photos with them all, she took this job very seriously. There are various hearts throughout the city, including 3 at Union Square and it is a fundraising art project started to raise money for the local hospital- they get local artists to paint them each year.
On our way to hire bikes we decided to walk through the Chinatown area of the city which was really fascinating. It is a gorgeous, vibrant part of the city, awash with colour, smells and things to look at. It was obviously the weekend when we walked through and it was so busy, the streets were full of locals choosing what to buy at the many market stalls.
The rest of the day was taken up with the most epic bike ride. We hired our bikes from Blazing Saddles who have locations all over the city but I had to give them a quick mention as they pretty much had the friendliest staff known to man working for them. Can you see the guy posing in this photo? They were all so happy and apparently their mini catch phrase is ‘Are you ready to bike the bridge?’ They have a variety of different cycle equipment, we hired 2 bikes, a kids tag a long bike (which attaches to the back of your bike) for Mads and a trailer for the littlest two.
I think that biking across the Golden Gate bridge will go down as one of the most memorable days I have ever had. It was a perfect sunny day and it was just so much fun. It was tough in parts, it was about eight miles in total, but it was beautiful driving along the coast of San Francisco and looking at people on the city beaches, before getting closer and closer towards the bridge, seeing it in your eye line at all times. It was very steep and hilly in parts and I am NOT good at riding my bike up hills, especially not pulling a trailer, so I must admit to getting out and walking some of the steeper hills, but it was great fun and just so beautiful. I will truly never forget it and I must have taken about a million photos of it as we approached it.
I love this photo of us all, I am so grateful that I get to experience these things and give my children these memories to treasure.
It took a good few hours to get across the bridge, but luckily if you cycle into nearby Sausalito you can get the ferry back (tickets are optionally included in your cycle hire) so we always knew that was our goal to get to. Sausalito is beautiful, a little suburb of San Francisco with stunning homes, a little upmarket town centre and plenty of spots to sit and watch the world go by. We sat in a big garden in the middle of the town and had an ice cream (from a place called Lapperts which had the best and most exciting flavours!) and rested our tired legs. Lottie was so tired (being pulled along in a trailer is hard work apparently!) she promptly fell asleep on the grass.
Finally after having a bit of a wait to get on a ferry (obviously everyone was returning home at the same time) we got back to the city and watched the sunset from the Ferry Building. I definitely recommend going to the Ferry Building, it is the terminal from which the ferries go across the bay but it has been turned into a gorgeous building full of independent traders and a farmers market. It is a great place to grab an ice cream or something to eat.
SUNDAY 2nd APRIL 2017
We reluctantly checked out of our hotel ready to start the next phase of our adventure. We collected the car which had been in a garage (San Francisco apparently is a nightmare to drive in so we locked the car away in a public garage and left it there as it was much easier to explore on foot!) and we had a little drive around the city, firstly to explore more and secondly so Jon could get used to driving on the American roads. Look at this view.
Next we headed up to an area called Mission District, a vibrant and diverse suburb. We had wanted to head here because we knew that there was a lot of murals and street art and both myself and Jon love street art. We weren’t disappointed, Mission was one of the most colourful places we have visited, the buildings awash with different patterns, colours and murals. Although they may seem random, a lot of hard work goes into managing the Mission District murals. Precita Eyes is a non-profit organization that links artists with requests. Both public and private businesses and individuals request them to spice up the outside of their buildings. You will see them on churches, restaurants and even schools. They are in parks and even on the garage doors of private residences.
One area where they are really concentrated and which is definitely worth a visit is Clarion Alley.
Soon it was time to head off on the first proper portion of our road trip. All in all we had the most fantastic time in San Francisco. When I had mentioned our trip to people a lot of people said that when they had done the California coast road trip that their favourite part was San Francisco and I must agree, it was a huge highlight of our trip. It is such a laid back, friendly city, with so much to do for kids, with a diverse history but also with a lot of style too. We wish we could have stayed longer and it is definitely somewhere we would like to explore more of one day if we ever get the opportunity.
But it was soon time for our next stop……. SANTA CRUZ!
Here is a video I made of our time in San Francisco….
To check out some more inspiration for travelling to California, check out Visit California. Thanks to them for helping us plan our trip.