SF Trip with Three Children - Looking for Thoughts on my Itinerary
I’m looking for feedback and suggestions in response to my current itinerary for a family trip to San Francisco scheduled in late March. I know there are a few ‘respond to my agenda’ postings in circulation right now, but I need to tailor my agenda to include kids. Important facts:
--We’re a family of five with three boys (ages 11, 5 and 5) visting from the Twin Cities area
--The boys are flexible, if not adventurous, eaters. Though they’re generally well-behaved, neither long waits nor quiet, intimate dining is a good fit
--We’re staying in Union Square and will be relying on public transit, walking and cabs for most of the trip
--Not too concerned about cost with the assumption that most high-end restaurants won’t be a good fit for the kids
--My philosophy: the dining choices need to serve the sightseeing agenda rather than the other way around, but I’m hoping even so to experience some of the unique dining opportunities in San Francisco
--Arriving in SF late afternoon on Saturday and departing sometime Wednesday. I’m renting a car Wednesday and will drive around the city a bit before heading to Muir Woods and Point Reyes
Dinner: Westfield Mall Food Court (getting to the hotel around 6:00 after a full day of travel so looking for something simple)
Agenda: Exploratorium, Fort Point, Fisherman’s Wharf
Morning: We will either (1) take the Muni 30 from Union Square to the Exploratorium or (2) take the cable car to the Wharf and then pick up the Muni 30 from there
Breakfast: Honey Honey, Luques or La Boulange in Union Square area. Depending on transportation choices, also considering Hollywood Café in Fisherman’s Wharf or Home Plate on Lombard, which is near the end of the bus ride.
Lunch: Looking for something close to the Exploratorium before heading to Fort Point. Considering Pizzeria Avellino or Liverpool Lil’s.
Dinner: After Fort Point we’re going to Fisherman’s Wharf. I’m thinking we’ll eat at Scoma with In-N-Out Burger as a fallback if everyone is too exhausted.
I’m not committed to eating at the Wharf. One option is to move the North Beach dinner up a day to Sunday, then eat somewhere else on Monday.
Agenda: Ferry Building, Yerba Buena Gardens, SFMOMA, Chinatown, Coit Tower
Breakfast: Walk to the Ferry Building. Considering Boulette’s Larder, though might eat at one of the bakeries.
Lunch: After morning at Yerba Buena Gardens/SFMOMA, go to Yank Sing at Rincon Center
Snack: Golden Gate Bakery
Dinner: After returning from Coit Tower, I’m planning to eat in North Beach. I’m leaning towards Ideale. However, if we eat in North Beach on Sunday night then I will look for someplace closer to our hotel for this dinner. I’m open to suggestions here. Would Tadich Grill be inappropriate for children?
Agenda: Haight Street, Golden Gate Park, Mission District
Morning: Either eat in Union Square or take bus to Haight and eat there
Breakfast: (1) one of the places in Union Square that we didn’t go to on Sunday or (2) Squat & Gobble on Haight
Lunch: Planning to spend some of the morning and some of the afternoon in Golden Gate Park (Conservatory of Flowers, Botanical Garden, Japanese Tea Garden) with a break in the middle for lunch. I’m leaning towards Park Chow.
Dinner: After finishing up at the park, head to the Mission District. I want to take the kids to 826 Valencia then eat nearby. I’m thinking either Poc Chuc or Limon.
I’m waking up early on Wednesday and taking the BART to SFO to pick up a car for the rest of our trip. We’ll spend the morning and early afternoon in SF before finishing the day at Marin Headlands and Point Reyes.
Agenda: Lombard Street, Twin Peaks, Sutro Baths, Japantown, maybe Baker Beach depending on time
Breakfast: Tartine Bakery – stop off between Lombard Street and Twin Peaks
Lunch: My wife loves Japantown and my 11-year old loves Sushi, so after driving around a bit we’ll stop for lunch at Japantown. I’m thinking Takara since I’ll need non-sushi options for the other boys.
Dinner and remainder of our trip (Point Reyes, Muir Woods, then south to Monterey) I’ll figure out closer to our trip, but I would appreciate any suggestions about restaurants or the agenda more generally.
I think the plan is well thought out. How well behaved/street savy are your kids? I ask because your dinner plan Tuesday night requires them to stay in one place and never wander around on the street. The Mission is a rather chaotic area at night, and if they decide to wander things could get problematic. Valencia is a nice part of that area, but it's still very busy with tons of people on the sidewalks etc.
I would suggest a restaurant that is closer to 826 than Limon or Poc Chuc. What about Range? I would def. scrap Poc Chuc because worse comes to worse if they wander to come find you, Poc Chuc is next to the 16th street Bart which is not the best area and is distinctly worse than Valencia (despite being only a few blocks away from each other).
Your Wednesday sounds rather packed: Point Reyes and Monterey are ~4 hours apart if you don't run into traffic, which you will. I'd recommend skipping Muir Woods entirely and after picking up your car head heading south along 1 to Monterey. There are plenty of beaches to stop at, and you can usually see harbor seals near Bean Hollow (a bit south of Half Moon Bay). Stop at Cowell Redwoods State Park near Santa Cruz, which IMHO has much better trees and way fewer crowds. For food along the way I like The Whole Enchilada in Moss Landing. If you have space in your bags you may be able to pick up some bags of baby artichokes from one of the stands along 1.
Another way to get to Fishermen's Wharf is to take one of the old streetcars down Embarcadero to the Ferry Building and catch another streetcar there: Muni's fine most of the time, but the 30 is reliably slow, especially through Chinatown. If the little ones are up for it, it's a mostly flat walk from Union Square through Chinatown and North Beach to the wharf area, and you can get some more ideas on where to eat along the way.
I wouldn't recommend the Haight for young children, unless you want to explain about aggressive street people. Park Chow's OK, but I usually end up at Pacific Catch (corner of 9th and Lincoln), KiKi (9th between Lincoln and Irving; very informal Japanese, including sushi), or Sow Gai (9th just south of Irving; Thai noodle soups and more standard fare). Gordo's on 9th has burritos you can take to eat in the park (they got a mention in the NYT a few years ago as setting the standard for SF-style burritos).
Westfield Center for your first night is a good choice: the food court has a lot of variety. They also have some more upscale restaurants on the top floor.
San Francisco may be small physically, but it's very dense. Muni tip: keep your transfers. They're good for at least 90 minutes (if you pay your fare directly to the driver you sometimes luch out and get ones good for several hours) and they're good on any line in any direction within that time period, so you can get off, grab a quick bite, and get back on without paying another fare. Parking in most of SF is very expensive, even if you can find parking. If you want to wear out the kids, go climb a street! March is still part of the rainy season (not that we've had much of one this year) so have a back up plan just in case. And the city is colder than most people expect it to be, especially after sundown.
For your Mission dinner, you might consider just visiting one of the many taquerias in the area. This would be a quick and casual meal after quite a long day.
The cafes and restaurants located in the museums in GGP and SFMOMA are better than you might expect from a museum cafe and would save the extra trek out of the park to restaurants. You don't mention the Academy of Sciences in GGP but that would be nice for the kids, especially if the weather turns rainy. They have a nice food court
Another MUNI tip, you can buy 3 and 7 days passes, and children over 4 do need to pay a fare. You can determine if the passes are economical for the amount of transit you will be using. But they are certainly convenient, since you don't have to worry about having correct change for everyone each time you board. The passes include cable cars too. There is also a more expensive pass that includes admission to some of the attractions you mention.
If the weather is rainy (I know we're in spring mode right now but who knows in a few weeks) you might want to consider the Zeum Museum. It's an indoor museum, although it is next to a really nice and big playground outside.
There are several places to eat in the area, including Buca di Beppo.
Great suggestions from others; I'll fill in gaps based on my experiences with my kids and what we've done recently.
Saturday: Westfield has some great choices, but I'd avoid the Korean, Thai and Mexican (Andale) places unless you just want to fill up fast on bulk. None is particularly authentic IMHO; the Thai would be the "best" filling dinner choice of the three. Better bets are Bistro Burger or the San Francisco Soup Co., both at the Bloomingdales end of the food court. If you don't have Beard Papa (cream puffs and cheesecake sticks) in MN, it's a fun treat for the kids if they like sweet things. Out the Door is, I believe, still closed but is generally great; outside, on Mission Street toward Fifth Street, we like 'Wichcraft (it's an NYC transplant) for grilled sandwiches and soups. They do a kids' grilled cheese combo that's a nice deal. However, they also close around 6 p.m.
Sunday: I love La Boulange but would go for Honey Honey unless you want a very light breakfast. LB pastries are fab and the brewed coffee is better than HH, but the only substantial breakfast thing I recall is a huge and delicious -- to me -- tub of yogurt with fruit, granola and honey. My then-six-year-old couldn't finish it when he had it; too rich and thick. Honey Honey has great sweet crepes as well as savory options and filling sides. Fresh juices are nice, and the coffee is passable. (If you're into coffee, then that's a whole other thread! The Bay Area has some pretty great local roasters worth trying.)
I'm not a fan of Fisherman's Wharf food options, but the In-and-Out is great for kids. Why not just have a California fast food experience there...? It suits the setting, too ;)
Monday: I know the Ferry Building is a breakfast destination, but I have to mention the delicious Prather Ranch hot dogs. Boccalone might have non-sweet (salumi) breakfast options, too. Blue Bottle coffee is in the FB but lines (and wait to make the coffee) can be excruciating.
(Hint: another Blue Bottle cafe, at Mint Plaza (Fifth Street at Mission), is a great lightish (a limited but lovely menu that includes pastries, waffles, eggs, oatmeal) breakfast spot but either early (7ish) or late (after 9:30) as it's a destination for many local area workers.)
Yank Sing is a great experience, but if you decide to stay longer in the YBG/SFMOMA area, you should know that the SFMOMA cafe is also very solid -- notably, there's also an upstairs (museum admission required) rooftop cafe with a small selection of sweet treats as well as coffee, etc. that's a nice break from the crowds, if decide you want quiet time. See if the kids can spot the rooftop "Where's Waldo" figure if you head up here ;)
I personally think Tadich is a little stuffy but wonderful, but last I was there was with an astonishingly well-behaved 18-month-old, not older, potentially more fidgety kids. However, it's not that quiet, so if the kids are happy to sit still enough and keep themselves occupied I don't see you being uncomfortable there.
Tuesday: I agree with Tardigrade about the Haight. It's pretty blah for young kids and adults and more of a place for older teenagers and college age kids than younger kids -- lots of vintage clothes, hippish (and hippieish, too) boutiques, record shops, etc., and plenty of street kids with their annoying dogs, etc.
GGP museum restaurants are, as pamf said, surprisingly good. The Cal Academy restaurant is the better choice (than the De Young) for quality, range and price.
Wednesday: Tartine is awesome but be prepared to circle for parking (tip: Dolores Street a block west is often the best bet; you can park in white zones for the various churches and businesses in the Tartine perimeter if they are not open). Lines can be long but you'll generally always find a table.
868 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94103
1 Ferry Bldg # 32, San Francisco, CA
Blue Bottle Cafe
66 Mint St, San Francisco, CA 94103
Beard Papa Sweets Cafe
845 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94103
Blue Bottle Coffee in Ferry Building
One Ferry Building, 200 The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94111
845 Market St Ste Fe10, San Francisco, CA 94103
San Francisco Soup Company
845 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94103
Have three boys ourselves who love going into the City. Two sightseeing tips: take the cable car from the base of California St (near the Ferry Bldg) up the hill, which lets you avoid long lines on the Powell & Hyde turnarounds and stop at the Cable Car Museum. Also make sure you find the fortune cookie factory in Chinatown.
For food, on Tuesday, you might try Shanghai Dumpling King just north of GGP. It's a little way from the museums, but prob closer than Haight (?) and you can see the bison nearby. It's a hole in the wall - which is a SF-y experience in its own way. May not want to do this if you go to Yank Sing the day before.
826 Valencia is very cool place - your boys will love it. I agree that you might want a closer restaurant. There are many walkable places and I wouldn't worry about the kids' safety. I'd go to Mission Dolores too, and eat somewhere within a block of that rectangle.
Tartine with hungry kids in the morning doesn't sound great. There's always a line down the block lasting 20 minutes and upward, and that's after you found parking.
I agree with the above suggestion not to bring the kids to the Upper Haight. And food-wise, there's nothing particularly good there, and the things that are good aren't kid friendly.
In addition to 826 Valencia, check out Paxton Gate Kids.
Thank you for all of the great suggestions. I have some research to do and will post any changes and follow-up questions. A couple of quick notes, though:
1. I left out some detail on the back end of the trip, but I was planning Marin Headlands Wed. afternoon; Point Reyes, Muir Woods and drive to Monterey on Thursday; Monterey Aquarium Friday, then head back to SF for a Saturday return flight. I appreciate the Henry Cowell recommendation and will likely go there instead of Muir Woods.
2. I really want to go to Amoeba Music on Haight, but maybe since it's on the end of Haight closest to GGP I just go there after spending the morning and early afternoon in the park and skip the rest of the street.
I'll read up on the Mission Districts and park area restaurant recommendations. Thanks again.
I think your original itinerary is well thought out. A few more thoughts:
- You can walk from Ferry Bldg to Sansome/Filbert and go up the Filbert steps which ends at Coit Tower. It may be a bit much for 5yos but it was easy for a 7yo who visited us recently (wearing flipflops!). Gorgeous views of the Bay and also an up close tour of Telegraph Hill. From Coit you go downhill to North Beach and can see sights there and continue south to Chinatown (Grant St. has lots of giftshops that kids find appealing, Golden Gate Bakery is midway down and home of the best custard tarts, fortune cookie factory @ 56 Ross Alley) and loop back to your hotel/Yerba Buena. If it gets to be too much walking there are buses in that area can bring you back to Market St/Yerba Buena. Boulettes Larder is gorgeous but might be a bit precious for your kids (with prices to match). I'm sure you'll see something else at the FB that appeals without planning it. In North Beach I like Giordano Bros for the sandwich stuffed with fries, Molinari for a superior made to order sandwich, or Stella for wonderful Italian cakes/cookies and espresso. Washington Sq. Park has a playground and benches or grass for a picnic. Tommaso's is a good dinner fallback (pizza).
- The 3-4 blocks from 826 Valencia to Poc Chuc/Limon are easy to walk and filled with interesting storefronts and people watching. I'd be more worried kids would get lost at the Wharf.
- It depends on your orientation but I personally don't feel the need to shield kids from the homeless or the Haight St kids. It can prompt some thoughtful Q&A. There's nothing wrong with hitting that street for breakfast and Amoeba.
- Any particular reason Twin Peaks is on your list? I've never thought of it for visitors. I agree that Tartine is probably not going to be worth the wait for you.
- The upstairs restaurant at Boudin Bakery in the heart of the Wharf looked appealing when we were there last week. Great view of the Bay, clean restrooms, and a wide-ranging menu. At the very least, it's a good place to stop for a moment to catch your breath. Bread bowl chowder and Peet's coffee are downstairs if you want something more casual.
- Pt Reyes is a day trip on its own. It takes more than an hour to get out there from SF and is the opposite direction of where you are going. However, you might consider adding a walk onto GG Bridge (no need to go all the way across, but it affords one a spectacular view of the Bay and SF from a unique vantage point) and Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach as a stop on your way down to Monterey (great tidepools).