Right before I turned 18 years old, I left my home state of Montana and hitched a ride with a buddy to California for a summer of adventure and sunshine. One of the first weekend getaways I experienced was in San Francisco and I completely fell in love with the city’s bridges, steep streets, brilliantly hued flowers, and low-hanging clouds. Flash forward — past another trip with my sister, one with my soon-to-be husband, a weekend with my first newborn baby — all the way to my most recent San Francisco escapade: two nights with my 7-year-old middle child. I’ve visited this lovely city throughout several milestones of my life in the last two decades, and each time it felt like I was seeing it through new eyes. To me, that is what San Francisco is all about — it changes, grows, and morphs into something else, depending on where you stand on your timeline. Now, here we are, my son Sage and I, seeking out a different adventure together, putting San Francisco on Sage’s timeline for the first time. Here’s how it went.
We stayed at the Hotel Zephyr, a fun and funky hotel located right across the street from Fisherman’s Wharf. This was the perfect home base for our visit. We were able to walk to everything: Musée Mécanique, at the end of Fisherman’s Wharf, is full of old coin-operated music machines, which was such a delight for both of us; Pier 39 — we especially loved Players Sports Grill and Arcade, The Fudgery, the antique carousel, the sea lions, The Crepe Café, Trish’s Mini Donuts, Lefty’s (finally, a store for left-handed kids!), Madame Tussauds wax museum, the San Francisco Dungeon, and Alcatraz Island cruises (we did the Night Tour and it was fantastic!).
After our day was done, we put our tired feet up at the Hotel Zephyr’s courtyard fire pit until my son was ready to crash for the night — it was the best, most well-earned feeling.
Our second day started out with a bread bear and a cup of espresso at Boudin Bakery, followed by a hop-on and hop-off Big Bus Tour. This was an at-your-own-pace tour that allowed us to utilize audio- and live-guided commentary via double decker bus. We cruised by Haight-Ashbury, Golden Gate Park, and the Palace of Fine Arts, and we squealed when the wind licked our faces over the Golden Gate Bridge. We got off at San Francisco’s Chinatown (the oldest and largest Chinese community outside of Asia) and explored the streets and alleys, including the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. Then we walked to the historic and famed Citylights Booksellers and Publishers shop, which felt like the beatnik version of Paris’ Shakespeare and Company.
At this point, we needed lunch, and what better place than San Francisco’s The Stinking Rose, a garlic restaurant that even puts garlic in its ice cream. The weather was so stellar that we decided to walk off our garlic noodles and neon ravioli and head to the next tour: Muir Woods with Tower Tours. Patrick Scott was our driver and he was incredibly informative — we learned about San Francisco’s history and architecture all along the way. Muir Woods is, of course, stunning, with redwood trees as far as the eye can see and short looping hikes. We finished the day with a meal at The Cannery, originally built in 1907 as the Del Monte canning factory; ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s; and a peek at the Powell-Market cable car.
We only had the morning on this day, so we got up early and headed to Lombard Street to walk down the eight cobblestoned hairpin turns. Ghirardelli Square was our next stop for chocolate and coffee. Then we visited the nearby beach and watched the swimmers make laps in front of the tall ships. After this we headed back to the airport, with brains and hearts full of new memories and a promise to take another jaunt together, without any siblings. Maybe we’ll revisit San Francisco in the future, taking note of its vivid street art, good eats, unpredictable weather, and walkable neighborhoods.