48 Hours in… San Francisco

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San Francisco, California will always have a special place in my heart.

California played an important role in the early months of my relationship with hubby. Although he and I met in New York City, at the time, I had already committed to spending the upcoming six weeks teaching at an academic summer camp in Santa Cruz, California (about 70 miles south of San Francisco). Having just met, the time apart afforded us weeks to just talk on the phone and get to know each other. As the relationship was progressing, I rearranged my departure plans to stay in California a little longer and have a little San Francisco vacation with this new boyfriend who was flying out to visit me!

That year, I had a kick ass time in Santa Cruz, and would go on to return for two more summers. Since those three stints in SC, I have been back to the west coast a handful of times for weddings, and short vacations. All pre-kids. So I was so excited to be taking baby girl and little man to San Francisco, to kick off our much-deserved end of summer vacation.

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Photo via VisualHunt.com

48 Hours In… San Francisco, California

We flew direct from JFK to California. We arrived at San Francisco International Airport around 7pm on a Saturday night in August. With our body clocks on east coast time, we were excited to get to our hotel, crash, and get an early start the next day.

Click HERE for great deals on your next flight.

The San Francisco airport is a bit south of the city. With two small kids, luggage and jet lag, we did not explore our public transportation options, instead opting to Uber to our hotel.

 

PRO-TIP: A cab from the airport into the city costs $40 (plus tip), our Uber on a Saturday night in August cost $33. 

 

Also worth noting that at SFO there is a designated Uber/ride share pick up spot, outside the departure terminal upstairs.

 

 

Where to Stay: San Francisco, California

Momma To Go readers will remember that we are very brand loyal to Marriott Hotels. For this trip we opted to stay three nights at the Courtyard Marriott Downtown.

This hotel was great for us. It was centrally located in the Embarcadero/Downtown district, a short walk to the ferry terminal and the water. This hotel also had an indoor pool and gym, two amenities we always look for when booking hotel accommodations.

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Don’t forget your pool toys and goggles. Read about my essential pool items here

This Courtyard Marriott actually had a literal courtyard off the lobby, where we were able to sit, relax, and eat our breakfast purchased from the lobby Starbucks. This hotel also offers a lobby restaurant, bar and room service.

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The rooms here were standard, but I do think it’s worth mentioning that the hotel pool (and gym) opened at 5am. The first two mornings our kids were up VERY early and they enjoyed an early swim before getting started with our day. I am proud to say I took advantage of the early wake-up time to hit the hotel gym!

 

 

Where to Eat: San Francisco, California

Our previous, kid-free San Francisco trips have very much been foodie adventures. I was a little nervous about balancing the grown-up’s desire to eat and drink well, all while dragging along my pick eaters. I definitely think we did an awesome job in this area!

 

Breakfast: We ate breakfast each morning at the hotel. We had a combination of groceries (single serve cups of cheerios, granola bars, and oatmeal packets I brought from home – heat up with the room coffee maker) along wth hot sandwiches and fresh fruit from Starbucks in the lobby. Oh and of course Starbucks coffee! My kids like to eat right when they wake up, and I like to eat a few hours after I wake, so we hardly ever make it out to a sit-down breakfast when traveling.

PRO-TIP: Starbucks is a great place to have a healthy breakfast on the less expensive side. Avoid the bakery products and go for one of their hot egg sandwiches, most of which are under 500 calories. I am a fan of the egg white and spinach wrap. At only 290 calories, it will keep you full all morning. 

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Local Kitchen and Wine Merchant: We ate here our first real night in San Francisco. We loved all of the food we had – kids had fries and pizza while the grown-ups had a cheese plate and tofu/steak. Our food was very good, however, considering this was a wine-themed restaurant, we thought the wines were just mediocre.

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I did love the décor of this place. It felt very west coast, trendy and funky all while being family friendly. With this being our first night in California, some kids were a little tired at dinner…

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Ferry Terminal: The ferry terminal, and its extensive food markets, is definitely one of my favorite places in San Francisco, possibly the world! We walked over to the ferry terminal on our second day in town.

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First we looked in and out of all the little shops, hubby stopping for an oyster! We then headed to our favorite, Mijita for some Mexican food! Hubby and I had been looking forward to eating here again, really since 2007, and our lunch did not disappoint! We were able to sit outside, over looking the water. I highly recommend this spot!

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Tony’s Pizza Napolitana: On our last night in San Francisco, we were meeting up with a friend and she suggested we try this place in North Beach (the little Italy neighborhood of San Francisco). The menu looked amazing, with extensive options of pizzas! She mentioned it might be crowded, but we figured we were going early on Monday night so how bad could the wait be?

Wrong.

We were quoted a wait time of an hour. So we headed across the street to a bar and had a drink. The kids actually sat in the lounge playing on their iPads and coloring. After about 50 minutes we headed back to Tony’s and still had to wait about 30 more minutes! It was pretty ridiculous.

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The pizza was really good, but by the time we sat, everyone was tired and hangry. Unfortunately Tony’s does not accept reservations, so I recommend trying to go really early (5ish) or for a late dinner.

 

Whole Foods: I have to give a shout out to Whole Foods here in this post. On our first day in town we were meeting up with some other families and we decided it was a BYO-picnic lunch. Without having access to a kitchen to prepare something, we headed to the Whole Foods on 4th Street to gather items for our picnic.

Whole Foods (or any supermarket) is such a great place to stock up on fresh fruit, bakery items and trip snacks. For the picnic we picked up some chips, sandwiches, drinks and cookies.

We do not have a Whole Foods close to where we live, so it’s definitely a fun experience to wander around a new grocery store. We loved Whole Foods so much we even stopped there on our Santa Ynez to Anaheim road trip!

 

What to Do: San Francisco, California

I will preface this by saying, there is so much to do in San Francisco. With or without kids! For this trip, I had done some research and tried to balance doing some new activities with revisiting some of our former favorites. We did not have a ton of time, only two whole days, and also wanted to visit with some friends who live in San Francisco. Our two modes of transportation were walking and Uber, so we didn’t venture too far from our downtown hotel.

 

Dolores Park: We headed to Dolores Park on the first day of our stay. We had planned to meet up with two other families and our friends recommended this park. A visit to this park was such a great way to kick off the trip and let the kids get some energy out after spending most of the day before on the plane.

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Dolores Park has a large playground, and a big, sloping, grassy knoll. It’s situated pretty high up on a hill and the views of the city (we actually had a clear day in August) were amazing.

The kids played in the playground, ran around, and then we all found some shade and ate our picnic lunch. We were so fortunate that the weather was sunny and 80 degrees, a rare treat for San Francisco!

 

Ghirardelli Square: After our lunch in Dolores Park, we took an Uber to Ghirardelli Square. We were hankering for some chocolate, and Ghirardelli did not disappoint.

Ghirardelli Square is down by the water. I have been there before but I will admit, it is a little confusing. The “square” is really a multi-level shopping and dining area. There are several Ghirardelli restaurant/take away spots where you can purchase your favorite chocolate concoction. Understandably, those were quite crowded on a Sunday afternoon so we opted instead to purchase an ice cream sundae from a street cart (no line) and sit by the fountain and share our treat.

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Spoiler alert: it was amazing!

But seriously, if you don’t want to spend all day waiting to get a sweet treat, check out the cart vendor! After enjoying our sundae, we window shopped in some of the souvenir shops and went in the Ghirardelli retail store where the kids each got to pick out a small square of chocolate.

PRO-TIP: There are also public restrooms at Ghirardelli Square.

 

Pier 39: If you want to see the iconic San Francisco seals, you will have to head to Pier 39, which is a very touristy area with shops and restaurants. We put baby girl in her stroller and walked the mile or so from Ghirardelli to Pier 39.

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48 Hours in... San Francisco, California | San Francisco with Kids | Things to do in San Francisco | San Francisco Travel | Where to stay in San Francisco | Where to eat in San Francisco | San Francisco Restaurants | California Family Travel | California Vacation | California Vacation Ideas | California Vibes

The kids loved seeing the sea lions, and we could see Alcatraz from a distance! We then walked back through the pier where baby girl rode the carousel and we window-shopped for souvenirs.

48 Hours in... San Francisco, California | San Francisco with Kids | Things to do in San Francisco | San Francisco Travel | Where to stay in San Francisco | Where to eat in San Francisco | San Francisco Restaurants | California Family Travel | California Vacation | California Vacation Ideas | California Vibes

 

Exploratorium: On our second full day, we had an early lunch at the aforementioned ferry terminal and then headed about a 10-minute walk along the water to the Exploratorium Museum. Now we in the Momma To Go Family love our children/science museums, we have had the good fortune to have visited many, and this was literally the most amazing museum we have ever been to!

48 Hours in... San Francisco, California | San Francisco with Kids | Things to do in San Francisco | San Francisco Travel | Where to stay in San Francisco | Where to eat in San Francisco | San Francisco Restaurants | California Family Travel | California Vacation | California Vacation Ideas | California Vibes

It’s a water fountain! Would you drink out of it?

First all of, every exhibit is interactive. There is so much to-do. And the exhibits were fun, engaging, and easy to understand. The kids had so much fun… okay the grown-ups did too! We stayed at the museum for something like 4 hours and did not get to see every exhibit they had.

48 Hours in... San Francisco, California | San Francisco with Kids | Things to do in San Francisco | San Francisco Travel | Where to stay in San Francisco | Where to eat in San Francisco | San Francisco Restaurants | California Family Travel | California Vacation | California Vacation Ideas | California Vibes

Like math museums? Check out my review of the Museum of Mathematics.

The Exploratorium is a little steep in price, but you can for sure spend an entire day there and I thought it was worth the money. The Exploratorium is part of the San Francisco City Pass, which for our short trip we did not take advantage of, but I would definitely consider this if I had a longer stay.


 

We arrived in San Fran on a Saturday, and stayed for three nights. On Tuesday morning I walked over to a rental car place near our hotel to rent a car that would take us down through California ultimately to Anaheim. Again while in town we opted to walk or Uber* places – you definitely do not need a car when you are in the city.

*By using Ibotta, I saved over $25 on Uber rides… I even took one ride that cost 48 cents! I wrote a full post about it HERE, but you gotta get this app! Sign up for Ibotta here.

Like I said, there was so much we did not have time for including the California Science Center, riding a trolley car, a visit to Alcatraz, a ferry to Sausalito (hubby and I have done this in the past its great), a visit to Golden Gate Park and Baker Beach.

 

Clearly we will need to go back at some point! What are your favorite San Francisco sites?

 

Hover over image to pin for later:

48 Hours in... San Francisco, California | San Francisco with Kids | Things to do in San Francisco | San Francisco Travel | Where to stay in San Francisco | Where to eat in San Francisco | San Francisco Restaurants | California Family Travel | California Vacation | California Vacation Ideas | California Vibes #travel #familytravel #California #SanFrancisco #Vacation

Photo via Visualhunt

SHOP THIS POST: And yes this is the umbrella stroller I ran out, right before this trip to buy for my 5-year old daughter. This thing was worth its weight in gold not having to deal with her walking around San Francisco, or Disneyland. I HIGHLY recommend a stroller, even for a kid you might think too old for one… city life = walking!

 

OTHER POSTS YOU MIGHT LIKE:

24 Hours in… Santa Cruz, Caifornia

Surviving Long Flights with Kids

Travel Packing Tips

All 48 Hours in… posts

 

Flying With A Baby

 

 

 

 

 

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66 Comments

  1. Amy

    I’ve never been to the West Coast but am excited to go someday! If I ever find myself in San Francisco, I’ll definitely keep this in mind for spots to visit. Pinning for later!

    Reply
  2. Tara

    I love everything about this article! We also are very Marriott loyal – you just can’t go wrong with a stay at a Marriott property. San Fran looks amazing and I am looking forward to a visit.

    Reply
  3. Fantastic article! San Francisco is on our travel list so this was a great read. I love how you included the pro tips as well! I will say the picture of the water fountain toilet freaked me out a bit. I had to do a double take on that one ?

    Reply
  4. I took my kids there years ago and we did the Maritime Museum, Fisherman’s Wharf, a cable car ride, Ghirardelli’s and had pasta for dinner in North Beach – which was my favorite. But we only had one day and there was still so much to do! Now I’d like to go back with only my husband for an empty nester weekend!

    Reply
  5. Eva

    Sounds like you had a fun time with your family, and your kids loved this place that had so much meaning to you and your husband. I think it’s lovely that you shared this place with the whole family!

    Reply
  6. It is great how you highlight things to do with young kids.. My children are older now and we tend to focus on more adventure type trips or excursions, but I would have so appreciated having access to this kind of information years ago! I love San Fransisco. I can’t wait to go back.

    Reply
  7. That looks like such a fun trip! San Francisco will always be one of my favourite cities – I’ve been many times now, but somehow every time I’m there I manage to discover something completely new. It’s great that you were able to enjoy it one way without kids in tow and then experience it totally differently with the kids – basically like you’re really getting the most out of the city!

    (Also, I admit to saying “ewww” out loud at the photo of the water fountain before realizing that it was, in fact, a water fountain!)

    Reply
    1. harmskills Author

      my kids dont know bidet, but this was supposed to be an experiment in which one would you choose? there was a regular water fountain right next to it, and apparently they are equally clean.

      Reply
  8. San Francisco is my favorite US City! I haven’t done these places except for Pier 39 so I want to try these next time. My favorite thing was to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito! You should definitely do it if you haven’t before!

    Reply
  9. First of all, I want to thank you for checking out my post. I was so happy to read your commet. Yes, t
    Turkey was a full time adventure, at some point, it felt like a movies. Secondly, I must say that I’m so interested in that Exploratorium. If I ever got the chance to pass San Francisco by, I defininetly want to check it out. Also, at your recommendation I might try those egg white from Starbucks!??

    Reply
  10. You definitely packed a lot into 2 days in San Francisco! I have never heard of Tony’s Pizza but that sounds like a big wait. Did you think it was worth it? I went to Ghirardelli Square too and thought it was crazy how many people were there. I agree it’s good but I am not a plan of such busy places.

    Reply
  11. Anisa

    I have not been to the Exploratorium yet, but that looks like a lot of fun even for adults. I love Ghiradelli chocolate. I did wait and have a brownie sundae there and it was so good!

    Reply
  12. I really like San Francisco. I have only been there once but we loved out time there. But, one time is not enough. I know there is way more to see and do. I was funny to see your son drinking water from a “toilet.” I am sure kids love that particular exhibition. I have experienced ridiculous waiting times on restaurants. It is like you need to eat before going to the restaurant.

    Reply
  13. This is an amazingly informative post once again. Although if I was to visit San Fran it would more than likely be a solo backpacking trip but so many useful places I could go, I have to say I’m not the biggest Starbucks fan however that museum looks great. even as an adult I love interactive museums, it’s just makes them so much more fun.

    Reply
  14. Steph

    This is great, I have never been to San Fran so will definitely keep these tips in mind (especially Mijita – looks yum!). Also, have never heard of Ibotta before but wow sounds amazing, will be downloading that app tonight : )

    Reply
  15. looks like a great trip! My SIL lives about an hour inland from San Francisco, so we make sure to go into the city for a day whenever we visit her family….we’re knocking things out very slowly! We still haven’t made it to the Exploratorium, for example–but it’s definitely on my short list!

    Reply
  16. We are planning a California trip tentatively for 2019. (What can I say, I’m a planner!) I don’t know how long we’ll have in San Francisco. It looks like there is so much to do. I definitely want to see the seals, and that museum looks really cool, too! Isn’t it funny how much kids love a hotel pool? No matter where we go, that’s the first thing my kid wants to do!

    Reply
  17. I read about Exploratorium Museum a few years back from one the parenting magazine and put it my to-go list for SF. Unfortunately we haven’t make it there yet. And I just showed my son the picture of your son drinking from the toilet and he said, “That’s in San Francisco. People over there drink from a toilet.” Apparently he read it from a magazine, too, but forgot it’s in the museum. He thought it’s everywhere. Haha…

    Reply
  18. I absolutely loved my time in SF when I went 2 years ago! I think we did quite a few activities you mentioned aside from Dolores Park and Exploratorium. This is a very helpful family friendly guide! I actually hadn’t heard of Tony’s before, what made their pizzas so famous?! Good tip about getting there very early! I absolutely hate waiting especially when hangry.

    Reply
  19. Jessica Bradshaw

    I absolutely love San Fran! Such a fun city!! We had a great time a few years ago when we visited. You crammed in a lot in the 48 hours you were there.

    Reply
  20. Great that you were able to make more good memories in San Francisco. It’s not always a given when you go back after some years. The Uber tip from the airport is great. I would love to see Pier 39 but not so sure about drinking out of the “toilet” at the Exploratorium Museum!

    Reply
  21. The only time I’ve ever been to San Fran was over 20 years ago when I was still just a kid. I’d love to go back now and experience it from an adult viewpoint with my own teenage son! Definitely have to check some of these things out!

    Reply
  22. That water fountain has made me laugh! I am desperate to go to San Fransisco. It’s one of the few cities I haven’t visited that I would really like to visit. Looks perfect for visiting with children too, definitely one for our list. Thanks for linking up to #familytraveltips
    Nat.x

    Reply

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