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San Francisco and Napa Valley ~ a family style vacation

 We have just returned from a crazy, but fun Thanksgiving trip to California. Our suitcases are barely unpacked, but I’ve decided to blog while it’s still fresh in my memory.

Of course, there’s too much info for one blog post, so I’ll be breaking it up into three posts – one each for San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.

I just love that kids in the United States get a whole week off at Thanksgiving. It’s such a big holiday here and I, for one, love it. My husband was able to take the week off of work, we packed our bags and headed for the West Coast.

Our first stop on this trip was a visit to the University of California at Berkeley. My daughter is a competitive swimmer and has her sights set on attending CAL and, one day, hopefully swimming for the Golden Bears.

Her idol, Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin, used to swim for this school, and it currently has 5 Olympians on its men’s and women’s teams. My husband reached out to the coach, and she allowed them to attend an early morning practice and meet some of the swimmers. She was thrilled and hubby gets the award for BEST DAD EVER!

Later that day, it was time for Alcatraz. A visit to San Francisco wouldn’t be complete without a trip to this eerie island. We did the evening cruise, and my daughters thoroughly enjoyed the self-guided audio tour. They had no qualms about getting inside the cells and posing for pictures. They loved hearing the voices of the former prisoners and were shocked (as was I) to learn that the families of prison guards also lived and went to school on Alcatraz – alongside some of the worst criminals of their time. This tour is money well spent, and the evening cruise was unique, but I’m sure any time of day is great…and sunshine would definitely make it warmer.

Early the next morning, my husband took the two older girls to Napa Valley for a kid-friendly activity of hot air ballooning. They took a ride with the Napa Valley Balloon Company.

The meeting place was at a local winery and the ticket price included coffee and pastries before the flight and a champagne breakfast afterwards. This experience is not cheap ($215 per person), but it is a beautiful and peaceful way to see the valley, the fall colours and experience the sensation of floating like a bird above land.

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For $15, you get a digital download of all pictures taken on board the flight. Thanks to a Go Pro on the outside of the balloon, the pilot took some really cool selfies of the group. I know this will be a great memory for the girls and their dad and something they may never have the opportunity to do again.

On the way back, we stopped at Muir Woods to walk this protected old-growth coastal redwood forest.  You can’t help but stare in amazement at these big beautiful trees…big enough to climb inside! This probably ranked a little lower on the kids’ to-do list, but I’m glad they got to see it.

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Our hotel was not fancy, but a very adequate Holiday Inn Express close to the Fishermen’s Market. We spent time strolling the waterfront, listening to the street performers and had a delicious bowl of clam chowder (kids had pasta!) at the famous Boudin Family Bakery.

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While waiting for our table, we toured the Bread Museum to learn about the Boudin family and the wonderful efforts of Louise Boudin to keep the bakery running after her husband passed away. The girls loved all the funny shaped loaves of bread and helped themselves to many samples. We also watched through the glass as the bakers kneaded, cut and shaped the dough.

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Of course, we had to show our kids San Francisco’s most crooked street – Lombard St. – as we drove to the Golden Gate Bridge. We parked and walked down to the bridge stopping for some fun pictures at the base and then walked about halfway across.

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It was LOUD, very breezy and rather chilly. I was relieved we had decided not to bike the bridge. Save that activity for a sunny day, and I would advise doing it first thing in the morning, when everyone’s legs are still fresh.

Later that night, we rode the trolley to the lovely Hillstone restaurant. It had live music, wonderful ambiance and delicious food. It is located right across from the Alcatraz ferry landing, and would make for a great post-tour meal if your party is tired and hungry.

The next day, we were up early for a workout. My daughter headed to the Presidio YMCA and she was able to do a training session in their pool. My oldest daughter and I laced up our running shoes and had a great morning run along the waterfront. We ran by the beautiful Palace of Fine Arts and had to stop and take pictures, of course! It’s stunning.

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We carried on passing lots of other runners, cyclists and dog-walkers. It was neat to see Alacatrz Island off in the distance and swimmers in the water – we figure they must have been dedicated triathletes out for a training swim.

We knew it would be closed, but decided to head up to Ghirardelli Square, home of the famous Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, and walk around. We peeked in the windows and decided that next trip to San Francisco, we have to try their hot fudge sundaes! There are lots of wonderful shops and restaurants in the Square, and this would be a lovely place to explore during regular hours.

If I had any advice to other families planning a trip to San Francisco in November, it would be to dress warm. I was cold the entire time and sweaters were not enough. You really need a coat or something to break the wind, because when the fog rolls in it really is cool. I feel dumb that we didn’t pack warmer…I guess that’s what living in hot and humid Texas will do to ya!!

Part 2…driving Highway 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Stay tuned…

I would love to hear your thoughts and comments on visiting San Francisco, with our without kids.

 

 

Michelle
 

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