During a recent visit to San Francisco with my 10 year-old daughter, I knew that our time in this magnificent city was precious and wanted to do whatever I could to maximize our time there. I have been many times in my lifetime but never with her on our own and I was eager to show her the most beautiful and fun parts of the city. As soon as we arrived, we jumped a shuttle at the airport and made our way to Hotel Union Square. Upon first viewing from the outside, the hotel doesn’t appear to be anything special as it’s sandwiched between commercial shops in a busy area, but the hotel was the perfect place to spend our first night. It’s a historic hotel, having been built in 1913 for the 1915 Pan Pacific Exposition. You can’t beat the location and the art deco interior came as a nice surprise, as did our room, what they call the The Kids Suite. People can’t quite believe it when I tell them that a computer, Wii, toys, books and more entertained my daughter (making it hard to leave the room). The hotel provided a nice transition to the hustle bustle of touring while jet-lagged. While spending much of our first morning surrounded by toys wasn’t completely in my plans, watching her in total bliss was a great way to start the trip. We also got our first cable car ride in and did a bit of shopping in the area. The suite sleeps two adults and two children and can be booked by calling 800.553.1900. The hotel offers free Wi-Fi, on site parking and very reasonable room rates.
Knowing that we only had a few days, we decided to go with the San Francisco CityPASS ticket booklet. Valid nine days, starting with the first day of use (retail price is $84 for adults and value is $148.90).
The CityPASS includes:
- 7-Day, unlimited-use Cable Car and Muni transportation passport
- California Academy of Sciences and Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise Adventure
- Aquarium of the Bay OR Monterey Bay Aquarium
- Exploratorium OR de Young Museum and Legion of Honor
CityPASS was a really great choice for us, given our limited time, as we hopped on and off Cable Cars and Muni buses during our visit. I let my daughter choose our destinations. She chose the Aquarium of the Bay and the Exploratorium, two museums that were simply made for kids. At Aquarium of the Bay we got up close and personal with more than 20,000 local marine animals. I really liked this Aquarium. It may be small but it was good to hold my daughter’s attention span for the whole time (including my own) and its series of connecting undersea tunnels, explored on foot or via moving sidewalk, made for a unique experience. It also offers petting pools and had a really good sea otter exhibit that the aquarium seemed especially proud of. Located in Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf, it’s easy to get to, easy to park and it’s reasonable priced. Children ages 3 and under get in free. It’s $10 for children ages 3-11 and for seniors 65+, and $16.95 for kids 12+ and adults. A Special Family Rate of $46 covers 2 children and 2 Adults. Purchasing tickets online in advance is encouraged.
Further down the pier is the Exploratorium, which is literally a science playground for kids. This hands-on science museum was founded by physicist, educator and blacklist victim Frank Oppenheimer, and the brother of the Manhattan Project, Robert Oppenheimer. We went about five years ago when the museum was located in the Presidio and it was amazing then, but after a $300 million investment, it’s utterly wonderful. Located at the Embarcadero at Pier 15, it’s full of experiments for the curious. The exhibits are interactive, magical and educational and instructional. My daughter was mesmerized for hours. It’s so big; she only saw a quarter of the museum. Admission is $25 for adults, with lower rates for Bay Area residents, youth, seniors, students, teachers and the disabled. Advance ticket purchase is strongly recommended; in order to minimize lines and avoid overcrowding, all tickets through September 2013 will feature timed entry. Clearly, the CityPASS cuts down on costs. For our second night, we stayed at the Hotel Triton right outside the front gate to Chinatown and just blocks from North Beach. I immediately felt at home with the young, international staff (because I’m so young, of course). The rooms are whimsical, with writing on the walls by Jerry Garcia, Wyland and Santana. The rooms’ color palette is bright and fresh and funky furniture in the typical Kimpton style. The hotel offers free Wi-Fi, docking stations and a lovely gym. There are also nice touches like wine from 5-6pm, a French cafe right next door, a fireplace in the lobby and comfortable chairs to hang out on and an eco-friendly conscious. While the rooms aren’t tremendous, they are comfortable and the hotel offers great rates that make it quite affordable given the location. Other highlights of our trip included a trip to the Ferry Building (a culinary adventure in its own rite), a visit to Musee Mecanique, one of the world’s largest collections of coin-operated mechanical musical instruments and antique arcade machines in working condition, a hop on-hop off bus tour of the downtown area, a walk around Chinatown and North Beach, Mexican food in the Mission District, a ride around town from the Golden Gate Bridge to Golden Gate Park, dinner in the Castro, a trip to Ghiradelli, to name a few. Traveling with one child certainly made the adventure more doable in many ways but we also missed the other half of our family and look forward to taking them back to show them our San Francisco…and to see more. I can honestly say that at age 10, my daughter really took in the surroundings and enjoyed the beauty of the city in ways she never has before on any of our prior trips. When the tour guide talked, she listened, and she was able to recount facts back to family and friends afterwards. The experiences she and I had on our own were priceless and will remain etched in our minds for days to come.Disclosure: Holly was provided with complimentary lodging by the two hotels mentioned and City Pass to facilitate this review. As always, her opinions are her own.