Our must see/do was the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and the Hop on Hop off bus. After that, we just let the exploring take us around this fun city.
GHIRADELLI SQUARE I was really hoping there was a chocolate factory tour here, but instead it’s some cute shops, a couple restaurants and of course some great ice cream – and the atmosphere is fun. We actually visited this area more than once – but only overpaid for shakes once!
PIER 39 Someone told us that seal watching at Pier 39 was a highlight of their trip. So we walked down to the pier expecting an industrial area with seals. We were surprised to find Pier 39 as a shopping and eating area and it wasn’t until we walked through the whole pier that we found the seals on the backside of one of the buildings. Oddly enough, the seals were just as fun to watch as people had said! The kids named them. They told stories about them. They were invested in the seals – so much so that we returned the next day to continue the seal saga!
LOMBARD STREET The crazy crooked street was more steep than I imagined – which is true for most of the streets in San Francisco. I think it said it was a 27% grade and I’m pretty sure freeways warn you when it’s 6%! I can’t imagine actually living on that street with the amount of tourists that want to drive down it everyday.
CHRISSY FIELD We found this area riding our bikes back from the Golden Gate Bridge so we stopped to play for a while. There were so many kite surfers and we marveled at their skills and even more importantly their willingness to get in waters that I’m pretty sure cause hypothermia. We were all a little chilled by this point but that didn’t stop the boys from creating an adventure. Before long, socks and shoes were off and they were running across the sand. What you don’t see is the rest of us huddled in the corner trying to find refuge from the wind and stay warm.
These pictures were only an hour and a half a part at Chrissy Field and yet the weather turns so quickly.
BOUDIN BAKERY This is right on the water at the Wharf and let me tell you, you’ll want to grab bread every. Single. Day. They have an area where you can watch the bread being made and I could have sat in that warm area, enjoying the sweet aroma of bread all day. I’m pretty sure we stayed for 45 minutes, but it could have easily been longer. We also found it a great place to grab dinner.
Every night we retired to our hotel at dark. And every night we found ourselves in the courtyard enjoying the most peaceful atmosphere. We’d turn on the fire and chat. The kids would play ping pong and lawn jenga. And then when they tired, they would head to the rooms to watch movies while we continued to sit right here. It was my favorite and I looked forward to it every night. One night we even grabbed some dinner and brought it back to the hotel so we could start our fireside early!
The last morning we were there, we had plans to board a cable car. But we had seen most everything we wanted to see, so instead we found ourselves at Musee Mecanique by Pier 39 – an antique coin operated arcade. (They had games new, old and really old!) We gave a few dollars in quarters to each kid and we passed the time away until it was time to return to the airport. We Skee ball contests, and driving competitions and saw some old arcades that warned of being offensive in nature! I was skeptical that it would keep the kids interest and I was happy to be wrong. Arcade for the win!
This little scooter saw so many miles. We brought it in our suitcase for Briggs to ease some walking on his little legs. We underestimated the hills and sidewalks in need of repair. Which means most of the time one of the other kids was using the scooter for fun while Briggs was a champ and walked without a single complaint.
There was really only one area that didn’t live up to our expectations – and I’m sure it was us and not the area – but Chinatown was a disappointment. Years ago, I went to Chinatown in Philadelphia and it was awesome. So many cool shops and it was really clean. This was not the same experience. We heard that San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest outside of Asia – but it just didn’t peak our interest. But they did have some cool murals! And some decent Chinese food.
We really did have such a great time. Some tried warning us of how much the city had changed in the last couple years and how dirty every thing was with homeless people abounding – that just wasn’t our experience. We came and we conquered and we left with nothing but good things to say about the area and dreaming about the Boudin Bread.
When we were planning our fall break to San Francisco with some family friends, it was overwhelming to choose what we were going to do with the limited time we had. We narrowed it down to the must-dos – and then we had a couple optional items we didn’t want to commit to, but were on our short list if we had time.
Between the two families, we had 9 kids and we walked and biked and bussed all over that city. We find that our kids rarely complain when they’re having fun with friends, even if that means walking 9 miles around the city!
ALCATRAZ The thing our kids were most excited to see was not the bridge – although that came in a close second. They were most excited about Alcatraz. Bennett has just learned about Al Capone at school so when we mentioned this as an option, his eyes lit up because he knew exactly what prison we were talking about. Oddly enough, all the rest of the kids were equally excited without knowing much about it.
We booked our tours through the official Alcatraz website, alcatrazcitytours.com (Alctraz is run by the National Park Services, but the ferry is run by an authorized concessioner.) There are several services that will ferry you around the island, but only one allows you to go inside Alcatraz and take the audio tour. The audio tour was totally worth it. Each person got their own listening device and it’s a self guided tour. It was fascinating. I’m not sure Briggs caught much of the audio tour, but he loved being there. The audio tour is only in one building, but you’re allowed to explore the island and some other buildings which was interesting. We spent 2.5 hours there and we could have spent a little longer, but the kids were getting hungry and it was chilly as the fog started to roll in.
The older kids ended the night by watching the old movie “Escape From Alcatraz”. They kept repeating over and over again, “I can’t believe we were in that exact room. We were in that building!”
It kind of had some haunted house vibes!
GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE I’m not sure how you go to San Francisco and not cross the bridge. We actually crossed it both by bus and bike and I think everyone would agree biking was better. We purchased a GoCity pass for everyone which gave us two experiences to choose from and one of those was renting bikes for the day to cross the bridge. (In hindsight, I would have probably added more experience options to our pass – we just didn’t want to wear everyone out or be tied down, but we could have easily done another activity or two!)
We rented bikes at the Wharf and rode all the way across the bridge. Most kids were on their own bikes and then Briggs and Cannon were on tagalong bikes with Steve and I. I will be honest – we didn’t know exactly what we were getting into. We knew how long the bridge was, and roughly how far away from the bridge we were, but we underestimated the hills! (Shocking, I know, because the city is full of hills!) Within the first mile, both Steve and I were second guessing our decision. Our legs were burning early on, but we just kept pedaling.
The original plan was to keep riding into Sausalito and then take a ferry back. But when we got half way across the bridge, we put it up to a vote with all the kids and the majority wanted to ride back across the bridge back to the wharf. (We climbed a lot of hills to get to the bridge so I think the kids knew the way home would have some fun downhill rides and they were right!) So we made it all the way across the bridge and then turned around and came back. We were surprised to learn that they only let bikes across the bridge at certain times and we were lucky we were in the time frame. Had we arrived an hour later, we would have been disappointed to learn it was closed to bikes. Check ahead!
We ended up biking 13 miles – and I’m confident if we had known that number at the beginning, we probably would not have committed! But it was so worth it. It was a little foggy which was initially disappointing, but it ended up giving the experience another dimension that we weren’t expecting. (Arizona kids are not familiar with fog, so riding through the “Clouds” was entertaining)
BIG BUS – HOP ON, HOP OFF This was the second experience we had using our GoCity pass. We boarded the bus in the morning at the Wharf and we jumped on and off multiple times throughout the day to see different areas of the city. This was a great way to see the city and we strategically decided where we wanted to spend time. The kids loved the Ferry building which happened to have a farmer’s market open and some random water structure across the street that our kids could have spent the whole day running around.
We drove through the downtown area and our kids were in awe of all the tall buildings. We have similar buildings in downtown Phoenix, but it always looks more cool in another city.
We stopped at the painted ladies (the victorian homes featured at the beginning of the Full House credits.) It was at this point that we realized our kids didn’t know what Full House was and they weren’t nearly as enamored with them. I thought they were pretty – similar to many victorian homes in SF – but because they were in the credits of my favorite childhood show they meant something a little more. There was a park across the street and once again, the kids found more than enough things to keep their interest and we got to sit in the grass and marvel at the beautiful day and beautiful area. It felt as though every stop we got off the bus, we were pulling them to get them back on the bus. They were easily entertained and very easy going.
We got off at the Golden Gate Park to play and grab some food and then took the bus across the bridge. Same bridge as the day before, but a different experience on a bus rather than riding bikes. The main advantage of the bus was it was easier to grab some pictures (and it required next to no physical effort), but it was way colder/windy riding on the top of the bus!
Here are some more nuggets from our summer adventure to Idaho to see family.
I loaded and unloaded that Thule so many times and as you can see the kids were always very helpful. 😉
We happened to be in Boise for one of Hallie’s tennis tournaments one day when we realized that the regional soccer championships were taking place a couple miles down the road. This tournament has the best teams in every age category from every state competing to go to nationals. It was fun to watch soccer at that level of play.
My kids always look forward to going to my childhood friend’s house and picking her cherries. She has a lone cherry tree on her property and their family doesn’t like cherries so my kids are always happy to help strip her tree.
We hit up Lego day at the library. They dump buckets and buckets of Legos out on all the tables and kids build to whatever the theme is for the day. When we went it was farm day.
We went into the mountains one day for my uncle’s memorial service. After the service, the kids were able to play and explore and even hopped in the river which was the only refreshing moment of a very hot day.
My brother threw up a target challenge with the air soft gun and these 4 boys are the sharpest of the shooters.
We had so many park evenings. We played games. We played tennis. We enjoyed the golden hour.
I saw old friends and unfortunately this is the only one I snapped a picture with – she even joined me for one of Hallie’s tennis tournaments.
The kids played in the sprinklers and had water balloon wars with cousins.
The cousin time was the most valuable time.
We visited the local pool a couple times and the high dive was by far the favorite feature.
Night after night we enjoyed beautifully vibrant and then peacefully silent sunsets. I think Arizona has equally beautiful sunsets, I just never get to witness them with farmland, which really adds to the beauty.
We had ice cream outings with grandma or as Hallie calls her G-Ma.
And I say it every year, but it’s true – my parents are so great for letting us come stay with them so my kids can experience a sliver of what Idaho has to offer. I love coming home. I love the small town (visiting, not necessarily going back to live there!). I love spending time with family. I love that my kids are begging to go to the library and the public pool. I love that they have experiences that we just can’t provide in Arizona. In all reality, Idaho and Arizona are vastly different and yet I love both of them and see the good each area offers – which is why I love that we are able to make this happen each summer.
One of the highlights of every summer road trip to Idaho is the time my kids get to spend with their cousins. To add to that, my brother has worked on his property for years (and is still working) and it’s my kids’ very favorite place.
It’s a large property in rural Idaho and it has just about everything you could ask for in country living. Want to ride dirt bikes or ATVs – he’s got you covered. Want your own private pond out your back door – don’t worry, he dug one (and was expanding it this summer) and if you want fish – he stocked the pond. There’s animals. And guns. And a woodshop. And archery. And everything else that my kids think is amazing.
We don’t always stay with him, but this year it worked out and my kids were in heaven. The minute we walked into the house, Briggs went straight to my brother and requested a wooden axe. My brother takes his role as the favorite uncle very seriously and all my kids walked away with a wooden arsenal they are so proud of.
The kids enjoyed all the heavy machinery he was using on the property as he excavated a larger pond.
The temperatures in Idaho were hitting record highs which meant every day those kids were in the pond. They had mud wars. They paddle boarded. They had races. They sought refuge from the heat.
Bennett was soooo excited to try the dirt bike and I was soooo hesitant. We are city people and my kids are city kids. So when they go to the “farm” they like to think they are country folk which couldn’t be further from the truth. I doubted his abilities but my brothers assured me the bike was small enough that it wouldn’t be much different than riding a bike. Luckily, they were also there to teach him and help him. As a precaution, we only allowed him to stay in first gear which limited how fast he could go.
I was pleasantly surprised with how well he did and how much fun he had. Even in first gear he was flying high on adrenaline. Lucky for us, my brother can own all the toys and be our destination every summer.
Hallie and her cousins had a new found sense of freedom since my niece now has her driver’s license so they were often on their own. Grabbing lunch. Grabbing ice cream. Running to the grocery store. They enjoyed the ability to run to the dollar store to buy whatever supplies they needed for their bucket list items – make a cake, make suckers, make popsicles, paint portraits of each other…it was a long bucket list and it kept them more than busy!
Even when we weren’t staying at their house and we were staying at my parent’s house, the kids were begging most days to drive the 30 minutes to their cousins – they were always scheming up some fun activity.
It’s time my kids will always remember about our summer road trips.
Every summer, my extended family (parents and siblings) gather together. It’s a different location every year, we usually pick up an VRBO in Idaho or Utah that can accommodate our group. It’s the only time each year that we’re all able to gather and the only time I see my sister who lives on the east coast. It’s a week my kids look forward to every year – they love time with all their cousins.
Although the location changes every year, the theme is always the same: Play hard.
Sun up, to sun down we play hard. We are always in need of a vacation from our vacation because they can be physically exhausting. 🙂 And if there is a moment of light that isn’t already planned, you better believe there will be a group at the tennis court. I need to start taking lessons just so going to the tennis court to join in the fun is an option for me!
We spent a day at Bloomington lake (which I wrote about here).
We spent an afternoon at Bear Lake – it’s lower than I’ve ever seen it which means the beaches were beautiful and long and nice sand. We played every sand/lawn game imaginable and took kayaks out for a little adventure. (My brother owns every lawn game and each year he teaches us something new. This year we learned Kubb and Ramp shot and both were great beach games – add to that the regular games we play like horseshoes, Spikeball and bocce ball and there was never a dull moment.
We spent one afternoon going to the Minnetonka Caves – just a short drive from the northwest side of the lake where we were staying. This was a guided, paid 1.5 hour tour that is only open during the summer. Bennett dubbed this as his highlight Bear Lake activity. It was interesting and the tour guides were great. 440 stairs into the cave…which means that many stairs coming out as well! But Briggs’ little legs handled it without complaints. It was a chilly and consistent 40 degrees in the cave which meant pants and sweatshirts to stay comfortable. They were very cautious about COVID and required masks so that humans don’t pass COVID to the bats in the cave. The irony was not lost on us. 🙂 They also wouldn’t allow children under two to enter because it’s unsafe for them to wear a mask so we had to do some swapping so someone could stay behind with my sister’s baby. There’s another cave in the area that is an ice cave and isn’t guided and we thought that would be a fun one as well but we didn’t make it there this year.
These cousins played at the pool together, they made bracelets (lots of bracelets), they had air soft gun wars, they played all their other made up games and they stayed up far too late. There was never a dull moment and there were tears shed when it was time to close another reunion chapter.
They have no idea how good they have it to gather every year the way we do – they have special relationships with one another because of the time invested. It’s always a highlight of every summer.
One of our adventures during our time at Bear Lake this summer included a day trip to Bloomington Lake, a cold mountain lake. It was a quick 1/2 mile hike to the lake, but the dirt/gravel road to get to the trailhead could use some improvement. We had a high clearance vehicle, although I saw several sedan cars in the parking lot – I’m not sure how they made it on that road!
The short hike was easy and beautiful and it opened up to a small lake with a rope swing and some rocks for cliff jumping. I was surprised with out busy the area was, but even busy we got on the rope swing and had plenty of time without feeling rushed.
Not surprising at all, Bennett was the first to hop in line for the rope swing…but he had never done it, so he was looking for some pointers. We quickly ushered a cousin to the front of the line to show him out it was done. As soon as he saw how to do it, he was ready to go.
After several rounds of the rope swing, the older kids trekked around the lake, over the boulders, and then swam to the cliff area. They had to earn their cliff jumping experience! And I just watched from afar, trying to pick out which kid was jumping when and then I saw a backflip and I knew that was Steve. All his diving days as a kid pay off in these situations.
Our afternoon scenery was beautiful. With so many fires every where, the air had been smokey for weeks and the higher we climbed in elevation to reach this trailhead, the more clear the air was – truly a breath of fresh air.
We passed several people as we hiked in and everyone said how warm the water was this year. I was so hopeful and convinced I would do the rope swing – I love rope swings! And then I felt the temperature of the water and realized if I jumped in, even on this warm summer day, it would take me forever to warm up so I gave it hard pass! 🙂 I can’t imagine what the water feels like on a cold year.