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#1 Andrew

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Posted 09 November 2011 - 10:31 AM

My 11 yr old son and I are hoping to make a trip to Northern California next year. I'm figuring we'll have a week to see the sights, and would welcome some thoughts/suggestions from those who've been there. At the top of the list for us so far are San Francisco (Alcatraz! street cars! sea lions!) and the big trees (probably Redwood National Forest). I'm also debating whether adding Yosemite would be doable vs. cramming too much into too little time.

Any other suggestions on must-see destinations? I'm also wondering about time of year to go, wavering between his spring break in March or sometime over the summer.

#2 Darrel Manson

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Posted 09 November 2011 - 11:04 AM

While in SF be sure to go to the California Academy of Science. If baseball fans, you really should take in a game at AT&T - one of the parks I'd really like to get to.

If you head down the coast a bit there is the Monterrey Bay Aquarium. If you like golf, you can drive through Pebble Beach on the 17 Mile Drive. Then you're in Carmel - wonderful place, but probably not high on stuff for 11 year olds. If you're also rich, you can play a round.

Yosemite is a great place. You'd need to assess how physical you'd want to be. There are easy hikes and there's climbing half dome, with various things in between. Spring is prime for Yosemite, because all the waterfalls are going then - fewer as the summer comes.

#3 Andy Whitman

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Posted 09 November 2011 - 11:45 AM

My 11 yr old son and I are hoping to make a trip to Northern California next year. I'm figuring we'll have a week to see the sights, and would welcome some thoughts/suggestions from those who've been there. At the top of the list for us so far are San Francisco (Alcatraz! street cars! sea lions!) and the big trees (probably Redwood National Forest). I'm also debating whether adding Yosemite would be doable vs. cramming too much into too little time.

Any other suggestions on must-see destinations? I'm also wondering about time of year to go, wavering between his spring break in March or sometime over the summer.

John Muir Woods is closer to SF than Redwoods National Forest, and just as impressive IMO.

San Francisco is such a fabulous city. Just walk/climb around. The views are incomparable. Take the streetcar up Nob Hill, get off, enjoy the view, and take in Grace Cathedral, one of the prettiest churches in the country. Take the ferry across to Sausalito. Sausalito is a tourist trap, but the real treat is the hour there and the hour back, with gorgeous view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the city. Fisherman's Wharf is a tourist trap, too, but it's still a must-see, as is Ghiradelli Square. City Lights Bookstore is where all the Beats hung out, and it's still a pretty great bookstore. Golden Gate Park is spectacular as city parks go. Alcatraz is a must.

But really, the attraction for me is the entire city. There's nothing like it. I'm not kidding when I say just walk/climb around. The city itself IS the destination. Oh, and watch out for the homeless folks, who are aggressive, mean, and violent. Sorry to stereotype, but I've never seen anything like them, either, and they're unpleasant at best and dangerous at worst. And no, I don't normally say that about homeless people.

#4 Darren H

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Posted 10 November 2011 - 09:26 AM

Andy wrote everything I was prepared to write when I saw this thread's title, including the warning about San Francisco's homeless, who really are a bit more hostile and unstable than those I've encountered in other cities. Two of my must-see stops in SF are Amoeba records in the Haight and the De Young Museum. It's a beautiful 20-minute walk between the two, but, man, the western edge of Golden Gate park can be a depressing place. The hippie girls with flowers in their hair have been replaced by lost, tattooed kids fighting all kinds of addictions and demons.

But anyway . . .

I totally agree with Andy that walking around SF is one of the pleasures in life. I've made three or four trips to the SF International Film Festival, which is in April or May, and now, whenever we have our first taste of spring in Knoxville, I get an overwhelming urge to eat sushi, drink Anchor Steam beer, and walk for hours through SF. The old advice is true: dress in layers. There really are 10-degree temperature changes from neighborhood to neighborhood. I associate SF with being sweaty and cold.

Since you're a film buff, I'd also recommend watching Vertigo with your son before you go and then visiting a few of the spots. And be sure to see a movie at The Castro, even if nothing especially interesting is playing. It's a one-of-a-kind theater, and spending an afternoon in the Castro neighborhood will definitely be an interesting experience for you and your son. One other movie tip: the Kabuki theater in Japantown is a modern multiplex that shows mostly art and indie films, and it's in short walking distance to a million great sushi places and the North Fillmore neighborhood, which is one of my favorite walking spots.

I haven't been to Redwoods National Forest, so I can't compare them, but I'd second Andy's recommendation for a quick trip up to Muir Woods, especially if you have limited time in the city. It's a short drive over the Golden Gate Bridge. I think we made the entire round trip, including a walk through the park, in three or four hours. As an added bonus you get to see a slice of tree trunk like the one that Kim Novak points to in Vertigo. ("I was born her . . .")

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MBis-XemaZo

#5 M. Leary

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Posted 10 November 2011 - 10:32 AM

Walk off an early lunch in Chinatown by wandering about Fillmore/North Beach. One of the best views in the city can be had from the top of the parking deck at Vallejo and Stockton. You get a really good feel for the bay from up there, with this historic part of the city spread out beneath you.

#6 Andrew

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 01:26 PM

Thanks for the suggestions, guys. I've been to San Francisco once before, on a business trip, but took time out for extended walks, and quickly fell in love with the place, its views, food, and architecture. I also had a chance to take in a ballgame at PacBell Park, third only to Camden Yards and Fenway, in terms of ballparks I've visited. (And, yes, my experiences with the homeless there were memorably awful - I was verbally assaulted by a deranged lady, while one of the organizers of the conference I attended had her jaw broken by a homeless guy.)

The Science Museum and DeYoung sound wonderful - I suspect the latter will be one of the main concessions I ask of my son (that and a meal at a sushi restaurant), since art museums definitely aren't his thing. And watching Vertigo beforehand is an excellent suggestion.

Thanks again - you've given me some great ideas.

#7 Darrel Manson

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Posted 13 November 2011 - 01:17 PM

Article from LA Times about streetcars from around the world on the F-line in Frisco

If you're thinking about NorCal in general, you might want to consider Calaveras County and bring Mark Twain into your trip (especially if you're there in May for the contest.)

Today's Times travel section has an article on the Old Sacramento Historic District, but their worthless website doesn't have a link to it. If it's of interest,you might be able to search for it in a day or two.

#8 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 09 December 2011 - 05:58 PM

Keep us posted on the dates and how your plans work out. I'm currently in Modesto, CA (under an hour and a half away from San Francisco). Depending on the time, if I'm free I'd be happy to take you guys out to a good restaurant for a bit and/or perhaps there will even be something worth seeing in a SF theater that your son would also enjoy.

#9 Andrew

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Posted 09 December 2011 - 07:52 PM

That sounds great, Jeremy - I'll PM you with our specific plans. All of the advice here has been very helpful. During the Thanksgiving weekend, I bought our plane tickets and made lodging reservations for this coming March. With my son Josh's input, we've created the following itinerary:

- 4 days in San Francisco, staying in a hotel on Fisherman's Wharf: our plans include Alcatraz, the California Academy of Science, and a whale watching trip
- 1 day north of the city, visiting Muir Woods and Point Reyes Seashore, overnighting near Point Reyes
- 2 days in Yosemite
- 1 day back in San Francisco before hopping on a plane back to Tennessee

I'll probably start counting down the days after Christmas...

#10 Andrew

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Posted 21 March 2012 - 12:08 AM

Well, Josh and I are back from our 8 day sojourn in NorCal, and with the exception of a day of heavy rain, our trip was uniformly fantastic.

The suggestions here proved quite helpful: for one thing, the Academy of Science is one of the best science museums I've been to, with its combination of rain forest, aquarium, and digital planetarium. For another, I'm so glad we went to Muir Woods and not further north to Redwoods National Forest, as Josh seemed to like big trees in theory, but wasn't especially excited by them in reality. I'm very glad instead that we spent time at Yosemite and Point Reyes National Seashore. The latter in particular was greatly enjoyed by both of us - splendid scenery, plus a couple of coves where we spotted mama elephant seals with their babies - it doesn't get much cooler than that.

We both had a blast exploring SF by foot and by trolley: we made the obligatory pilgrimage to the crookedest street in the world, but just as fun were the plethora of surprise discoveries of funky buildings, massive murals, an outdoor performance of traditional Chinese music, etc., that cropped up so regularly.

A few suggestions for any future SF/NorCal travellers:

- the CityPass was worth its weight in gold: for $69 ($39 for kids), you get 9 days of unlimited bus/trolley/cable car riding, plus a 90 min boat tour of the bay, passes to 4 top museums. Ours were heavily utilized. And going to their website, I notice that they offer passes for 10 other North American cities.
- the megamall in Japantown is a must-stop for any Japanphile - I picked up a DVD of Norwegian Wood and bought my daughter a stuffed Totoro, while gawking at some super-nifty cultural displays of drums, scrolls, flower arrangements, and a big model castle
- my son LOVED the Exploratorium, the best hands-on science museum we've experienced - we spent 3 1/2 hrs there and left numerous exhibits unvisited
- the night tour of Alcatraz - less crowded (very relatively speaking), pleasantly eerie, with terrific skyline view
- favorite places for eats: the Ferry Building (including its magnificent Saturday farmers' market) and Chestnut St in the Marina section of town; outside of SF, our favorite food stop was the Farm House in Olema near Point Reyes - I'd forgotten how tasty fresh oysters can be.

#11 Darren H

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Posted 21 March 2012 - 07:16 AM

Sounds like a great vacation, Andrew. I'm glad to hear you're still making those one-on-one trips with your kids. It's such a wonderful idea.

the megamall in Japantown is a must-stop for any Japanphile


I figured you'd like that! Most of the SFIFF screenings are held at the Kubuki theater in Japantown, so I've spent a lot of time in that mall.