Weekend Getaways: San Francisco, CA

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Destinations San Francisco #familytravel #California

The Golden Gate Bridge. Fisherman’s Wharf. Ghirardelli Square. Chinatown. Cable cars. Spend a weekend in San Francisco and discover it all!

Years ago, our son studied San Francisco for school and begged and begged and begged to go. We finally made it, and the city did not disappoint! Though it was July, the temperature never reached more than 60 degrees. Brrrrr…. Prepared with light jackets and small umbrellas, we set out on a three day adventure.

Save on your San Francisco vacation

San Francisco offers a CityPASS that includes admission to 5 “must see” attractions and 7 days of unlimited muni and cable car travel. Attractions include:

  • California Academy of Sciences
  • Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise Adventure
  • San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
  • Aquarium of the Bay
  • And a choice of: the Exploratorium or the De Young Museum of Legion and Honor

A GO San Francisco card is also available, offering discounted admission for up to 46 attractions. The “Muni” also offers unlimited 1, 3 and 7 day passes for visitors, including cable car transport.

We chose to skip the CityPASS and the GO San Francisco card, since much of what we wanted to see was free! We did get muni passes, which made city travel much easier. And the people of San Francisco generously offered directions when we weren’t sure which route to take.

Based on our experience, I recommend the following for an economical — yet FUN! — weekend in San Francisco.

Where to stay in San Francisco

Hotels in San Francisco city limits are quite pricey, more than $200/night plus parking fees. We opted to stay outside the city near the airport to save money. A 20 minute drive into San Francisco saved us more than $80/night and we had a suite. SWEET!

  • Parc55 Wyndham. Located in the financial district right next to Union Square, this might be one of the more affordable hotels in San Francisco, and it offers three restaurants on site, a 24 hour fitness club, and easy access to the Convention Center and muni travel. Check for specials and compare prices before booking to get the greatest savings.
  • Hotel del Sol. Offering 57 family friendly rooms, this 1950’s style motor inn is geared for kids. Located in the Marina District near the famous Lombard Street, its convenient location and free parking might be perfect for a weekend getaway. Book early.
  • Best Western Plus Tuscan Inn at Fisherman’s Wharf. The great location of this simple hotel makes up for the lack of amenities. With the Wharf, Alcatraz, Ghirardelli Square and loads of dining and shopping options nearby, this is the perfect place to call “home” while exploring the city. Check for package specials before booking.

Things to do in San Francisco

The Yoda statue in San Francisco

San Francisco is one of the most visited cities in the United States. It’s no surprise. There’s a lot to do on vacation in San Francisco. With so many options, we skipped most of the attractions that charged admission and just enjoyed what the city had to offer for free. For a family on a tight budget, this sure is a great way to save!

  • Take a walk on the Golden Gate Bridge. Words cannot describe the enormity of this 8,980 foot span. Add traffic noise, wind, and cold and a walking trip across the bridge is an adventure! Wear a jacket and earmuffs. Seriously! You can also drive across the bridge or rent bikes for a ride across to make the trip quicker. Despite the cold, I really enjoyed the walk. We stopped often to admire the views and the architecture of this famous landmark.
  • Hang out at Presidio Park. More specifically, Star Wars fans should visit the Yoda Fountain at Lucasfilms HQ. Of course, the rest of the park is beautiful too, offering views of San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean.
  • Grab a bite at Fisherman’s Wharf. Come to eat and stay to play! Be sure to visit the sea lions, stroll along the boardwalk and tour the ships on display along the Hyde Street Pier. Top off the day with a hot fudge sundae from nearby Ghirardelli Square!
  • Tour Alcatraz. Especially for families with teens and above, a tour of Alcatraz offers a fascinating destination. Learn a little history while vacationing.
  • Ride a cable car! Catch the cable car at Powell and Market Streets to watch the cable cars rotate on a turn table. You’ll wait in line to catch the cable car here, but it’s totally worth it. Either the Powell-Mason line or the Powell-Hyde line will take you all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf. This was a highlight of our weekend in this historic city.

Where to eat in San Francisco

Your mouth will enjoy this vacation! San Francisco is a foodie city. There are so many different options that the only tough decision is which restaurant — or cuisine — to try first!

  • Boudin Bakery. Sourdough bread and clam chowder, perfect San Francisco food, is offered at Boudin Bakery. This Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant offers sit down service at Bistro Boudin and quick lunches at Bakers Hall. Watch the bakery work while you dine or eat outdoors and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the wharf.
  • Ghirardelli Square. Ice cream sundaes topped with Ghirardelli chocolate hot fudge. Need I say more?
  • Get a quick bite. Not my usual recommendation, but we grabbed a quick bite at one of the restaurants at the Union Square mall. When the family can’t agree on what to eat, like us on this particular day, this centrally located mall offers a great solution!

San Francisco offers so many dining options, the trouble really is narrowing it down. We ate at a “greasy diner” near Presidio Park and enjoyed amazing burgers. We grabbed street food. We never made it to Chinatown, though we wanted to. Enjoy!

Our daughter doesn’t like the smell of fish!

Where to shop in San Francisco

Like most major cities, San Francisco offers something for every kind of shopper!
  • Fisherman’s Wharf. Offering unique boutiques, including a shop dedicated to “lefties,” you’re bound to find the perfect souvenir at Fisherman’s Wharf.
  • Chinatown. A feast for the eyes and an experience for the nose, Chinatown offers traditional Chinese food at a number of “stores,” spices, and iconic Chinese souvenirs (chopsticks, silk, kites, and more). Wander through the streets of Chinatown to enjoy the experience. The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company is tucked away in Ross Alley. While fortune cookies did not actually originate in China, Americans always link the two. Buy a bag of fresh made cookies to enjoy as you stroll through the area.
  • Westfield San Francisco Centre. This upscale mall caters to out-of-town guests, offering a complementary savings book featuring thousands of dollars in coupons. Visit the Westfield Concierge on level 1 to receive your passport to savings.
  • Fillmore Street. Looking for something unique? Try Fillmore Street, which offers book stores, flower shops and upscale clothes. Stroll along the street to window shop and enjoy the slower pace.
To sum it up simply: San Francisco offers something for everyone! Just remember to take a jacket!