Peachhead™ Approved Vacations: Radisson Hotel August 2010 - San Francisco, CA
How many modes of transportation can you cover in one day? On my first day in San Francisco we traveled by airplane, BART, taxi, boat, cable car, and a trolley. By the end of our trip we added a bike to the list.
I hadn’t been to San Francisco in over 10 years, so I was very excited to explore it with my girls. We flew up on Southwest Airlines. I always like flying with them, because you can cancel anytime and get a full credit to use on another flight if you have to cancel. Once we arrived at the airport, we took BART (Bay Area Rapid Tranist) to Powell Street. It only cost $8.10 per person and the girls had a blast riding it. When we got to Union Square, we planned on taking a trolley to Fisherman’s Wharf, where our hotel was located. Well, it turned out the line for the trolley was very long and we were on a very tight schedule. We decided to take a taxi instead, but discovered that a regular taxi cannot take more than 4 passengers (and there were 5 of us). Luckily we were in front of a hotel and they called a special taxi (minivan) for us, so it all worked out great.
We stayed at the Radisson in Fisherman’s Wharf. What a great location! The hotel is walking distance to many great attractions, such as Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, boat attractions, and Ghirardelli Square, and a short taxi or bus to Union Square and Lombard Street. There is a Johnny Rockets right out the back of the hotel, where the pool is, and an IHOP is around the corner. Radisson has a nice fire pit by the pool for night time relaxing. The rooms have “sleep number beds.” These beds have air chambers that allow adjustment of the firmness of the mattress to the exact level of comfort for each individual sleeper on either side of the bed with just a touch of a button. These are exclusive to the Radisson hotel. I have never seen this before and loved it. The girls loved adjusting the numbers on the mattress. Also, the hotel's down pillows and down-filled comforters are comfy as well. We had the hotel provide a rollaway bed, also. One of the things that I loved about this hotel was the little things they think of, such as a power strip. Sounds like something minor, but with 2 women and 3 kids each with their own phone/ds/iPods, we had a lot of charging to do. They also offer complimentary internet.
There is a special entrance for hotel guests, so that you can enter and exit the hotel and walk directly onto Jefferson Street by using your room key as opposed to walking to the front of the hotel. Fisherman’s Wharf and the Piers are right across the street from the hotel, so after grabbing some lunch, we walked to the Aquarium of the Bay. This aquarium is 3 levels. One level is where there are crystal clear tunnels where the fish swim above you. You walk under a tunnel of fish. There are more than 20,000 aquatic animals to watch. My favorite area was the jelly fish; I can watch them for hours. The 3rd level has a touch tank. We were able to touch stingrays, sea cucumbers, and starfish.
When we finished walking through the Aquarium, we went to Pier 33 to catch the boat to Alcatraz and to take a tour of the prison. The tours book up weeks in advance, so be sure to book your reservations early . We enjoyed the boat ride to the Alcatraz (thinking about how they took the prisoners by boat to the prison) and the tour was amazing. They give you an audio headset that you listen to as you tour the prison. It guides you with interesting facts about the prison and inmates and it gives you step-by-step instructions on where to go, where to turn, and what to look at. It was kind of like a game where you had to follow the instructions. The kids loved it. The audio also had great sound effects and background sounds to really make you feel like you were in the prison. The audio headset is a must if you are taking the tour.
By the time we got back to the hotel, it was dinner time. We went to John’s Grill near Union Square. This is a historic two-story restaurant that has been doing business since 1908. We sat on the second level overlooking the street. They play live jazz nightly upstairs. The night we were there, they had a great guitar player and the food was superb. We started out with a lobster ravioli appetizer, then a fabulous Caesar salad, followed by the filet mignon (they have 2 sauces you can add, the béarnaise or the peppercorn. I loved the peppercorn). The restaurant doesn’t have a children’s menu, but it will make a pasta dish for your kids. I ended up ordering a grilled chicken for Jasmine, which she loved. When it came time for dessert, it was very hard to choose, because they has many wonderful selections. We ended up trying a few different ones. My favorites were the chocolate mousse torte and the pecan pie, but the girls loved the vanilla bean ice cream and the fresh fruit. After dinner, we walked off dinner by shopping in Union Square . They have a lot of our favorite stores such as Forever 21, Macy’s, DSW and more. We ended the night by taking the cable car back to Fisherman’s Wharf. This was so much fun. The girls had fun hanging off the side. Definitely a great way to end the evening.
The next morning we got up early, because we had a very busy day planned. We started out by eating breakfast at IHOP (a few doors down from the hotel). I called to see if there was a wait and was told there was a 10 minute wait, so I headed over there while everyone else finished getting ready. Timing is everything, because right after I put our name in, a bunch of families came in. After breakfast, we planned on taking the #30 bus to the Exploratorium, but we couldn’t figure out where to go and while trying to get directions we were able to flag down a taxi that could take all 5 of us.
I walked into the Exploratorium and I was blown away. There are so many interactive, hands-on activities for the kids. The kids were running around from one attraction to another. There was one room you go in that had a microphone; it tells you to say a few words and then you hear the audience react (either cheering, booing, laughing, etc.). It is interesting to see how your kids react based on the audience reaction. I also loved the drinking fountain shaped like a toilet. You know the water is clean, but can you bring yourself to drink water from a toilet? Amber refused, but Jasmine went for it. They have another exhibit where you sit opposite another person and it combines your faces…hard to explain but it really showed me how much Amber and I look alike. There were a couple of fun climbing structures. Upstairs was another section dealing with music and sound. You could easily spend hours there. There is also an attraction called tactile dome. This is a hands-on journey through total darkness where your sense of touch is your only guide. You must make reservations in advance for this and it costs $20, but includes your admission to the Exploratorium. I did not know about it ahead of time, so I was not able to explore it. When you leave there are numbers posted for taxi service, so you can call and set up a pick up ahead to time (allow 20 minutes for the taxi to arrive).
We also visited the Wax Museum in Fisherman's Wharf. You walk through the museum and the exhibits have famous people. There is a ring that you put your hand in and a narrator gives you a history of the people in the exhibit, so it is a learning experience for the kids. I liked walking through the Chamber of Horrors (especially the fake blood on the ground). My kids loved it at the end when we made hand wax figures. They did one with a peace sign and "I Love You" in sign language (of course they broke on the plane so now we have to find a place to make a hand wax in LA).
Next we headed to Pier 39 for The Adventure Cat Sailing Excursion. It was very cold and windy, so we were in for quite the ride. It takes you around Alaztraz Island and under the Golden Gate Bridge... it was very rocky, but fun. If you hang outside of the boat, you may get wet. It was really fun to watch the wind surfers and the kite surfer who was flying in the air.
After the sailing, we walked to Ghiradelli Square and had dinner at McCormick and Kuleto’s . This restaurant is owned by Bill McCormick of McCormick and Schmicks in Beverly Hills and Pat Kuleto, architect and San Francisco restaurateur. The restaurant is in a beautiful location in Ghirardelli Square overlooking the water. The restaurant has a 3 tiered dining room to give all guests an unobstructed view of the bay. They change their menu daily, for lunch and dinner. They have an elaborate children’s menu that includes a cheeseburger, chicken tenders, pasta, grilled salmon, a teriyaki chicken bowl, fish tacos, California roll, and more. The dinner menu had so many wonderful selections to choose from. I started out with one of the best crab cakes I have ever had. It was a Dungeness Crab cake served with Meyer lemon butter sauce and crispy parsnips. We also had the Ahi tuna tartare, which was served with the ingredients on the side; our server then created the dish at our table by blending all of the ingredients. The Caesar salad was excellent and easy to share between three of us. For my main course, I had the filet mignon, which was cooked to perfection with an amazing sauce. Now for the big surprise….on the dessert menu was one of my favorite desserts that I haven’t seen in over 10 years. A chocolate bag for two filled with white chocolate mousse and fresh berries. I asked them if they could put raspberry sauce on it for me, which they did…yum!!!! I used to get a similar dessert in Santa Monica years ago, but they stopped making it and I have never found it anywhere else. I was so excited that I got this dessert for myself, even though it is made for two. You have no idea how happy this dessert made me. Luckily after I enjoyed my dessert, I took the kids to Ghirardelli for ice cream, so we were all happy campers that night.
While walking back to our hotel we stopped at Ripley’s Believe it or Not. I know there is one in Hollywood, but I have never visited it. This one in Fisherman’s Wharf just reopened 1 month ago and I had no idea what to expect, but it was fascinating. The kids were so intrigued by everything they saw. There was one exhibit in particular that had us laughing so hard, but I can’t tell you what it was because I don’t want to give it away (but it had to do with trying to imitate something you saw on a video screen). We especially loved the rotating tunnel…the kids didn’t want to leave it. I can’t believe it took me this long to visit Ripley’s; definitely a fun adventure and the highlight for my kids on this vacation. Ripley’s also has a mirror maze. I had never seen this before and what a blast! They give you gloves to wear and you go in one door and attempt to come out the other door. We laughed so hard. We must have gone through the maze at least 15 times. We went in as teams and then individually. The girls wanted to keep going but I was getting pretty exhausted after our long day and wanted to get back to the hotel so we finally left.
The following morning we rented a car to take a drive to Napa. We started out our morning by driving down Lombard Street (the crookedest street in the world). I remember doing this as a kid, so I was very excited to see it again. After driving down Lombard Street we headed to Napa Valley and Sonoma. I was given the wine country explorer pass from www.smartdestinations.com. This is a great way to explore the different wineries for one low price . You have 2 days to cover 16 wine tastings. The first one we went to was called Kunde Family Estate . This winery has a beautiful setting with a lake and a fountain. They even took us on a cave tour which was so cool. The kids loved it and even learned how the wine was made and stored and about the different types of barrels. Next we went to the Chateau St. Jean . They have the most beautiful grounds with a picnic area and a singer entertaining while you enjoy your wine or picnic. You could easily spend all day there (check out their website and you will see what I mean). I really loved all of their wine and even bought a selection of whites and reds from the tastings (I enjoyed it that much). The next winery we went to was not on the wine country explorer card, but it is one of my favorite wines and I was very excited to visit it. It is the Chateau Montelena . I thought the kids would enjoy seeing the Chateau and there is also a beautiful lake. After the wine tasting, we set up a picnic next to the lake with the ducks. It was the perfect ending to the day.
While driving back to San Francisco, we passed the Six Flags Discovery Kingdom . It was already 7:00 pm and they closed at 8:00, but since it was in our Go San Francisco card, we figured we would stop in. However, in order to use the card, you have to be there by 5:30 (be sure to read the book carefully as there are specific instructions on what time you need to use the card by--usually by 5:30). They are only open on the weekends during this time so we couldn’t even go back the next day. The kids were disappointed but what can you do...
We stopped off at Fisherman’s Wharf for dinner before heading back to the hotel after a very long day.
Our last morning we decided to be adventurous and bike ride over the Golden Gate Bridge. We got our bicycles from Blazing Saddles . I needed a tandem bike for Jasmine and me to ride together and they assured me they had plenty (another company I was going to use couldn’t guarantee me a tandem bike). Blazing Saddles was great. We walked in and they immediately had us on our bikes with the helmets, locks and the seats adjusted perfectly. They even have directions on the bike with how to get to the bridge. It was so much fun riding. We kept stopping to take pictures. Once over the bridge, we rode to Sausalito and stopped and had a drink and appetizers. Blazing Saddles gave us a card that allowed each of us to get a free “chef’s appetizer” at Paradise Bay. The chef’s appetizer of the day was coconut shrimp. It was very good. Next we hopped on the ferry with our bikes to take us back to The Wharf. It costs $10.00 per person, but much better than trying to bike all the way back... we were exhausted. We stopped at Fisherman’s Wharf to find the other mirror maze we had heard about. It is hard to find because no one knew where it was, but we eventually found it on the way in the back of the pier on the 2nd level. It only costs $5.00 to go through the maze and you can go as many times as you want and even come back again later in the day. We had a fun time racing through the maze trying to find our way out again.
We had a couple of hours before our flight, so we stopped at The Franciscan Crab for dinner . This is a very nice restaurant at the Fisherman’s Wharf, with incredible views overlooking the San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge. They have tiered seating, so every row of tables has a great view of the water. The menu was very different in that it was a book with table of contents and pictures showing each item. We started out with the crab fondue with Swiss chard, Yellow Fin Tuna Carpaccio, and a Caesar Salad (we got the large one and easily shared it between four of us). For dinner, I had the surf and turf crab with a petit filet…the girls got a kick out of seeing me wear a bib as I attempted to eat my crab. We were pretty full, but I noticed on the menu they have a chocolate truffle mousse case for dessert, so we had to try it and it was so yummy. Perfect ending to the perfect trip. However I will definitely need to start a diet when I return.
A few places that I was invited to visit that looked great for families but was unable to due to lack of time were:
Bay Area Discovery Museum - The Museum is recognized as the leading children’s museum dedicated to nurturing childhood creativity, fostering future generations of creative thinkers and innovators. With this emphasis on creativity through play, the Museum encourages children ages 6 months to 8 years to develop into curious, creative, adventurous lifelong learners and explorers. The Museum's unique programs feature hands-on art, science and environmental exhibitions, performances, special events, cultural festivals and ongoing educational curricula... all with a focus on fun!
California Academy of Sciences - The Academy, located in Golden Gate Park, is the only place in the world to combine an aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum together under one roof. During a visit, one can travel from the edge of the Universe (during a show in our all-digital planetarium) to the depths of a Philippine coral reef, and the canopy of a Costa Rican rainforest (inside our four-story Rainforests of the World exhibit).
Go Car Tours - GoCar is the Storytelling Car®. The car cracks jokes, navigates and tells you the stories that bring San Francisco to life. It's ideal for exploring the city at your own pace, stopping for a meal or to take in a museum or any of San Francisco's splendid sights (I really wanted to try this out however the car can only hold 2 people at a time so if you have an odd number of kids you won’t be able to do it)
If you really want do see it all and do it all while in San Francisco consider getting the www.smartdestinations.com card. It allows you to pay a discounted price for a number of attractions. They have them in various cities. There are different options on how to purchase the card depending on what city you are in. Below is a summary of your options.
Go Cards: (I used this card while I was in San Francisco) Offer admission to dozens of attractions in each destination, plus special savings at area restaurants, stores and are available in 1, 2, 3, 5, 7 day increments. Think of this as the all access unlimited pass. Where it is available: Blue Ridge, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Oahu, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Toronto.
The Wine Country Explorer Pass is a ticket to a complete Napa and Sonoma experience. For one price you get 17 great wine tastings and two museums. Simi Winery, Cloe Pegase, Franciscan, the Napa Valley Museum, and more.
Explorer Pass: (I used this card while I was in New York) Pick from a list of attractions in each destination avoid long ticket lines, and saves up to 35% off the price of buying separate tickets. Rather than unlimited days, it is a set number of attractions and is valid for 30 days. Where it is available: Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, Maui, Miami and New York
Custom Explorer Pass: allows you to build your own sightseeing pass and pay for only the attractions you want to see. The more you add the more you save. Where it is available: Blue Ridge, Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, Maui, Miami, New York City, Oahu, Orlando, New York City
There were so many great places to visit in San Francisco (both for kids and adults) that I plan on coming back soon for a moms' weekend away where I can explore more museums and wine tasting. The kids can’t wait to come back and repeat their fun adventures.
My hotel, meals, and attractions were provided by the various restaurants, hotels, attractions, and www.smartdestinations.com. I was not compensated for this trip and my review is my honest opinion.