San Francisco.

San Francisco has more dogs than it does children, make of that what you will.

We are just finishing up our stay here in San Francisco. We’ve spent 6 nights here, staying at the Orchard Garden Hotel. San Francisco is up there as one of the most expensive cities in the States, so hotels are not cheap. Our hotel is located on Bush Street, less than a five minute walk to Union Square so it’s very central, which makes it more pricey, and we are also now into August which I guess also makes things more expensive. We paid $220 a night here, way over the top end of my budget but I couldn’t find anything much cheaper. I chose to return my rental car on arrival into San Francisco as the hotel was so well located and the traffic can get bad, as well as the aggravation of parking. The valet here is $40 a day so it was financially better to use public transport. The hotel is fine, quite a small room, but all clean and modern. Not quite worth $220 a night but I guess it’s the location I’m paying for. This rate doesn’t include breakfast, I have to pay an extra $16 per person for that, so instead we’ve opted for a box of Frosties from Walgreens! Wifi is pretty good, business centre down stairs with computers is pretty useless as Internet is very slow on them. At reception they have a collection of DVDs you can borrow for free, yes FREE! But if you break it its a $35 charge!! So Faye’s made use of this service and watched plenty of movies. You get your room cleaned twice a day here, not quite sure why, but hey ho, perhaps that’s why it costs so much! The rooms do not have fridges and microwaves, but has a coffee machine which I use to warm milk and a minibar which I’ve squeezed some milk and water into.

It’ll be no shock that we started San Francisco off with…. A bus tour!! Just like most other places I’ve been. Here we used the Big Bus Tour Company. Purchased tickets online as they are cheaper, $45, Faye went free as she’s under 4. This ticket was a 48hr one that includes an hours bike hire and a panoramic night tour. This is not only a tour but an easy way to get around for two days. The buses come every ten minutes and can get crowded so you may have to wait for the next one. Some buses have live tour guides and some are recorded narration and you can listen through headphones.

Whilst being away I always carry a pair of headphones that fit in Faye’s ears, in my bag for buses, planes and wherever else you may need some. Here on the bus, the ones they hand out are way too big for her so its lucky I had some and she sat and listened.

The night time tour runs 6.30/7/7.30 and you have to reserve a place – which we didn’t know. If you don’t have a place reserved you have to queue and they fit you on as and when they can, and if there are people left over they run an extra bus. Well worth doing as you get to see the city in the dark and get to go over Bay Bridge which you don’t otherwise get to do on most tours, best seats are up top, closest to the front.

We also did a tour on a vintage fire truck. It’s an hour and a half and was $50 adult, child under 12 $30. A fun experience but less informative and quite expensive really in comparison.

Things we did;

– Golden Gate Bridge. We’ve walked over it and been over via the tour bus and vintage fire truck. Loads of places to get good photos. Very hard to park here. South side of bridge, more to do and see. Lots of trails around. Nice gift shop and cafe. They run all sorts of walking and bike tours over the bridge. Don’t expect young children to walk the whole way over as its longer than it looks – bring the stroller.

– Alcatraz. BOOK. IN. ADVANCE. In the summer you cannot normally get a ticket for a month. It’s very popular. Children under 4 go free so it was easier to get one ticket ($30) just for me than it would have been for 2+. You get the boat over to the island. Can easily take your stroller, there’s ramps to push it on and of the boat. Takes 12 mins. We spent 3 and a half hours on the island. The are four steep slopes to get to the prison, but they are all short, walking them alone is fine. Going up them with children or a stroller takes a little longer, but, they have put benches at the top of every slope so we did one, sat down, did the next, sat down and so on. Didn’t take longer than ten minutes. Pack a coat as the island is windy and cold. Also be prepared there is only one toilet at the top and one at the bottom. There is nowhere to purchase food on the island, only water can be brought. The boat ride over does sell snacks though. The prison tour itself is a 45 minutes audio tour, which you can stop and start as you please. I put Faye in the stroller and gave her a headset as well. She listened on and off but wasn’t hugely interested. As it was an audio tour it was hard for me to engage Faye as we couldn’t talk about what we were hearing. So what I did was stop my head set every now and again and point things out and she went in and out some of the open cells. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip, and no it wasn’t Faye’s favourite attraction and she did spend a lot of time colouring, but she still learnt a few things and yes I would take her again.

– Cable Cars, $6 a ride. You will have to queue. Worst place to get on is Fisherman’s Wharf as the queue is huge. Try not to get on at the end of a line as queues are worse. They do let you take a collapsed stroller on board. Don’t always pay as sometimes it’s too busy!

– Lombard Street, Crookest Street in the world. Has 8 sharp turns. You can get here via the Powell and Hyde cable car. Tour buses do not go past as there is often queues to go down it. If walking to it, be prepared for some huge hills.

– Ghirardelli Square, famous San Francisco chocolate. Here is lots of eateries and ice cream parlours as well as shops selling Ghirardelli chocolate. They give out free samples in a few of the shops, we went back three times!

– Union Square. Lots of shops and restaurants. Have a Cheesecake Factory on the top floor of Macy’s. we tried the Sunday brunch for the first time, would highly recommend. Caught a cable car pretty easily from Union Square.

– Fisherman’s Wharf/Pier 39 area. Shops, restaurants, souvenir shops galore, Levi jeans headquarters and where majority of bus tours start and end. Also where all boat trips depart from, including Alcatraz. Great area for all public transportation.

Things we could of done but ran out of time;
– Aquarium of the Bay, Fisherman’s Wharf area, twenty something bucks entry.
– Exploratorium. Also Fisherman’s Wharf. Not sure on entry price. Focused for children, all tour guides give it good reviews.

The thing with San Francisco… Do your research before you come. Tours and trips can sell out before you arrive, especially Alcatraz, so get them booked up. It’s also very hilly. Lots of very steep hills both up and and down – pushing the stroller up is a killer on the legs and down is tough on the arms as its trying to run away! Carry a coat as it can get chilly quick and if you are near the water it’s a lot windier. In my opinion, ditch the car and use public transport, get a hotel near Union Square or Fisherman’s Wharf, if you’re close to Market Street there is a variety of transport easily available. Last thing, there seemed LOTS of homeless people everywhere, did not feel threatened or unsafe around any, but they are something to be aware of!

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