Monday, April 2, 2018

San Francisco Spring Break Pointers from an Unschooling Perspective

So, I have it on good authority that Washington public schools are on Spring Break this coming week.  Perhaps this is the last week of Spring Break for the country in general.  I don't know.  Like every year since we've moved here, I have noticed that the population of San Francisco has been augmented over the last few weeks with interested families excited to be here.  The gang, (seven y.o. No. 1, five y.o. No. 2, and 3 y.o. No. 3), get out and about in San Francisco all the time.  Consequently, we've picked up some San Francisco travel tips I'd like to share.

First though, the obligatory shoo off.  You may want to go somewhere else for Spring Break, and if so we're all for that.  Lines will be shorter here, and we'll get to get out and do a few more things during the Spring Break weeks.  If you'd rather go somewhere else, that'd be OK.  Still coming?  OK, here's what works for us.

Getting Around
We don't drive here.  Ever.  The public transit system is incredibly easy and versatile.  I won't get into it in too much depth, but we have bare minimum six transit systems that can haul you around inside and outside of San Francisco proper.  From a SF-centric state of mind, be sure to get a multi-day MUNI pass.  We love them, and pick one up for every visitor that comes to town, which brings us to

Cable Car Lines like Nothing and the Rides for Free
OK, not free but totally paid for at a discount.  The MUNI multi-day passes cover all MUNI conveyances including cable cars, (with rides that clock in at $7 a piece without a pass at the time of this writing).  When you pick up your MUNI pass at the kiosk topside of the Powell Street BART station, you may notice that the line for the cable car is long, very long.  Thank your fellow tourists.



Fortunately there's a workaround: the California Street Cable Cars.  Go back downstairs, hop on any inbound MUNI light-rail line, and head to Embarcadero station.   Once there, head back topside towards the California and Drumm intersection.  You'll see another cable car terminus, but with a much smaller line.  If all you wanted to do was ride a cable car, you're welcome :)  If you wanted to take the cable car to Fisherman's Wharf, read the section on the Stockton Stairs.

The cable cars at this station go up and down California Street, through Chinatown, so you can hop if there if you're interested.  They also go by Grace Cathedral, the Grand Masonic Lodge of California, and (to within a block or two), the apartment of the female main character of Hitchcock's Vertigo.

Hungry?  My favorite place to hop off for food, is the Tadich Grill.  I've loved this place since I was a kid.  If you're looking for a semi-swank date night, it's not a bad choice.  If you'd like to grab a beer or cocktail, (you got the MUNI pass so you're not driving right?), while you munch on calamari, and you're kids are tolerant of crowds, it's also pretty sweet.



NOTE:  Cable cars will not allow strollers.  While they'll let a two-year-old ride on the exterior benches, if you have a kid in a wrap, first, kudos, but second, you'll have to go inside and sit down.  Yes, I know, I've tried.

The Stockton Stairs
If you'd like to go to the Wharf, and you decided to take the California Street Cable Cars, get off at Stockton Street.  You'll find yourself looking to the North at a set of paired, yet mysterious staircases.  If you're headed to the Wharf, choose the one on the right to avoid crossing the street one additional time.

Head down the stairs.  You'll emerge at the bottom smack in the middle of Chinatown.  Drink it in!  It will in all likelihood, be very, very crowded with friendly, and generally amiable people.  When No. 3 was much smaller, the only precaution I had to take was making sure I stood directly behind her.  People veered to miss me, and missed 3 in the process whether they saw her or not.



Try a bakery.  The food available is different, and almost always awesome!  Even the one time I accidentally wound up with chickens' feet, they were so tender, and yummy!  Once you're explored enough, start walking north, keeping your eye out for a MUNI stop.  Stops are usually denoted by a MUNI sign on a pole with a yellow band of paint with the numbers of the buses that stop there.  The 30 makes pretty much every stop on Stockton.  To get to the Wharf, you'll want to hop on and head north.

NOTE:  The 30 is usually very, very crowded.  If you're not into cable cars, and you'd like to secure a seat for your ride, (I have those days), consider getting on near Kearny and Post where the bus has many more seats available.

The Wharf
Hop off the 30 at North Point and Hyde.  Walk down the hill on the West side of Hyde, and drop in at the Buena Vista for excellent breakfast food and the self-proclaimed, World's Best Irish Coffee.  I've tried them, I have to say I agree.

The Buena Vista, or more likely a mock-up of it was featured in the multi-kid movie, Yours, Mine, and Ours back in the '60s.  (If you want a view of a calmer more romantic San Francisco, watch it before you head here.)  One note, if your family doesn't like crowds, skip the Buena Vista.  The kids here have become adept at darting through crowds, (much to my beaming pride), so we love the place.  Seating isn't always as bad as it looks.  All the big tables are community seating, so if there are enough chairs, just sit down and introduce yourselves.



I grew up in a tourist town in New Mexico, so while I've been immersed in the kitschy, it's not my thing.  If it's yours, that's awesome.  Head east from the Buena Vista and before long, you'll be in the midst of gift shops, and Pier 39 with it's attendant sea lions, (that are super-fun to watch!)

When we head out of the Buena Vista, the gang usually beelines for the Maritime National Historic Park down on the water.  It's $10 for adults to get in.  The gang, who are 7 & under, get in for free so far.  There's a small beach outside the park where they like to play on a beached rowboat.  They also love, (occasionally to my trepidation), to run all over the ships exploring.



We frequently wrap up our visits to the Wharf at Ghirardelli Square.  The mochas and hot chocolates are what you'd expect from one of the country's premier chocolate makers!  From there, it's a short hike back up the hill to North Point to hop back on the 30.  In this direction, you can take the 30 all the way back to the Powell Street BART station, so let's talk about the BART.

BART
BART is our subway system that goes from Milbrae south of SFO airport, through the airport, downtown SF, and then to points both north and east across the bay.  If you need to get to a somewhat limited set of locations quickly, BART rocks.  If you're flying into SFO or OAK, BART will take you from either of them to downtown SF.  We love it, but you may not need it.  If you do though, pickup a Clipper Card at a vending machine at any BART station.  Load it up with twenty or forty bucks, (it's a pay by distance system), and enjoy!

Cheap-ish Places to Stay
We live in a tiny house in San Francisco with a single bathroom.  Consequently, when the grandparents visit, they usually don't stay with us.  We've had great luck with them staying at the Stratford downtown on Powell St.  as well as at the Mission Inn near our home turf of Excelsior.  Both places are clean, in our experience, and come in at < $150/night, (spring break prices may vary.)  If you're staying in Excelsior, when you head to and from the Wharf, might I suggest the MUNI 49 bus as opposed to the cable car rides I mentioned above?  The ride is long, but it's easy.

So You're Tired of Touristing, and You'd Just Like a Drink, and to Relax
Think about the MUNI J-line.  It's your friend in this respect.  If you hop off near Church MUNI station, you can go to Chow on Church.  The breakfast food is delicious, the staff is friendly, and they're usually playing Teen Titans Go on the television.  They also have a nice selection of beers and wines.  Don't forget, you're on vacation too, and you're not driving.

Having sated your hunger and thirst, you can step out the front door, walk across the street, hop on the south-bound J, and take it to Delores Playground!  The place has two huge slides, lots of things to climb on, and a sand pit.  The gang here blows off steam there frequently.

Once you've had some playtime, you may be looking for more academic pursuits.  Hop back on the southbound J, and head for 24th St.  Walk west along 24th until you see Bernie's Coffee.  They have delicious coffee in a kid-friendly atmosphere.  You can also take your coffee out to the nearby, (within 20 feet), parklet.  There's a painting station setup for kids, and lots of tables to sit at while you quaff your coffee.  From there, it's only a little further west to Charlie's Corner.  Story times are scheduled here like AA meetings at a New York City armory.  There are usually three a day.  You won't be able to miss it, there will be a line of empty strollers down the sidewalk.

Also, Explore!
Those are just a few of our favorite places.  We've lucked into most of them as the gang were out and about for some other reason.  If you come across any favorites, you'd like to share, I'd love to know about them too!


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