Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Trip #5 - San Francisco's Golden Gate Park

One of my kids' favorite SF trips is to the Golden Gate Park. Here is my first trip idea for the Golden Gate park: Stow Lake.

Stop 1 - Moraga Steps
We normally drive into the City using 19th Avenue. A recommended first stop is the Moraga Steps if the weather is clear, off of 19th Ave.

Just make a right turn onto Moraga from 19th and drive up to the bottom of the steps. You can park anywhere. Be prepared for quite a lot of steps! The reward at the top is the view. Make sure to bring some windbreakers as the wind is always strong up at the top.

Don't stop at the top of the mosaic steps, continue on to the top of the hill!

Stop 2 - Stow Lake
After the Moraga steps, get back to 19th Avenue and drive to the park. Immediately after crossing Lincoln Way, make a right turn onto MLK drive. Make the first left turn towards Stow Lake and park anywhere on the right side of the road. It is free parking, without time limits. I normally drive until I see some benches on the right side and park there. If you get close to the boat rental, there you might get lucky and find parking but usually that is a crowded are. See the map of the lake below.

I recommend walking around the lake to get to the bridge on the northern side of the lake. There cross the bridge to get to the island. Once on the island, walk to the Pagoda (it is that little blue circle on the map, on the right hand side) and the waterfall. By the waterfall there are steps leading you to the top of the island. The kids love these places but be prepared to be able reward them with some snack at the top!!!

There are a lot of birds to see in the area, bring binoculars to get a better look at them!

Stop 3 - Irving Street

After a good walk, everyone is normally ready for some food. We normally drive back towards 19th Avenue on MLK drive and park on MLK drive after we cross19th Ave. From here we can walk to Irving Street (see map below).

My favorite restaurant on Irving (and maybe even in entire SF) is Marnee Thai (unfortunately they have not offered me any compensation for all the publicity I have been doing for them). The kids love the place, too as their fried rice and pad thai are both delicious, non spicy and plentiful. Even the less adventurous people I took there agreed that this is a good place. Check them out here: http://www.marneethaisf.com/

A few doors from Marnee is a great little dim-sum take out place that is simple, cheap and good. Here is their location on Google Maps: Happy Bakery The kids love the desserts and I normally buy our dinner here to take home (after all day in the City, who wants to cook, right?). Frank loves their pork buns, which I have not tried but others love it, too. I am more the shrimp dim-sum type.

After lunch it is fun to walk around and go into some of the stores. My kids love the housewares store on the corner of 23rd. Here is a link to it: Irving Housewares. They have a lot of little, cheap trinkets. We have bought there a huge selection of cute kids' spoons and plates. I always have to restrain myself from buying some more sushi trays.

The way home
Normally after all this we just have enough energy to drive home but if someone wants to still do something more just take the long way home, use Highway 1.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Trip #4 - Elkhorn Slough and Santa Cruz

This is a trip fresh in my mind as we just did it last week-end. We had great fun, I think it is a trip that we will be repeating in the future.

The way to Stop 1 - We decided to take 101 on the way to Elkhorn. Click here for the map. Basically you go down towards Monterey on 101 and then take that side road at the Disneyana flea market (the red barn, where traffic halts on the week-end...). Then take the back roads to arrive at the Elkhorn Slough. Great drive, beautiful places.

Tip: Make sure to stop if you see a strawberry stand! We skipped a few, then could not find one, even though we were driving by strawberry fields...not a good thing when the kids are all set for strawberries. At the Elkhorn Preserve there is a bathroom, picnic grounds, so there is a place to wash those freshly picked strawberries.

Stop 1 - Elkhorn Slough (near Watsonville)

Official website link: http://www.elkhornslough.org/

There is fee for the adults only to use the trails, 2.50$ per day. I think it is very reasonable and goes to a good cause. The ladies at the visitor center were super nice and helped us with trail maps, guidance on what too look out for and gave us a few rules (need to clean shoes before entering the trail to prevent the spread of sudden oak death and to be quiet on the trails as they had nesting owls and other nesting birds). They also helped decide which trail to take.

The kids spent a really long (I mean, really, really long) time at the visitor center. They have microscopes where they could check out feathers. Then there are lots of exhibits, that say 'Please touch'. Cool little museum, worth the time. We even picked up some free coloring booklets and brochures with nice photos.

After some discussion we took a longer trail, 2.2M, called South Marsh Loop. It was not too difficult even for our 4 year old. We made lots of stops, saw different terrains, birds, even heard the swoosh of a snake. The barn with the owls was a highlight.

Great picnic grounds behind the visitor center, nice bathrooms inside! Also, there were very few people the day we went, which was really a nice thing. You can plan on spending here a long time. We stayed as long as the little one needed a nap and then headed out to Santa Cruz (just enough ride time for a nap).

Here is the link to the trail maps: http://www.elkhornslough.org/aerialtrails.htm

On the way to Stop 2: We took a different road out, for fun. We turned right from the Reserve and headed out towards the Moss Landing power plant. Here is a map of the ride.

Tip: OK, so we messed up the strawberry stands on the way in, but found a great one along Highway 1, just before it becomes a freeway.  Take the 129 exit towards the ocean,  the stand is right there by the Chevron station. Map here.

It was just on time for a certain kid who was showing strawberry withdrawal symptoms (it is a noisy condition, mostly involves bugging the adults with the question: Where can we buy some strawberries already??? with some whining involved... nasty, avoid it if you can by buying strawberries on time!)

Stop 2 : Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz is great fund for many day trips but on this day we just did a couple of hours. Here is what we did and that worked out good, I can recommend it:

We stopped first for a late lunch at one of my parents' favorite quick places: Sabieng Thai Restaurant. Here is the link. It is clean, friendly, cheap (lunch menu is 6.75$ per person). Oh, and the food is good, too! They have kid friendly (not spicy) dishes, too, like fried rice and pad thai.

Then we headed to the beach using this route.  We checked out the Lighthouse, the surfing museum inside it, the surfers in the water and went down to the beach.

Believe it or not that day we even saw a snake on the cliffs by the lighthouse! Sorry, forgot to take the camera for that walk and no proof except in our memories.

The way home:
We took Highway 17 on the way home, to keep it interesting for the driver. Of course, all kids asleep during the ride home !!!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Trip #3 - Big Basin

This is again one of those trips that you can tailor to your company's skill level.

First stop: Before you get to Big Basin, a favorite stop of ours is the covered bridge of Felton. It is also a great stop to pickup food for the picnic and have a picnic. As you can see from the map below, there is a playground (a really nice one), there is a shopping center (with Safeway) and then there is the bridge.

The bridge is really pretty and after you cross to the other end, turn left and there are stables with horses. My kids love, love watching them for a long time.

Second stop: Continue to Big Basin where for little kids and strollers the best walk is the Redwood Loop Trail

The link to the official site is: http://www.bigbasin.org/index.html

Please note that there is a parking fee: $6.00 per vehicle. There is really no other good, close place to park, so support the park and pay the fee!

There is a Naturalist Guided Walk, that the bigger kids normally like. Here are the details from the website:
March through November: Saturdays and Sundays 11:00 AM and 2:00 PM

"On this easy, level, half-mile walk you will learn astonishing facts about the ancient redwood environment and see the tallest, most rare, and most fascinating trees in Big Basin. Park docent-interpretive naturalists engages young and old alike with colorful park history, redwood reproduction, and animal stories as you explore the mysteries of the forest. Meet the Mother of the Forest, the Father of the Forest, the Santa Clara, Animal and Chimney Trees, and more. Don't miss this informative walk on this historic trail! Rain Cancels. 1 hour. Stroller and wheelchair accessible. FREE (after paying Day Use Fee)"

Third Stop: After Big Basin we normally take Highway 9 all the way to San Jose - it's scenic and a different way then always sticking to 17. On the way make sure to stop at the Villa Montalvo (http://www.villamontalvo.org/). There is a nice park at the villa and the building itself is worth a look, too. Great place for a picnic!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Trip #2 - Marine headlands and the Golden Gate bridge

This is one of my favorite trips, good for adults and kids and all fitness levels. Beautiful views and as much or as little walking as you want.

First stop: Golden Gate bridge on the SF side. I normally park in a not so advertised, totally free parking lot. Take the last SF exit from highway 1, but where they try to send you to the paying parking lot, instead of turning left, turn right. Then make a left onto Lincoln and then another quick left into the parking lot, as on the picture below.

After parking, you can walk out to the bridge and go as far as you dare.

Tip: There are restrooms at the foot of the bridge by the paying parking lot.

Second stop: Golden gate bridge on the Sausalito side. This you can leave out, it takes a long time to stop again but worth it if your kids allow you to do it.

The parking lot here is free, there are bathrooms available, too.

Third stop:  Head out to the Point Bonita lighthouse. Finding the road to the lighthouse is a little tricky for the first time: you have to drive to Alexander Ave, turn left to go under 101, almost as if you were heading back to SF, then make the turn to Conzelman Road. See map below.

Take as many stops during the drive as you can, each stop offers a different view and the drive back will be on a different road! Some kids sleep by this time in the car, which might allow you to stop and enjoy the views, as you will be around the car anyway.

Towards the end of the road, there are picnic places with great views. If you plan on a picnic, this is a great place.

Fourth stop: Point Bonita Lighthouse. Great place for everyone! Short, paved walk to the Lighthouse. Read more about it here: http://www.nps.gov/goga/

Important: the lighthouse is only open the following days and times!!!
other times you can only walk half way out, which is still a nice walk
Saturday, Sunday and Monday
12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Fifth stop: Marine Headlands Tourist Center. Please see the map below. At the visitor center they have a small museum that the kids really like. From here you can either walk to the beach or continue by car to the beach by driving around the Rodeo Lagoon. It is a nice walk to the beach, not too long either but sandy, which can be a problem for some.

Sixth stop: Either you can spend some time in Sausalito (which we rarely can as by that time everyone is too tired) or just drive home!!!

To head back, take Bunker road, it has a great tunnel at the end, kids love that!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Trip #1 - Point Lobos

First trip idea, of course, my favorite spot: Point Lobos.

Entrance Fee - A charge is made for each vehicle. Passenger cars: $8.00 I recommend driving in for those that have trouble walking longer distances or if you want to do a picnic and need to track in lots of stuff. The best pinic grounds are at the very end of where you can drive in. Almost by China Cove, see map below.

Walking in is Free!!! Park outside the park, by the roadside of highway 1.

My recommended trail for a first day with bigger kids is the following: use the South Plateau Trail to get to the Southern most point of the park and then work your way up along the shore. Park outside the park, enter the park on foot and you will find the trail head to the left after the entrance station and the bathrooms.

South Plateau Trail - Between entrance station and Bird Island Trail. Through a pine and live oak woodland. 7/10 mile. 

A really good trail with little kids is the CARMELO MEADOW TRAIL that leads to the Pit. For the trail map see the website.

From entrance station to Granite Point Trail juncture, through pine woods. 2/10 mile (10 minutes). Take the first trail immediately after the entrance to the right. It is flat, not paved but even strollers can follow it, as it was designed for wheelchair access. At the end of the trail there is a great beach where you can let the kids throw rocks into the water, climb, run, search through little caves for hours. Best is, hardly any people there normally.

A schedule of guided walks for the month is posted at the entrance station. The museums are open as staffing permits, generally from 11 A.M. until 3:00 P.M. My kids really enjoyed the Whaler's Cabin, lots of old artifacts and photos!

Official website: http://pt-lobos.parks.state.ca.us/

Tip: There is no vending inside the park so remember to bring your own snak / lunch! We normally make a stop at the Safeway in Carmel to pick up food, it is off of Highway 1, 2 minutes from the park entrance.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

First entry

I am planning on collecting day trip ideas for the summer break with the kids.