Back at the start of our homeschool year, I planned out a few rewards to motivate my son to complete all that was required of him each day. Every day that he completes all the things on his school schedule, he gets a stamp. The stamps accumulate to earn him different rides on public transit. He loves trains so this was highly motivating for him. My son really struggles with transitions and also really dislikes having his time managed, so the transition from free play all day to homeschool expectations was rough, and this chart really helped. Here is an example of his train ride rewards chart.
The plan was to take an overnight trip as a family to San Francisco once he had earned the BART, San Francisco streetcar and Caltrain levels. We live about a 50-minute drive south in Silicon Valley and walking distance from a Caltrain station. So we planned to walk to the Caltrain, take Caltrain to the BART transfer station at Millbrae, and stay at a hotel walking distance from the Powell BART station on Market street. Then the following day we would ride the San Francisco streetcar on Market street along the Embarcadero.
I found a hotel in the area with an indoor pool (The Intercontinental) and booked us in for one night December 27. Of course we got sick. So I rescheduled for two weeks later. Then we got sick again. So I rescheduled for two weeks after that. That weekend was absolutely pouring rain and I didn’t want to trek and walk in a downpour with two kids so I rescheduled again for mid-February. Then that date came along and my kids had fevers, so I rescheduled it AGAIN for this past week. Thankfully because I joined the free IHG rewards program when I booked the hotel and I booked directly through their hotel website rather than a third party site like Expedia or Hotels.com, it was no problem at all to shift the reservation this many times.
Finally we set off on our journey on a Saturday morning in late February, walking to the Sunnyvale Caltrain station from our home. We each carried one backpack and my husband had a plastic bag with the kids swim floaties in it. That was it – an overnight trip with the kids with just some small backpacks – it was the lightest I’ve ever traveled since becoming a parent. Finally no stroller, no travel potty, no diapers, no teething rings or pack n’play. What even is this life of freedom?
We transferred to the BART and bought clipper cards to use for the rest of our transit journey.
Sadly the BART has a reputation of being sketchy AF and ridership is way down. I am happy to report that we had no problems, a practically empty car both times we rode the BART and both times our fellow riders seemed to be physically and mentally well. There were several cameras in the cars, signs about the rules for riding, advertisements for how to text the BART police, BART employees around, as well as BART police presence at the stations. I was worried about the BART station at Powell street in SF but other than it smelling like “old oil” (which is how my son described the smell of marijuana) we did not see anything alarming. We thought briefly about trying to use the bathroom there (because 3 year olds can rarely wait), but there was actually a security-manned line for access to the toilets, which I guess is reassuring from a safety perspective but the security guard kind of just gave me a tight-lipped tiny headshake to say “no, trust me, no”. Yeah…on second thought maybe a BART bathroom is not the place for a child.
We found the exit and walked the couple of blocks to our hotel. We checked in and took the elevator to the 28th floor of the Intercontinental on Howard street. Our room had a beautiful view. And a beautifully clean bathroom.
We were getting hungry for lunch, so we headed nextdoor to the Westfield mall food court for some Blondie’s Pizza, Shake Shack burgers and Korean BBQ. I love a good food court feast!
A couple blocks away from the mall food court was the Children’s Creativity Museum, so we checked that out for a couple of hours and the kids had a great time creating masterpieces.
Then we took the kids to play at a playground next to the museum. Nearby there was also an ice skating rink (indoors), a bowling alley, two movie theatres, the SF Museum of Modern Art, and several performing arts venues.
I had been wondering how safe I’d feel in public spaces in downtown San Francisco because lately the media paints SF as being some sort of dystopian hellscape with criminals and drug addled zombies everywhere. I didn’t notice anyone who fit that description actually at all. Maybe it was that I was expecting a lot worse so was pleasantly surprised, or maybe they’ve really worked hard to clean up the parts of SF frequented by tourists and young families – but at least in the blocks around the children’s museums and the shopping malls, it seemed quite safe in the daylight hours we were out.
We went to a second nearby food court and then headed back to the hotel for a swim in their INDOOR heated pool. And this pool was warm! Like bathtub warm. It also had a hot tub.
After swimming for a couple of hours with the kids, we took them for dessert at the hotel restaurant and then the kids were so tired from our day that they basically put themselves to bed. I didn’t even know they could do that.
The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel restaurant again (there were other places nearby but this was convenient) and then another long swim at the pool. We were offered a late check out, and headed back to the room to pack our backpacks just in time to grab lunch before heading on the SF streetcar to the Exploratorium.
The Exploratorium was really fun – the kids had a great time with all the hands on science exhibits. My son is really into pendulums and just wanted to see one pendulum. Well to all you fellow pendulum lovers out there, I am happy to report the Exploratorium delivers at least 15 pendulum exhibits. You will not go home without seeing at least one pendulum.
My favorite exhibit was the beetles and maggots case where they put in dead rat carcasses so you could see the state of decomposition over 5 weeks. Of course I forgot to take a picture, but I’m sure you can imagine it. So yeah, there’s something for everyone at the Exploratorium!
Then it was time to head back to our home in Sunnyvale. We walked to the Embarcadero BART station from the Exploratorium, which took us about 30 minutes at a tired 3 year old’s pace. We caught the BART, transferred to the Caltrain and walked home in the rain.
All in all, a great overnight away in San Francisco with our kids!
PS: One of my favourite Canadian bloggers, Krysta Shippelt at the.Shipshow, inspired me to stop making excuses and start making memories and travel more with my kids. Krysta is my cousin-in-law (is that a thing?) and I am honestly in awe of her strength. She traveled with her 4 kids in wintry Canadian conditions to the mountains while her husband was away for work. And to throw in an extra challenge she takes all 4 of them swimming. Alone. Oh and did I mention her youngest is 18 months old? Another time (when they had 2 kids) they flew to New Zealand to go camping. Undaunted by a long flight, jet lag, a million things that could go wrong (and sometimes do), they just travel. If Krysta can do it, I can too. And so can you. See her blog here.
Hey reader! I’m trying something new and putting a few Amazon affiliate links to products I like and use. If you’re looking for a new backpack for your train-loving kiddo, maybe consider the one in my post!
One thought on “Overnight in San Francisco with Kids”
I am so happy that you went on the trip! The kids (and you!) will remember it for so long, and I promise, the first adventure is always the more stressful to embark on. 🙂
Thank you for the kind words, you inspire me as a mother more than you know! And you moved to another country to start your family, so really, you’re the brave one!