This was a very quick trip (just four nights) to San Francisco and Monterey, with our two kids (aged 12 and 14) to celebrate my birthday and do some sightseeing. The kids had never been to the west coast, and my husband and I had never been to northern California, so this was a nice introductory “taste” of the area, and definitely left us planning to come back again!
We arrived at the Oakland airport on Saturday evening and took a taxi to our hotel. Taking the Air Shuttle and BART would have been much cheaper, but after a long day, with two hungry teenagers, it was worth the extra expense to take the most direct route. We checked into the Best Western Tuscan Inn (a Kimpton hotel located a stone’s throw from Fisherman’s Wharf) and walked a couple of blocks to an In ‘N Out Burger for a quick dinner. The Fisherman’s Wharf area is not at its best at night (pretty tacky; reminded us of Atlantic City), but we were tired, it was already about 10 pm “our time”, and it was close by!
A few words about the hotel: the location was great (two blocks in from the water, near Fisherman’s Wharf, and convenient to everything we wanted to see and do), and the on-site restaurant was good (though we only ate breakfast there), but our first room (overlooking a busy street) was unbearably noisy and the room they moved us to for the second night was small and strangely laid out. I don’t think I would stay there again.
Sunday morning we enjoyed the included continental breakfast at the hotel and then strolled over to the waterfront to check out the sea lions at Pier 39 and to check in at Pier 33 for our 9:30 am ferry to Alcatraz. The weather was absolutely perfect (upper 60’s and sunny) and the boat ride was very pleasant. Alcatraz itself was amazing. All four of us later agreed that it was the highlight of the trip. The audio tour, which uses first-hand commentary from former guards and prisoners, was very interesting, and you could really imagine what life on “The Rock” must have been like. When we got back to the pier, we had a quick al fresco lunch at the Hard Rock Café for the kids, and then wandered along the waterfront for a while sightseeing and souvenir shopping. That afternoon we made a visit to Ghirardelli Square for our resident chocoholic and then took a cable car ride up the hill to Lombard Street to walk down the “Crookedest Street” in San Francisco. My delicious birthday dinner that evening was at Trattoria Contadina in North Beach.
Monday morning we gave in to the kids’ pleas for breakfast at Johnny Rockets, and then checked out and picked up our rental car. A tip: prices are generally better at off-airport locations, and we saved time and money by picking our car up right downtown at the Hertz office on O’Farrell St. In search of Golden Gate views, we headed to the Presidio and walked along the abandoned armaments above Baker Beach. Then we headed over the bridge towards Sausalito and Muir Woods. We opted for one of the shorter hikes through Muir Woods (about an hour) but it was well-worth the side trip to see such a different environment and learn about the history/ecology of the area. On our way back into the city, we stopped just before the bridge on the Marin side to take some great photos looking across to the San Francisco waterfront.
From there, we took the (long) drive down Coastal Route 1 to Monterey. There were some scenic parts, but it was not the jaw-dropping stretch of coast we had expected (guess we were thinking of the Pacific Coast Highway further south) and it was probably not worth the extra time versus taking the freeway. We arrived in Monterey in the late afternoon and checked into our hotel, the Mariposa Inn and Suites. I would highly recommend this property to anyone. It’s conveniently-located (right off the highway, across the street from a major shopping center, and within minutes of downtown and Cannery Row), well-priced, and the staff could not have been nicer. We had a duplex with a king bedroom and bath upstairs and a downstairs living area for the kids with a separate full bath, a gas fireplace, a double bed (a Murphy bed), couch, and a small balcony with a view of the pool, Jacuzzi and outdoor fire pit. We asked the front desk for a restaurant recommendation for dinner, and they sent us to a great local place called Lalla Grill – not a tourist spot, and definitely not someplace we would have found on our own.
Tuesday morning we enjoyed the included continental breakfast at the hotel, and then drove through downtown to look around and kill some time until the Monterey Bay Aquarium opened. We were in line when the doors opened and enjoyed a couple of hours touring the exhibits. Though we live on the (east) coast and have spent plenty of time at other major aquariums (Boston, Mystic) it was nice to learn about the Pacific and we especially enjoyed the sea otters and the special exhibit on the “Secret Lives of Sea Horses”. After some more souvenir shopping along Cannery Row and a quick lunch, we were back in the car to do the 17-Mile Drive through Pebble Beach and Carmel. By then it had clouded over and the lighting was not great for pictures, but we enjoyed the scenery all the same. South of Carmel, we headed to Point Lobos Nature Preserve to go for a hike. There are many trails to choose from, and we tried a few of them. The crashing waves, cypress trees, rocky shore line and barking sea lions were well worth the walk. That evening we had our “farewell” dinner at an Italian restaurant on Cannery Row (Louie Linguini’s – very touristy, but the food was good) and then turned in early after all that fresh air and walking.
The next morning, we ate breakfast, checked out, and drove back to San Francisco (taking the major highway this time, for some inland views of farms and hillsides). We returned the car, ate a quick lunch in the airport, and were on our way back home to Providence.
A few overall thoughts/impressions:
- This was a quick trip, and we packed a lot into four days, but I’m not sure everyone would enjoy the pace. We all agreed that one more day in San Francisco would have been perfect, since we never made it to Union Square, Chinatown, etc.
- I had wanted to stay near Fisherman’s Wharf, but I think I actually prefer the area closer to Ghirardelli Square. In particular, I walked through the Argonaut (another Kimpton hotel) and would much prefer to stay there next time.
- Monterey was great for the kids, but next time, I think I will do an adults-only trip and spend a few days in San Francisco followed by some time in Napa/Sonoma. If you’re not into the aquarium, and don’t have time to continue south and see Big Sur, Hearst Castle, etc. it may not be worth going just to Monterey. My personal opinion.
For the full gallery of photos, click here.