San Francisco with kids: the good, the bad and the ugly

San Francisco is a great place to take kids. Once you are there mind you, as it’s a hell of a long flight. Our maiden world trip voyage was 11 hours and included a full 15-minute scream-off during our ascent. Grace was reluctantly held down in her seat to stop her unbuckling. She was adamant her seat belt should go across her shoulder, like in a car. Her reluctance was vocal to the delight of our fellow flyers. Along the way, we dodged a few egg-allergy scares, but thanks to modern in-flight entertainment and plenty of snacks, we made it to San Francisco.

Our stay in San Francisco was baked in new beginnings and high expectations. Expectations that we have gradually adjusted over the last few months, as those of you who follow us on Instagram will know. If you have exhausting weekends at home with the kids, then don’t think they will turn into docile little angels once hit the road. They won’t.

David, Grace and Aidan in front of Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco.

David, Grace and Aidan in front of Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco.

We made the budget conscious decision to stay in Outer Sunset, a 30-40 minutes tram way away from downtown San Francisco. Our Airbnb was close to the beach and to the Golden Gate Park, not to be confused with The Golden Gate Bridge. It was misty and quite frankly cold on the beach in early September, but kids never seem to care about that sort of thing and happily ran in and out of the white ocean foam until their lips were blue.

San Francisco sandwiched our RV trip and returning from three weeks on the road meant choosing another place to stay before we headed to New York. After three weeks in our camper van we opted for a hotel, Cova Hotel in the Tenderloin district. Despite the area’s gritty reputation, it has a genuine charm and gives you a taste of the real San Francisco. The hotel was good value and offered a free wine hour every evening on the roof terrace – exactly what we needed after a day of tears, tantrums and egg-free food hunts across downtown San Francisco.

This was our second trip to San Francisco but our first with the two monsters in tow. These are their top picks.

Aidan taking in the views during our bike ride across the Presidio.

Aidan taking in the views during our bike ride across the Presidio.

Aidan met ex-Alcatraz prisoner William Baker on the ferry back to San Francisco.

Aidan met ex-Alcatraz prisoner William Baker on the ferry back to San Francisco.

Top 10 San Francisco Experiences with Kids:

  1. Bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. Rent your bikes at The Sports Basement from Presidio. They have great selection of bikes, as well as bike seats for younger children. Aidan had an absolute blast on his mountain bike. We rented the bikes for three hours and rode all away around the Presidio area, over the bridge and back. Riding over the bridge can be quite hectic. If only one lane is open, traffic goes both ways for pedestrians and cyclists, combined with the wind and noise from the heavy traffic, it was quite the adrenaline rush, so be prepared. It’s also a steep climb up on the bike to the bridge.

  2. Exploratorium - got this tip from one of our fellow travelling Instagram families. Well worth the $20-30 entrance fee. We spent hours here making our way through the different interactive exhibits. Shame Grace decided the most interesting thing to interact with were the fire extinguishers. There is a decent shop there too with science themed toys and books. We picked up some awesome play-dough (Mad Matter), which has become a firm favourite with the kids and is still going strong. There is a nice burger and chips place onsite too with yummy fries!

  3. Sea Lions on Pier 39 - a classic but not to miss if you have the kids with you. You can smell them before you see them. It’s free, but the walk to the sea lions could knock you back a few dollars. With souvenir shops, ice cream stalls and merry-go-rounds, it will be hard to resist the pleading whines from the kids. If you want to make a B-line straight to the sea lions without the commercial distractions, there is a more direct and therefore cheaper route so take note.

  4. Alcatraz - great for older kids - but plenty of space to run around for boisterous toddlers too and if you are lucky you can leave one of them there! Whatever the season, the notorious prison is a firm favourite with tourists so make sure you book in advance. Would recommend booking online although you can always rock up to buy tickets on the pier but you will rarely get same day tickets. The climb to the prison itself is easy enough and we took our pushchair despite some comments online suggesting not to. Bring snacks as food is only available during the short ferry ride to and from the island. The audio tour is included in the ticket price and our eldest lapped it up. We took the 2.40 pm ferry and it gave us plenty of time to do the tour and get back to the pier in time for the last ferry back around 6pm. In high season would probably recommend taking an earlier ferry, as the crowds build quite quickly after lunch, but as we went in September, the afternoon slots were not too busy. We booked with Alcatraz Island Tickets - fast response time.

  5. San Francisco Library This was not a planned stop but with the main library ideally situated across from the Helen Dillier Playground (see recommendation 10), it is an ideal place to have some quiet time (yeah right), check out the great kids’ selection and stop for a free toilet break. They also have a second hand book stall at one of the entrances where you can pick up your next holiday read, as well as drop off books you have already read.

  6. China Town - stroll through San Francisco China Town and you will be guaranteed some free entertainment. From bubble tea and exotic vegetable stalls to pet shops, without forgetting the Asian architectural touches, kids might just shut up for a few minutes and take the unfamiliar in.

  7. Cable Car - another classic - a bit confusing to navigate the first time. Would recommend to get on it at first or last stop - especially with kids, as mid journey it is often packed and you might struggle to get your brood and toddler paraphernalia on quick enough. You can buy your fare in the cable car itself from the conductor or stock up on some pre-paid fares with the pretty decent San Francisco transport app Muni . If you have a pushchair, fold it before you board and they will store it at the back of the cable car for you. Be warned no snacks allowed - with some discretion I did manage to slip a few in our restless toddler’s mouth. Also from experience make sure all small children have had a wee beforehand. Don’t ask.

  8. Friends of Joe DiMaggio Playground- amazing park in North Beach for keeping kids entertained for a good few hours. Really well set up. They also have a community centre on site where you can pop in and play (toys available). There are also a couple of ping-pong tables inside but be warned they are very popular with the elderly Chinese community and we didn’t get a look in! Was just as fun watching them though. There is also an indoor pool onsite - which we discovered too late - but you could combine the park with a dip.

  9. Helen Dillier Civic Centre Playground - futuristic playground located opposite the main San Francisco Library (see recommendation 5). There are two semi-connecting playgrounds with some pretty impressive slides. Not much shade for the little ones. Plenty to explore visually around the area with San Francisco City Hall and the Asian Art Museum all within a stone’s throw.

  10. Tenderloin Rec Centre - in our desperate search for a kids’ playground near our hotel in Tenderloin district we stumbled across this park/children’s centre. It has a decent size play area outside, as well as an outdoor enclosed football pitch - quite a rare find in the USA. You want to get a real taste of the area, this is where to go. There are a lot of disadvantaged kids here, including refugees with a lot of their plate. It is run by volunteers and clearly underfunded. A lot of local parents drop off their kids here for a few hours knowing they are in safe hands. Don’t look the other way. Drop by. Be kind, be patient, smile and you got yourself a hell of a soccer match on your hands.

How do you plan your around the world trip?

David deep in planning.

David deep in planning.

Now the dust has settled on us actually leaving London for a year, the conversations are evolving from wow to the planning going? I have already explained how we funded it but how we are planning it now the flights are booked is a whole new ball game.

The truth is I feel like we haven't planned much at all. In three months we will be stepping on a plane to San Francisco for our maiden world trip flight and we have only fragments of bookings and plans. We are struggling to make the time with two full time jobs and two full on kids.

Despite having presented a few weeks ago on the risks of planning technology projects too far out and the benefits of agile planning, starting small, thinking big I am still #freakingout!

How much planning should we have done by now? How comfortable would you feel with our current level of planning? Be honest... And if you have any recommendations, advice or both do please use the comment section to let us know, let's call it crowd-planning!

USA: OK so our first week in San Francisco is booked with Airbnb - that was relatively straight forward. We used Travel Nation to book the RV for our three week Californian road trip, as it was cheaper than all the deals we saw online. We know where we are heading and how many nights we are staying in each location. We naively had a Jack Kerouac-esque ideal of this leg but in reality there is very little freedom to stop where you want at short notice. We did manage to book RV campsites for the most popular National Parks with sufficient notice to secure a few nights in the likes of Yosemite, Death Valley and Grand Canyon but it was tight, they literally get booked up months in advance. 

We have nothing booked for our week in New York. Travel Nation have given us a quote for a car rental from New York as we will be making our way to Canada by car.

Canada: checked average prices for accommodation on Airbnb for Montreal. Got from trusted source that it is not easy or cheap to rent a car in USA and drop it off in Canada so might need to hop over the border to Toronto from Buffalo if we decide to go to Niagara Falls. However we were really keen to go to Vermont from New York too to see the leaves and that is kind of in the opposite direction so need to figure that one out.

Nicaragua: Bought the guide book... does that count? 

Costa Rica: Bought the guide book (a combined Nicaragua/Costa Rica) and has conversation with colleague at work about suggested places to visit.

Cuba: Checked out some suggested routes for 16 days, looked at Airbnb prices although restrictions on internet in Cuba means we might need to sort out accommodation sooner rather than later.

Mexico: Booked first night in Cancun and then 12 days for Christmas and New Year in Tulum. Loads of recommendations given by friends and colleagues on suggested places to visit. We are in Mexico for 7 weeks. Looked at bus journeys and places to avoid in car rentals

Hawaii: No planning baby, just dreaming...

Japan: Conversations with colleagues over suggested routes for a three week stay. Flicked through Hector Garcia's A Geek in Japan at a friend's house this weekend. Researched average accommodation prices.


China/Hong Kong: Great advice and recommendations from a colleague at work on suggested itineraries for our month trip and what to expect at a Chinese train station! 

Vietnam: No real planning, plan to head over the border to Laos. Hoping we will have not run out of money by then.

Kenya: I mean this is more than a year away from now! But due to age restrictions on safaris - although I am sure the lions will be more scared of Grace than she of them - we have had a quote for a two night safari and will no doubt book that this week. Also figured out how long we will stay in Nairobi and decided we would head to Mombasa on the coast for a week or so on our way through Kilimanjaro. Also due to the need for the Yellow Fever vaccine in Kenya we have had to do a lot of research for Grace as there is a risk to egg-allergy sufferers as the vaccine is grown on hen egg embryos (more on how to travel with a kid with allergies in future posts!).

Greece: Had some great Greek island recommendations from a mum from Grace's nursery. I should really not be worrying this far ahead.

There you have it, out planning so far. 





How to quit your job to travel world?

So how do you quit your job to travel the world? The simple answer is you resign. It feels awesome! In reality there are more things to consider. When to tell your boss? What impact will resigning have on your career? Will they take me back? Does the company have sabbatical schemes? If your mind is made up, don't overthink things too much (she says totally overthinking the whole process!).

Here is the disclaimer : I am writing this post having recently quit my job to travel the world so I am still on a high. In reality we are still in London as D-day is in four months time (yikes!). I am basing my post on my current experience and advice I have been given since I quit. 

When to tell your boss?

I booked the tickets for our world trip end of January and I told my boss shortly after. I could have waited until the legal three month notice period kicked in, in my case early June, but giving your company plenty of time to digest the information and plan for your replacement shows good intent. I am currently working on a critical project for the company with sizeable investment behind it. But leaving a role gives other employees opportunities to grow. In my case, my boss embraced he news. He was genuinely happy for me and encouraged me to take full advantage of my year away to regroup and prioritise.

What impact will it have on my career? 

Leaving your job behind takes courage and don't forget that. It shows confidence, commitment and initiative. Even though it might feel like the scariest thing (which it definitely does!) take a step back and look at ways your adventure will add to your CV. Careers are being redefined. There is no longer one template of work satisfaction and success. The lines between work and home life are blurred. There is so much planning involved and therefore a number of skills you will demonstrate before and during such a trip, whether it is a year or 6 weeks away from the daily grind. Social media is supporting the rise of a new tribe of digital nomads who are rewriting the rule book of what is a job. Since we started this blog and our associated Instagram account we have discovered hundreds of couples, families, singletons travelling the world and living of their adventures. There is some serious hard work involved and we are still figuring our how we might monetise our year away but the possibilities are out there so watch this space...

Whilst you will no doubt need a settling-in period on your return, don't let anyone tell you that you will need another year to achieve your next career goal. It is all about the story, as my boss always says, you need to come back and clearly position yourself for your next move if that is your goal. I have been on two maternity leaves (9 months the first time and 11 months the second time) during my time with my current company and you do not come back brain dead (although for those of you who have taken time off to look after kids it might have sometimes felt that way!).

Will they take me back?

If you have a good relationship with your company and are valued there is no reason why they will not take you back. It is hard to recruit good people and if you have a solid track-record it will be an easy choice for your employer to take you back. Depending on your company you might have a sabbatical or career break schemes you can take advantage of. More and more companies are offering this possibility to employees as they embrace a more holistic approach to careers. But if your company doesn't offer such schemes it is still worth knocking back at their door when you are back. 

I have been with the same company for over 8 years and it is scary as hell thinking about having to find a new job when I come back if I decided not to return to my current company or if they decided not to take me back. But I am telling myself to take things one thing at a time. 

Have you thought about quitting the day job to take some time out? What is holding you back? Would love to hear your thoughts and comments.