Tag Archives: vacation

Planes, Trains & Automobiles: San Francisco

Our trip to San Francisco involved all of those modes of transportation, and more, just not in that order 🙂

This trip started with 46 hours on an Amtrak train, from Osceola, Iowa to Emeryville, California.  This was such a cool way to travel. We slept through the rest of Iowa and Nebraska, then woke up as we pulled into Denver, Colorado. This means that we spent the whole day with gorgeous views of the mountains. We set up camp in the observation car and spent the day playing card games, reading, listening to music and drawing pictures. We counted tunnels – 63 in total and ate multiple desserts a day. As with any trip or experience, there were learning opportunities along the way – like when we had to teach our kids what “mooning” is when we saw rafters on the Colorado River 😉

The second day involved a little more restlessness, but overall, it was still a good experience! When we arrived in Emeryville, we rented a car and drove across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco and checked in to our Airbnb.

The next morning we were up bright and early (thanks, time difference!) and got ready to drive up to Muir Woods. We hiked through and the kids completed their Junior Ranger booklets. We loved being able to stand inside the tree trunks to take in their massive size and enjoyed finding the banana slugs along the way. We drove over to Muir Beach, enjoyed a picnic lunch and then put our toes in the Pacific Ocean. The kids kept creeping further in until a bigger wave came their way. They weren’t able to outrun it and Devon was knocked over. Without a change of clothes handy, this ended our time at the beach pretty quickly. Weeks later, we’re still finding sand in the pocket of the sweatshirt he was wearing!

On our way back to our home for the week, we stopped to take pictures in front of the Golden Gate Bridge and then over to Lands End Lookout, where we explored ancient baths, a cave and took in some more views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Day 2 in San Francisco involved Alamo Square to see the Painted Ladies (Full House opening!!), a ride on a cable car, sourdough bread, the sea lions at Pier 39, Aquarium of the Bay, Ghiradelli Square, Lombard Street and In-N-Out Burger. It was a fantastic day, full of iconic SF sights and I was starting to wonder what we had left to do. Thankfully, there was a lot more to see!

We had returned our rental car the day before, so we were completely at the mercy of public transportation for day 3. Even so, we managed to stop at the see the Tanner’s house (once again, think Full House!) The kids had watched all the episodes on Hulu, so at least 75% of our family was really excited about this! Then we hopped on another bus, detoured to our second San Francisco park and spent the rest of our morning at the Exploratorium. After lunch with a view of the sea lions, we took a Bay Cruise out under the Golden Gate Bridge and back. It was a windy, choppy ride, but neat to see things from that perspective.

By this point in the trip, we had been on a train, car, cable car, bus and boat. We had also done plenty of walking! An underground train took us partway home that night and we’d eventually take a taxi and airplane to get back to Iowa. But first, we had one more full day of fun!

Our last full day was also Chloe’s 9th birthday! In her honor, we had a second breakfast of crepes before hanging out at our third park of the trip. We stayed closer to home and spent the day in Golden Gate State Park, with most of our afternoon at the California Academy of Sciences. Of the three museums we went to, I think this was everyone’s favorite. There were a variety of exhibits, including a planetarium show and live animals.

After dinner, we found a rolled ice cream place, because – birthday!

Before heading to the airport, we had about a half day left to explore. We stuck close to “home” – and more importantly, our luggage we didn’t want to cart all over the city – and explored even more of the enormous Golden Gate State Park. We saw the Japanese Tea Garden from the outside, played at park number four and even saw police officers on horses 🙂

Right as we arrived at the airport, we got a notification that our flight was cancelled. They couldn’t get us home until the next day, so we stayed in a random hotel and let the kids watch movies all evening. That was a rough ending to the vacation, when everyone was tired and potentially a little cranky. On our way home, I tried to say “yes” to the kids as much as possible, to make the experience as bearable as possible. I’m not sure how successful my plan was, but we made it home in one piece!



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Meet me in St. Louis, Louis…

This is the song lyric that ran through my head most of the weekend. I really don’t know any other words to this song, but these alone seemed appropriate enough!

We arrived Friday afternoon and went to the Old Courthouse. The kids completed a Junior Ranger booklet, including a scavenger hunt around the courthouse and a chance to be a judge. Then they received their Junior Ranger badges!


After 6 hours in the car and a trip to a museum, the kids were ready to get outside and see the Gateway Arch! We couldn’t ride the elevators up to the top due to some construction, but D thought the construction equipment at the base made it so much cooler! 


After checking it out from the viewing platform, we walked over to the Arch so we could touch it. The kids were happy to quote Finding Nemo and said several times, “I touched the butt!” They were also thoroughly confused by the fact that the base of the Arch is a triangle. They had to count the sides multiple times 🙂

After the Arch, we stopped at IKEA (hooray for me!) and then settled in at the hotel. Drury Inn & Suites might be my new favorite hotel to stay at with kids. We had a suite with a separate bedroom. They offered free popcorn every afternoon and “heavy appetizers” that we easily made into dinner. Score! This left us with plenty of time to go swimming!

Saturday morning, the kids were up bright and early and by 7:15 they were already asking when we were leaving to go to the zoo. As a result, we were there within minutes of them opening. It was a little chilly to start the morning – about 35 degrees – but still warmer than it was at home! It warmed up to a beautiful 50-ish by the time we left!!

Due to the cool temps, the zoo was not very busy. We went to the Kansas City Zoo with some friends in December, on a day with similar temps, and it was equally as not-busy. I despise cold weather, we all know that, but I think winter might be my new favorite time to go to the zoo! There were no crowds to fight through and the kids got to spend as much time interacting with the animals as they wanted – no need to let other kids have a look!

The hippos and polar bear were some of the kids’ favorites. They had each taken $10 of their own money on the trip so they could buy a souvenir of their choosing along the way. C picked out a stuffed polar bear that she named Louis (Loo-ee) and D chose a small hippo toy he named Jimmy. Letting them use their own money made it so much easier than saying “no” to the majority of the junk they wanted and they took their time to pick out one thing they really liked.

And did I mention the St. Louis Zoo is free?!? I had no idea until I started researching our trip! There are certain things they charge for, such as the Children’s Zoo, carousel, train ride and sea lion show. But we discovered along the way, that even some of those things are free at certain times of day. The Children’s Zoo is free for the first hour the zoo is open and the carousel is free from 10-11 every day – which we conveniently discovered at 10:02!

After the zoo, Aaron’s sister and her family met up with us at a local pizza joint. We had some delicious St. Louis style pizza and then headed back to the hotel to watch the Iowa State basketball game – it is between the months of November and March, so our schedule on game days is predetermined 🙂 Then we got to go swimming again, with cousins this time! As proof that love for our children runs deep, I not only shaved my legs (in winter!) to put on a swimming suit, but I also fully submerged myself under water so I could swim C under the rubber barrier between the indoor and outdoor pools. I don’t put my head under water voluntarily. And I don’t swim underwater in 50 degree weather. But C wanted to, sooo…

The cousins got to spend the evening hanging out together and the adults got to chat and play cards after the kids fell asleep.

It was a great time hanging out with family and getting away from the day-to-day grind. We enjoyed some warmer weather and time outside the house, before we came home to a blizzard on Monday with wind chills below zero forecasted for the next few days.

A week on a beach might have been my first choice for a vacation, but this weekend away helped cure my wanderlust. For now!

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