Places to Go With Kids in SF

How do you keep four kids, ranging in age from 4 to 12, entertained for a day in San Francisco? Equipped with the cards “City Walks with Kids: San Francisco: 50 Adventures on Foot,” we explored Chinatown, discovering new places and unfamiliar parts of the city one cool winter day.

China Town

We visited a tiny fortune cookie factory, where we sampled and bought a bag of cookies.

Fortune Cookies

We walked by a building where a dragon in the window reminded us that Chinese New Year was just around the corner.

China Town

We listened to a Chinese band as the kids played on a jungle gym in Portsmouth Square. We shopped at a small market, bought trinkets, listened to street musicians, and ended our adventure with lunch at the Far East Cafe, a family favorite from my childhood years.

Far East Cafe

Trip taken: December 2010.

Snow Shoeing Along Meeks Creek

The sun was out, and the snow was deep. It was a perfect day for snow shoeing. We parked along side Highway 89 (south of Tahoe City), strapped on shoes rented from Tahoe Dave’s, and stepped off the road onto the snowy bank near the Meeks Bay Resort.

We followed the gated dirt road now packed with snow about 1.4 miles, admiring and hugging the trees along the way, stopping as the road ended and the trail began to climb.


We ate our snacks on logs then headed slowly back to the car, this time across frozen Meeks Creek, choosing to make our own trail through the snowy meadow.


Trip taken December 2015.

Tootling Around Truckee

Truckee still has the same sense of community that it had when I first moved here, the woman behind the counter said. “In the 18 years I’ve lived here, the population has grown from 4600 to 16,000, but it’s still the same.” And when I mention her quote to others who’ve been visiting Truckee for at least that long, they agree, though they tell me that the week between Christmas and New Year’s the winter enthusiasts have elevated the population to 50,000 or so.

It’s been years since I’ve visited Truckee. So long that I didn’t remember it’s charm. Most of what the tourist visits when they’re not hiking or snow shoeing or skiing is on one long street in downtown Truckee filled with boutiques, a fudge shop, and local artisan galleries.


There are old railroad tracks and tiny bungalows just a block away, and plenty of places to spend money.

Truckee RR Tracks

We ogled and coveted the beautiful locally crafted items at Riverside Studios and Bespoke, wishing we could add to our Christmas list. We ate burgers and sampled beer at Fifty Fifty Brewing Company. We drank coffee at Coffee Bar, trying its lavender and chai spiced lattes, and gluten-free desserts. We enjoyed the uniqueness, the character, the charm of this mountainside community.

Coffee Bar

Mocha Latte

Trip taken January 2016.

Have You Skied at Tahoe?

My first memories of Lake Tahoe are of my dad, taking a dip in its cool waters. It’s summer, and the sun has warmed the air to the 70s, but the water is in the 50s. Brrr. He looks cold after his summer plunge, even to my young eyes. The lake is so cold, so big, and so blue.

It’s big (there are 121 square miles of water in both California and Nevada). It’s deep (at 1645 feet, it’s the third deepest lake in North America and the second deepest lake in the U.S.). It’s high (the highest lake in the U.S. at 6225 feet above sea level). But why is it so blue? Click here to find out.

When people talk about skiing at Tahoe, they’re really talking about skiing the Sierra Nevada mountains located near or around the lake. There are at least 19 mountain peaks, jagged and majestic at 9500 feet high. Tahoe is known as the site of the demise of many in the Donner Party in 1846-1847 and the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. The first California chairlift was funded by none other than Walt Disney in 1937 at Sugar Bowl. Now there are 17 ski resorts with downhill, cross country, or back country skiing – some big, some small, each with a character of its own.


I started the new year at Alpine Meadows. Though the morning was cold with minus zero temperatures and snowflakes blurred our vision, by noon, the sun was out and our view of the lake from the summit was unobstructed.


Trip taken January 2016.

Traveling Through Each State’s Quarter

Are you a coin collector? Do you practice numismatists, the study of coins? Or maybe you just like to collect United States quarters, you know, the ones made for each state?

Though we started collecting quarters when our kids were little, not long after the U.S. Mint started the State Quarters Program in 1999, I still enjoy looking at them and wondering about the place, object, or person which was chosen to represent each state.

State Quarters

I haven’t been to every state, nor have I seen everything depicted on each state’s quarter, but I have seen Oregon’s Crater Lake and hiked up Vermont’s Camel’s Hump, I’ve driven by Nebraska’s Chimney Rock and climbed California’s Half Dome. I’ve seen New Hampshire’s Old Man of the Mountain, walked around New York’s Statue of Liberty, and even seen a grizzly bear in Alaska. But I haven’t been to Kentucky’s Bardstown Mansion nor have I eaten a peach in Georgia. I’ve seen many American bison but never in North Dakota or Kansas. I haven’t crossed West Virginia’s New River Gorge Bridge nor been to the Indy 500 in Indiana.

SD Quarter

Here’s a list of states with the elements depicted in each of their designs. Where have you been and where do you need to go?

dipsea News, Breaking dipsea News and More: Marin Independent Journal

ca-195dipsea News, Breaking dipsea News and More: Marin Independent Journal.

I’ve been lucky enough to be a spectator at two of the oldest running races in U.S.: the Boston Marathon (2nd oldest road race) and the Dipsea Race (oldest trail race). You’ve heard of the Boston Marathon but have you heard of the Dipsea?

The Dipsea Race was started in 1905 when a group of runners decided to run the trail from Mill Valley, California, over Mount Tamalpais, to Stinson Beach. That year, 100 people ran it. Now only 1500 people are lucky enough to run the steep and treacherous 7.4-mile race every year.

As a child, we would wave good-bye to my dad at the start of the race then drive 10 plus miles along the windy roads, through the fog, hoping to reach the finish before he did. It was a tough balance – driving fast enough but not too fast or we would get car sick. Then we’d park and run to watch him finish.

We’d watch Dad and the other runners straggle in, bloody and muddy, many getting sick just before or after they finished. I heard stories of those never ending steps (676 steps and as high as a 50 story building), runners coming up fast from behind, slipping on the mud, and taking short cuts. There was no doubt that the race was a grueling one.

My dad no longer runs the race, but my brother does and so does my sister-in-law. They’ve run the single Dipsea, the Double Dipsea, and even the Quadruple Dipsea. An old friend of my dad’s will run it this year for the 45th year in a row. Due to various running injuries, I’d given up the idea of ever running it myself. But a few years ago, on a crisp December day, I ran the course. Not from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach but from Stinson Beach to Mill Valley. I didn’t run the race, but I did run the course. I ran down the steps instead of up them.

For more information on the race, read the website above or check out this article.

Hiking in Marin

One of my favorite things about Marin County, just north of San Francisco, is its accessibility to hiking. Within an hour or less from urban life, you can be hiking on challenging trails with a view of the ocean or in the shade of redwood trees.

On my last visit to Marin, a friend and I went for a hike in the Tennessee Valley area of the Marin Headlands.

Trail head

It was a blustery but sunny day. We hiked along the Tennessee Valley Road to the confluence of the Old Springs Trail and took a left, eventually turning on the Wolf Ridge Trail toward Hill 88.

MH Trail

What was once a former Nike Missile Radar Station, Hill 88 is now graffiti covered buildings with incredible views of the city.

SF View

After exploring Hill 88, we hiked back along the Wolf Ridge trail, wondering about the cannon we could see far below (but without the time or the inclination to discover it for ourselves).

Instead we headed back down the Coastal Trail, toward Tennessee Valley Road and our car. Soon we were back in civilization, eating tacos for lunch (see Tacos in Sausalito), and going about our day.

For a map of the trails in the Marin Headlands click here.

Trip taken: January 2014.

Do You Plan Your Wanderings?

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “The Happy Wanderer.”

I’m a planner. I admit it. But whether or not my children believe me, I wasn’t always one. When I traveled to Ensenada, I let my friend plan our weekend. When I traveled to San Felipe, I went with the flow. On my trip to Australia, we were free and spontaneous. We chose where to stay and for how long, money and a flight home our only boundaries. Even my first trip to Paris and Zurich were simple – I stayed with friends, brought guide books, and decided each day where I would be a tourist.

But then I had children. And the world became more crowded. I discovered that summer camps would fill up before spring. With a child with food allergies, spontaneity was difficult and wrought with disappointment and a hungry child. Slowly, I learned to plan. And now, I always plan.

My hesitation and anxiety about traveling to South Africa was lessened by learning more about the country, where we could and would go. Planning has allowed me to avoid long lines and eat gluten free at Disney, visit our sponsored child in Lesotho, camp at Pawtuckaway State Park every summer for years, be led by a tour guide through Gettysburg National Park, and visit the Senate on a trip to Washington.

But I still love spontaneity. And while doing a little research before traveling to a new place helps me to find the special and unique, or avoid those well traveled and touristy, destinations, spontaneity allows us to change course. To listen to recommendations from other travelers or discover new places ourselves.

Without spontaneity, I wouldn’t have attended a hearing for Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, watched the surfers in Half Moon Bay, or listened to the Wave Organ in San Francisco. I wouldn’t have spent the night in a treehouse, picked strawberries in Pescadero, gone hiking with the Hobart Bushwalking Club, or danced Nia in Santa Barbara. Without spontaneity, I wouldn’t have met Terry from England who later invited me to her wedding in Athens. I wouldn’t have stayed with the dairy farmer in Auckland or gone hot air ballooning outside of Alice Springs.

The travel world is so different than it was – the internet provides information and access to so many places, and apps like Yelp can allow a little bit of spontaneity with less risk of disappointment. You can read about where to go and what to see on blogs and share your experiences on social media.

But there’s nothing quite as freeing as just setting out, doing what you feel like doing at the moment, eating when you’re hungry, and being ready to just let things happen.

Moteling in California

“Roll up the windows and lock the doors,” my husband said as he and the kids went to check out our motel room just off the highway in northern California. I looked at him in surprise. The place looked nice enough, though there had been a police car in the driveway.


A few minutes later they were back. “The police were pounding on someone’s door,” the kids said. “They said, “This is the police, open up!’” My husband reported, “The cop said it would be fine to stay here.”

And it was. But the next morning, while helping ourselves to the motel’s continental breakfast, we couldn’t help but overhear a heated discussion between a wiry, bearded man in his 60s with the woman working behind the desk. His hair was shaggy, his clothes were untucked, and he was irate. “I’ve been staying here every year for the past 10 years, and you’ve never charged me for my local calls before,” he said again and again in various word combinations until he saw my husband waiting for his bread to toast.

“You wouldn’t be safe if it weren’t for me!” the man said, his voice elevated. “If you’re not going to fight,” he stared at my husband. “You might as well move to Brazil!”

Choosing to ignore him, we ate our breakfast on the sunny curb outside the motel. A few moments later, the police arrived, but we headed for the car. We’d had enough excitement for that motel and drove away, heading for our next destination.

Trip taken 2010.

When to Visit an Elephant Seal

When the air is cool and the days are short, the elephant seals come to their own special place along Northern California’s shore to mate, to calve, and to raise their young before venturing back out to sea. The place, Ano Nuevo State Park, is located about 55 miles south of San Francisco, about half way between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz. 

After years of hearing about Ano Nuevo State Park, my family finally ventured there to see and to learn about the elephant seals one late December day. After meandering down the coast from the city, we arrived at the park in time for our 2 p.m. tour.

Ano Nuevo State Park

At a massive 8,800 pounds (that’s right, over 4 tons!), elephant seal bulls are wild animals and potentially dangerous. Visiting their habitat is allowed only on guided tours led by park naturalists between December 15 and March 31 during the mating season.

A Bull

As we walked along the trail, listening to the naturalist and taking photos, large rocks turned into sleeping giants. Twenty foot long gray masses slumbered while we tip toed by, leery of danger signs warning us to stay at least 25 feet away.

Sleeping Giant

During our 2 1/2 hour tour, we heard bellowing and watched young calves more quickly toward us, curious, just like us.

Talkative Seal

On the Go

If you’re curious, too, you can make reservations in advance online through Reserve America or by calling 1-800-444-4445.

Trip taken: December 2010.