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.

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.

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.

Blackie: The Horse That Won’t Be Forgotten

I don’t remember sitting on Blackie’s back. I don’t remember seeing him stand in the same spot day after day, year after year, in a field now known as Blackie’s Pasture. What I do remember is visiting his grave at the end of the bike path in Tiburon, California, and hearing stories about the love for this gentle and swaybacked horse.

Although he died in 1966, children can still sit on his back.

Climbing on Blackie

In 1995, the Tiburon Peninsula Foundation erected a life size statue in the same spot where Blackie spent his last 28 years. In 2006, Christopher Cerf and Paige Peterson published a children’s picture book, Blackie, the Horse That Stood Still about Blackie.

IMG_8512The next time you visit San Francisco, consider making a trip across the Golden Gate Bridge to visit Blackie. He stands alongside the bay in Tiburon among the many cyclists, joggers, kite flyers, and walkers just out to enjoy the view.

If you want to learn more about Blackie’s life, click here.     If you want to visit Blackie, click here.

The San Francisco Wave Organ

As each wave greeted the rocks, I held my ear to a large pipe, waiting. Each wave brought a sound – sometimes just a trickle, like rain hitting a downspout; sometimes a glug as if I was drinking from a giant mug; sometimes a distant roar or a moan of discontent. Moving from pipe to pipe, I listened.

On a jetty in San Francisco Bay, just a short walk from the St. Francis Yacht Club and the Exploratorium, is the Wave Organ, a musical instrument of PVC and concrete tubes built and cemented into the rocks at just the right angles to capture the sounds and music of the incoming tide.


Creating different noises and gurgles as the incoming tide rushes through with varying force and intensity, the pipes look like barnacles or submarine scopes, their openings bending and twisting with personality.


My 8 and 6-year old niece and nephew explored with my teenage kids, testing the sounds emanating from various levels and heights; many pipe openings just the perfect height for their ears. I sat on a covered bench, where sounds from three pipes enveloped me.

SF Bay

The Wave Organ is the genius of Peter Richards and George Gonzalez, Exploratorium artists-in-residence in 1986. It is free and open to the public. You can see more photos and listen to an audio slide show at the Exploratorium’s website


Trip taken April 2011.



When Traveling, Remember the Moscow Rule

While traveling in Paris many years ago, my American friends introduced me to the Moscow Rule. Not to be confused with the Moscow Rules, this rule has to do with shopping and souvenirs and is fairly simple. If you see something, buy it, because you may never see it again.

My friends told me that this rule originates from people standing in line in Moscow. If you lived in Moscow under Communist rule and saw people standing in line, you joined them, because whatever they were waiting for you most likely needed or would need and you may not have the opportunity to buy it another time.

Although I try to remember this rule when I travel, the times I forget are the times I regret. Like the time I didn’t buy the metal toy truck in Cape Town because I knew we’d see several more during our trip (we didn’t).


Or when I didn’t buy a drum and then had to resort to the airport gift shop. Or when I passed up a pretty necklace at a price I saw quadrupled in future stores.


Sometimes it’s easy to remember, like buying Lindt chocolates in Zurich, wool scarves with the family clan in Edinburgh, or maple syrup in Vermont. I find it more difficult to remember when I see something different. Is it something I truly want? Is the price a good one? Will I see it again?

Maple Syrup

To prevent those post traveling blues, remember the Moscow Rule: if you see something unique, something you’re unlikely to find online or anywhere else, snatch it up, because you may never see it again. Most likely, you won’t regret the purchase, and the memories it holds will bring smiles for a lifetime.


Tacos in Sausalito

When you’re looking for a quick bite of Mexican in the Sausalito area (just across the Golden Gate Bridge), but you’re not quite dressed for trendy and upscale, try Salsalito Taco Shop. After a hike in the Marin Headlands in January, I did just that.


I was craving ceviche and one of my favorite restaurants in the Bay Area, Fish, was closed (temporarily). So, Salsalito would have to do, and it did just fine. We ate on the enclosed porch near a propane heater. It was sunny but still cool, and the propane heater took the edge off. The chips were fresh and served with a green and a red salsa.


Choosing what to have for an appetizer was easy. I ordered the ceviche, small bits of white fish marinated in lime juice on a crispy corn tortilla. Choosing which taco to order was a bit more of a challenge. Steak, pork, chicken, shrimp, oysters, beans, veggies, or fish? I ordered two: the Taco De Pescado, lightly battered and fried fish served with shredded cabbage, carrot, and pico de gallo salsa in a corn tortilla for $3.85 and Taco Salsalito, shrimp sautéed with onion and bell pepper in a garlic wine sauce in a corn tortilla for $3.90. You can add rice and beans to any order and switch the corn to a flour tortilla.

Both tacos were delicious and worth coming back for. If you don’t like tacos, don’t despair. The Taco Shop also serves burritos, taquitos, enchiladas. huevos rancheros, fajitas, and chili rellenos with a selection of Mexican beer, agua frescas, and margaritas to enjoy.

Always on the search for good fish tacos, I’ll try Boston next.


Trip taken January 2014.

Walking a Labyrinth

Have you ever walked a labyrinth? Not a maze of several puzzling paths, but a pattern with a single winding path that leads from the opening to the center? I walked an outdoor labyrinth in Concord, Massachusetts, this fall.


There are two basic labyrinth patterns: the Classical pattern which has seven paths surrounding the center and the Medieval pattern which has eleven. The labyrinth I walked was made of a classical pattern.

Besides being a path with a pattern, what exactly is a labyrinth? According to the Labyrinth Network, the labyrinth is a tool for personal, psychological and spiritual transformation.

Labyrinths are old. The oldest dates back to the 13th century. They can be found around the world and across many cultures and religions.

Why do people walk a labyrinth? Labyrinths are thought to increase right brain activity, they can stimulate problem solving and act as a tool for conflict resolution according to the Labyrinth Network. They offer the walker a chance to meditate and to pray, to release and to receive.

IMG_1471So, what did I experience? On that sunny early fall day, I walked barefoot, feeling the warm bricks beneath my feet. I walked slowly and tried to breathe deeply (I have a habit of breathing shallowly). I cleared my mind as best as I could and just walked. Afterward, I felt relaxed and refreshed. Did I experience increased right brain activity? Maybe. Next time, I’ll plan on being creative soon after my walk.

Since my labyrinth experience, I’ve discovered several in the area I live, made of pavers, gravel, or field stones. My neighbor has one in her backyard. San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral has both an indoor labyrinth and an outdoor labyrinth. I’ve even seen portable labyrinths made of canvas.

If you’re interested in finding a labyrinth near you, whether you live in Alabama, South Dakota, Texas, or Colorado, the Labyrinth Society has a labyrinth locator to help you find one. There are over 75 labyrinths in Massachusetts alone!


Trip taken September 2013.

You Say Oysters and I Say . . .

After lunch in Point Reyes Station, we drove north to Tomales Bay, intent on sampling a few local oysters.

Yellow kayaks brightened the foggy gray Tomales Bay as we drove along the rolling highway. Cars lined the narrow and curvy road as we passed a crowded Tomales Bay Oyster Company before reaching our destination, Hog Island Oyster Company.


People sat outside, shucking and eating, laughing and chatting.



We bought a couple dozen oysters and headed home, anticipating our dinner of oysters on the grill and goat cheese ravioli followed by homemade strawberry ice cream and fresh blackberry pie.


 Trip taken August 2012.


Eating and Shopping in Point Reyes Station

If Point Reyes National Seashore is your destination, be sure to allow time to visit the small town of Point Reyes Station before or after your trip to one of the most striking locations on the west coast. Once you’ve visited the Bear Valley Visitor Center, made your way to the beach at Limantour or hiked to Abbott’s Lagoon, seen the Tule Elk and maybe driven out to the lighthouse, stop in at the small town of Point Reyes Station for a bite to eat and a little shopping.

Point Reyes Visitor CenterEvery time we make Point Reyes Station our destination, we visit a few of our favorites. We stop at Bovine Bakery for coffee and a sweet or savory snack and at Cowgirl Creamery’s Deli in Tomales Bay Foods for the best cheese around.

Tomales Bay FoodsYou can find picnic essentials at Palace Market and a book for the beach at Point Reyes Books. On our last visit, we walked through a tiny flea market, browsed the variety of items at Toby’s Feed Barn, ogled the fine art at Gallery Route One, and bought a wetsuit at Point Reyes Surf Shop.

Point Reyes Surf ShopIf you go, be sure to dress in layers. It’s usually cooler and windier on the coast. The town of Point Reyes Station is located on Highway 1, about an hour’s drive north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Trip taken August 2012.