It would be easy to spend a week in San Francisco, but you can still cram a lot of fun into a two-day visit if you’re short on time. While visiting our teen daughter Megan, who attends SFSU, we asked her what she wanted to do in the city. Her wish: a visit to the California Academy of Sciences. And Thai food.
We checked into the Westin St. Francis, a historic luxury hotel located in the heart of famous Union Square. Built in 1904, the hotel celebrated its 110th anniversary in May. It’s one of those hotels that make you feel good from the moment you step inside. The expansive lobby has marble columns, decorative balconies, and the Magneta Grandfather clock, installed in 1907. Young kids may not notice the beautiful photos depicting the hotel’s history or elegant display cases filled with historical objects, but they’ll love the glass elevators offering stunning city and bay views.
Our spacious room on the 23rd floor had the same views. Completing the lovely room were plush beds and linens – among the best we’ve ever slept on.
Upon request, kids ages 13 and younger get a complimentary Westin Kids package, which includes a plush animal, book and backpack with nightlight, rubber ducky, coloring book and crayons.
Tip: Save a few bucks by parking across the street in Union Square Garage (the first underground parking lot in America).
The Westin’s location in the hub of Union Square makes it convenient to get out and about. Cable cars stop right outside the doors. On foot, shops and restaurants abound. My daughter and I grabbed a late lunch at one of our favorite Thai places – Bangkok Noodles. There’s always a line out the door. And no wonder. For under $10 a plate you get large, tasty portions of authentic Thai food.
Scalia’s Bistro (located inside Sir Francis Drake Hotel)
I’m glad we saved room for this amazing meal. A short walk from the Westin, Scalia’s is an upscale restaurant serving Italian (with a touch of French) cuisine. The service and food were impeccable. We ordered the pesto and ricotto ravioli with lemon cream sauce, orecchiette spicy sausage, pork chops and baby carrots with roasted pistachios. A rich chocolate pecan tarte capped off an excellent meal.
Day 2 in San Francisco
Although we’ve visited most of San Francisco’s top attractions, this was our first visit to the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. We arrived early to allow time to explore a rainforest, an aquarium, the natural history museum and to catch a planetarium show. Before tickets ran out, we nabbed some for an afternoon showing of Dark Universe, a spectacular program that whisks you through the cosmic mysteries of dark matter and dark energy.
Among our favorite exhibits is the four-story living tropical rainforest contained inside a glass dome. The rainforest is home to more than 1,600 living creatures, including free-flying birds and butterflies.
Another highlight is the earthquake simulator, where you can feel a 7.9 magnitude shaker like San Francisco experienced in 1906. There’s also an interactive Naturalist Center, where families can examine a dinosaur leg bone, a polar bear pelt and other specimens. Kids 5 and younger have their own place – Early Explorer’s Cove. They can climb a tree house, tend an organic garden and more. Since our visit, a new exhibit has rolled in – Skulls. It features more than 600 skull specimens and a colony of flesh-eating beetles.
Tip: $3 discount for visitors who walk, bike, or take public transit to the Academy. Weekday mornings tend to be less crowded.
Although our trip was short, we were immersed in San Francisco’s vibrant culture and had a great time. And with three more years of college life for Megan, we’ll have plenty of time to explore San Francisco with her.