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Palo Alto to San Franciso + a beach

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I am taking two teens to Stanford in April. We are visting the campus and then plan to drive to Fishermans Wharf to hang for 2 nights, 1 full day and one early morning before we fly home to the great white north. I have a rental car and they are begging to get to a beach. Should we squeeze in a trip to the Santa Cruz boardwalk area (during Spring break!) before we leave Palo Alto, or should I go to FW first and then drive over the GG bridge and find them a beach that-a-ways? If yes, which one? Suggestions are welcome! Time is short due to expenses but we want to hit the highlights. I would prefer a short distance but a pretty drive and some redwoods thrown in would be an excellent (but not Muir Woods) bonus.

PS feel free to suggest driving routes to either or both I know there is google maps but you locals sure have the best advice. (easytraveler & Stu).

PSS some posts say your city is crawling with panhandlers which will bother the teens. We are not too sheltered and manage Chicago just fine but how bad is it really?

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