Palo Alto to San Franciso + a beach

Old Mar 31st, 2012, 11:14 AM
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Palo Alto to San Franciso + a beach


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?
gradygirls is offline  
Old Mar 31st, 2012, 12:13 PM
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if your teens are bothered by panhandlers don't come here
mztery is offline  
Old Mar 31st, 2012, 12:54 PM
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What kind of beach "scene" do you expect to see??? A warm/sunny "Venice Beach" type? Or a cold, foggy, perhaps somewhat deserted beach?? The ones we have here around Easter are the latter. It is cold & rainy now (some sun starting to peek out) & the forecast is for somewhat the same next week (overcast). IMO, Santa Cruz is too much out of the way, weather could be bad, and things won't be "hopping" yet.

If you want to see some redwoods and also a bit of ocean, I would take Woodside Road west (get a AAA map). At the village of Woodside, continue west on a somewhat winding Kings Mountain Rd. Shortly, you will get to Skyline Blvd. Turn right (north) and drive along Skyline until you hit 92. You'll see lots of redwood trees on Skyline. Look for a view parking lot on your right just before 92. Turn left on 92 & continue into Half Moon Bay. This is a scenic drive. The first stoplight will be Main Street. Turn left (south) & drive through the cute downtown of Half Moon Bay. Continue south on Main until you get to Hwy 1, & turn left (south) and drive along Hwy 1 until you leave Half Moon Bay & see the beautiful San Mateo Coast. Keep on going south - getting out of the car at San Gregorio Beach or Pescadero Beach. It is about 1 hr back to San Francisco from Pescadero - so gauge your time accordingly. Turn around and head north on Hwy 1 back to the Great Highway (western coast of SF), and to the Wharf.

If you want to "experience" San Francisco, the Wharf is the last place I would want to spend any time. See my long post for alternatives to the Wharf.

Stu Dudley
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Old Mar 31st, 2012, 01:01 PM
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Gotta agree with mztery, although if you don't leave FW, you'll encounter fewer panhandlers than if you go, say, to the financial district midweek. In fact, if you want your kids to have a "learning experience", visit the block of Drumm Street between California and Sacramento any weekday lunch hour

The drive over Kings Mountain that Stu recommended is beautiful.

It was teeming rain this morning, but the sun is out now. Off to Palo Alto myself!
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Old Mar 31st, 2012, 02:13 PM
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Do they want a beach for laying out/sunning/swimming? Ain't going to happen

But if they just want to see the ocean - then you could head over to hwy 1 and drive north to San Francisco that way. Half Moon Bay State park, Pacifica - then all the way up hwy 1 right into SF.
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Old Mar 31st, 2012, 02:16 PM
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My wife wanted to use the PC, so I cut my "scenic drive" recommendation a little short.

If you want to discover the reasons why the San Francisco Bay Area is such a great place to live and why we pay the high housing prices that we do - spend most today on this recommended Palo Alto to SF drive, instead of at the Wharf. FW isn't one of the reasons that this is such a desirable place to live, IMO.

Back at Half Moon Bay, continue north on the Cabrillo Highway (hwy 1) through Montara, Devil's Slide (get out & look - the "swimsuit optional" beach is probably not open yet), and through Pacifica. Soon you'll hit Hwy 35 and take it north through Daly City. Soon you'll see a lake on your right and then take the first left onto the Great Highway. Drive past the huge beach, Golden Gate Park, and past the Cliff House on your left. Follow the cars in front of you as you swing right & end up on Pt Lobos Blvd & then Geary. Go east on Geary. Turn left on 34th St. and enter Lincoln Park. Continue on to the Palace of the Legion of Honor. This is one of our major art exhibition places (along with some other uses). It was built by Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, who married into the Spreckels fortune (sugar), built the museum, and donated it to The City. A few years ago it displayed the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit, last year the Degas exhibit, and also has the largest collection of Rodin statues outside of Paris.

After passing the Legion, take the right (only way you can go) on to El Camino Del Mar. Get the camera ready for some fantastic views of the Golden Gate. I always take guests on this route. You will be driving along a golf course. Just before you leave the course and enter a residential area, park the car & walk to the viewing platform to your left – you’ll see it from the road. Return to the car & continue along El Camino Del Mar. You will enter the Seacliff Area which (I suspect) has the most expensive homes in the City. Robin Williams lives there – look for a dinosaur topiary peeking over a hedge on his home (it’s not on the immediate waterfront). When entering Seacliff, keep left whenever you can – especially paying attention to a “Y” onto Seacliff Ave. Just after this Y, turn left on to a dead end & perhaps have a look at China Beach & the views from there. Continue along Seacliff Rd as it snakes around and exits the Seacliff area at 25th St. Turn left (east) off 25th on to Lincoln. Proceed north on Lincoln for some more exceptional views of the Golden Gate and the Bridge.

Lincoln will eventually twist around, and go under the Golden Gate Bridge. Immediately after it goes under the bridge, look on your left for a sign to the Golden Gate Bridge. Follow this up and cross the Golden Gate Bridge.

Head north across the Golden Gate Bridge. Just past the bridge, take the Alexander Av. exit towards Sausalito. When you get to the stop at the end of the freeway off ramp, turn left & go under Hwy 101. Proceed like you are going back across the bridge to SF, but take the road to the right that goes up-hill, just before actually getting on 101. There will be a sign that says you are entering the Golden Gate National Recreational (GGNRA) area. Continue up on this road – it’s called Conzelman on the map. You will see what are (in my opinion) the best views of San Francisco – The GG Bridge in the foreground & The City behind it. This was formerly a military area that is still laced with bunkers, gun turrets, underground tunnels etc. It was opened up in the ‘70s. The views of The City, the Bridge, and the Golden Gate are breathtaking. You can see down the San Mateo Coast from up here. Go all the way to the top until you hit a much smaller one-way road. On the way up, get out & enjoy the sights. Kids will love the bunkers & gun turrets. At the top where the main road ends, there is the largest gun turret, where you can climb up to for an almost 360 degree view. This view is best in the evening when the sun is in a position to light up the bridge & highlight downtown.

Return the way you came up to this area. Check the time. If there is any time left in your schedule, take a quick pass through Sausalito – otherwise head south back to SF. If you opt for the Sausalito visit, once you get to the junction just past the tunnel under 101, head straight to Sausalito. Just follow your nose (bearing right whenever possible), until you end up on Bridgeway – the main road along the bay in Sausalito. Drive along Bridgeway, enjoying the views back to the City. Continue North on Bridgeway until it joins 101 and you can return to SF over the Golden Gate Bridge again.

Stu Dudley
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Old Mar 31st, 2012, 02:17 PM
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I would not describe the City as crawling with panhandlers, they are just more present in areas that are frequented by tourists and visitors. There are none in my neighborhood for example. Most of the residents that I know never give money to panhandlers and those that do are usually new arrivals. So the panhandlers go where they are most likely to get money from people who feel bad for them or guilty--areas where there are tourists and commuters.

BTW In the over 35 years that I have lived in SF I have never encountered an aggressive panhandler, i.e. someone who did anything more than ask, and I can't recall the last time that someone even did that. I think it might have been at the Wharf!!
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Old Mar 31st, 2012, 02:30 PM
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"This was formerly a military area that is still laced with bunkers, gun turrets, underground tunnels etc. It was opened up in the ‘70s. The views of The City, the Bridge, and the Golden Gate are breathtaking. You can see down the San Mateo Coast from up here. Go all the way to the top until you hit a much smaller one-way road. On the way up, get out & enjoy the sights. Kids will love the bunkers & gun turrets. At the top where the main road ends, there is the largest gun turret, where you can climb up to for an almost 360 degree view. This view is best in the evening when the sun is in a position to light up the bridge & highlight downtown."

You can look down on Rodeo of my favorite beaches in the world. It is a wild, rough and tumble preserved Pacific Ocean Beach (which I love!): not the sunny Southern California bikini babe beach most out of state people seem to associate with California. (It does get sunny in late summer but almost always is windy.)

Stu always gives good advice: I'd take him up on his post.

I am trying to figure out how to get there in June when I will be visiting for a conference and will have no car!
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Old Mar 31st, 2012, 03:37 PM
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Folks, listen mostly to Stu, except the part about driving under the bridge. 9/11 took that road out of the picture.

From his description, on Lincoln, look for the GG bridge sign.

Yes, it will probably be cold. The water is very cold.

Robin W's house is very visible, as you will be driving towards it.
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Old Mar 31st, 2012, 04:38 PM
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First of all - just ignore the panhandlers. If you respond in any way - you might as well wear a sign on your forhead that says: Tourist - possible easy mark.

And while I am a Polar Bear - unless there is an unseasonably warm period - hanging out on a beach isn't what it looks like in the movies - re: wearing bikinis and sunbathing - at least in April in the greater SF Bay Area.

Now having said that - I would bag Santa Cruz and drive over the Golden Gate and go north on 1 to Stinson Beach which is beautiful. You could also drive up to Mt. Tam and if a clear day - see forever.

Taking the ferry over to Sausalito is a marvelous - leave the driving to somebody else - plus a scenic, even awe inspriring trip - and think the lasses would love it. And walking around Sausalito is fun, and quite "hip".
Tomsd is offline  
Old Mar 31st, 2012, 04:54 PM
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Thanks all! I am happy I asked. I will make sure to warn them there will be no sunbathing. I know FW is touristy ( I was a visitor 15 years ago) but I though it would provide the most sights in a short period of time. Ghiardelli, Pier 39 and sea lions, Alcatraz, GG bridge, cable car stop and we can walk to the twisty part of Lomard street.

I am contemplating a 1/2 day tour and squeezing in Chinatown or should I drive myself around and explore on our own. We would especially love Chinatown! The ferry to sausilito sounds great too.
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Old Mar 31st, 2012, 05:14 PM
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As for seeing Chinatown - just take a bus there and also adjacent North Beach - and walk around. Great dim sum there, and google away to find various recommendations. Loved a place on Broadway - Gold Mountain - clean, good quality - very reasonable but it just closed after 10 plus years. Tough business - Restaurants.

Fisherman's Wharf has really become a tourist maven - but hopefully - old time places such as Scoma's still have some character left.

Back in the 70's - when I was going to law school at UC Hastings - and clerking for the City Attorney's office - the lead trial attorney would take me to Alioto's at the Wharf every Saturday for lunch. It was a reward - as the "job" didn't pay - but I wrote three appellate briefs and he really like moi for doing that while he busily defended the City's interests. At Alioto's - all the politicos use to stop by his table to say hi. He was later elected City Attorney.

Once in a while - we went to (Jolting' Joe) DiMaggio's but usually it was Alioto's.

Fear it's not the same anymore down at the ole Wharf.
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Old Mar 31st, 2012, 05:25 PM
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>>Ghiardelli, Pier 39 and sea lions, Alcatraz, GG bridge, cable car stop and we can walk to the twisty part of Lomard street.
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Old Mar 31st, 2012, 07:19 PM
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Hi, gradygirls!

Sorry to get to your thread a bit late.

I generally go with what works for young people rather than what works for fuddy-duddies like Stu and myself.

Here's what I'd recommend - just stay in San Francisco. With the time that you have, you don't want to go wandering all over the map south of San Francisco.

Fisherman's Wharf is a fine enough destination with children. It is the #1 hotel destination for tourists to San Francisco for a reason. The hotels aren't as expensive and it's easy to drive around to get to your hotel as compared to the fancier hotels closer to downtown.

Fisherman's Wharf itself has several attractions that might interest your boys. The National Maritime Museum at the very west edge of FW would be a great place to visit: first the Hyde Street Pier with its several docked historical vessels that you and your boys can wander through. I've never seen kids not enjoy their visits to these vessels. Then the Museum itself (the ferry-looking building just under the "cliffs") is free and has a LOT of maritime history. Boys, especially, would enjoy this museum. It's free. Across the street, in the same building as the Argonaut Hotel is a smaller section of the Museum that is worth visiting.

If you want to "dine" at fisherman's Wharf, avoid the touristy places. Almost across the street from the Maritime Museum is Ghirardelli Square. There you will find Lori's Diner, a funky 1950s diner:

Also in Ghirardelli Square is the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory

where you can get a free piece of chocolate at the entrance to the store area (you don't have to buy anything), but the great attraction is their ice cream parlor. When I was working and doing a lot of traveling overseas, I used to dream of coming home and getting a Ghirardelli ice cream!

If you keep going west from the Maritime Museum you will come to the turntable for the Powell-Hyde cablecar line (where they turn the cable cars around to head back the way they came) Corner of Hyde and Beach. Take this cable car up the hill and get off at the Lombard Street stop. The Cable Car conductor can tell you when to get off or else, most likely, he'll be calling out the stop as numerous passengers would want to get off here. Once off, you will be at the top of the "Crookest Street in the World" Lombard Street. Walk down this street (much better than walking up, I assure you ) Once at the bottom of the hill, you can turn left on either Leavenworth or Jones Street and head back to Fisherman's Wharf, which is no more than a 10-15 minute walk. Don't know which FW hotel you'll be staying in, but it's not that far to walk.

Then, I would suggest getting into your car and driving out to the Marina, park there and just walk around a bit. Then go by Crissy Field to Fort Point. There's a pier past the Warming Hut which is a fun place to go and watch the fishermen on the pier and get a gorgeous view of the Golden Gate Bridge as well.

THEN, you can drive across the Golden Gate Bridge according to Stu's last two paragraphs.

After you visit the batteries up on Hawk Hill, as you come back to your car, instead of going across the GG Bridge to return to SF, turn left and continue on Conzelman Road to the Point Bonita Lighthouse. It is currently open only on weekends for a very limited time, but, if you can make it, it's really fun to walk through the tunnel and onto the bridge to the lighthouse. Grand views!

Right now, I'm working on a driving map of San Francisco for some friends of mine, if you want a draft copy, you can email me at bells918athotmaildotcom and I'll be happy to provide you with a copy. The drive shouldn't take more than half a day or a day if you want to get out and wander all over.

The map includes Steven Spielberg's Industrial Light and Arts studios in the Presidio, which is another interesting place for young people, especially those who remember the Star Wars series of movies.

I'm going to end now before all the locals get mad at me for recommending Fisherman's Wharf as a good place to stay in San Francisco.
easytraveler is offline  
Old Mar 31st, 2012, 07:20 PM
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You da man!
gradygirls is offline  
Old Mar 31st, 2012, 07:52 PM
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Oh, forgot to mention that San Francisco itself has one of the most gorgeous beaches you'll see anywhere.

Stu suggested the Cliff House. Best to have dinner there one night and ask for a table at the "Bistro" side and ask for a table overlooking the ocean - and the beach. Sunset over the Pacific and Ocean Beach - gorgeous!

None of the beaches around here are swimming beaches most of the year.

Hope the weather breaks for you!
easytraveler is offline  
Old Apr 1st, 2012, 06:40 AM
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Thank you! I will now concentrate our time in SF proper and skip traveling to a beach area and I would love your map (email on its way). I did read a prior post where there was disagreement re:FW and you defended it. I know I will not spend alot of time there but it seemed like a good choice for the price and location. Easy is the operative word when traveling w/ kids.
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Old Apr 1st, 2012, 10:10 AM
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Depending on day-of-week and time-of-day(traffic hours), you should easily be able to drive out to Half Moon Bay after your Stanford visit, maybe have dinner til sunset and then head back to your hotel. Next day for touring and the ferry to Sausalito! Have fun, Stanford is a lovely campus, hope you get to make several visits over the next few years.
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Old Apr 1st, 2012, 11:10 AM
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gradygirls: the map is on its way. Did you receive it?

Glad to be of help. That's what we all are trying to do here - Stu and the others are incredible in their generosity and you should look into some of their suggestions too.

BTW, if you are going across the GG Bridge on a weekday and will miss the Point Bonita Lighthouse, there's also the Nike Missile Site just a bit past the Lighthouse. It's open in the afternoons, Wednesday through Friday. I've never been, but thought it might be interesting for your boys.
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Old Apr 2nd, 2012, 09:19 PM
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Hi gradygirls:

The SF public transportation is excellent. You can get a one day pass for $14/person.

Here's the Muni information site:

I doubt however, that you will rack up $42 worth of parking fees in one day ($42 is the cost of three Muni one day passes), so driving and parking may be an option for you.

The cable cars are special and usually require $6 per person for each ride. This can get to be expensive if you plan on riding the cable car many times.

As for hotel, cheaper rates are possible if you bid on Priceline. A Fisherman's Wharf hotel may run you about $70+, then there are the fees and taxes, so count on it being about $100. Then there's the hotel parking fee.

If you need further help on how to bid on Priceline, please don't hesitate to ask. Fodorites are very helpful with bidding advice.
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