Two Days in L.A. with Kids

    No trip to California with our kids would be complete without at least a quick stop in tinsel town. Los Angeles is chock full of famous landmarks, museums, tours and even theme parks. At ten, twelve and fourteen our kids are at the perfect age to take in all the lights, camera, action that Hollywood has to offer for families. Our ambitious itinerary was just right for tackling with teens and tweens if you have two days in L.A., so we are sharing it all with you.

    Disclosure – Any and all opinions expressed are that of Mom Abroad. No compensation was received for this post. However please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links. Meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase using the link.


    DAY 1


    HOLLYWOOD BEHIND THE SCENES RED LINE TOUR



    Hollywood is very walkable and there are historic markers all over that give you a little history of the buildings and landmarks but the best way to put it all in context and really get a sense of Hollywood history is to take a walking tour. We started our L.A. adventures off bright and early with a with a “Behind the Scenes” walking tour by Red Line Tours.  This hour and half tour by was included with our Go Los Angeles All-Inclusive passes we purchased prior to our trip. I highly recommend using these attraction passes when visiting big cities! We consistently find it helps us make the most of our time and money.

    Our red-shirt-clad very knowledgeable tour guide took us up and down Hollywood Boulevard stopping at all the famous sites to offer juicy insights into all the Hollywood hot spots and the stories surrounding them. What made this tour so wonderful and unique is that each guest wears a headset that allows you to hear the microphone’s guide directly in your ears. In the hustle and bustle of Hollywood Boulevard we were able to learn about the landmarks and they became so much more relevant and interesting. I was able to snap photos up to 300 feet away while still listening.

    We saw everything from big name icons to smaller sites and filming locations. Here’s an overview of what we saw on our tour:


    HOLLYWOOD & HIGHLAND CENTER ACADEMY AWARDS WALK



    Our tour set off from the Hard Rock Café located in the Hollywood and Highland Shopping complex. We had no idea before taking this tour that this upscale mall doubles as the red-carpet area for the Academy Awards. Our guide pointed out all the ways the storefronts and venues are built to become red carpet ready. To get the venue ready for the big night crews dress it up with red carpet, build risers and stages, and lots of draping. It was so fun to walk the same pathway that the stars do decked out in glamourous gowns and fabulous tuxedos. 



    DOLBY THEATER


    The mall leads right up to the Dolby Theater. Purpose-built for the Oscars, the theater has been home to Hollywood’s glitziest event since 2002. The five-story atrium is visually impressive, if extremely Hollywood. It has one of the largest stages in the country and has hosted the American Idol finals, the Daytime Emmy Awards, a Cirque de Soleil show, and numerous other awards and performances, one of which was happening the day of our tour so we couldn’t get a look inside. However, a tour of the Dolby Theater is also included in the Go Los Angeles All-Inclusive Pass if you can come on a day that doesn’t have a big event scheduled.



    HOLLYWOOD SIGN


    Next, we stopped in the Central Babylon Court of the Hollywood and Highland complex for a perfectly framed view of the Hollywood Sign. Our guide brought a binder with great historical snapshots and movie stills that helped but everything we were seeing in context and made it that much more interesting. We learned the fascinating history behind this iconic symbol and the special viewing platform was an ideal place to grab a photo.



    TCL THEATER



    Right around the corner in the in the heart of Hollywood we stopped to take in the TCL Chinese Theater — formally known as Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Open since 1927, this legendary movie palace with its distinctive Chinese pagoda-style roofline has hosted many movies premiers and is home to the world’s largest IMAX but it is best known for its concrete slabs featuring the handprints, footprints, and signatures of Hollywood’s brightest movie stars both past and present. Our kids got a kick out of seeing their favorite Harry Potter actor’s imprints.



    GRAUMAN’S EGYPTIAN THEATER



    Built in 1922 around the same time King Tutt’s tomb was discovered Hollywood’s oldest movie palace is also the birthplace of Hollywood’s red-carpet movie premieres. The theater underwent a massive renovation in 1998 and today hosts screenings of classic films and talks by prominent filmmakers and actors. We didn’t get to go inside but enjoyed all the the Egyptian-style paintings, hieroglyphs and four massive columns that mark the entrance.



    WALK OF FAME



    The sidewalks along 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard are inlaid with the legendary brass and terrazzo stars honoring celebrities from the entertainment industry.

    More than 2,600 stars are enshrined but most popular stars are located on the two blocks on each side of Highland Avenue, which happened to be covered by our walking tour. Our guide gave us the history behind the creation of the Walk of Fame as well as incredible stories about individual stars.



    DISNEY’S EL CAPITAN THEATER



    The lavishly illuminated El Capitan Theater opened in 1926 has be masterfully restored by Disney and is now home to all of the studio’s movie premiers. It is also open to the public as a state-of-the-art picture palace showing exclusively Disney films. Some presentations are even combined with performances using an antique Wurlitzer pipe organ. We appreciated all the intricate and ornate detail that went into creating this special theater. Declared a Historic Cultural Monument by the City of Los Angeles, it’s easy to imagine the glamour of old Hollywood from this special spot.



    HOLLYWOOD MUSEUM



    After our walking tour was over, we headed to The Hollywood Museum. Housed in the historic 1914 Max Factor Building. This musty museum is crammed in every nook, cranny and case with displays of memorabilia, costumes, props and all manner of Hollywood nostalgia.

    There are over 10,000 artifacts showcasing 100 years of show-biz history here but it’s not all about old movies, so don’t worry if your kids haven’t seen too many of the classics. We are not even big horror movie fans, but we loved the extensive section in the basement dedicated to the Horror genre. Admission to this attraction was also included with our Go Los Angeles All-Inclusive Passes.



    MEL’S DRIVE-IN



    For lunch we simply headed right next door to Mel’s Drive-In also located within the historic Max Factor Building. The 1950s-style diner, with old-fashioned counters has burgers and milkshakes to match. Besides the extensive selection of quintessential diner foods, you’ll find all kinds of options for everybody. My Nutella crepes and avocado toast were super yummy, and our kids enjoyed the fun paper pop up cars their kids’ meals came in.



    MADAME TUSSAUDS HOLLYWOOD



    Our kids had such a blast at Madame Tussaud’s in San Francisco that we were delighted to see that admission to their L.A. location was also included in our Go Los Angeles All-Inclusive Passes. The first of the Tussaud’s franchise locations to be built from the ground up, this three-story structure features over 100 super life-like wax figures ranging from Hollywood legends like Clark Gable and Marlene Dietrich to contemporary stars like Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga.



    Our kids enjoyed hamming it up on the set of some of the most memorable movie blockbusters and being able to touch, interact and take selfies with their favorite A-list stars. There is also a 4D film experience included with admission that’s especially fun for anyone who is a fan of Marvel superheroes.



    WARNER BROTHERS STUDIO TOUR



    In the afternoon we headed to Burbank for the Warner Brother’s Studio Tour. This in-depth three-hour tour plus museum experience was easily our favorite Hollywood attraction. We loved being able to go behind the scenes and see what it takes to create popular TV shows and films.

    The 110-acre lot has 29 soundstages. There’s also a 20-acre backlot that can, and has doubled for everything from a bustling metropolitan city to a remote jungle.

    Admission to the Warner Brothers tour is limited to guests 8 and up.  While the tour is among the most family friendly studio tours in Hollywood it is particularly well suited to cinematically inclined kids like we have who are old enough to have watched and enjoy the films and shows that the tour features.

    The tour does cover a hundred plus acres of an active studio, but it is not strenuous. A fair amount of the tour is spent aboard the open-air tram with plenty of stops to get out and stretch your legs and see sets up close, explore exhibits and take photos. There are only 12 people per tram, which keeps groups on the small size and personable, but the best part is that each tour is a completely unique experience customized to the interests of the people taking the tour. The tour guide asks for input on what your favorite shows and movies are and then gears the sites and information shared accordingly.

    We had recently watched Big Bang Theory with our teens and have been working our way through Friends, so they absolutely loved getting to see the closed set of Big Bang Theory as it wraps up its final episodes and sit on the Friends Couch in a recreated Central Perk. As Huge Harry Potter and superhero movie fans as well, we enjoyed the time given within the tour for exploring the museum areas filled with costumes, props and memorabilia from recent movies like Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Aquaman and Wonder Woman. There is even an opportunity to get “sorted” into a Hogwarts house via the Sorting Hat! (Gryffindor Baby!) and a whole building filled with the different Batmobiles!



    We also got to sit on the steps of the Full House steps and explore the sets of Star’s Hollow from Gilmore Girls. We even got to go inside the Ellen Show Studio! Every tour ends at Stage 48 where you can spend as much time as you like in interactive exhibits that tell the story of how a film or TV show goes from script to screen.



    The highlights of the Warner Bros. Studios really are endless! It was well worth the short drive up to Burbank. Especially since our admission was fully included in the Go Los Angeles All-Inclusive Passes. All we had to do to book our tour was call ahead of time to make reservations and give them our voucher number.



    FARMER’S MARKET



    For dinner we headed to the Original Farmer’s Market. Established during the Great Depression and fronted by its signature white clock tower, the market has been a favorite gathering spot for locals and visitors alike since 1934. There are open-air stalls selling fresh flowers, expertly butchered meats, cheeses, fruits and veggies, baked goods, coffee and all manner of gourmet goodies. There are also more than 100 world-class eateries and eclectic shops and even live entertainment.



    The hardest part was deciding exactly where to grab a bite. Everything looked so enticing! Among the best of the numerous cafes is Bob’s Coffee and Donuts (try the beignets), Bennet’s Homemade Ice Cream, Pampa’s, and Fritzi Grill Coop.



    THE GROVE



    Next to the Farmer’s Market is The Grove, an upscale outdoor retail complex with shops, restaurants and cinema. There is a fun green double decker trolley that goes between the Farmer’s Market and the Grove providing free transportation for visitors. It’s also a beautiful place for a stroll with a water fountain and music show reminiscent of the Bellagio hotel in Vegas on a smaller scale.



    DAY 2


    UNIVERSAL STUDIOS



    Our second day in L.A. we headed to Universal Studios Hollywood. We are huge fans of the Orlando version of this theme park and we were eager to check out the West Coast versions of our favorite movie-themed thrill rides as well as all the cool attractions that are unique to the Hollywood location like the behind-the-scenes backlot Studio Tour and the Water World and Special Effects shows.



    Universal Studios is a much more compact park that it’ Florida counterpart but being nestled in the Hollywood Hills the views are unbeatable. The parks’ themed areas are entirely immersive from Hogsmeade in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, to the Simpson’s in Springfield U.S.A. and Despicable Me’s Super Silly Fun Land it’s as if these franchise favorites came to life.

    We suggest arriving as the park opens to make the most of all the rides, shows and experiences involving the active studio lot such as the 45-minute action-packed tram tour.  



    Since we had the 3-Day Go Los Angeles All-Inclusive Passes our admission to Universal Studios was included in our pass! We used the third day of our pass in San Diego to visit the San Diego Zoo –stay tuned to hear more about that visit coming soon!  



    GRIFFITH PARK OBSERVATORY



    After a fun day at Universal we wanted to close out our time in Los Angeles with something special, so we headed up to Griffith Park to see the sunset over the City of Angels from Griffith Observatory. Situated 1,134 feet above sea level on Mount Hollywood, Griffith Observatory commands stunning views of the surrounding cityscape from nearly every angle as well as the iconic Hollywood sign.



    This Los Angeles landmark also offers a state-of-the-art planetarium, a 190-seat multimedia theater and extensive galleries featuring astronomy and science exhibits that connect and educate visitors on the earth and the universe.



    With wonderful displays like the Foucault Pendulum, a Tesla Coil, images from space, meteorites, telescopes and so much more, the observatory could have kept us entertained for hours but we wanted to catch the sunset outside. 



    One thing to note about the Observatory is to allow yourself plenty of time to park. The combination of wonderful exhibits, beautiful L.A. views with FREE admission and parking make it one of Southern California’s most popular attractions. The further away you park, the steeper the walk you will have to get back up to the Observatory and lookout. Visit the Griffith Observatory website for more information.



    DISNEYLAND & CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE


    If you have more time in Southern California, we highly recommend visiting Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. This pair of world-famous amusement parks are about an hour outside on Los Angeles in nearby Anaheim.

    Disneyland, which opened in 1955 is divided into eight magically themed lands and is full of rides and entertainment for all ages of kids. Roller coasters, water rides, thrill rides, kiddie rides, parades, character experiences, fireworks and themed dining can all be a part of your day at Disneyland.


    All the top tips and insider tricks for doing Disneyland with kids. From ways to save money and avoid lines to what to eat and attractions you can't miss.

    Disney California Adventure Park, which is in easy walk cross the entrance plaza from Disneyland, has seven Disney and Pixar lands that older kids especially will love. Just like Disneyland, this park brings the magic of Disney to life with rides and entertainment. Top attractions not to be missed at Disney California Adventure are Radiator Springs Racers, Soarin’ Around the World, Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Breakout, the Incredicoaster’ and the nighttime water spectacular of World of Color! For more information on these amazing family theme parks check out our guide to Disneyland with Kids –101 Tips You Need to Know Before You Go.


    All the top tips and insider tricks for doing Disneyland with kids. From ways to save money and avoid lines to what to eat and attractions you can't miss.

    There you have it – our ambitious itinerary for two day in L.A. with older kids. Hopefully it will inspire you to take your teens and tweens to Tinseltown too.

    Remember, you can save on combined admission vs. paying at the gate to many of these popular family friendly attractions and more with the Go Card Los Angeles.

    If you enjoyed this list, please share it with anyone who is going on a Disneyland vacation! You can also save it to Pinterest by clicking the “P” icon on this image.



    If you are looking for more travel tips and destination information be sure to subscribe to Mom Abroad and and come join the conversations over on the Mom Abroad Facebook Page or follow our adventures on Instagram.

     


     

    Disneyland with Kids – 101 Tips You Need to Know Before You Go!

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    All the top tips and insider tricks for doing Disneyland with kids. From ways to save money and avoid lines to what to eat and attractions you can't miss.

    We knew we had to make Disneyland a part of our West Coast Road Trip. We are huge Disney fans and firm believers that every family needs to experience the magic of Disney parks at least once. Out of all of the Disney franchise locations around the world, there is just something special about visiting the birthplace of Walt’s dream. But with eight themed lands on 85 acres, “The Happiest Place on Earth” can also be the most overwhelming. Especially if it’s your first trip.

    Knowing what to expect and how to prepare can make a huge difference in how well your trip goes. We spent a lot of time researching and picked up a ton of tips and insider tricks we want to pass along to help you plan your best vacation yet. From ways to save money and avoid crowds to what to eat and attractions you can’t miss we’re sharing our secrets with YOU!

    Read on to learn our best Disneyland Tips and Tricks!

    Disclosure – Any and all opinions expressed are that of Mom Abroad. No compensation was received for this post. However please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links. Meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase using the link.

    Let’s jump right in!

    1. BUY TICKETS IN ADVANCE ONLINE

    First and foremost, you’ll want to take care of your tickets. Lines to buy tickets at both Disneyland and California Adventure parks are long, especially at opening time. Save yourself precious time by buying your tickets ahead on-line. Not only can buying your tickets ahead of time save you from waiting in line but it can also be substantially cheaper.


    2. BUNDLE AND SAVE

    Disney doesn’t discount their tickets often but one great way to save on admission if you are planning to hit some of the other awesome attractions in Southern California is with the Southern California CityPASS. With this pass you can choose to purchase individual tickets to Disneyland Resort (2-5 day park hopper tickets), Universal Studios Hollywood (1-2 day tickets), SeaWorld San Diego (1 day ticket), LEGOLAND California Resort (1-2 day tickets), and San Diego Zoo OR Safari Park (1 day ticket. The pass is customizable and is valid for 14 consecutive days, including the first day of use. This gives you plenty of time to visit the other included California theme parks and lots of flexibility to choose what you want to experience. The best part of course is saving over the prices you would have paid at the gate by bundling more than one park offered, together. Depending on the attractions you choose, you can either print your tickets, pick them up at Will Call upon entering the park, or use the QR code you are sent via email.


    3. PLAN FOR 3 DAYS OR MORE

    The minimum you need to take in all that Disneyland and California Adventure has to offer is two days.  To really savor the parks and see it all, you should give yourself three days or more. We spent three days on our trip with kids who no longer need to nap and we could have easily stretched it out to four. Disneyland especially needs two days entirely as there are simply so many rides, attractions and shows you won’t want to miss. Give yourself some time to explore Downtown Disney and enjoy your hotel pool too.

    Keep in mind that when assessed on a cost-per-day basis, one-day tickets are much more expensive than multiple days.  Your park admission may not go up very much when you add another a day or two to your ticket. In fact, if you are relatively local to Disneyland and plan to go more than once you should really consider getting an annual pass.

    Getting a three-day ticket also is highly advantageous because guests can get one Magic Morning early entry on 3+ day tickets. Magic Morning allows guests to enter Disneyland park only (not California Adventure) on either Tuesdays, Thursdays, or Saturdays one hour early. It’s the best time to ride some of the classic Fantasyland and Tomorrowland attractions with minimal waits. One caveat – you must book your park tickets in advance to get the Magic Morning benefit.


    4. KNOW WHEN TO GO

    Once you know how many days you would like to spend visiting the Disneyland Resort, you’ll have to decide when to head to Anaheim. Timing your visit to avoid the crowds can be the secret sauce to an amazing Disneyland vacation.

    While you can still have a good time when Disneyland is crowded, it’s so much nicer to visit during off-peak times when possible. We planned our whole west coast road trip around the crowd calendars put out by Touring Plans, Is It Packed and Undercover Tourist to predict what days are better for visiting so you spend more time on rides and less time in lines. In general, you should avoid major holidays and anytime school is out of session.


    5. PLAN TO PARK HOP

    Unlike Walt Disney World in Florida the Anaheim Parks are a short walk from one another. This walkability between Disneyland and California Adventure is one of the best attributes of the resort. Make sure to take full advantage of the proximity by getting the “Park Hopper” tickets that allow you jump around from one park to the other.


    6. DOWNLOAD THE DISNEYLAND APP

    Prior to visiting Disneyland, download the official Disneyland Resort mobile app. This free app has a ton of great information on park hours, parade and show times, character meet & greets, ride height requirements, dining options, bathroom locations and best of all, attraction wait times listed in real-time. This can help you save a ton of time both in navigating the parks and waiting in line. You can use the app to book fast passes, make dining reservations, and view and download Photo Pass images –more on that in a bit. You can also add your tickets to the Disneyland app for ease of use at FastPass locations and at the entrance gate!


    7. USE FAST PASS

    Use Disneyland’s free FastPass service to avoid waiting in long lines. The Disneyland FastPass system is essentially a way to reserve a return time for an attraction when you can ride with little to no wait. Fastpasses are distributed at machines which in most cases are located near rides that have them available.

    Simply insert each of your party’s tickets into a fast pass machine and you will get a printed stub letting you know when your one-hour return window is to come back and ride without having to wait in the regular standby line.  Note that once you insert your ticket, you fast passes are then tied to your tickets electronically. Essentially all the printed ticket functions as is a reminder stub. When you return to ride your hard tickets will be scanned or you can use your phone if you have downloaded the Disneyland App.

    FastPasses do not cost extra and are available to everyone with any type of Disneyland ticket. Park tickets must be activated at the front turnstiles (or Downtown Disney monorail station) before being used to obtain FastPasses.


    8. SPRING FOR MAX PASS

    Take the FastPass system further by leveling up to Disney’s new “MaxPass” system. MaxPass lets you secure FastPasses anywhere in the park without having to physically visit a FastPass distribution machine. With MaxPass your FastPass reservations can be made the minute you walk through the park entrance from the convenience of your mobile device through the Disneyland app. You do not have to physically go to a FastPass distribution machine. This saves so much time and walking!

    Many MaxPass return windows are just a short time away … as in zero to a few minutes away. You can simply reserve and ride! As soon as you scan your ticket at a ride, you can immediately reserve the next ride while you wait for your current ride — traditional FASTPASS users have to wait, ride the ride and then walk to a distribution machine. The return windows offered through MaxPass are often sooner than the traditional FASTPASS windows that are being distributed at the same time. And the BEST part is that the length of maximum waiting period is shorter with MaxPass –1.5 hours versus 2 hours with the traditional FastPass.

    It gets even better! MaxPass also comes with unlimited Disney PhotoPass photo downloads taken any day MaxPass is active. You can download and share all of your photos from attractions, Character dining and meet and greets and any shots taken by Disney PhotoPass Photographers including “Magic Shots” where they add special overlays.


    To use MaxPass you must download the Disneyland Mobile App and link park tickets. You can make reservations for anyone whose ticket is linked to your account in the app. Once you have entered a park, you can be anywhere inside or outside the parks when you make reservations. Guests with Park Hopper Tickets can even make selections for attractions and entertainment in both theme parks. This means if you are at Disneyland and plan to head over in the evening to California Adventure you can obtain a FastPass for a California Adventure attraction before you even enter that park.

    Disney MaxPass is available for only $15 per day, per ticket. Not that neither FastPass or MaxPass are available for attractions in the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge area but it is still well worth the upcharge. You can purchase Disney MaxPass as an add-on through the Disneyland Mobile App. You may link tickets ahead of time if you have a barcode or ticket number, but MaxPass won’t be active until the day you visit. Also, be aware that a multi-day MaxPass ticket will charge you for the cost of MaxPass for every day of the ticket. A 3-day MaxPass ticket will add $45 per person. If you aren’t sure you want all three days of MaxPass, wait to purchase MaxPass each individual day when you get to the park.


    9. PAY ATTENTION TO RETURN TIMES

    Look for fast passes that have return times soonest and grab those first. You can see what the returns times are in the handy Disneyland app. You can’t collect a bunch of Fast Passes at once –with a couple exceptions we’ll talk about in bit. Generally, once you have a fast pass you can’t get another one until the return time on your pass. However, if your return time is more than two hours away, you can get another fast pass in two hours –even if you haven’t used the first FastPass you pulled. For example, if at noon you get a FastPass for Radiator Springs Racers that isn’t valid for return until 3:00 PM you can actually pull your next FastPass at 2:00 PM. Essentially, it goes by whichever time comes first –the return time or when two hours have passed. If you are using Max Pass this info will appear in the Disneyland app.


    10. USE PHOTO PASS

    If your family is like mine and LOVES to have photographic memories of your vacation, then I highly recommend utilizing the PhotosPass program. This handy system allows you to get unlimited photos taken by resident photographers throughout the parks as well as have access to ALL of your ride photos. Max Pass includes unlimited downloads of Photo Pass images for just $10 per person. One hundred percent worth it!  You can get a whole photo shoot done if you are feeling photogenic and find a fun PhotoPass photographer.  They can be found in scenic spots all over the parks.


    11. GET FAST PASSES EARLY FOR FANTASMIC & WORLD OF COLOR

    Pick up fast passes early for Fantasmic at Disneyland. Same goes for World of Color at California Adventure. Fast passes for Fantasmic and World of Color operate independently of the park’s other fast passes. Meaning that you can get a FastPass for either of these shows even if you have a FastPass assignment pending for another attraction. FastPasses  for these shows give you access to special reserved seating areas.


    12. ARRIVE AN HOUR AHEAD

    You’re on vacation, so you want to sleep in. So does everyone else. To make the most of your Disney days you want to stay ahead of the crowds. Shoot for arrival at least an hour before park opening. This is when the parking areas open.  You will pretty much need that entire hour between parking, queuing for the tram, taking the tram, walking from the tram drop off to the park entrance and queuing again to enter the park. It will be worth it! I promise! If you’re willing to get up early, you may be able to ride more rides in the first few hours than you can in the rest of the day combined.


    13. MAKE USE OF MAGIC MORNING OR EXTRA MAGIC HOUR

    Anyone who buys 3-day or longer park hopper tickets gets to enter Disneyland park one hour before the posted opening time on either Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday. You must select one of the available days for your early entry. Similarly, Extra Magic Hours are a perk exclusive to guests staying at one of the Disneyland Resort Hotels and includes an hour of early entry each day of your stay. It’s good for Disneyland early entrance on the same days that Magic Morning is offered and for early entrance into select areas of Disney California Adventure Park on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Staying at one of the Disneyland Resort Hotels is the only way to get into Cars Land before it opens to the public.


    14. AVOID MAGIC MORNINGS AND EXTRA MAGIC HOURS

    On the flip side if you are not utilizing Magic Morning or Extra Magic Hour entry then be sure to head to the opposite park than the one offering early entry. Unless you can get that jump start to your day your best bet is to select the park that is likely to be much less crowded. So, head straight to Disneyland on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and start at California Adventure on Tuesday and Thursday.


    15. EARLY ENTRY ANYWAY

    We’ve already mentioned that staying at a Disney hotel gives you early admission on select days as well as purchasing a three-day park hopper ticket including one Magic Morning. Even if you don’t have either of these early entry options you can still get INSIDE the parks before the official opening time. Both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure will start letting you enter the park up to an hour prior to the official opening time. During this time, you can walk Main Street USA (in Disneyland) or Buena Vista Street (in California Adventure), shop, get some great photos without crowds behind you and head in the general area you plan to go upon rope drop.


    16. REMEMBER WHERE YOU PARKED

    Parking is shared between Disneyland, California Adventure and Downtown Disney in one of the largest parking facilities in the world. Take a photo of the name of your parking section, number of your section, level and row – it is easy to forget where you area and the sections all look pretty much the same.  Another option is to mark where you are parked right on the receipt where you’ll find a handy table printed right on it. Just be sure to put it someplace safe.


    17. TAKE A PICTURE OF YOUR TICKET

    You should also take a photo of the BACK of your hard tickets as soon as you get them. Be sure to include the full bar code and numbers under it. This can come in handy if your tickets are lost or happen to get damaged (think water rides). Even if you link your ticket to the Disneyland App –which I highly recommend you do – this can make getting a replacement ticket easier should the app go down. Guest Services at City Hall should be able to help you get a new copy if you have a picture of the barcode. Note that you will also need to show your ID.


    18. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF RIDER SWITCH

    Another way to get a leg up on waiting in lines is by utilizing the “rider switch” program. If a Guest doesn’t meet the boarding requirements or doesn’t wish to experience a particular attraction, it’s not a problem for family and friends who do! One parent (or supervising guest aged 14 or older) stays off the ride and waits in a designated area –usually outside the attraction –with the non-riders. This guest will have their admission media/tickets scanned to indicate that they are doing a rider switch.

    Meanwhile the rest of the party enjoys the attraction. When they are finished the guests simply swap roles and the person who initially stayed back should then return to the appropriate attraction entrance (usually the FastPass queue or attraction exit) to have their admission media/tickets re-scanned by a Cast Member at which point they are given a chance to ride without having to wait in the regular que again.

    But wait! There’s more! The best part about the child swap is that is that the second parent can take the kids who did meet the ride requirements with them. So, several people in the family get to ride twice!


    19. RIDE SOLO

    Another tip to minimize your wait times is to use the Single Rider lines. Guests 7 years or older, can use this option. Since most people ride in groups of two or more, if there is an extra spot available the attendants will ask for a single rider to fill up the seats from an uneven party. The single rider lines are always shorter and move faster than the regular que. This is a great option especially when you want to repeat an attraction and it’s not important to you to “ride together”. It works especially well with Radiator Springs Racers and goes really quickly in the morning.


    20. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF REGULAR LINES TOO

    I just got done telling you all these ways to avoid lines and now I’m going to do a complete 180 and tell you not to. Disney does a phenomenal job of theming their ride que areas. If the park isn’t crowded and the wait times are not especially long I’d actually recommend going through the normal que if you want the full experience. This is especially true of the rides like Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Beakout, Star Tours, Haunted Mansion and Indiana Jones Adventure.

    would be completely missed if you go through the Fast Pass line. It all comes down to how much time you have in the parks. I’d say if you have several days make sure to do the regular ques at least once.


    21. READ UP ON RIDES BEFORE YOU GO

     Certain rides and attractions at the theme parks have restrictions based on height. Familiarize yourself with the requirements and prepare younger or shorter children to not be able to ride certain rides. Some rides require children to be accompanied by an adult while others simply won’t allow kids under a certain height. All rides have health and safety warning signs posted at their entrance. Make sure you read them and know ahead of time where rides are right for you and your family.


    22. KNOW WHAT IS DOWN FOR REFURBISHMENT

    This tip again is all about mitigating disappointment. Find out which rides will be closed for refurbishment while you’re there by checking the Disneyland calendar and clicking on each day you’ll be visiting.


    23. PLAY DISNEY PARKS

    You can turn wait time into play time with the “Play Disney Parks” mobile phone app. The app offers a range of activities including themed games, Disney trivia, digital achievements music and more. The locations for the achievements and the games are indicated on stylish maps of each of the parks that are included in the Play Disney Parks app. For example, you can design your own rocket ship while waiting in line for Space Mountain or make Tinkerbelle magically appear in a lantern in the que for Peter Pan’s Flight. Play Disney Parks is available for free to download from the App Store and Google Play for both Apple iOS and Android platforms.


    24. OLD SCHOOL LINES BUSTERS

    If you don’t want to use a lot of phone battery plan on playing some other games to pass the time spent in line. A deck of cards comes in handy when waiting in one place for a show or when a ride goes down and the line stops moving. Other ideas include I Spy, Would You Rather, 20 Questions and Two Truths and a Lie. 


    25. ALWAYS HAVE YOUR CAMERA READY

    Another must pack item to have on-hand is your camera! One thing that really stood out to us about Disneyland was the random and unexpected Character interactions. Princess Tiana happened to be onboard the Mark Twain with us. We watched as Alice and the Matter Hatter jumped in a tea-cup to take a spin with another family. The Evil Queen from Snow White stepped in front of my camera as I was taking a picture of the Matterhorn. Peter Pan pulled a silly face for me too! It’s so fun not knowing when and where these beloved characters will turn up. For tips on how to make the most of your camera gear and get great shots check out my guide to taking batter family vacation photos.


    26. GET AUTOGRAPHS

    You will have a ton of opportunities to meet your favorite Disney characters. You will be able to take photos with them and interact and they are also happy to give you’re their unique autograph. Pack an autograph book and Sharpie in your bag to avoid paying a lot for them once you’re already in the park. Another option is to bring a Disney t-shirt or pillowcase with you and have that signed instead. Collecting signatures in a book can be fun but you may find that a shirt or pillowcase gets more use after the fact.


    27. NIX SELFIE STICKS

    We are all about the photo ops but one thing to know about capturing that perfect image in Disney to not attempt to use selfie sticks in Disneyland. They are totally banned from inside the parks. If you do manage to sneak one into the parks and bring it on any ride, that attraction will be shut down.


    28. FORGO THE FLASH

    The other photography faux pas is using the flash on your camera!!! There is nothing worse than having a flash go off on Disneyland attractions and at shows. It ruins the magic and doesn’t even some out well. A much better bet is to bring a lens with you that lets in a lot of light. I talk about this and everything else you need to get great shots here.


    29. BUY GEAR BEFORE YOU GO

    I’m a sucker for theme park souvenirs (especially ears!) but they can add up fast. You can save a ton of money by buying some things ahead of your vacation on Amazon. You won’t be as tempted to blow your budget on all the amazing merchandise if you have planned out in advance what to buy beforehand and what to get there.

    If you plan on staying for the evening shows and fireworks, it’s tempting to want to buy the glow-in-the dark souvenirs for your kids. Skip the expensive Disneyland glow sticks and get similar items for much cheaper from your local dollar store or on Amazon! You can find a tons of Disney themed items at Dollar Tree. When our kids were younger we would use these small items as gifts left by Tinkerbelle in our hotel overnight as a reward for good behavior in the parks that day.  


    30. GET COORDINATED

    Another great reason to buy some gear before you go is because it makes it easy to coordinate your park outfits. And coordinating your park outfits not only looks awesome in vacation photos but helps you spot your family in a crowd easily. When we wear our Incredibles shirts I just have to look for the color “red” and get a quick headcount. If one of your children gets lost all you have to do to explain to anyone helping you in your search that they are looking for another shirt or hoodie or hat like the one you and your other family members are wearing.


    31. PUT CONTACT INFO ON YOUR KIDS

    Another tip if you worried about wandering is to write your contact info (your name, not your child’s) and phone number on an Avery No-Iron Clothing label using a fine-point sharpie and stick one to the inside hem of your child’s t-shirt. These labels are long-wearing, washer and dryer safe, and stick tight without being ironed.


    32. SET A SPECIFIC MEETING POINT

    Establish a specific meeting point for your group in case you split up. Do this every time you enter a new land or area of the park. Choose a location that is easy for kids to remember. You should also tell kids that in the event they do get lost to look for someone with a Disneyland name tag. The Disneyland Cast Member who finds your child will make sure that they are always accompanied until they are reunited with you.


    33. BE STROLLER SAVVY

    Strollers are available on-site to rent or you can bring in your own. Consider having one on hand for anyone under seven. It’s not uncommon to walk 5-10 miles or more in a Disney day and having a stroller can be a life saver for your little ones –and you! Take a smaller model that handles well if possible. Plus, it’s a great place to store park essentials like water bottles, snacks, sunblock and ponchos. There is stroller parking outside nearly every ride where you can stash the stroller for hours if you’d like (theft from strollers is extremely rare at Disney, but don’t leave your wallet in it!). It may not be in the exact same place when you come back. Don’t freak out! This is completely normal. Disney cast members sometimes move strollers around to keep the area tidy and minimize how much space the strollers take up. Lastly if you’re renting a stroller, bring something to mark your wheels so that you can find which stroller is yours when it’s grouped with other rental strollers.


    34. SET SOUVENIR EXPECTATIONS

    This tip goes out to the kids …and the adults that feel like kids when so much magical merchandise surrounds you…It’s unavoidable you and your kids are going to want to take home a treasure to remind you of your incredible Disneyland vacation. Just know that almost every attraction ends in a gift shop.

    If you tell your kids at the beginning of the trip that they have a certain amount to spend on souvenirs they are less likely to beg for everything in sight. One fun way to handle this is to purchase a Disney Gift Card ahead of your trip. This sets a built-in limit. We also like to do all our souvenir purchases on the last day of our trip.

    This gives our kids time to think about what they want most, encourages delayed gratification, and increase the odds that our kids will feel gratitude and appreciation for what they get. We lay out this plan and chat about expectations well before we get to the park for the first time. That way whenever a wistful remark comes up, we can refer back that initial conversation and make a plan.


    35. SILLOUETTE SOUVENIRS

    If you are looking for a cheap, memorable and truly unique souvenir, we highly recommend having silhouettes made on Main Street. Incredibly talented silhouette artistss will produce a one-of-kind likeness for only $9.99 per silhouette! I had mine done on my third birthday when my parents took me to Disneyland and I still have it today. We had our kids’ silhouettes done at Disney World when they were little and they have hung them in our hallway for years. We just had a new set done on this trip and I will treasure them for many years to come.


    36. TRADE PINS

    Pin Trading is another super fun way to take a little Disneyana home with you. These small enamel pins come in hundreds of different styles and can be purchased all over Disney properties. But buying them is only half the fun! The real joy is in trading them with another collector for a worthy swap. Most cast members sport some kind of satchel or may even have a board or booklet of pins and we found them to be agreeable to any trade. Just remember than only Disney pins can be traded and every trade is a pin for pin exchange.


    37. SHOP DOWNTOWN DISNEY

    If you missed out on shopping inside the parks or just don’t want to carry bags full of merch around all day you can still hit World of Disney on your way back to your vehicle. Located in Downtown Disney just before the tram loading area, it’s teeming with Disney character merchandise and souvenirs —most of which is the same stuff you’ll find inside the parks…and some of it actually better!


    38. THE BEST VIEW IN CARS LAND

    For the best view in Cars Land, enter from the Paradise Pier side of the land. This is will provide a breathtaking view of the Radiator Springs Racers attraction set against the backdrop of the Cadillac Range –inspired by the Cadillac Ranch in Texas where a row of Cadillacs are buried hood first in the ground. Each peak is named after the model year that inspired it; Mount 57, Mount 58, Mount 59, Mount 60, Mount 61 and Mount 62. Splitting the range is Mt. Ever-Rust, Carburetor Canyon and the Lincoln Continental Divide.


    39. PACK SNACKS

    Unlike a lot of theme parks Disney does allow outside food and drinks to be brought into the parks provided it’s not in glass containers or alcoholic. You can even bring in small coolers.  So take advantage of this money saving option to pack a supply of healthy easy to eat snacks like trail mix, fruits, granola bars and jerky.  Of course there are a ton of terrific snack choices at the parks if you just don’t want to carry anything. We like to split a Mickey Pretzel!


    40. PLAN TO EAT AT THE PARKS

    While the best way to save money in the park is to bring your own food, Disneyland’s delicious eats are all part of the experience. There are a ton of great places to eat inside the parks and Downtown Disney. I highly recommend eating at one of the themed restaurants like Lamplight Lounge (try the lobster nachos!) or… It’s truly part of the Disney experience!




    41. MAKE ADVANCE DINING RESERVATIONS

    One thing that’s become increasingly difficult at Disney is spontaneity. Especially when it comes to their more upscale eateries. To snag a table at one of the popular sit-down restaurants like Blue Bayou or Carthay Circle you will need to plan ahead. Reservations can be made up to 60 days in advance and cancel those reservations up until 24 hours before your seating. After the 24 hour mark any changes will be billed a $10 per person cancelation fee. Visit or use the mobile Disneyland Resort Mobile app to make dining reservations. Be sure to make any special requests at the time of your booking and to let them know if you are celebrating anything. 


    42. SATISFY YOUR SWEET TOOTH

    Calories don’t count on vacation so go ahead and indulge in some of the delicious treats that Disneyland and California Adventure have to offer. Whether is a Matterhorn shaped macaroon from Jolly Holiday Bakery Café, a scoop of Gibson Girl Ice Cream or a gourmet churro there is no shortage of delectable desserts to choose from.


    43. THE MONTE CRISTO SANDWICH SECRET

    One of the most popular and most expensive restaurants in Disneyland is the Blue Bayou, located inside Pirates of the Caribbean. If you want the same great taste for less, you can make a reservation for Cafe Orleans, located right across from the Blue Bayou. The atmosphere is authentic New Orleans and they serve the same Blue Bayou’s famous Monte Cristo sandwiches.


    44. MICKEY BEIGNETS

    The famous French-style donuts dusted with a mountain powdered sugar and in the shape of Mickey Mouse are the signature dessert at Café Orleans. Here are served with vanilla crème anglaise and raspberry Coulis as dipping sauces. If you are looking for a quick snack and willing to forgo the sauces, you can also find Mickey-Shaped Beignets at the counter service Mint Julep Bar in New Orleans Square. Here, the treats are served in a paper bag, tossed with a ton of Powdered Sugar and are available in a six count if someone expects you to share.


    45. CONSIDER CHARACTER DINING

    If your kids are excited to meet the characters and get autographs and photos, Character dining can be a great way to meet characters without using a lot of your touring time. There are quite a few character dining options between the two parks and the Disney hotels. Typically, 4-5 characters that make their way around the room, stopping at each and every table to interact. Kids under three even eat for free at character dining buffets. The only exceptions to this is Ariel’s Grotto’s Princess Celebration breakfast or lunch, because it is a table service restaurant where you order off of a menu. Children under two are able to share meals with anyone else in the party for free, however if you order from the menu for them there will be a charge. Reservations are a must!


    46. COUNTER SERVICE SAVINGS

    Counter service meals can be the best way to stretch your food budget at Disneyland. Most of the main restaurants in Downtown Disney, like La Brea Bakery, Tortilla Jo’s, Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen and Napoli’s Ristorante have a quick-service version next door to the main restaurant. The express restaurants serve a limited menu of the exact same food for a fraction of the cost. The Earl of Sandwich even emails coupons if you sign up for their subscriber list. Pizza Planet is a great money-saving option in Disneyland as you can order a whole pizza instead of paying by the slice. The Cones in Cars Land offer cheap and yummy options in California Adventure and you have to try at least one of Corn Dogs. You can find these deep fried delights at Corn Dog Castle in Pixar Pier or The Red Wagon Corn Dog cart and Stage Door Café in Disneyland.


    47. ORDER FOOD FROM YOUR PHONE

    Another great thing about counter service meals is that you can order your food from your phone. No need to wait in line! Simply use the Disneyland app to select menu items, customize your order, and pre-pay for your food. Easy peasy!


    48. LET MICKEY MELT

    Mickey Ice Cream Sandwiches are a classic indulgence but in order to keep these fun treats frozen at the carts where they are sold Disney has to first freeze them in sub-zero temperatures. They can be rock-solid when you first open them so let them thaw for a bit before digging in.


    49. TRY THE GRAY STUFF

    It’s delicious! Don’t believe me? Ask the dishes! Seriously though, the dessert called Grey Stuff Gateau, consists of white chocolate mousse with cookie crumbles blended into it, red velvet cake, edible chocolate pearls, raspberry jam and an actual raspberry center all sitting atop a shortbread cookie. This slice of heaven that perfectly replicates the exact look of the gray stuff in the animated film Beauty and the Beast can be found at Disneyland’s new Red Rose Taverne.


    50. DON’T WAIT FOR DOLE WHIP

    No trip to Disneyland is complete without savoring the classic frozen pineapple treat known as the “Dole Whip”. The line at the Tiki Juice Bar is often long but you can hop inside the outdoor waiting area for the Enchanted Tiki Room or better yet, check out the brand-new Tropical Hideaway café where they also serve up several versions of the beloved treat.


    51. FILL UP ON FREE WATER

    It’s important to stay hydrated! Take advantage of the many water-fountains throughout the Disneyland Resort for refreshment. Bring a reusable water bottle or buy a bottle of water early in the day and refill it as needed. In addition, most quick dining locations will happily serve you a free cup of ice water if you ask.


    52. DO THE DINNER PACKAGE

    If you are interested in seeing the evening shows and want the best viewing possible without having to stake out seats well in advance or worry about nabbing FastPasses then a Dinner or Dessert package may be your best bet. These packages include a meal or special dessert buffet along with reserved seating.


    53. A TIP FOR TIPPING

    A gratuity is automatically added to the bill at some Disney restaurants. Be sure to check your bill and tip accordingly.


    54. HIT FANTASYLAND FIRST

    Lines for Dumbo the Flying Elephant get pretty long later in the day and never really subside, so if you hit it first, you’ll get right on. Your other priority should be Peter Pan’s Flight. A favorite in the park the wait times get long almost immediately. You’ll have the best shot at riding first thing in the morning. Another good time to get in line for Fantasyland attractions is right after the fireworks. Disney closes Fantasyland for the show, so line up at the back of the land before the fireworks stop.


    55. FANTASYLAND FRIGHTS

    One more important thing to know about Fantasyland is that even though it’s geared toward little kids many of the rides can actually be quite scary for wee ones. Pinocchio’s Daring Journey and Mr. Toad’s Wild ride are among the ones that you should ride you should check out ahead of time and ride with caution if your kids scare easily. And it’s not called Snow White’s Scary Adventures for nothing.


    56. RIDE BOTH SIDES OF THE MATTERHORN

    The Matterhorn Bobsleds has two separate tracks that offer a different experience. When facing the Matterhorn, the track on the left (Tomorrowland side) is a bit more adventurous in that there is a pretty good dip as it goes below the other track. The right-side track (Fantasyland side) is a few seconds longer, and it is slightly smoother, and doesn’t have that dip that the left side has. To get the full Matterhorn experience make sure to try both bobsleds!


    57. SCORE BIG ON BUZZ LIGHTYEAR

    To maximize your scoring potential on the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, aim for targets that are lit up, moving or far away as they tend to yield the most points. Different shapes are worth different point values too with triangles awarding the most points at 10,000. In the second room there is an invisible trigger on Emperor Zurg’s chest worth a whopping 50,000 points. Aim for the “Z”. If you just can’t seem to hit anything at all don’t sweat either! For every five times you shoot and miss you get 100 points just for trying so just keep pulling the trigger. 


    58. RE-RIDE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

    If thrills are your thing you will want to ride Guardians of the Galaxy more than once. Not only is it an incredible ride (our unanymouse family favorite) it’s different each time! The drop sequence is random and the music.


    59. PICK YOUR PIXAR PAL AROUND WHEEL EXPERIENCE

    Speaking of thrills…the Pixar Pal Around Wheel can be tame or terrifying. Okay I may be exaggerating a little but seriously if you just want a tranquil trip choose one of the “Non-Swinging” stationary gondolas on the outer edge of the wheel. And if you or your (evil) kids want to kick it up about a gillion notches go for the Swinging gondolas.


    60. GO LEFT

    Several ques at Disneyland Resort will split at some point. Most people will instinctually stay to the right leaving the left side of the line shorter. It may sound almost too easy to be true, but it really can make a difference. The only exception to this advice is Pirates of the Caribbean where the actual pathway is longer on the left side. The go left strategy even seems to work at Counter Service dining locations.


    61. STEER THE MARK TWAIN

    The Rivers of America are home to a few attractions, but the Mark Twain Riverboat one is our favorite. You can steer the Mark Twain Riverboat. Just ask a cast member where you board. After you steer the boat, you will get to sign the captain’s log and even get a pilot license.


    62. REQUEST A ROW

    Want to ride in the front row on Space Mountain? Or do you dig the back Big Thunder? All you have to do is ask! Cast members will kindly accommodate your row preferences if you don’t mind waiting for a few more minutes.


    63. RIDE RADIATOR SPRINGS RACERS EARLY

    Radiator Springs Racers has been the hottest ticket in town since it opened. Grab a FastPass first-thing upon entering the park or hop in the standby line immediately. The single rider line here is always a great option to cut the wait time down. If the Single Rider line stretches back past the bridge that crosses over the queue, hop out of line and come back to this attraction later.


    64. SNAP YOUR RIDE PHOTO I.D.

    Many of the attractions take on-ride photos. These photos are displayed on a screen as you are leaving the attraction. You are welcome to take photo of these photos to without having to purchase them. If you signed up for the MaxPass (again, you should), you’ll want to enter in your unique photo ID number. If you don’t want to take the time to do this right away snapping a quick pic of the ride photo screen is a great way to save the number to enter later when you are ready to download it.


    65. RETURN TO CARS LAND AT NIGHT

    Even though we encourage you to ride the Radiator Springs Racers as early as possible (with a fast pass) you’ve still got to make your way back to this amazingly themed area at night. The neon signs lights come on every night at dusk with a special “sh-boom moment.”


    66. BREAK UP THE RIDES AND LINES

    When the kids are tired of standing in lines or just need a break from rides head to one of the park’s play areas.  The Redwood Challenge Trail in California Adventures is a huge playground that offers lots of things to climb, rope bridges to cross and pathways to discover. Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island at Disneyland is also a very fun place to explore. Toddlers will also love the Toontown play area that’s perfect for their age.


    67. SEE THE SHOWS!

    It’s easy to spend so much time racing from one ride to another that you miss the shows, which are extremely well done and will give everyone much needed time to sit and relax. California Adventure especially has a good selection of shows. Frozen is especially spectacular! It’s a Broadway quality show and clocking in at hour-long will give you plenty of time rest. Find the schedule for shows on the Disneyland app, or on a flier as you go through the turnstiles entering the park.


    68. DON’T PASS UP THE PARADE

    Yeah, I know lots of Disney insiders will tell you to use parades as prime time for hitting the rides but do yourself a favor and make sure to see at least one. No one does parades like Disney!


    69. STAKE OUT SEATS EARLY FOR ENTERTAINMENT

    Get seats early for entertainment, especially during the busy season. Not only do other visitors start to stake out a spot an hour or two in advance for the most popular shows, Disneyland has a lot of local pass holders that will often come to the park to “catch the fireworks” or “watch the parade” and are willing to sit and wait for a few hours. Have a few people from your party sit at time while sending runners for food and to use the bathroom.


    70. WATCH FROM THE BEGINNING

    Watch the parade at the very beginning of the route where it starts next to “it’s a Small World.” Watching from the beginning point means that you will be done viewing the parade while thousands of other people are still waiting to watch, and you can quickly jump in line for a ride.


    71. USE THE RAILROAD TO REST

    If you’ve got sore legs from a long day of walking through the park, take a rest on the Disneyland Railroad. The Disneyland Railroad’s narrow-gauge steam trains make a 20-minute loop around the park, stopping at Main Street U.S.A., New Orleans Square and Tommowland, which is the perfect amount of time to get off your feet and learn some Disney park history while you relax.


    72. MAKE USE OF THE MONORAIL

    Another way to get off your legs and save some walking is to use the Monorail. If you are staying in the Disneyland Hotel or if you parked in Mickey and Friends but prefer to avoid the tram, you can cut your walk back in half. Hop on the Monorail in Tomorrowland and ride it to the end of Downtown Disney. Just note that the Monorail is closed during fireworks.

    You may even be able to ride in the front of the Monorail, depending on the weather and crowd levels. Simply ask a cast member at the loading dock and if they have this option available. If someone else has beat you to the punch in asking for the front, you may have to wait for the next time but it is a really unique experience.

                


    73. CATCH THE LATE SHOW

    Certain Disney shows, like Fantasmic, offer two different performance times. If you (and more importantly your kids) are able to stay at the park late, attending the second showing is a great way to beat crowds as the later nighttime shows are much emptier. Take the time to enjoy short lines on popular rides during the first showtime.

    The first showing is always more crowded, so that’s a good time to hop on rides. And by the time the second showing comes up, more kids have tuckered out for the night, meaning it’s easier for you to get a good spot.


    74. FANNY PACKS ARE YOUR FRIEND

    Not only are fanny packs making a fashion comeback they are a super convenient way to pack park essentials and save your back from aching as day goes on. Embrace the 90’s throwback for your sunscreen, sunglasses, mobile charger, pain reliever, band-aids, and most importantly snacks. Give kids their own fanny packs for snacks too! A simple granola bar or bag of apple slices can make a long wait in line with hungry kids much more manageable. And the great thing about all Disney attractions is that you can keep your fanny packs on for all the rides.


    75. PACK PONCHOS

    You will also want to make sure to pack a poncho! These can keep you dry on water rides and in the occasional California downpour. We like to use the kind that come in their own bag like or you can pick some up at the Dollar Store if you don’t want to reuse them. Splash Mountain hands out handy zip-lock bags meant to keep your valuables dry but they also make a great baggie for ponchos post-ride.


    76. KEEP VALUABLES DRY/FREE LOCKERS

    A poncho won’t save you from getting drenched on Grizzly River Run. There is no avoiding getting wet on this raft ride as the water comes up and at you from all directions. If you do ride be sure to leave any cameras or valuables with a non-riding member of your party or use one of the nearby (free) short term lockers.


    77. BRING A JACKET

    The other item you will want to have on hand is a light sweater or hoodie. While Disneyland is located in warm southern California you can expect cold evenings and mornings. We prefer something that can tie around our waist easily.


    78. WEAR COMFY SHOES

    You will spend a ton of time on your feet. You can expect to do a lot of walking along with plenty of standing in lines (especially if it’s crowded.) This isn’t the occasion for a cute pair of heels or even flip flops. You will either want to go with some sensible sneakers of a pair of sandals with arch support. Besides wearing comfy kicks, you should also slip some good band-aids or moleskin for your feet into that fabulous fanny pack!


    79. REMEMBER SUNSCREEN

    Bring sunscreen and remember to reapply throughout the day. It’s especially easy when the weather is not to hot to underestimate the sun. Nothing will ruin a vacation quite like a bad burn so apply liberally when you are getting ready in the morning and then set an alarm or reminder to remember to apply.


    80. HAVE BACK UP BATTERIES OR POWER BANKS

    Between using the Disneyland app to check wait time and book FastPasses, taking pictures and posting about your fabulous vacay on social media you will burn through your phone’s battery faster than usual. Having a portable power bank on hand will come in really handy for a recharge! You should also consider bringing a back-up battery for your camera.


    81. HIJACK SOME JUICE

    While I highly encourage bringing a back-up charger or power bank there are hidden outlets throughout the parks where you can charge your phone. They may be covered by a plate so that they are not noticeable. Most of the lamp posts in California Adventure contain an outlet and several restaurants and table areas will have outlets as well.


    82. TURN ON AIRPLANE MODE

    One way to ensure to don’t run out of power in the first place is to put Your Phone on Airplane Mode for some rides. The lines for Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Haunted Mansion all either go underground, or have terrible service. You won’t be able to use your phone for much in these areas anyway and your battery will quickly be depleted as your phone searches for cellular service. The solution is to throw it on airplane mode.


    83. ASK THE EXPERTS TO TAKE A PIC

    While the PhotoPass photographers are on hand to take professional photos for guests to purchase, they are happy to help with personal photography if you ask. Just ask them to snap a pic with your cellphone or camera. Unlike taking a chance with a stranger you can rest assured they know what they are doing!


    84. TAKE A BREAK

    A day spent at Disneyland can start to feel a bit frantic, and it’s easy to get stressed out when dealing with crowds, lines, and kids who might be getting cranky. Disney is notorious for meltdowns and not just from wiped-out wee ones. If it starts to feel overwhelming, overstimulating or just plain exhausting take a break. Find someplace to sit and slowdown. Get some food or a fun treat, and just watch what goes on. Disney does an amazing job with entertainment and you’re bound to find a mini-show or music right around any corner at both of both parks. If your hotel is nearby, you may even want to head back for a nap in the middle of the day or even a swim. It’s worth it to recharge so you can enjoy the rest of your day.


    85. PACK CAREFULLY

    Careful packing will cut down on unwanted expenses during your trip. Forgotten toiletries such as tooth-paste and sunscreen can be marked up outrageously. Check out our post on How to Pack Like a Pro for Your Family Vacation for everything you need to know.


    All the best tips and tricks to help you pack like a pro for your family vacation. Learn how to avoid common planning pitfalls methodically manage the mounds of clothes, eliminate the extras, and save space in your suitcase…along with your sanity!

    86. TIKI ROOM TIP

    The Tiki Room is the perfect place to get off your feet and enjoy an air-conditioned attraction without a   wait more than the amount of time before the next show to experience it. If you want to be a part of the show yourself ask a cast member for the opportunity to wake up Jose’, the red, white and green audio animatronic parrot that hosts the show. Another fun thing to note is that guests are welcome to bring snacks in to eat while enjoying the show. So go ahead and dig in to that Dole Whip!


    87. CELEBRATE WITH A FREE BUTTON

    Whether it’s your first time in the park, you’re recently married, or celebrating a birthday or anniversary, pick up a complimentary celebration button to mark the occasion. Buttons are available at guest services in City Hall in Disneyland Park and at the Chamber of Commerce at California Adventure as well as various shops throughout the parks. These buttons let everyone know that you are celebrating and you will have cast members and park visitors alike offering their god wishes and congratulations.


    88. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF OTHER FREE SAMPLES & SOUVENIRS

    There are several other souvenirs you can get at no additional cost. You can score a free sample of sourdough bread at Boudin and some Ghirardelli chocolate from the Pacific Wharf in Disney California Adventure. Ask for a free antique-style map of the Jungle Cruise when exiting the attraction. Or, go to a free drawing class taught by a real Disney animator and keep your masterpiece.


    89. KEEP RECEIPTS

    If a souvenir breaks or has issues you can exchange it. Just make sure to hang on to the receipt to show the store attendant where you bought it or head to guest services in City Hall . You can even replace popped Mickey balloons free of charge by bringing the scraps to any balloon vendor. Disney is awesome at customer service, just ask.


    90. ASK ABOUT ALLERGIES

    If you or someone in your family has food allergies or specific dietary needs, you know how hard it can be to travel. Luckily, the Disneyland Resort is an industry leader when it comes to offering allergy friendly options and regularly receives recognition and awards for being the best at accommodating any dietary needs. You can review all Disney dining menus ahead of time on the Disneyland app or website and you can get a list of all ingredients used at each restaurant at City Hall on Main Street but if you are looking for further peace of mind you can ask to talk to the chef at any dining location.

    A chef will come out and talk with you. They can tell you exactly what is safe to eat as is, and they can go through any items that can be swapped out to become safe. Sometimes they can even whip up something special just for you. Never hesitate to ask!


    91. MAIL A LETTER

    You can find real working mailboxes hidden throughout both Disneyland and California Adventure. The mailboxes match the theme of their respective lands, much like the various styles of trashcans and benches. To send a letter or post card simply drop it into one of the mailboxes and a Disney cast member will retrieve it at the end of the day to be sent on to local post office. While Disney no longer offer’s its own cancellation stamp the letters are stamped as coming from Anaheim.


    92. USE PACKAGE PICK-UP & DELIVERY

    You don’t even have to lug around your souvenir! If you are staying at an on-site Disney hotel you have the added perk of being able to have your purchases sent right to your hotel room. Note that this option isn’t available on the day you are checking out. There are also specific locations that will hold souvenirs for any guest so that you can pick them up at the end of the day. These shops are the Disneyland Resort Stroller Shop, Elias & Company in Disney California Adventure Park, Pioneer Mercantile at Disneyland Park, Port Royal at Disneyland Park, and The Star Trader at Disneyland Park. Just make arrangements at the register and pick up your items before heading home.


    93. LINGER LATE

    Attractions don’t actually shut down at the exact moment the park closes. It’s only the lines to attractions that stop admitting guests at the time the park closes. This means that if you are in line for a ride at the time that the park officially closes, in most cases, you get to stay in line and finish that ride. Stores along Main Street in Disneyland and Buena Vista street in California Adventure also remain open up to an hour after park closing most nights. Just expect the stores to be crowded during this time with other folks making last minute purchases.


    94. GET FAMILIAR WITH DISNEY MOVIES

    It’s hard to throw a stone without hitting something touched by the Disney brand but it’s worth noting that to get the full impact of the Disneyland experience, I highly recommend watching the movies or TV shows featured at the parks before visiting. There are so many details and things within the theming that you will appreciate so much more if you know what they are referencing. Obviously, not everything is appropriate for all audiences, but you can definitely find something for everyone in your family.


    95. GET FAMILIAR WITH THE PARKS

    In the same vein, it’s a great idea to get as familiar as you can with the parks themselves. Plus, it’s a fun way to build excitement for your trip. We love to watch YouTube Videos featuring attractions, dining options and updates. Our favorite for all things Disney theme park related is Tim Tracker…wouldn’t you know we happened to run into him in Cars Land on recent trip! My kids were utterly star struck.


    96. DON’T BE AFRAID OF A RAINY DAY

    Don’t let rain stop you from enjoying the parks. A rainy day can turn out to be the best time to visit because so many people head home or don’t come at all and you will feel like you have the park all to yourself. While some outdoor rides may get temporarily shut down both Disneyland and California Adventure have many indoor attractions with ques that are fully enclosed from the elements. Just put your ponchos on and some shoes that can get wet (I love my Teva’s for this!) and enjoy!


    97. IF YOU REALLY WANT TO GET WET

    Don’t want to wait for a rainy day to get soaked? Head to Splash Mountain in Disneyland and Grizzly River Run at California Adventure. Some of it is luck of the seat but you can increase your chances of being drenched by sitting on the front row of Splash Mountain. Placing heavier riders in the front also creates a bigger splash.


    98. LOOK FOR HIDDEN MICKEYS

    No Disneyland tip list would be complete without pointing out that little something extra…Hidden Mickeys! Disney imagineers and artists will oftentimes stamp their work with a Mickey silhouette. These hidden Mickeys can be found throughout the entire Disneyland Resort – in attraction queues, inside attractions, on store signs and more. It is fun to see how many hidden Mickeys your family can find.


    99. CONNECT WITH THE CAST

    Talk to the Disney Cast Members whenever you get the chance. Getting to know the people who work at Disneyland makes the experience that much richer. Some of our best memories and most memorable Disney experiences have come from striking up a conversation with the people who work in the parks.

    All the top tips and insider tricks for doing Disneyland with kids. From ways to save money and avoid lines to what to eat and attractions you can't miss.

    100. GIVE A SHOUT OUT

    Take the time to write down the names of any Disney Cast Members who were doing a fantastic job or added a little sprinkling of that metaphorical magic pixie dust to your trip. You can leave this list of names and comments with Guest Relations at either of the parks on your way out. These comments go into their permanent file and help with recognition and promotions.


    101. GO WITH THE FLOW

    Finally, we want to to tell you to make all. the. plans. But don’t hesitate to throw them out the window when they get in the way of whats really makes the “happiest place on earth” truly happy. your family happy. That might mean skipping the rollercoaster you’ve been dying to ride or heading back to your hotel for mid-day naps instead of sticking to your itinerary. It might be lingering a little longer over lunch or stopping to take an unexpected photo with a character or even cutting out on the evening show because you’re all wiped.

    There is no right way to do Disneyland and certainly no medals, it all just about making memories.


    I hope that these Disneyland tips and tricks are helpful in improving your Disneyland vacation. If you have any questions that I didn’t cover, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll follow up with you! Or if you have a great tip to share let me know below too!

    All the top tips and insider tricks for doing Disneyland with kids. From ways to save money and avoid lines to what to eat and attractions you can't miss.

    If you enjoyed this list, please share it with anyone who is going on a Disneyland vacation! You can also save it to Pinterest by clicking the “P” icon on this image.

    If you are looking for more travel tips and destination information be sure to subscribe to Mom Abroad and and come join the conversations over on the Mom Abroad Facebook Page or follow our adventures on Instagram.

     


     

    The Perfect Day In Big Sur

    Here’s how to have the perfect day in beautiful Big Sur including must-see stops and tips for driving California’s scenic Pacific Coast Highway.


    Driving down California’s Pacific Coast Highway is one of the world’s most iconic road trips and one that we set our sights on including in our big west coast adventure. Specifically, we wanted to see the breathtaking beauty of Big Sur. This magnificently rugged and pristine 90-mile stretch of the California coast, nestled between Monterey and San Simeon is everything we’d imagined and more. Deep blue waters crashing against the coastline, sweeping vistas, hidden hiking trails, dramatic waterfalls, sheer cliffs and secluded beaches.

    This entire wilderness region was basically inaccessible until the 1937 opening of State Route 1, also referred to as California Highway 1 and the “PCH” or Pacific Coast Highway. Today the two-lane road snakes along the Big Sur coast in a seemingly endless series of sinuous S-curves, rarely out of sight of the ocean.


    There’s an almost complete absence of man-made distractions. No billboards, no strip malls, no fast food chains, no gas stations –nothing to get in the way of spending family time with nature’s glory. What we did find were numerous strategically located pull-out parking areas all beckoning us to put on the breaks and soak in the amazing views.  It is a truly spectacular place!

    We’ve created this post to share our perfect day in Big Sur with you and highlight some of the must-see sights and some “good to know” tips we picked up along the way.


    Must See Stops on the the Pacific Coast Highway

    Here’s how to have the perfect day in beautiful Big Sur including must-see stops and tips for driving California’s scenic Pacific Coast Highway.


    After two days in San Francisco we started our drive along the Pacific Coast Highway heading south. I highly recommend this approach as the ocean will be on your side of the road with nothing to block your views.

    Bixby Creek Bridge

    Here’s how to have the perfect day in beautiful Big Sur including must-see stops and tips for driving California’s scenic Pacific Coast Highway.


    Our first major stop was the Bixby Creek Bridge. Even if you’ve never been to this bridge, you know this bridge. It’s one of the most iconic and dramatic views along the Big Sur coast and one of the most photographed spots in California. You’ve likely seen it featured in movies, television shows and commercials. Arching above a steep canyon with crashing waves against the beach below  it’s easy to see why.

    Among the tallest single span concrete bridges in the world at a soaring 260 feet, the Depression era public works project opened to the public in 1932 at a cost of just under $200,000. Curiously, the bridge was completed five years before the highway it connected to.


    As far as viewpoints go, you can park on either side of the bridge. We chose the northern coastal side along Highway 1 but I’m glad we took the time to cross over to the north side of the bridge closest to the mountains and the entrance to the Old Coast Road –what was once the way in to Big Sur –to enjoy that vantage point as well.

    Here’s how to have the perfect day in beautiful Big Sur including must-see stops and tips for driving California’s scenic Pacific Coast Highway.

    Since it was early in the day when we arrived the coastal fog was still in full force. Fog is a frequent feature of the Big Sur area, even in the summer. Far from ruining photos the fog tends to erase everything in the background and highlights things in a special, almost ethereal way.


    McWay Falls


    McWay Falls has long served as a picturesque poster-child for Big Sur’s beauty and an absolute must-see sight on your road trip. What makes this scene so special is the way a slender ribbon of water plunges 80 feet down to a tree lined cliff into a pristine rocky cove and golden beach below. This beach is simultaneously lapped by the crashing white surf of a stunningly turquoise pool of water which itself is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. I promise no photo does it justice!


    Since the waterfall is fed by underground springs it flows year-round, though thinning considerably during times of drought. Access to the sandy beach below is illegal since the cliffs are unstable and dangerous but the view from the elevated vista point above is picture perfect. Even more-so while we were there in the Spring when the hillside tumbling down to the cove is blanketed with blooming wildflowers.


    The falls are technically located inside Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park where you will find ample parking and bathrooms along with access to a trail that leads to a viewing platform for the falls. However, should the trail be blocked due to erosion or the park be closed, as it was on the day of our visit, you can simply park in the designated pull-out area along the main highway and walk down to the viewing spot for the falls.


    Parking inside the park costs $10 cash per vehicle and gives you access to all California state parks until sundown! This fee also provides much-needed support for the state parks system in maintaining the beauty of this area.

    Pfeiffer Beach


    Pfieffer Beach is a little trickier to find than our other Big Sur stops but well worth the effort. Afterall, its not just any beach that offers purple-marbled sand flanked by big arched rock formations. To get to this secluded haven we took Sycamore Canyon Road, a poorly marked and narrow unpaved road that winds for about 15 minutes until reaching the park entrance. Look for a for a big yellow sign that says, “Narrow Road” and you’ll know that’s where you need to turn. Also note that the road gets flooded. Signs will mark how deep the water is. The beach is open from sunrise to sunset and cost $10 cash per vehicle to enter. State park passes don’t work here. Only a limited number of cars are allowed down to the beach parking area, but we got lucky and found it quite uncrowded in the afternoon when we arrived.


    All that effort and limitation to access makes it feel almost untouched. We practically had the stunning beach to ourselves. How often does that happen today?


    This stop was easily our kid’s favorite of the day. While the water is way too cold for swimming and the rip tides are too dangerous, they enjoyed skirting the edge of the shoreline and feeling of the wind blow on their faces while they smushed their toes into the purple sand.


    I can’t get over that purple sand. The unique color results from manganese garnet particles washing down from nearby hills.


    You also won’t be able to miss the beach’s most famous feature. Keyhole rock sits front and center, waves blasting through the natural arch at its base.


    Monterrey


    Accommodation along the Big Sur coastline is scarce and much of what is available is either wildly expensive or adults-only, so we decided to stay in Monterey. It was the perfect place to end our day. This charming coastal town is known for its world-class aquarium. The kelp forest, giant open water tank and jelly fish are among the many highlights. We took the opportunity to have dinner in the charming Cannery Row area with family who also happened to be staying in Monterrey.

    There are dozens of enticing eateries to choose from but our kids begged us for Bubba Gump. Though it’s a chain and not particularly exclusive it is a fantastic choice for families. Especially if your kids are older and have seen the 1994 movie Forrest Gump from which the restaurant gets its inspiration. Unsurprisingly you can enjoy shrimp served in just about every way possible as well as southern and Cajun-centric cuisine. We split a couple shrimp platters and enjoyed every bite!


    Practical Tips For Big Sur:


    So now that you have an idea of some of the incredible sights in Big Sur we wanted to share some really useful info we picked up along the way:

    -First and foremost you’ll want to rent (or have) a car. That’s really the only way to see the splendor of Big Sur. Convertibles are particularly popular. We have never seen so many in one day, but we like to think we looked equally cool in our rented min-van that had plenty of space for our crew.


    -Speaking of vehicles –Make sure to fill up your gas tank before taking on this drive. Gas stations in Big Sur are scarce and extremely expensive. It’s easily 40 miles between stations along some stretches.

    Download offline maps in advance so you can see where exactly you are going. We lost cell service almost immediately, which is cool, that’s all part of connecting with nature and going off the grid but we were really glad to have a good idea of where we were going beforehand. Especially when it came to finding tricky places like Pfieffer Beach.

    -You can do Big Sur in a day, but spending the night will give you a chance to take your time and enjoy it. If you are traveling with kids especially, consider making Monterrey your home base for this excursion. Make your reservations as far in advance as you can since accommodations tend to book up fast!

    -Safely stop to enjoy the views by utilizing the pull outs along the highway. And make sure your cameras are fully charged! These are images you will want to look back on.

    -If you or family are prone to motion sickness it might be a good idea to take some Dramamine or use sea bands before heading onto the curvy roads.

    -Pack some snacks and drinks ahead of time to avoid paying the astronomical prices at the convenience stores and restaurants in Big Sur. We didn’t have nearly enough on hand for our ravenous children.


    -Have cash handy as the state parks require a small entrance fee before you head in.

    -Check the weather ahead of time so you know what to expect but go ahead and bring a wind-blocking jacket and some sandals for the beach along with your sneakers for hikes.


    -Our last suggestion is to slow down, roll down the windows, and take it all in. This will be a once in a lifetime kind of trip, so really absorb everything. It is an amazing ride, and one we will always remember.

    Here’s how to have the perfect day in beautiful Big Sur including must-see stops and tips for driving California’s scenic Pacific Coast Highway.


    Hopefully this itinerary has inspired you to take your kids to the beautiful city by the bay too. If you enjoyed this article, please save it to Pinterest by clicking the ‘P’ button on any image.

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    48 Hours in San Francisco with Kids

    Aquarium of the Bay San Francisco with Kids


    Last September Brian and I celebrated our sixteenth anniversary with a trip to San Francisco. The plethora of cultural activities and attractions set amongst the beautiful blue waters of the Pacific and colorful Victorian and Edwardian architecture made for a perfect grown-up getaway. What surprised us was how many times we found ourselves saying, “our kids would really love this!”

    In fact, when it came time to decide on a destination to surprise our kids with as their Experience Gift for Christmas, San Francisco topped our list. We decided to make it the first stop on a West Coast California to Arizona to Nevada road trip.

    Many more blog posts on our big adventure to come so stay tuned!

    Disclosure – Any and all opinions expressed are that of Mom Abroad. No compensation was received for this post. However please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links.  Meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase using the link. I truly appreciate your support!

    Two days in a big city is a tough gig – there’s so much to do and see that it can be overwhelming. Though we experienced a bit of a flight delay that cut in to our touring time we were still able to pack a ton in to our 48 hours in San Francisco with kids. We focused on our favorite activities that we knew our kids would love and added in some other fun attractions.

    We were able to maximize our short visit by using Go Card San Francisco All-Inclusive Passes and the awesome itinerary I put together that focuses on experiences that are fantastic for families. We also learned a few tips and tricks and discovered some gems that will help you plan your own trip to San Francisco with kids.

    Day 1


    We took an early direct flight out of Charlotte to San Francisco. Even with the delay the time difference going in this direction really worked in our favor. After taking a shuttle from the airport to our hotel in Union Square, we were able to check in, drop our bags off, grab a backpack with essentials and set off to explore.

    Union Square


    Our starting point for Day 1 was Union Square where our Hilton hotel is located. This public plaza takes its name from the pro-Union rallies that took place here during the Civil War. These days it’s all about the bright lights and the big shops. It’s a lot like Times Square in New York –but a little more low-key. The square is a shopping haven, home to stores like Macy’s, Bloomingdales and Sak’s Fifith Avenue and features many high-end eateries. Of more importance to us though, it has easy access to the historic cable car lines.

    Cable Car Rides


    Getting around San Francisco with kids is easy to do without a rental car. Uber is prevalent everywhere and the Municipal Metro service is vast with numerous buses and trains running across the city but you simply can’t come to San Francisco and not use the Cable Cars! Not only do the lines cover many main points of interest these moving landmarks are iconic, unique and insanely fun! Our kids had such a thrill being hauled up and down the steep hills, bells ringing!

    TIP: Our top piece of advice here is to completely skip the endless line at the beginning and end of the Cable Car lines and head instead to ANY other stop where you can simply just hop aboard. We can’t for the life of us figure out why people wait in the hours-long lines where the cable cars turn around instead of just walking a block or two to another stop.

    BONUS TIP: One-way fare on the cable cars is $7 per person for a single ride. I suggest getting a one-day pass that’s good for all of city’s public transportation. You can purchase them from the MUNI app and keep them stored for everyone in your family right on your phone.

    Fisherman’s Wharf


    The world-famous Fisherman’s Wharf was our first destination and where we spent a good chunk of our time in San Francisco with kids. This neighborhood, which runs along the northern waterfront of San Francisco is a hive of activity with no shortage of fun things to do, with entertaining street performers and activities at seemingly every turn.


    Boudin


    After getting off at the end of the Cable Car line we made a bee line for Boudin to grab some lunch. We enjoyed soup and sandwiches in the casual café and then spent some time watching the professional bakers carefully craft batches of bread and shape the sour dough into intricately designed animals like bears, crabs and turtles.


    We made sure to take a quick trip upstairs to where the Bistro restaurant is located to see the small museum and learn more about the history of the bakery and catch a peak into the bakery itself and see (and smell!) where the “Mother” dough is kept in a special vault.


    Bridge to Bridge Cruise


    Bellies full it was time for our kids to get their first real view of the Bay by boat. There are many companies offering a cruise around the waters surrounding San Francisco. Since Brian and I took the Blue and Gold bay area cruise on our last visit to San Francisco we figured we would check out the Red and White Fleet this time. Both are included on the Go Card San Francisco.


    The historic Red and White Fleet cruise ship, operating in the Bay Area since 1892 offers the only cruise that goes under both the iconic Golden Gate bridge and the gigantic Bay Bridge. It is also the only one that offers guided narration in 16 different languages via personal headsets you wear while cruising. This was awesome as we didn’t have to strain to hear a guide and instead got all the insights into the city’s history, architecture and little-known facts right in our ears as we sailed along the waterfront for 90 minutes.


    TIP: Make sure to line up at least 30 minutes in advance of departure if you want to be up top for prime viewing. And don’t forget to bring a sweater or jacket. It can get chilly and windy on the bay! In fact its always a good idea to dress in layers in San Francisco. A cool 60 degrees from the chilly fog feels much colder than 60 degrees in the sun. Dress warmer than you think you need to be.

    USS Pampanito


    Next, we hopped aboard the USS Pampanito, one of two historic ships docked at Pier 45 in Fisherman’s Wharf. This authentic Balao class Fleet submarine went on six missions during World War II. Today it serves as a floating museum, memorial and National Historic Landmark. We enjoyed the headset with a pre-recorded audio tour of the submarine while exploring various compartments and rooms, from the living quarters to the torpedo bays. It really gives you a feel for what life aboard the Pampanito and similar vessels was like. This activity was also included in our Go Card San Francisco.


    Musee Mecanique


    Just a short bit further along on Pier 45 is one of our favorite places in San Francisco –Musee Mecanique.  This privately-owned vintage arcade features a huge collection of coin operated games, instruments and mechanical oddities from self-playing pianos to fortune telling talking heads. Not surprisingly our kids were captivated by everything from the antique music boxes and nickelodeons to the 1980’s retro video games like Pac Man. The pin ball machines were a huge hit and I always love a good game of skee ball.


    TIP: This retro arcade is completely free, but we made sure to bring a bag of quarters from home. There are plenty of change machines on hand if you need change.

    In-N-Out Burger


    For dinner it had to be none other than In-N-Out Burger! We couldn’t come all the way to California without taking the kids to this exclusively west coast establishment. In-N-Out Burger has been serving up delectable hamburgers and cheeseburgers to loyal patrons since 1948. Every meal is cooked to order using only fresh, quality ingredients and its mouthwatering spread. Their French-fries are hand cut and never frozen and neither is their beef. You can’t go wrong with any order, but it was the “secret menu” items that our budding foodies were most excited to try.


    TIP: Try an “animal style” burger or fries –these secret menu items served with grilled onions, melted cheese and thousand island sauce were our favorites. Wash it all down with a “Neapolitan” shake –also from the secret menu” which combines vanilla, chocolate and strawberry flavors in one yummy creation.  


    San Francisco Dungeon


    Our final first day stop was at the San Francisco Dungeon which was also included on our Go Card San Francisco. This isn’t an attraction that is geared to younger children, but our teens and tween loved it and so did we! The 60-minute journey is partly a costumed theatrical performance through a series of vignettes which regale you with tales of San Francisco’s sordid past and recreate authentic historical events. We learned about the Gold Miner’s Greed, the Gangs of Old San Francisco, and the Ghosts of Alcatraz. It’s one of those wonderfully educational attractions in disguise where the kids learn a lot but aren’t bored.  The second part of the experience is a thrill ride that plunges you into the depths of San Francisco with your fellow inmates –but I won’t spoil the fun of escaping “The Rock” with too many details.

    Day 2 
          

    Alcatraz


    We started our second day in San Francisco with the Early Bird Tour of Alcatraz, embarking from Pier 33 at 8:45 AM. I highly recommend this option but it’s definitely not a spur of the moment activity. Tickets to Alcatraz sell out months in advance with the Early Bird (first tour of the day) and Night Tour (last tour of the day) being the most difficult to come by, often selling out as soon as they go on sale 90 days before the tour date. Having done the Night Tour already I knew we wanted to do the Early Bird option as it is substantially less packed than the regular day time tours.  It is totally worth the extra effort to see Alcatraz uncrowded.


    Alcatraz means “pelican” in Spanish, a reference to the first inhabitants of this rocky island. It’s location in the middle of the bay is both strategic and exposed to harsh ocean winds. In 1859, the US Military established a fort at Alcatraz to guard the Bay. In 1907 it became a military prison and in 1934 it became a maximum-security federal penitentiary which it remained until 1963 when it was closed due to the extremely high cost to maintain. Commonly called “The Rock”, Alcatraz housed some of the most notorious criminals like Al “Scarface” Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly.


    Our kids were enthralled with the stories on the award-winning audio tour included with admission. It is truly OUTSTANDING! I really can’t express that strongly enough. It is unlike any other audio tour we’ve ever done. Not only does it walk you step by step through the extensive prison complex you are immersed in the sounds and narratives of the island’s fascinating history from first-hand accounts of the actual guards and prisoners. You truly get a sense of what it was like to be in Alcatraz prison when it was in operation. You’ll even be walked through an extensive escape attempt and riots complete with sound effects and an exciting description of what later become known as the Battle of Alcatraz. From start to finish Alcatraz is one of our favorite experiences in San Francisco!


    TIP: Alcatraz Cruises is the one and only official tour boat that actually takes you to Alcatraz Island. It is best to book with them and not through a tour company that marks up the tickets. You can book 90 days in advance of your desired tour date.


    Pier 39


    After returning from Alcatraz we walked along the Embarcadero to Pier 39. This area is a must-do when visiting San Francisco with kids. Sure, it’s touristy but there is no shortage of fun diversions! You can take a spin on the Pier’s carousel, check out the 7-D theater or do some dockside shopping. Our kids loved that there was an entire store dedicated to Biscoff, one of their favorite treats! After a look around we decided to grab a quick counter service lunch from The Hook. The perfectly fried shrimp was the stand out winner with our crew!


    Sea Lions at K-Dock


    Pier 39 is also home to the famous sea lions who make their home on Pier 39’s K-dock. The roughly 1,700 sea lions that took up residence on the docks of Pier 39 late last century now rarely ever leave. This cuddly bunch of creatures play, splash, and sometimes even fight, but mostly they sun themselves on the floating wooden docks while hundreds of tourists look on. It’s an amazing sight well worth taking some time to enjoy. It’s easy to find the sea lions at K dock from either side of Fisherman’s Wharf or straight through all the shops and restaurants of Pier 39. Just follow the sound of barking!


    Aquarium of the Bay


    Our Go Card San Francisco passes also included a visit to the Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39. The interactive exhibits, hands-on displays and naturalist presentations were enthralling. We also enjoyed exploring touch pools filled with bat rays, sea stars, sea cucumbers and leopard sharks.

    Our favorite activity was the 300-foot crystal-clear tunnel system that gives an immersive scuba diver’s view of the marine animals from San Francisco Bay and surrounding waters housed at the aquarium. The Aquarium of the Bay aims to inspire not just wonder but conservation.  We had the opportunity to learn about important environmental challenges of the day like climate change, plastic pollution in the oceans, and habitat loss and how we can be a part of conservation efforts.


    Biking the Golden Gate Bridge


    Biking across the Golden Gate Bridge was the highlight of our previous trip to San Francisco and the number one thing we wanted to do in San Francisco with kids. Lucky for us full day bike rentals were included with our Go Card San Francisco!

    The friendly and knowledgeable staff at Blazing Saddles got us all outfitted and set up for our biking adventures. Our bike rental included a helmet, a bike lock, and a custom map with route recommendations.


    Starting in Fisherman’s Wharf we followed the National Park bike path on a scenic ride through the Marina, Crissy Field, and the Presidio stopping to take many photos along the way. We could not have hoped for bluer skies or more idyllic weather! I definitely suggest waiting until the afternoon when the infamous San Francisco fog subsides before you head out across the country’s most iconic bridge.  

    The whole experience was unforgettable! Feeling the ocean wind in your face and sensing the majesty of this landmark was absolutely exhilarating. It’s an adventure that our kids will never forget! None of our photos really do it justice!


    TIP: Pretty much any route in San Francisco will include hills due to the city’s unique geography, so you’ll want to consider that when deciding the best type of bike for your family. We chose two tandem bikes which we rode with each of our girls and one single for our teenager who is a more confident and experienced rider. Blazing Saddles also offers tagalong bikes and trailers perfect for younger children and toddlers.

    Palace of Fine Arts – Presidio


    Not only did we get to ride along the waterfront and up and over the 1.6 mile architectural wonder that is the Golden Gate Bridge we got hang on to our bikes for the rest of the day. We continued our explorations through the Presidio area. Once the nation’s premier army post, the Presidio, located on the northern tip of the San Francisco peninsula is now it is home to museums, restaurants, recreational paths and architectural remnants of the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exhibition. The most prominent of which is the Palace of Fine Arts. Easily one of the most beautiful historical monuments in San Francisco, we stopped by to explore the impressive structure.


    Walt Disney Family Museum


    Our other stop in the Presidio was at the Walt Disney Family Museum –which once again is awesomely included in the Go Card San Francisco. Founded by Walt’s older daughter, Diane Disney Miller, San Francisco was chosen as the home of the Walt Disney Family Museum because her family settled nearby in wine country. The museum features 40,000 square feet of interactive and entertaining exhibits and galleries detailing the life and legacy of Walt Disney and the company he founded.


    Beautiful, expansive galleries feature all kinds of Disney films, photographs, sketches, clips, cartoons and more. Many of the stations are narrated by Walt’s own voice. We learned about Walt Disney’s impressive personal life, from the early beginnings and his success and grand ambitions to the building of Disneyland and how he created an empire that continues to inspire innovation and imagination, even today.


    The museum includes over 200 video screens and interactive exhibits, but our unanimous favorite was the intricate model of Disneyland housed in the second to last gallery. It was the perfect way to prepare for one of the next stops on our road trip! Stay tuned!!


    Madame Tussaud’s


    Next up was a visit to Madame Tussauds wax museum which was also included in our Go Card San Francisco. This stop surprised us by just how crazy our kids were about it! They truly had a blast here hamming it up with top tier celebrities and athletes and even some more notorious famous figures.


    Madame Tussauds San Francisco features seven different themed galleries that recreate iconic cultural scenes, like Elton John at his piano or the bus seat where Rosa Parks once sat. You can also hop into favorite films like E.T. or Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It was like a little slice of Hollywood right in San Francisco.


    The “Spirit of San Francisco” exhibit, which showcases local legends from the arts and culture scene, from art to music to literature was particularly cool and dare I say even educational. You can march with Harvey Milk, sing a song with Tony Bennet on Lombard Street or check out Al Capone’s cell on Alcatraz.

    Ripley’s Believe It Or Not


    Just a hop skip and a jump down the wharf we found Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, another popular attraction included with our Go Card San Francisco passes. Considered the most interactive of any museum in the Ripley’s franchise, this institution boasts over 400 quirky and unusual exhibits scattered throughout 18 different galleries. This celebration of the weird and wonderful is certainly entertaining. Some highlights included the kaleidoscope room, the room with shrunken heads and mummified remains and the room that appears to spin around.


    Ghiradelli


    There was one other iconic San Francisco food we had to experience before calling it a day; Ghiradelli! A beacon bayside landmark since 1862, this former chocolate factory and woolen mill is now a three-level modern shopping and restaurant complex. The square retains the famous Ghiradelli trademark clock tower and the original Ghiradelli electric roof sign but the real draw here is the decadent desserts served in the soda shop and sold in the Ghiradelli store. We polished off some delicious sundaes and enjoyed checking out the Vintage chocolate making machinery that still operates inside the shop to demonstrate the process Ghiradelli uses to make their trademark treats.


    Day 3

    Lombard Street


    On our last morning in San Francisco we picked up our rental van at a parking garage conveniently located across the street from our hotel in Union Square. After we loaded up, we had to make a couple last stops in the Bay City before heading out on our next adventure down the Pacific Coast Highway.

    First up we took a turn down Lombard Street. Eight turns actually! Known as the “crookedest street in the world” Lombard Street stretches for only one block between Hyde and Leavenworth streets yet has eight hairpin turns. The street was originally straight, but the grade is so steep that developers had to make it curvy in order to drive down safely. During the summer weekends they close it off to through traffic so we were glad to be there on a weekday when we could drive down and before any there were any long lines.


    Painted Ladies


    Finally, we made one last stop to see San Francisco’s iconic Painted Ladies. If your kids are Full/Fuller House fans like mine they are sure to recognize the set of six colorful Victorian homes right away from the opening credits. We also had our kids watch Mrs. Doubtfire before out trip which also features the three-story homes. So many grand old Victorian houses line the streets in this area that it has been declared a historic district.


    One Last Tip!


    San Francisco is HILLY! Even if you plan your route to avoid the biggest ones, you are still going to have to conquer a few hills, so be prepared for walking and bring along a stroller for toddlers and make sure everyone has good comfy shoes on!


    There you have it. Our itinerary for 48 fun-filled hours in San Francisco with kids. If you are planning on visiting several attractions like we did it might be worth it to purchase the Go Card San Francisco.  From the fun in festive Fisherman’s Wharf to exploring the Embarcadero by bike many of these great ideas above are included were included in our passes and it was so nice to know our total cost ahead of time…not to mention saving a ton of money versus paying at the gate.

    Hopefully this itinerary has inspired you to take your kids to the beautiful city by the bay too. If you enjoyed this article, please save it to Pinterest by clicking the ‘P’ button on any image.

    And don’t forget to subscribe to Mom Abroad to get the latest updates, giveaways and helpful travel tips right to your in-box! Join us on Facebook for regular updates and related articles and on Instagram to see what we are up to in photos.

     


     

    How to Spend 4 Fun Days in Savannah With Kids

    From iconic historic sites and tours to fantastic food and cultural attractions, here’s how to spend 4 fun days in Savannah with kids!


    Savannah is known for its antebellum architecture, beautiful parks, horse-drawn carriages and its stately oak trees, draped in Spanish moss. It’s the kind of idyllic place that beckons for a romantic weekend or grown-ups’ getaway but you might be asking yourself what is there to do in Savannah with kids?

    The answer is quite a lot!

    After spending three and a half days touring this charming city with our children and their grandparents, we found tons to do for the whole family to enjoy! From iconic historic sites and tours to fantastic food and cultural attractions our well-timed itinerary was a winner! I’ll save you the trouble of planning and research and loop you in on all the cool things we did in Savannah with kids.

    Disclosure – Any and all opinions expressed are that of Mom Abroad. No compensation was received for this post. However please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links.  Meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase using the link. I truly appreciate your support!

    Day 1

    Old Savannah Tours

    Savannah is such a walk-able city that you can easily get around on foot, but we are big fans of utilizing hop-on hop-off type tours wherever they are available. Not only are these tours a great way to get an overview of the history and heritage of an area, it saves little feet from tiring out too quickly. Our kids look at it like an attraction that takes you to the attractions. Naturally our first order of business in Savannah was to get our selves set up with a trolley tour company.

    There are quite a few tour companies offering transportation to significant sites in Savannah including Old Town Trolley Tours the same company we loved on our recent trip to St. Augustine. This time we decided to go with Old Savannah Tours so we could enjoy the costumed historical re-en-actors that join you on the tour every few stops.

    We enjoyed our tour so much we went ahead and extended it for a second day. Not only did we love using the trolley to easily get around Savannah, it was such fun to see who would join our tour next. From an always-running Forrest Gump to a scandalous Savannah socialite to a poor soul who perished in the city’s yellow fever outbreak we loved listening to their lively monologues and entertaining exposition. All the renactors we enjoyed during our visit were very talented. Many of them being students at Savannah’s College of Art and Design.


    Historic Overview of Savannah Trolley Tour


    Lunch at Savannah Distillery


    If you arrive, as we did, right around lunch time you will want to fuel up for your sight-seeing. The Savannah Distillery Ale House is located right next to the Old Savannah Tours ticket office and across the street from the main Visitor’s Center. Not only was that super convenient but the food was just the right kind of casual pub fare that hits the spot. Brian and his Dad enjoyed the huge craft beer selection on tap. With silent movies showing daily and old photos, maps and artifacts all around it was the perfect place to prepare for our Savannah adventures.


    Savannah History Museum


    The original passenger station of the Central of Georgia Railway now serves as the Savannah History Museum. It was a fabulous first stop in our Savannah itinerary as it gives a great overview of the city from its 1733 colonial beginnings to the present day. Exhibits highlight the city’s military, musical and cultural contributions, including a locomotive engine, a Juliet Gordon Low exhibit and the famous bench from the movie Forest Gump. Battlefield Memorial Park, adjacent to the museum features a commemorative area dedicated to those who fought during the American Revolution. Musket firing demonstrations and other re-enactments are held here as well.


    Georgia Railroad Museum


    It was a short walk to the Georgia State Railroad Museum across the street. Transportation has played a large part in Savannah’s history and this National Historic Landmark site really gives you a sense of that. It boasts the oldest and most complete Antebellum era railroad facility still in existence anywhere in the world. We toured several of the restored rail cars and locomotives. Other highlights here are the model train display and fully operational turn table.


    The Pirate’s House


    We’d worked up an appetite again in time for a delicious dinner at The Pirate’s House. Located in a historic building once used as an inn for seafarers, it’s just about as cool as a dining experience for kids can get! Legend has it that Robert Louis Stevenson wrote part of Treasure Island in this very establishment and was inspired by the pirates who told tales of their adventures on the high seas over a pint of grog.

    The bounty of food here is fantastic. I’m still dreaming about their signature pecan-crusted friend chicken. The kids loved their …but what was really a big hit with them was the menu itself. The menus magically turn into a pirate hat, eye patch and earring.

    After dinner, we took a tour of the restaurant with a pirate guide who showed us around the 15 rambling rooms that make up the restaurant. The “Herb House” at the very center, is believed to be the oldest house in Georgia and the “dungeon” was once an entrance to one of Georgia’s underground tunnels. We were also enthralled to hear about the strange and unusual hauntings that happened here.


    Ghost Tour


    Of course, the Pirate’s House isn’t the only place for paranormal activity in Savannah. The city is known to be one of the most haunted in America. As such, there are quite a few ghost tours that operate in the evening.

    We chose to add the Grave Encounters Ghost Tour option to our Old Savannah Tours tickets, and it did not disappoint. Conveniently the tour picked us up right outside of the Pirate House. Just as with the daytime tour the costumed re-enactors who acted as our tour guide and those that hopped aboard for expositional monologues were fabulously talented. Our tour guide in particular was so good, that while realized she wasn’t actually a long-dead nurse we had no idea she wasn’t actually British until her big reveal at the end of the evening.


    Old Sorrel Weed House


    Our Ghost Tour also included a stop at the Sorrel Weed House, considered the “most haunted” house in Savannah. Normally a “haunted” house isn’t something you can get me within a square mile of, but this was much more historical in nature than the Halloween variety. Our guide regaled us with the stories from the famous and wealthy families that lived…and died…in this grand mansion. While I’d call it spooky and eerie, we were more entertained than scared which is exactly how it should be on a tour like this with kids.


    Ghosts and Gravestones of Savannah


    DAY 2

    Cathedral of St. John the Baptist


    Our second day in Savannah started bright and early with morning mass at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Our extended family is Catholic, so it was cool to experience a different kind of Sunday service than we are used to. The church itself is well worth a visit any time its open, even if it’s just for a quick peak inside. The French-gothic style architecture is amazing! We were mesmerized by the hand-painted frescos, stunning stained glass and huge vaulted ceilings. It rivals many of the beautiful cathedrals we’ve seen in Europe and was a great way to prep our kids for seeing those in the future.

    Leopold’s Ice Cream


    From St. John’s Cathedral we walked to Leopold’s Ice Cream on Broughton Street. After one bite I understood why this downtown institution almost always has a line out the door and down the block. It was, bar none, some of the best ice cream I’ve had in my life!

    From St. John’s Cathedral we walked to Leopold’s Ice Cream on Broughton Street. After one bite I understood why this downtown institution almost always has a line out the door and down the block. It was, bar none, some of the best ice cream I’ve had in my life!

    Most of the current award-winning flavors have remained the same from the original secret formulas and techniques since Leopold’s was founded in 1919. I highly recommend a double scoop of the Honey Almond & Cream or the Savannah Socialite or my favorite, the Pistachio ice cream.

    In addition to the delicious made-on-premises ice cream Leopold’s is also a great place to grab a bite to eat. We dug into pimento cheese, and PJ & J sandwiches that hit the spot. And don’t worry about that long line. It goes pretty fast.


    Owens Thomas House


    Next, we headed to the Owens Thomas House. Considered the crown jewel of Savannah’s historic homes this is the property I’d recommend seeing if you’re thinking of touring just one home. It’s a wonderfully preserved example of English Regency architecture that tells the story of life in Savannah through the lens of a prominent historic home and the people that lived there.

    The property includes a gorgeous garden space and its original carriage house. The carriage house is the only still-intact former slave quarters open to the public in Savannah and among the oldest in the U.S. It’s a great place to get a better understanding of the history of Savannah through personal stories and interactive exhibits, including the role slavery played in Savannah’s past.

    Another good reason to visit the Owen-Thomas house is that it’s operated by Telfair Museums, who also run the Telfair Academy and the Jepson Center. We purchased a combination ticket with access to all three museum properties at a discounted price when you bundle them together. More on the other sites in a bit.


    River Street


    We made our way over to River Street for a stroll along Savannah’s waterfront. Although abandoned for over a century, this area was redeveloped by the city in the late seventies, and is today a lovely place to wander along the cobblestone road. The century old buildings, once cotton warehouses have been converted into quaint shops, elegant inns and enticing restaurants.

    We couldn’t resist the allure of free praline samples from River Street Sweets. Savannah’s Oldest candy store, in operation for 40 years, they have perfected pralines, and many other delectable treats. Our kids also enjoyed the samples from Byrd’s Cookie Company and the delicious honey from Savannah Bee Company while Brian and I sipped cocktails from Wet Willie’s.


    The Crab Shack


    For dinner, we made the short drive out to Tybee Island for a memorable meal at The Crab Shack. The motto here is, “Where the elite eat in their bare feet”. With a huge open deck underneath strands of twinkling lights strung between the branches of massive oak trees its rustic dining at its most relaxed and fun. The menu features a huge assortment of seafood and Georgia style barbeque. Our family dug into a massive amount of crazy good crab legs.


    The fun doesn’t stop there though! From the “Gator Deck” ours kids took turns feeding the alligators treats affixed to the end of a line attached to a cane pole to the 78 live baby alligators in the lagoon below. Specially trained attendants are on hand to answer questions and offer interesting gator facts. The extensive gift shop also features an array of exotic rescue birds.


    DAY 3

    Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room


    After sleeping in and grabbing a very light breakfast at our hotel we headed to the heart of the downtown district and got in line for lunch at Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room. Now that may seem kind of crazy but let me explain.

    Most Southern towns used to boast a boardinghouse where travelers could find a simple room and communal dining that offered at least two hearty meals a day. Selma Wilke opened her boardinghouse in 1943. Her modest goal was to make a living serving family style food in the downtown dining room. The food was so good, her popularity spread like wildfire and she soon had a line out the door waiting to grab a seat at her table.

    There’s still a line down the block to eat at Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room today. And it forms early. By the time we arrived at 9:30 am there were already a couple dozen people ahead of us. Mrs. Wilke’s Dining Room is only open from 11am-2pm Monday through Friday. And they don’t take reservations. So, you definitely want to make sure you’re there early.

    The food consists of Southern-style comfort food-favorites like black-eyed peas, mashed potatoes, baked beans, candied yams, cole slaw, mac n’ cheese and piles of perfectly fried chicken. Everything is served in the center of the table where you sit with 10-12 other people, including the new friends you made outside while waiting in line.

    Since this is family style, it’s also all you can eat. If you have hungry teens like we do the flat fee (cash only) will seem like such a deal! Just make sure to save room for dessert! And don’t’ forget to clear your plate from the table at the end of your meal just like you would do at home.


    Forsyth Park


    We got a jump on burning off all those calories from lunch with a walk around Forsyth Park, Savannah’s largest and oldest park, this sprawling 30-acre oasis is situated beside the historic district. From its beginning locals and visitors alike have flocked to Forsyth park to picnic, play, relax and enjoy the many cultural events and concerts. The famous Forsyth Fountain added in 1858 is considered the focal point of the park and makes a great photo opportunity.

    Various other historic monuments and sculptures pepper the park and the Farmer’s Market is a huge draw on the weekends. The park also boasts a children’s spray pool and play ground, a flower garden and a number of small cafes to stop for a bite.

    Telfair Academy


    The Telfair Academy is the oldest public art museum in the south and the first art museum in America founded by a woman. Set in a gorgeous early 19th century mansion the museum presents a celebrated collection of fine art, decorative art and period rooms laid out as they would have been originally. The museum has come up an ingenious way to make all that interesting for kids in the form of scavenger hunt. Our kids enjoyed perusing the displays, hunting for clues while Brian and I made a point to check out the Bird Girl statue famously on the cover of the, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.


    Jepsen Center


    Just around the corner from the Telfair Academy is its sister property the Jepsen Center. Devoted to contemporary art and traveling exhibitions the Jepsen center highlights emerging artists and definitely has a decidedly more modern feel to it. It also makes a point to be engaging for kids. Our kids enjoyed the interactive ArtZeum space where they could construct buildings with architectural blocks and magnets. The atrium also features a “Drop-In” studio space for kids to create their own art masterpieces. Each month features a special project designed to connect with a specific exhibition at the museum.

    As mentioned above purchasing a Telfair Pass gained us access to The Telfair Academy, the Jepsen Center and the Owens-Thomas House all on one ticket. It was a great value!


    Davenport House Museum


    Another amazing historic home we visited was the Davenport House Museum. The property was completed in 1820 by Isaiah Davenport a young carpenter from New England who found success in Savannah. The Federal-style home gives a glimpse into domestic life and aesthetics from an earlier time with a collection of over 500 historic items and an excellent docent narrated tour. Our guide was actually a student not much older than our teens. He had an impressive wealth of information about not only the home itself but the era in which it was built. We found a deal for very affordable admission to the Davenport House on Groupon and children under the age of six are free.


    Treylor Park

    For our last night in Savannah we dined at the trendy Treylor Park restaurant. The tables are close and the room is loud but the food is fantastic! The quirky menu is full of comfort food with a kitschy twist and unconventional bar bites. We indulged in the peanut butter and jelly chicken wings, the grilled apple pie sandwich, loaded waffle fry nachos and deep-fried Oreos. The retro movies on the big screen kept our kids entertained and the friendly wait staff providing excellent service round out the many reasons we loved this unique restaurant.


    DAY 4

    Old Fort Jackson


    Our last morning in Savannah, we made the two-mile trek from the city over to Old Fort Jackson. This beautifully preserved National Historic Landmark was built in 1808 on the banks of the of the Savannah River. We enjoyed exploring the ramparts and learning about the history of Georgia’s oldest brick fortification. The highlight of our tour was the cannon firing and drill demonstration. The costumed-guide was full of fun facts and knowledge about the fort’s active years. Our kids could have spent the entire time there playing with hoop and stick (who needs digital devices?) but alas it was time to head home.


    Historic Squares


    One more must mention thing to see in Savannah with kids are the historic squares. When Savannah was founded in 1733 it was America’s first planned city. It was laid out on a grid system with 24 squares that function as peaceful public parks throughout the city. Each lush landscaped area is named after a significant person or event in history with statues that reflect their namesake and park benches perfect for getting some shade and taking a relaxing break for tired little feet.

    Chippewa Square is one of the most popular as it is the setting for the great bus stop bench scene in Forrest Gump and it is also surrounded by historic buildings, but each square has something to offer. No visit to Savannah would be complete without stopping to enjoy a few.


    That wraps up our whirlwind trip to Savannah with kids!  If you’re looking for a beautiful city that’s as perfect for a family vacation as it is for a romantic getaway, Savannah should be at the top of your list.

    Have you been to Savannah with kids? If so, let us know what you enjoyed most because we definitely plan to head back!

    If you need more ideas for visiting Savannah with kids, check out the Savannah tourism page.

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    Best Things to do in St. Augustine with Kids

    Posted in Destinations by
    All the best family-friendly attractions, museums, restaurants and historic sites to experience in St. Augustine with kids!

    I’m a native Floridian and have traveled extensively but believe it or not I had never visited St. Augustine before our recent road trip. Boy did I wish I had seen this charming city sooner! With over 60 historic sites, attractions and museums, miles of beautiful beaches and a fantastic food scene we found it to be an ideal destination for a family vacation.

    St. Augustine is located on the Atlantic coast of Northeastern Florida just a relatively short drive from both Orlando and Jacksonville. Known as the nation’s oldest city, it has been continually occupied since it was founded by the Spanish in 1565. St. Augustine has fought off pirates, housed past Presidents, withstood hurricanes and served as a playground for the world’s most privileged elite. All this has added to a rich and varied heritage. The mild climate allows for plenty of time to enjoy the outdoors and its relatively compact size and accessibility makes it easy to get around on foot or to hop aboard the carriages and trolleys that cater to tourists.

    We spent several days exploring St. Augustine with our kids and really got a great sense of the most enriching experiences for families and attractions that make the past the city’s history come alive.  Here are some of our recommendations for the best things to doA in St. Augustine with kids to help you plan your next trip.

    Disclosure – Any and all opinions expressed are that of Mom Abroad. No compensation was received for this post. However please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links.  Meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase using the link. I truly appreciate your support!

    What to do in St. Augustine With Kids:

    Trolley Tour

    I highly recommend that your first stop when visiting St. Augustine with kids is at one of the open-air sightseeing trolley depots that offer free parking. There are two main trolley companies offering fun, fully narrated tours of St. Augustine; The Red Train operated by Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and Old Time Trolley Tours.  

    Both tours take 80-90 minutes if you stay on board for the entire loop. What makes these tours extremely convenient though is that they offer unlimited hop-on hop-off privileges. This allows you to get on and off the trolley as many times a day as you would like at any of the dozens of trolley stops throughout the city, including all the places listed in this article.

    With so much to see and do in St. Augustine the trolley was the perfect way to get around while enjoying an excellent overview of all the historic sites. We learned so much just from riding from one attraction to another. And the best part was it kept my kid’s legs from getting too tired throughout the day. We extended our trolley ticket for a second day for a nominal fee and it was a lifesaver! I can’t imagine how we would have seen everything we did without it.

    What’s more, you can bundle in other attractions with your trolley ticket for substantial savings. It was so nice to have all our tickets taken care of at once. We were able to enter each attraction we wanted to visit without having to make another purchase. At one point when it rained, they even provided everyone with ponchos! Such a great value!


    St Augustine Hop-On Hop-Off Trolley Tour


    The St. Augustine History Museum

    The St. Augustine History Museum is a combination if historical displays and private collections that bring over 400 years of Florida history to life. You can visit the Spanish sunken treasure room, a Timucan Indian Village and a Cracker trading post. My kids got a kick out of trying to pick up a bar of gold (its heavier than you think!) and playing old games in the penny arcade. The model train… Admission to this museum is included with all Old Town Trolley Tour packages.



    St. Augustine History Museum Admission


    Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park

    You simply you can’t visit St. Augustine with kids without taking them to the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. The 15-acre water-front park is a site of significant national historic importance. It was here that St. Augustine was founded by Pedro Menendez 55 years before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth rock and 42 years before Jamestown was colonized. Long before that it was the home of the Timucuan Indians.

    You can experience all these chapters in St. Augustine’s history reconstructed here. From the replica of the Native American village of Seloy and ancient burial grounds to the1587 Mission Church of Nombre de Dios, the first Christian church built in America. You also won’t want to miss the working blacksmith shop or the daily canon firing and crossbow demonstration.

    However, it’s the Spring of Eternal Hope that’s been flowing for centuries and said to hold the powers of perpetual youth that has made the park the most popular tourist attraction in the city and, also the oldest with guest books dating back to the 1960’s. You can drink the same waters tasted by Ponce de Leon when he arrived in 1513 for yourself. But be warned: the high mineral content that may be responsible for its youth promoting properties give it a unique taste.

    Other highlights of the park include the 600-foot-long Founder’s Riverwalk, watch tower and Discovery Globe Planetarium. Our kids also loved the exotic peacocks that roam the grounds. Almost everything in the park allows for hands on exploration. It’s hard not to be awed by over 500 years of history that surrounds you.


    Flagler College

    The real show-stopper of St. Augustine’s Historic District is Flagler College. This private liberal-arts university was once an opulent playground for the world’s most privileges elite. The Ponce de Leon Hotel which was built in 1888 by railroad baron Henry Flagler remains breathtaking as ever thanks to extensive restoration and preservation.

    We enjoyed just wandering around the gorgeous campus and courtyards taking in the Spanish architecture, lush landscapes and fountains.

    Walking tours are offered seven days a week during the summer months at 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM In addition to getting a peak at the grand lobby with it’s 68-foot domed ceiling and the Tiffany stained glass windows and ornate murals, you also get to learn more about the fascinating history of Henry Flagler and the college that now bears his name.


    The Old Jail

    The Old Jail of St. Augustine was financed by Henry Flagler in 1891 so that he could control its look and location. The Queen Anne stucco style brick building is on the National Register of Historic places. You would never guess from its pleasing exterior that Flagler commissioned the same company that would eventually build Alcatraz for the project. It is one of the very few surviving incarceration facilities in Florida and the oldest building in St. John’s county, where it operated for more than 60 years.

    The interactive tour includes a look inside the male and female cells, maximum security as well as the kitchen, the gallows and the sheriff’s living quarters where he and his family lived adjacent to 72 prisoners. What really makes this experience stand out are the costumed “inmates” that act as your tour guide telling tales of the jail and its occupants. Their first-person stories really give a great glimpse into the daily lives of St. Augustine’s most notorious prisoners living under the penal system of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It would be a crime if you missed this attraction when visiting St. Augustine with kids!



    Old Jail Museum Tour in St. Augustine


    Oldest Store Museum Experience

    The Oldest Store Museum Experience was one of our favorite attractions in St. Augustine. Arranged to look and feel like a general store in the late 1800s you embark on a walk-through shopping experience with a costumed sales-man from the past. Along the way you are shown a plethora of “new” inventions, tonics and elixirs. My kids especially enjoyed being able to each pick out a piece of old-fashioned penny candy that was included in the tour for them as a treat.

    From the front shop you head into the back of the store where a vast “inventory” of over 100,000 items from early bicycles to washing machines is on display for you as if you were a customer.  It was fascinating to see how so the predecessors of so many modern appliances we still use today. It’s like being able to walk into a Sears Roebuck catalog from the 1900s. Once again, the costumed guides giving the tours were fantastic and really took the time interact with my kids while staying in character making it another truly entertaining and educational experience.



    Oldest Store Museum Experience in St. Augustine

    Castillo de San Marcos

    The Castillo de San Marcos rises prominently along the western shore of Matanzas Bay directly across from the heart of the historic district. Completed by the Spanish in 1695 to protect their treasure fleets from the British and pirates, this national monument is considered the oldest masonry fort in America.

    The thick stone walls are made from coquina, rock made from compressed seashells found along the coast. There is a great view of the water from the top level, so have your camera’s ready!  You’ll find many beautifully detailed cannons as well as other weapons on display. I also recommend trying to time your visit to see one of the daily demonstrations by reenactors dressed in period costumes and speaking Spanish. Just be sure to cover kids ears for the canon firing! It is awesome to watch but very loud!

    Displays on the lower levels depict what everyday life was like for the soldiers who lived and worked in the fort and the many historically significant events took place here. The Fort is toured completely at your own pace so there’s no need to rush through for the next group that comes alone. Just make sure to put this early in the day on your itinerary as it typically closes at 5:00 PM and can get quite hot in the afternoon. Since the Castillo de San Marcos is ran by the National Park service kids are welcome to partake in the national Junior Ranger program and earn a badge while visiting the fort.


    St. George Street – Historic District

    Across the street from the Castillo de San Marcos is the is the 144-block historic downtown area of St. Augustine. St. George Street is the main thoroughfare which runs south from the city gate through the center of the district. This Cobblestone pedestrian-only street is lined with local shops, restaurants, ice-cream parlors, pubs, galleries and gift shops. I suggest getting off one of the Trolleys near the Old City Gates and strolling from one end to the other.

    Many of the buildings stay true to their historic beginnings, with wooden signs hanging from above the doors and charming courtyards where you can dine outdoors. You will truly feel like you have been transported back in time. The street becomes busier as the sun goes down and on weekends so if you’d like a less crowded experience head there in the morning or early afternoon. We found that the hustle and bustle though was part of what made the street so unique and interesting. Just make sure you bring your wallet and your appetite!


    Old City Gates

    At the edge of the historic district of St. Augustine sit two enormous pillars, which at one time framed a door marking the entrance to the Old City. When the Spanish walled St. Augustine in the 1700s this gate was the only way in and out of the city and served as the main means to protect it. These coquina stone pillars opening onto the norther part of St. George Street are some of the last evidence of that history. This is a fun stop for a photo op and to imagine what it might have been like to pass through this gate to enter the city just like people did many years go.

    Pirate and Treasure Museum

    The Pirate and Treasure Museum transports you back in time to the Golden Age of Piracy. My crew will tell you, it is an absolute must-do attraction with kids, and easily our favorite museum we experienced. Each room is exceptionally well done, making us feel like we were on an actual pirate ship as we took in the over 600 authentic artifacts and treasures on display including one of only three surviving original jolly roger flags on display and the only real pirate chest left in the world.

    A treasure hunt, complete with map, engages kids in the entire experience. They are even rewarded with “treasure” for successfully collecting clues and answering questions. But that’s not all that makes this attraction such fun! The Pirate and Treasure Museum features more than 20 interactive and touch screen and animatronic exhibits designed by Disney Imagineers. Which explains why this attraction feels on par with something you would experience at one of Orlando’s top theme parks. Kids can fire a cannon or smell the valuable spices that were plundered along with gold. There’s even a surround-sound experience telling the tale of Blackbeard’s demise.

    End your high-seas adventure in the amazing Hollywood Pirates exhibition and check out all the memorabilia frim movies like the Goonies and Pirates of the Caribbean. We arrived an hour before the museum closed and felt like we had the whole place to ourselves to explore. If you go earlier in the day, when it’s more crowded make sure to give yourself plenty of time to see everything.


    Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse

    Within the downtown streets of the historic district near the City Gates you’ll find the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse. The hand-built historic wooden structure now houses a museum that offers a look into how children were educated in the 18th and 19th century.

    The self-guided tour allows you to explore the one-room school house and see where the school master lived along with listening to the story of what they did each day. Kids get a kick out of all the old textbooks, school supplies and other related artifacts. You can also take a walk-through the garden area and see the separate kitchen built with no electricity or running water. Kids receive a little diploma at the end of the visit to take home as a souvenir.

    The Lightner Museum

    There are many museums in St. Augustine, but none are quite as unique as the Lightener Museum. Located across the street from the Ponce de Leon Hotel (now Flagler College), the Spanish Renaissance Style Revival building was originally home to the Alcazar Hotel a luxury resort built by railroad baron Henry Flagler in the late1880s to cater to his rich and famous clientele. Hobbies magazine publisher Otto Lightner purchased the Alcazar in 1946. He used the building to store his massive collection of Victorian memorabilia. Known today as Florida’s “Smithsonian” the Lightner is dedicated to preserving these Gilded Age artifacts.  

    Now normally I wouldn’t think a museum showcasing Victorian ephemera would be particularly interesting for kids but the Lightner has done a fantastic job making it an engaging experience for young ones. A specially designed Scavenger Hunt cleverly gets kids to comb the collections of costumes, furniture, scientific samples and artwork throughout the museum’s three impressive floors to answer the questions and fill in their forms. Highlights for us included the curio room filled with oddities from Shrunken heads and mummies to salt and pepper shakers, the colorful Tiffany lamp collection and an area that was once part of the hotel’s spa with elegant marble benches. Kids will also get a kick out listening to the antique musical demonstration and the colorful koi pond leading up to the entrance.

    The Lightner Museum is also home to a truly unique dining experience. The Café Alcazar is located in what was once the deep end of the former hotel’s massive swimming pool. At the time of it’s construction the pool was the largest indoor pool in the world.


    St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum

    Crossing the Bridge of Lions on the other side of Mantanzas Bay, a few miles from the beach you’ll find the St. Augustine Lighthouse. At 126 years old, it is one of 30 lighthouses standing in Florida and one of just six open to the public. Visitors can climb the 219 steps to the top of the iconic tower to enjoy a panoramic view of the ocean, bay and city of St. Augustine. There is a height minimum of 44” to climb the stairs to the top of the lighthouse. This is due to the height of the railing going up and for safety reasons. However, those with shorter kids can switch off climbing while kids enjoy the cool shipyard playground.

    You can also check out the recently restored 1876 Keepers’ House and check out the Maritime Museum displaying artifacts and recent archeological discoveries. There is yet another great scavenger hunt here for kids to complete as well as nature trails to explore along with guided archeology and ghost tours. You’ll want to check the times for those.

    Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Museum

    The Warden Castle was built in 1887 as the winter residence of William Grey Warden, friend and business partner of Henry Flagler. Robert Ripley, collector of bizarre and unusual objects frequently visited the castle when it was a hotel. He died in 1949 without realizing his dream of owning the property but after his death his family purchased the Warden Castle Hotel from Pulitzer prize winning author Majorie Kinnan Rawlings. The beautifully restored, Moorish Revival Style mansion became the first permanent home to Ripley’s collection and the first of the 36 Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museums in the world when it opened in 1950.

    Today you’ll find three floors are filled with more than 800 exhibits of extraordinary items collected by Ripley himself. Kids can spend hours exploring the interactive galleries chock full of mystical treasures, international oddities and exotic art forms that inspired the hit TV show. Prepare to be amazed!



    Potter’s Wax Museum

    Another quick but worthwhile stop is Potter’s Wax Museum. Opening in 1947 Potter’s was the first museum of its kind in the United States. Today the museum boasts over 160 wax figures among its ever-changing display including a large celebrity collection and historic figures. My kids had a great time taking pictures with the life-like….

    We also learned quite a about all these fascinating people from the well-researched biographical info plaques located near each figure. We felt like we got quite the World history lesson in our short visit.  


    The Colonial Quarter

    The Colonial Quarter is a two-acre living history museum located in the historic district. Created with the help of University of Florida historians, the area features, artisan shops, blacksmith and military demonstrations, a 35-foot watchtower and restaurants that immerse you in three centuries of Spanish colonial life.

    There Colonial Quarter is comprised of four different sections – 16th century Spanish first city, 17th century Spanish fortified town, 18th century Spanish garrison town and 18th century British colony.  Guides dressed in period costume lead you through each section that has different exhibits allowing you to see and experience how citizens of St. Augustine lived, worked and played while defending against attack. You’ll learn how to fire a musket to protect the English settlement, make nails to fix the Spanish ships, and differentiate between the various flags that have flown over this storied town. The whole site is like an interactive journey through the history of St. Augustine.

    After immersing yourself in history, pick one of the two fantastic restaurants on the property. Your entry ticket to the Colonial Quarter gives you a nice discount at the eateries. We loved the Chicken Pot pie at the Bull and Crown Publik House.


    St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park

    If your kids have had their fill of historical exhibits and museums head on over to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park. The name is a little misleading as the park is actually an accredited zoo. One of the oldest in the country in fact as it was founded in 1893 –I guess you can’t really get away from history in St. Augustine. You’ll find exhibits, shows and activities featuring an array of animals. In addition to every species of crocodile in the world you will also find alligators, monkeys, lemurs, birds tortoises and various other reptiles.

    Kids love the live feedings at the lagoon. If that’s not exciting enough there’s also a ropes course and zipline attraction called Crocodile Crossing with live alligators and crocodiles right underneath you.

    The Beach!

    Last, but definitely not least, a coastal Florida family vacation wouldn’t be complete without hitting the beach! The beaches in St. Augustine are consistently rated among the best in the world. With 42 miles of shoreline to discover you are sure to find the perfect place to relax and unwind with your family. Crecent Beach, Vilano Beach, Ponte Vedra and St. Anastasia State. Park are favorites among locals. I recommend going later in the day to skip the hot sun and the sunburn that goes with it! We hit the waves in the golden hour before sunset and loved playing in the gentle surf and sand and enjoying the sea breeze.   


    Where to Eat in St. Augustine with Kids:


    Dining options in St. Augustine are plentiful and varied with most being locally owned and independent. There are many casual options for families serving up heritage inspired dishes, fresh local produce and seafood and lots of kid friendly fare sure to please even the pickiest eaters. A few of our of family favorites follow:

    The Columbia Restaurant

    We loved visiting the original Columbia Restaurant location in Ybor City when we went to Tampa so much we knew this sister property in St. Augustine was a must on our itinerary. Located on St. George Street right in the heart of the historic district and serving up the same delicious Spanish-Cuban cuisine, the Columbia here doesn’t disappoint.

    I recommend making reservations ahead of time or hitting the eatery for an early lunch as the place gets packed, especially at dinner. Something to keep in mind when dining with kids, but the phenomenal food is well worth it. Our kids loved the complimentary crusty warm Cuban bread. We are also big fans of the roasted pork, plantains, empanadas and of course it wouldn’t be an authentic Cuban meal without a helping of black beans and rice. Go ahead and splurge on the delicious desserts. The flan is a favorite and the guava filled puff pastry is perfection!

    Ask to sit in the large two-story enclosed courtyard know as “El Patio”. Take some time after your meal to wander around the unique dining rooms and see the colorful accents, fountains and chandeliers throughout.

    Hyppo Gourmet Ice Pops

    You simply have to have a Hyppo Gourmet Ice Pop while you are in St. Augustine. These popsicles are amazing! Lots of fruit and lots of fun flavors you can’t find anywhere else. The hardest part will be deciding which flavor to try. You may need to come back for a second visit. We went back more than once they were that good. I’m stilled dreaming about the Pistachio flavored one.

    Hyppo’s has several locations throughout the downtown St. Augustine area with over 450 flavors of all natural popsicles, everything from Banana Bread to Nutella (my son’s favorite) to Rum Raisin. They only use fresh fruit and since they’re so healthy, you can eat more than just one!



    Where to Stay in St. Augustine with Kids:

    As a tourism driven town St. Augustine has plenty of options for family lodging. From small boutique style properties, chain hotels, Airbnbs and even RV parks there’s something at every price point.

    It’s worth noting that the hotels near I-95 are about 5 miles from the downtown area where the vast majority of the attractions you’ll want to visit are located. I’d recommend that you spend the money, if you can, to get a centrally located hotel. St. Augustine is an extremely walkable city. Even if you make use of the trolley its nice to stay a hotel that has a trolley stop nearby. This saves you the hassle of finding parking and paying fees. The parking fees could very likely equal the difference between staying in town or further afield. If you are looking to save money, I recommend visiting in the winter months as the prices for accommodations will be lower.

    Our Take on St. Augustine with Kids:

    Hopefully this gives you an idea of some of the best things to do in St. Augustine with kids.

    We could easily go back and spend a full few weeks checking out all the other historical and recreational activities of Florida’s Historic Coast. I would lean towards booking more days than you think you may need to see this city. That said, the great thing about St. Augustine attractions is that they aren’t huge. You can easily see several attractions in one day. If you are only visiting for a weekend you can still fit tons of fun things to do into your trip. Our family will surely be visiting again soon!

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    All the best family-friendly attractions, museums, restaurants and historic sites to experience in St. Augustine with kids!

    80 Epic Experience Gift Ideas and Creative Ways to Wrap Them Up

    The ultimate guide to toy-free experience gift ideas that are clutter-free, super fun and make lasting memories! Plus creative ways to wrap experience gifts up!

    2008 was a year that truly changed our family. In March we found out that our son had a tumor attached to his brain and one in his right arm. That year he was diagnosed with a disease called Osteoclastoma. In August our youngest daughter was born. She was very sick as well with what we would eventually come to know is Mitochondrial Disease and Primary Immune Deficiency. That Thanksgiving she spent her first holiday in the hospital.

    I know that all sounds like a pretty depressing opener for an article that promises epic Christmas gift ideas but here’s the thing. All that tough stuff we went through gave us some deep perspective.

    See that year we decided to focus on making as many memories as we can, whenever we can, for as long as we can. That was the year that we completely changed the way we do Christmas.

    We took our kids that December to Orlando to see Disney World. It was magic in the middle of extremely trying times. It was the beginning for us in a shift from not just giving presents, but giving PRESENCE.

     

    Giving Presence

     

    Think about your own childhood. With a few exceptions you probably don’t remember most of the toys or electronics you received that your parents probably spent a small fortune on. But I bet you can vividly remember the moments they spent with you.

    Instead of buying your kids the latest expensive toy this year that will end up broken on their bedroom floor in two weeks, think about what memories you can create with them that they can hold to forever.  It’s always a choice of where we spend both our time and our resources, so choose wisely. Make an intentional decision to give them presence this year instead.

    How you accomplish this can be as varied and exciting as the people on your list.  You can give an elaborate adventure package or something simpler closer to home but the focus is the same. Making memories. I’ll give you some ideas here and then I’ll share my favorite part; how we creatively come up with what to unwrap on Christmas morning. That’s right! Just because we focus on experience gifts doesn’t mean Christmas morning is any less exciting! It just takes a little thought and imagination!

     

    Just a heads up: Any and all opinions expressed are that of Mom Abroad. No compensation was received for this post. However please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links.  That means if you click on a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission at absolutely no cost to you. This is how I am able to keep this blog up and running. I truly appreciate your support!

     

    Travel Experience Gift Ideas

     

    I’ll start with what we do. Every year we give our kids a trip. This vacation varies and has looked different from year to year but it’s always the “big gift” we focus on in our family.  Travel offers incredible opportunities for memory making but it doesn’t always have to cost thousands of dollars. Here are some travel related experience gift ideas:

     

    1. Hotel Stay

    2. Plane Tickets

    3. Cabin or Tent Camping

    4. Water-park Experience  (Aquatica, Volcano Bay)

    5. All-Inclusive Resort

    6.  Eco-Adventure Park tickets

    7. Sightseeing Attraction Passes like CityPass Tickets or Smart Destinations Go Card Passes

    8. Theme Park Tickets/Season Passes to Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Sea World, or Busch Gardens

    9. Cruise Vacation

    10. Tickets to a Convention

    11.  Tours and Excursions

    12. National or State Parks Pass

    13. Big Bus or Trolley Sightseeing Tours

    14. Museum Membership

    15. Zoo Membership

    16. Railroad Trip/Eurail Pass

    17. Swim with Dolphins

    18. Adventure Passes

    Related Articles:

    Playa del Carmen with Kids — the Perfect Family Vacation Destination

     29 Tips For the Best Universal Orlando Vacation

     30 Day Trips from Charlotte 

     The Secret to Saving Money at Museums, Zoos and Aquariums

    How to Make the Most of Your Niagara Falls Family Vacation with the Niagara Falls Adventure Pass

     

     

    Something to Think About: Travel experience gifts can be particularly pricey, but to put it in perspective, you can add up what you were planning to spend on physical gifts for everyone in the family. You may find that the cost of a vacation isn’t too far off, especially if you plan a road trip to somewhere nearby or your trip is a staycation adventure with one night in a hotel. Remember that the gift of a vacation is something that your loved ones will remember for years, whereas the latest gadget or toy will quickly fade into the background and be forgotten. It’s just human nature!

     

    Indoor and Entertainment Experience Gift Ideas

     

    Get out and explore together! Look at local venues in your area. Chances are you can find a whole slew of cool cultural activities and dining options in your area. Groupon is a great place to look or make it super easy on yourself and pick up some great gift cards from Amazon.

     

    19. Movie Tickets or Fandango Gift Cards (AMC, Regal, Fandango)

    20. Restaurants Gift Cards for a nice Meal

    21. Play or Musical Tickets

    22. Concert or Symphony Tickets

    23. Paint Your Own Pottery

    24. Sip and Painting

    25. Escape Rooms

    26. Sporting Event Tickets

    27. Stand Up Comedy Tickets

    28. Froyo/Ice Cream Outing (Cold Stone, Menchie’s, Sweet Frog)

    29. Laser Tag

    30. Roller Skating Passes

    31. Bowling

    32. Indoor Rock Climbing

    33. Trampoline/Bounce House Passes

     

    Related Article: $25 Theater Tickets to Popular Shows

     

     

    Active and Outdoor Experience Gift Ideas

     

    Give the gift of an adventure! Here are some ideas for experiences that are sure to be unforgettable:

     

    34. Paint-balling

    35. Horseback Riding

    36. Scavenger Hunt

    37. Surfing Lessons

    38. Snow tubing/Snowboarding/Skiing Excursion

    39. Whitewater Rafting

    40. Mini-Golf/Driving Range

    41. Hiking Excursion

    42. Fishing Excursion

    43. Boat Rental

    44. Zip-lining

    45. Indoor Skydiving

    46. Helicopter Ride

    47. Go-Karting

    48. Scuba/ Snuba Diving

    49. Parasailing

    50. Flying Lessons

    51. Community Pool Pass

     

     

    Staying In and Pampering Experience Gift Ideas

     

    Sometimes too, it’s great to just relax and unwind with some special pampering or simply staying in for fun night at home. Here are some ideas for experiences that fit the bill:

     

    52. Activity Box Subscriptions

    53. Red-Box or Vudu Movie Night Gift Cards

    54. Family Game Night Games

    54. Puzzles to complete together

    56. Massage

    57. Spa Day

    58. Manicure or Pedicure

    59. Haircut or Color

    60. Afternoon Tea

     

     

    Learning Experience Gift Ideas

     

    If you know there’s a skill your loved ones would like to learn or already enjoys doing, buy them a class! Here are some ideas for fun learning experiences:

     

    61. Cooking classes

    62. Cake decorating classes

    63. Art Classes

    64. Photography Classes

    65. Music Lessons

    66. Karate Lessons

    67. Swim Lessons

    68. Dance Lessons

    69. Sewing Classes

    70. Gymnastics Lessons

    71. Ice Skating Lessons

    72. Language learning classes

    73. Improv/Acting Classes

    74. Coding Classes

    75. Summer Camp Session

    76. YMCA Membership

    77. Sports Team Registration

    78. Arial Silks Lessons

    79. Fitness Classes

    80. Yoga Classes

     

     

    What about relatives?

     

    Our kids have generous grandparents and other relatives, who with good intentions, lovingly load up our kids with latest toys, gizmos and gadgets. Most of the time we are delighted to let them. The way we see it, they are more likely to appreciate those material gifts from Grandma and Grandpa if it’s NOT the 50th item they’ve unwrapped on Christmas.

    However, if someone asks us for ideas we either share something from this list or let them know that we’d like cash to pool together with other relatives. Last year we pooled money from grandparents, aunts and uncles and put it together to get SeaWorld and Busch Gardens passes to go along with the Universal Studios passes from us. We took FIVE trips this year with these collective passes including meeting up at the parks with our extended family.

    We’ve found that most members of our family have been very receptive and enthusiastically gave their full support to gifting experiences. Especially when it involved spending time with them. It really is a win for everyone.  Because it has given us reasons to spend quality time together and it has become something my children look forward to each year.

     

    Something to think about: Experience gifts come with a BONUS! The gift of patience! Waiting for something and not getting instant gratification is an amazing life lesson. When you finally do your “experience gift”, think about how much more they’ll appreciate it!

     

    What About Santa?

     

    You may be wondering how this experience gift business works with Santa. For a long time we simply had our experience gifts come from “Santa” but eventually we switched our main gifts to coming from Mom and Dad and Santa just bringing a few items instead. I highly suggest the  “Something to wear, something to read, something you want, something you need” model for this. My friend Miranda does an awesome job explaining it on her blog Miranda in Charlotte article “You’re Doing Christmas All Wrong“.

    Now that our kids are older and we have very happily moved away from Santa entirely we just stick with the experience gifts only and a stocking full of some fun small items. Let’s dig into how we go about making Christmas morning special unwrapping our experience gifts.

     

    How to Wrap It Up

     

    You all agree- this year you’re ready to forgo the toys and make it all about experiences for Christmas. However, you still want to put something under the tree. Me too! But how in the world do you wrap an experience into a neat little bow topped box? How do you actually  give a vacation? How do you wrap a class? Here are a few easy ideas:

     

    • If you have physical tickets or passes you can wrap them up. This is the easiest and most straightforward way to wrap up an experience gift.

     

    • Get printing! Type up your travel itinerary… and print it! Make a flyer with info about an outing or lesson or subscription…and print it! Create a gift certificate…and print it! I like to use Pic Monkey, a super easy photo and graphic editing site and then print using a heavy weight paper like card-stock. Then slide your printed creations into a festive envelope of wrap them in a big cardboard box to throw your loved ones for a loop.

     

    • Take it even further by getting creative with your packaging. Think outside the box, so to speak. Last year when we gifted our kids passes for Universal Studios, home of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter I found giant sized Ferrero Rocher chocolates, took off the outer foil, opened them and placed a note inside about the passes. Then I attached some wings made out of card-stock and….voila! A giant Golden Snitch that made for a magical reveal on Christmas morning.

     

    • If you will be traveling consider putting some photos from the destination and including these in your reveal. If you are going for more than one day you can wrap each day’s itinerary separately and reveal what you will be doing day by day. This is what we’ve done in the past with our kids and it can be very exciting.

     

    • You can even make the printing itself more exciting! I’ve used sites like Shutterfly to create a puzzle that our kids had to put together on Christmas morning. Once assembled it revealed their experience gift.

     

    • Try to think of the practical, purposeful things you will need that go with your experience gift and have your family unwrap those items as part of your reveal. Our kids have unwrapped suitcases that we needed for our trip and even bottles of sunscreen! You could buy goggles to go with swim lessons, some popcorn and candy for a movie night. The idea here is to get something useful for your experience and not just something that will add clutter to your life.

     

    • Create a Scavenger Hunt with clues. This is fun no matter how old your loved ones are! You can create clues and use maps. I’ve used AAA for Trip Ticks and incorporated these handy maps into our scavenger hunt revealing each clue as we reached a new point on the map.

     

    • Yet another year we ran yarn all over the house starting at the foot of our kid’s beds, zigzagging, up and down the stairs, and all over the furniture and ending tied to the tree with tickets on the end.

     

     

    Something to Think About: It’s really never too late late to start giving experience gifts. And if you’re kids are really young it’s the perfect tradition to start! Our kids no longer have the expectation of a mountain of toys on Christmas morning but they can’t wait to find out where they are going.

     

    Hopefully, these ideas have sparked your imagination and made you think about giving meaningful memories with experience gifts sure to outlast any toy.

    What experience gift ideas do you have? Share in the comments if you have something to add to the list.

    For more family fun and vacation inspiration subscribe to Mom Abroad for more helpful travel tips! My newsletter offers a monthly dose inspiration & information for making the best memories on your next vacation. Visit Mom Abroad on Facebook  and  Instagram  and let us know if you’re giving experiences instead of “stuff” this year!

     

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    4 Fantastic Days in San Francisco

    Posted in Destinations by
    Lively, romantic and adventure filled San Francisco is the perfect destination for a four-day getaway. From iconic sites and tours to hiking and biking to drinking and dining here’s how we spent 4 fantastic days in San Francisco!

    Brian and I recently visited San Francisco to celebrate our 16-year anniversary. We try to make it a point to take a trip or two just the two of us every-year. We’ve been out to California before, but we’d never visited San Francisco together. This lively, romantic and adventure filled city just seemed like the perfect destination for a four-day getaway.

    We had so much fun running all over the beautiful Bay Area and really made the most of our time with our well-thought out itinerary. From iconic sites and tours to hiking and biking to drinking and snacking we really felt like we saw all the best San Francisco has to offer. I’ll save you the trouble of planning and loop you in on our awesome itinerary. Here’s how we spent our fantastic four days in San Francisco!

    Disclosure – Any and all opinions expressed are that of Mom Abroad. No compensation was received for this post. However please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links.  Meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase using the link. I truly appreciate your support!

     

    DAY 1

     

    Coit Tower

     

     

    After dropping our bags off at the Hilton Hotel in the financial district we headed right up Kearney Street to Telegraph Hill. Atop this historic hill is one of San Francisco’s most recognizable locations, Coit Tower. Built as an observation tower in the 1930’s this 201-foot structure offers 360° panoramic views of the city and the surrounding bay. Sights stretch from the Bay Bridge, encompassing views of the Financial District, Russian Hill, Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay, right up to Alcatraz. It was the perfect place to get a lay of the land and begin our adventures. While the hike up Telegraph Hill is quite steep there is an elevator inside the tower itself that takes you to the top for a fee of $9 for adults.

     

     

    Nestled inside the lobby of the art-deco tower is an equally impressive historic sight. The interior of Coit Tower is filled with frescos painted by local artists in 1933 as part of the Federal Art Project set up by President Roosevelt to keep artists employed during The Great Depression. Twenty-five artists joined efforts to paint a vivid portrait of life in modern California including shopping, farming, banking, shipping and city life.

     

     

    Fisherman’s Wharf

     

     

    Famished from our long flight we made our way over to Fisherman’s Wharf. This world-famous district along the northern waterfront is a vibrant hub of vendors, souvenir shops and attractions including Ripley’s Believe it Or Not Museum, the Maritime National History Park, and Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum.

     

     

    Boudin

     

     

    We made a bee-line to the Boudin Sourdough Factory for some lunch. We enjoyed soup and sandwiches in the casual cafe and then spent some time watching the professional bakers carefully craft batches of bread and shape and bake the dough into intricately designed animals through the 30-foot observation windows. There’s even a two-way intercom system where you can ask the bakers questions directly.

     

     

    We made sure to take a quick trip upstairs to where the Bistro restaurant is located to see the small museum and learn more about the history of the bakery and catch a peak at into the bakery itself and see (and smell!) where the “Mother” dough is kept in a special vault.

     

     

    Musée Mécanique

     

     

    Feeling satisfied from our savory sourdough lunch we made our way to the nearby Pier 45 to see the Musée Mécanique. From the outside, it doesn’t look like much, but believe me, it’s a great place spend a spend a few bucks. And by a few bucks I mean that’s all you will need for a fun time! This retro arcade offers a throwback to early 20th century games and mechanical oddities from self-playing pianos to fortune telling talking heads. All for the low price of QUARTERS. Admission is completely free, and the only money we spent was the handful of quarters I made sure to pack just for this museum. There are plenty of change machines on hand if you need it.

     

     

    Blue and Gold Bay Cruise

     

     

    We continued our orientation with San Francisco by taking a Blue and Gold Fleet Bay Cruise. This excursion was included with the CityPASS bundle of attraction tickets we purchased prior to our trip. CityPASS is such a great value! I find it always includes the very best attractions a city has to offer into one extremely easy to use package. We simply exchanged our ticket voucher at the Blue and Gold Fleet Bay Cruise ticket window and picked up our pocket-sized ticket book. We didn’t have to stand in line again for tickets at any of the other included attractions.

    Our one-hour Bay Cruise sailed around Alcatraz Island, past Angel Island and directly underneath the Golden Gate bridge. We enjoyed the fully narrated information about local landmarks but even more impressive were the breathtaking views. I definitely recommend doing this tour in the afternoon when the skies are blue, and you can enjoy unobstructed views of the San Francisco skyline and the majestic Golden Gate Bridge.

     

     

    Sea Lions at K-Dock

     

     

    We could see the famous California harbor seals basking in the sun on the floating docks from our Bay Cruise but decided to get a closer look from the viewing platform at Pier 39.  Last century, this cuddly bunch arrived and set up home right on the wharf.

     

     

    Pier 39

     

     

    We continued exploring the rest of the extensive Pier 39 complex. Refurbished in 1978 to resemble a quaint wooden fishing village, this 1905 cargo Pier now houses popular tourist shops and restaurants spread through two levels. There are also various street performers and amusements including a double decker carousel.

     

     

    Aquarium of the Bay

     

     

    Our CityPASS also included a visit to the Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39. We strolled through the 300 feet of crystal-clear glass tunnels for a scuba diver’s view of over 20,000 marine animals from San Francisco Bay and surrounding waters. I was amazed by all the sharks and bat rays! The Aquarium offers the unique opportunity to touch them in their “Touch the Bay” pools along with sea stars and anemones. The river otters were adorable and really seemed to enjoy their watershed habitat.

     

     

    Lou’s Fish Shack

     

     

    After out aquarium excursion we were hungry for some seafood. Fisherman’s Wharf is home to some of the best! We wandered the various seafood merchant’s stalls selling clams, calamari, and oysters fresh from the ocean before settling on Lou’s Fish Shack. We had a quiet table on the second floor by the window where we could people watch. I dug in to the Dungeness crab. Brian enjoyed the Pacific Mahi Tacos and their California craft beer selection.

     

     

    Ghiradelli Square

     

     

    After dinner we headed west along the waterfront to Ghiradelli Square. A beacon bayside landmark since 1862, this former chocolate factory and woolen mill is now a three-level modern shopping and restaurant complex. The square retains the famous Ghiradelli trademark clock tower and the original Ghiradelli electric roof sign but the real draw here is the decadent desserts served in the soda shop and sold in the Ghiradelli store. We polished off a hot chocolate fudge sundae and banana split made with Ghiradelli’s home-made ice-cream and topped with lashings of cream. Vintage chocolate making machinery still operates inside the shop to demonstrate the process Ghiradelli uses to make their trademark chocolates.

     

     

    DAY 2

     

    Wheel Fun Bike Rentals

     

     

    Our second day in San Francisco began early. We took the Powell-Hyde Cable Car to Bay Street. It was just a short walk across the intersection from there to Taylor Street where Wheel Fun Bike Rentals is located. Booking our bikes ahead of time saved us money and made pick-up a cinch. We chose Wheel Fun Rentals not only because they had the best pricing available for e-bikes but because they offer a unique GPS audio guide.

     

     

    Krispy Kreme Donuts

     

     

    The previous evening at Ghiradelli we had seen an advertisement for their special Krispy Kreme donut. We had to check that out! After all we’d knew we’d soon be biking off all the calories! Krispy Kreme, an 80-year-old doughnut brand, plus Ghiradelli, a 165-year-old chocolate brand is truly a match made in heaven. The doughnut is filled with salted caramel filling, dipped in decadent chocolate icing, drizzled with caramel and topped with a blend of amber sugar, salt sprinkle and Ghiradelli mini chocolate chips. My mouth is watering again just thinking about it!

     

     

    Wave Organ

     

     

    Our first stop was in the Marina District at the end of Yacht Road to see the Wave Organ. Created in 1986, the acoustical art piece is certainly not the prettiest sight, but that’s not the point. The installation is meant to stimulate your ears not your eyes. Sound is created as the Bay waves move in and out of organ pipes made of PVC and concrete.

     

     

    Presidio – Palace of Fine Arts

     

     

    From there it was on to the Presidio. Once the nation’s premier army post, the Presidio, located on the northern tip of the San Francisco peninsula is now it is home to museums, restaurants, recreational paths and architectural remnants of the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exhibition. The most prominent of which is the Palace of Fine Arts. Easily one of the most beautiful historical monuments in San Francisco, we stopped by to explore the impressive structure. Originally designed to resemble a Roman ruin, it certainly took me back to Italy right there in the middle of the California coastline.

     

     

    Crissy Field and Fort Point

     

     

    From the Presidio we biked to Crissy Field. A tidal marsh once covered this field before it was used as a military airfield. In 2001 it was transformed into a waterfront park for recreation which now offers one of the most spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge. We took the opportunity to get some photos here before continuing our trek.

     

     

    Our final stop before getting on the Golden Gate Bridge was at Fort Point. Completed by the US Army in 1861, this fort was built partly to protect San Francisco Bay from any attack, and partly to defend ships carrying gold from California mines, it is the most prominent of the many fortifications that can be found along the coast and is a classic example of a pre-civil war fortress. It made it through the 1906 earthquake but was nearly demolished in the 1930’s to make way for the bridge. I’m glad it survived as it’s the perfect spot for photos at the base of the bridge.

     

     

    Biking the Golden Gate Bridge

     

     

    Biking over the Golden Gate Bridge itself was an unforgettable experience! Feeling the ocean wind in your face and sensing the majesty of this landmark was absolutely exhilarating. It’s an adventure that will stand out in my mind forever and easily our favorite experience in San Francisco. None of our photos really do it justice!

     

     

    Brunch in Sausalito

     

     

    Once we crossed the bridge, it was an easy 10-minute downhill ride into Sausalito, a quaint and charming little seaside town. We dropped our bikes off at the super convenient Sausalito Bike Return service and then made our way along the main avenue to The Barrel House for lunch. This was our favorite meal of our trip. Not only was the Eggs Benedict brunch perfection on a plate but the view we enjoyed of San Francisco and the Bay while we ate was simply spectacular.

     

     

    Ferry Building

     

     

    From Sausalito we took the Golden Gate Ferry back to San Francisco. The Golden Gate Ferry drops off at the iconic Ferry Building along the Embarcadero. This place is so much more than just a transit hub! Locally-produced artisan goodies like Cowgirl Creamery cheese, and Hog Island Oyster Company make it a foodie paradise! We were still pretty stuffed from our fabulous lunch but we did try the delicious Blue Bottle Coffee and Humphrey Slocombe’s ice cream. The flavors change every day at this inventive creamery, but the “Secret Breakfast”–made with bourbon and corn flakes–is one of three things that never come off the menu. I can attest that it was the best ice-cream I’ve ever tasted in my life!

     

     

    Exploratorium

     

     

    After leaving the Ferry Building we hung a right and walked along the Embarcadero to Pier 15 for a visit to the Exploratorium. Tickets to the Exploratorium were also included in our San Francisco CityPass. Since 1969 this renowned museum and global learning center has been wowing people of all ages with creative and interactive exhibits exploring science, art and human perception. We were simply amazed by all the unique hands-on displays!  From the tiny microbores to the giant inflatable installations it was a feast for our senses.

     

     

    Alcatraz Island

     

     

    Hanging another right out of the Exploratorium we continued up the Embarcadero to Pier 33 for our evening visit to Alcatraz. First, I must mention that a tour of Alcatraz isn’t a spur of the moment activity. Tickets to Alcatraz sell out months in advance with Night Tour tickets being the most difficult to come by, often selling out as soon as they go on sale 90 days before the tour date. I knew we wanted to do the Night Tour as it is substantially less crowded than the day time tours and more areas of the island are open to visitors. Furthermore, the National Park Service offers extra talks and programs exclusively in the evenings.

     

     

    Initially I had no luck finding anything available from the official Alcatraz Tour site. We purchased a tour that was bundled with the Alcatraz Night Tour from a Tour company. It was expensive but 100% worth it. I would do it again in a heartbeat. If you use a third-party vendor like we did just make sure it is a reputable vendor like Bay City. Many tours claim to visit Alcatraz when in fact all they do is sail by it.

    Alcatraz means “pelican” in Spanish, a reference to the first inhabitants of this rocky island. It’s location in the middle of the bay is both strategic and exposed to harsh ocean winds. In 1859, the US Military established a fort at Alcatraz to guard the Bay. In 1907 it became a military prison and in 1934 it became a maximum-security federal penitentiary which it remained until 1963. Commonly called “The Rock”, Alcatraz housed some of the most notorious criminals like Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly.

     

     

    The award-winning audio tour included with admission is truly OUTSTANDING! I really can’t express that strongly enough. It is unlike any other audio tour we’ve ever done. Not only does it walk you step by step through the extensive prison complex you are immersed in the sounds and narratives of the island’s fascinating history from first hand accounts of the actual guards and prisoners. You truly get a sense of what it was like to be in Alcatraz prison when it was in operation. You’ll even be walked through an extensive escape attempt complete with sound effects and an exciting description of what later become known as the Battle of Alcatraz. The talks given by the National Park Rangers where also excellent and kept us enthralled. From start to finish Alcatraz was one of our favorite experiences in San Francisco!

     

     

    DAY 3

     

    Big Bus Tour

     

     

    Included with our Alcatraz ticket package was a Big Bus Tour of San Francisco. It was just our luck that Big Bus Tours has a stop right at our Hilton hotel. It made it a breeze to hop aboard to begin our third day of exploring San Francisco from yet another angle.

    The unique thing about the city of San Francisco is that is comprised of around three dozen districts (or neighborhoods) and each has its own vibe, culture, and charm. The Big Bus tour was a great way to see some of the Districts we didn’t otherwise plan to spend a lot of time in on this trip. We were able to take in everything from Union Square and Little Italy to the Castro and Civic Center and even the not so appealing Tenderloin district.

     

     

    Golden Gate Park

     

     

    Having made almost a complete circuit we hopped off the bus at Golden Gate Park. A masterpiece of landscape gardening created in the 1890’s out of a sandy wasteland the park today is one of the largest urban parks in the world. The immense park stretches over 1000 acres from the Pacific Ocean to the center of San Francisco, forming an oasis of greenery and calm amid the bustling city beyond.

    Among the many attractions of the park are meandering paths, sports facilities, lakes, botanical gardens and major museums. The park is even home to a herd of bison. There’s so much to do within Golden Gate Park we could have spent our entire four days here and still had plenty to see but we decided to focus on a few of the highlights.

    California Academy of Sciences

     

     

    We used our handy CityPASS tickets once again to visit the California Academy of Sciences which sits on one side of the main concourse facing the De Young Museum of Fine Arts. CalAcademy (as it’s called for short) has been located within Golden Gate park since 1916 but settled into its new state of the art building in 2008. It houses the Steinhart Aquarium, Morrison Planetarium, and the Kimbrall Natural History Museum. The living roof which is accessible from a rooftop deck is filled with native plant species and designed to make the museum blend in with the surrounding parkland. We were wowed by the four story Rainforest Dome that took us on a vertical journey through four different rain-forest habitats complete with free flying birds and butterflies. The giant Tyrannosaurus in the atrium is also amazing!

     

     

    Japanese Tea Garden

     

     

    Crossing the main concourse again we headed to the exquisite Japanese Tea Garden. Here picturesque paths wind through the carefully manicured Japanese trees, shrubs and flowers. Built for the California Midwinter Fair of 1894, the garden transports you to this day, to another land. The koi fish pond and pagodas are beautiful and seem to almost have been painted into the landscape. The steeply arched Moon Bridge was a marvel as well, forming a dramatic circular reflection in the pond below.

     

     

     

    Haight-Ashbury

     

     

    Passing the exquisite Conservatory of Flowers, we made our way to the bottom of Golden Gate Park and onto the streets of “The Haight.” The corner of Haight and Ashbury streets was the nexus of hippie culture and the beating heart of the psychedelic “flower power” in the 1960’s. Once home to Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, and the Grateful Dead it is now one of the liveliest and most unconventional places in San Francisco, with an eclectic mix of people, cafes, vintage clothing boutiques and record stores, like the landmark Amoeba Records.

     

     

    Cable Car Museum

     

     

    From Haight-Ashbury we caught a Lyft to the Cable Car Museum. This free museum is actually the powerhouse of the cable-car system. Anchored to the ground are engines and wheels that wind the cables through the system of channels and pulleys that run beneath the streets of San Francisco. It was fascinating to observe them from the mezzanine level and then walk down-stairs to see them in action under the street. The museum also houses several early cable cars and mechanisms that control the cars –the last of its kind in the world.

     

     

    Chinatown

     

     

    We hopped on the Cable Cars yet again and headed over to China Town. Cable cars run down two sides of Chinatown and are an essential part of the area’s bustling atmosphere. This densely populated neighborhood with its colorful facades, teeming markets, temples, theaters, restaurants and stores is “a city” within a city. In fact, San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest Chinese communty outside the country of Asia and the oldest in the United States. Chinatown actually attracts more tourists than the Golden Gate Bridge. We made sure to hit the top tourist sites like the Dragon Gate at Bush Street and Grant Avenue but we also took our time wandering down Stockton Street through the many markets, herbalist shops, tea stores and alleyways.

     

     

    Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory

     

     

    In one such alleyway we found the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. The fortune cookie is actually a San Francisco invention! This shoe-box of a space, in operation on Ross Alley since 1962 is one of the last places in the United States where they are still made by hand. We watched as workers removed hot flattened cookies off the griddle press, placed a fortune inside, then deftly folded it into the traditional fortune cookie shape. It was fascinating how meticulous the workers were. Any tiny imperfection in the spherical discs caused them to be tossed into the “reject” pile. We bought a huge bag of these delicious fortune-less “rejects” for the bargain price of $4.50 and brought another bag of cookies that fulfilled their fortune cookie fate to bring home for our family.

    Dim Sum Dinner

     

     

    We continued our culinary explorations by checking out several of the bakeries dotting Chinatown selling traditional Chinese pastries and egg tarts. Then it was time for a Dim Sum dinner. Dim Sum is traditionally more of a brunch meal but there are many places in Chinatown that offer selections of delicious dumplings and pork buns into the evening hours for tourists like us. We dined at the Hang Ah Tea Room tucked into yet another quiet alley way. They claimed to be the first Dim Sum restaurant in the United States.

     

     

    DAY 4

     

    Muir Woods

     

    Since San Francisco has one of the best public transportation systems in the world there really isn’t a need to have a car when in the city. Plus, parking overnight can be crazy expensive. We opted to rent a car for just one day so we could head out to Muir Woods in a fraction of the time that it takes to use the shuttle service and then just return it at the airport before flying home. We started our fourth and final full day by picking up our rental car at a garage on Bush Street. The process could not have been easier and soon we were on headed toward the Marin Headlands.

     

     

    Muir Woods Woods National Monument was created in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt, making it one of the earliest national monuments in the country. It’s only 30 minutes away from San Francisco, but transports you to another time and place. For that same reason, it’s also a very popular park, famously crowded with incredibly limited parking. To curb this problem the park service instituted a reservation system in January of 2018. This is brilliant! We made sure to beat the crowds coming in on shuttles by visiting on a weekday in the early morning. I made our parking space reservation and purchased our park entry tickets together on-line ahead of time, selecting an entry time of 9:00 AM.

    We further avoided the crowds by taking the road less traveled. We hiked the Canopy View Trail which climbs up the canyon wall through thick sections of tall, straight, young redwoods.  This trail actually leaves Muir Woods National Monument and enters Mt. Tamalpais State Park. It descends pretty steeply and we found ourselves feeling thankful not to have hiked it going in the opposite direction. After a couple miles the trail loops back and eventually connects with the Redwood Creek Trail –the main trail in the National monument.

     

    One of the few remaining strands of first-growth coast redwoods, the woods are named for John Muir, a 19th century naturalist who was the first to persuade Americans of the need for conservation. Most of the old growth redwoods here are between 600-800 years old, and the oldest is about 1200 years old. Rising around 120 meters, these trees are truly ridiculously high and breathtakingly beautiful! My favorite section was the Cathedral Grove where the trees tower toward the heavens like sky scrapers. Redwood Creek bubbles out of Muir Woods and makes its way down to the sea at Muir Beach. We stopped by to take a look at this wide expanse of sand.

     

     

    Lunch in Sausalito

     

     

    We stopped in Sausalito on our way back again for lunch. This time we dined at The Napa Valley Burger Company. The large selection of burgers and an even larger selection of beers were the perfect post-hike meal!

     

     

    We continued our earnest research into Bay Area ice-creams with a stop in to Lappert’s Ice Cream. A family-run chain of ice cream (and gourmet coffee) stores. The flavours will whisk you off to far-off places like Manila Mango and Mexican chocolate cinnamon swirl.

     

     

    Lombard Street

     

     

    After making our way back across the Golden Gate bridge into San Francisco we decided to make full use of our rental car for the day and do the drive down Lombard Street. Running across the tip of the peninsula, Lombard Street is famous for the short, steep section on Russian Hill. Known as the “crookedest street in the world” it stretches for only one block between Hyde and Leavenworth streets yet has eight hairpin turns. The street was originally straight but the grade is so steep that developers had to make it curvy in order to drive down safely. During the summer weekends they close it off to through traffic so we were glad to be there on a weekday when we could drive down. In fact we went ahead and did it twice!

     

     

    Painted Ladies

     

     

    From iconic Lombard Street we headed to Alamo Square for another post card worthy vista. The grassy area here on the eastern side of Alamo square provides the perfect vantage point to view the Painted Ladies. Any Full House fan will surely recognize them right away from the opening credits or anyone who grew up in the 90’s watching Mrs. Doubfire. This set of six “Queen Anne-style” houses, built between 1895, are all painted in all different pastel colors, boast beautiful porches, and are between two to three stories high.  So many grand old Victorian houses line the streets in this area that it has been declared a historic district.

     

     

    Mission District

     

     

    Next we made our way to the Mission District or simply, “The Mission” as it’s referred to by the locals. Before the dot-com boom the Mission was the last ungentrified central San Francisco neighborhood. Historically the heart of the city’s Latino community, the area known for its bright eye-catching and thought-provoking murals.

     

     

    Every bit of wall on Balmy Street is covered by gorgeous artwork that speaks to local issues, human rights, and gentrification.

     

     

    There are vibrant murals around every corner! We encountered many more as we explored the area’s bakeries and eclectic shops.

     

     

    We headed up to El Techo de Lolinda for some drinks. Rooftop bars aren’t all that common in San Francisco, which makes El Techo special. The heat lamps kept us warm while enjoying cocktails and the panoramic views of the city.

     

     

    Of course, we absolutely had to get a mission burrito – a large burrito bursting with rice, beans and tender grilled meat and fresh fillings nestled inside a soft flour tortilla. There are loads of choices in this area, but we hit up a local favorite called Taqueria El Farolito. Cheap and delicious the carne asada “Super Burrito” was as big as my arm. I was glad we decided to share one between us along with some Modelo beer and Mango flavored Mexican Soda.

     

     

    Twin Peaks

     

    Our last stop for the day was a bit of a bust. We’d heard that the best view of the Bay Area sunset was from the top of Twin Peaks. Unfortunelty we really couldn’t see anything from the top as San Fransisco’s notoriously intense fog was in full force up there.  Did you know that San Franciscans even have a name for the fog? It’s Karl! With such an amazing trip we could hardly complain about this little run in with Karl!

     

     

    Cable Cars and Street Cars

     

     

    Finally, I mentioned several times throughout our 4 days in San Francsisco that we rode the famous Cable Cars. These moving landmarks are iconic, unique and insanely fun! What a thrill it was to hang off the side of these historic cars as they clattered up and down the hills, bells ringing.

    One of the best parts of our San Francisco CityPass tickets was that they included a 3-day UNLIMITED pass to ride ANY San Fransisco Municipal Transportation.  When you consider that a single one-way ride on the Cable Cars is $7 per person or a 3 day pass is $33 you really start to see what a great value the CityPASS package is.

    My top tip here is to completely skip the endless line at the stop on Hyde Street where the line begins/ends just below Ghirardelli Square. Instead, head to ANY other stop and just hop on. I can’t for the life of me figure out why people wait in the hours long lines instead of just walking to another stop. For an even less crowded experience take the California line! There were several times where we had these cable cars completely to ourselves!

     

     

    Also worth checking out are San Francisco’s historic streetcars that roll along the Embarcadero on the F Market & Wharves line.  The street cars are SUPER fun and a fast way to get from one end of the piers to the other. The historic streetcars are also included in the San Francisco CityPASS Municipal Pass along with all regular buses and BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) trains.

     

     

    San Francisco CityPASS is valid for 9 days starting with the first day of use, giving you plenty of time to see the best of San Francisco, and take the best memories home with you. We sure did!

     

     

    Have you been to San Francisco before?  What are your favorite things to do?

     

    For more family fun and vacation inspiration subscribe to Mom Abroad for more helpful travel tips! My newsletter offers a monthly dose inspiration & information for making the best memories on your next vacation. Make sure to sign up below and join us on Facebook for regular updates and related articles and on Instagram to see what we are up to in photos.

     


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    Best of Busch Gardens

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

    Opened in Tampa, Florida in March 1959 by the Anheuser-Busch company as a free animal attraction alongside a brewery, Busch Gardens has since grown to a 335-acre theme park and one the nation’s largest zoos. Whether you enjoy thrilling white-knuckle rides, tropical gardens and immersive animal encounters, water adventures or lively musical shows you’ll love Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.

    With so many amazing attractions it can be difficult to know where to begin exploring. This guide is designed to highlight the best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and dining locations.

    Disclosure – Any and all opinions expressed are that of Mom Abroad. No compensation was received for this post. However please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links. Meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase using the link. 

     


    Busch Gardens Williamsburg

     

    Best of Busch Gardens Thrill Rides

     

    Busch Gardens is divided into African-themed regions such as the Congo, Egypt and Nairobi each featuring animals native to those regions. The rides in each area also tie into each area’s distinctive theme.

    Known as the “Coaster Capital” of Florida, Busch Gardens boats several sensational rides that can be classified as “thrilling”. These rides are sure to get your adrenaline pumping:

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

     Cheetah Hunt

     

    Named after the world’s fastest land animal, Florida’s first triple-launch coaster propels you from zero to 60 miles per hour in seconds while speeding across grasslands. Meant to give riders the feeling of being a cheetah on the hunt in pursuit of prey the coaster climbs to over ten stories before plunging 130 feet only to launch again twice more in bursts of intense speed over banked turns and rolled inversions. The turning, twisting, diving dash is a thrilling 3-minute chase and the parks longest coaster with 4,429 feet of track. Intense? Very. But is so smooth and fun you’ll want to ride again and again!

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

     Kumba

     

    “Kumba” is an African word describing the roar of the lion in the distance when you have crossed into its territory. An apt name for a ferocious coaster. This fast-paced thrill-ride features an initial 135-foot drop followed by a harrowing series of interlocking corkscrews producing three seconds of absolute weightlessness. Given the roughness of this older coaster we recommend sitting near the front of the train where the jostling isn’t as bad.

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

     Shiekra

     

    From 200 feet up, the fierce floor-less dive coaster, Shiekra holds you over the edge before it plunges a near 90 degrees straight down for an amazing start to this ride. The coaster reaches a whopping 70 mph as it loops back up, dives again and then zooms through an underground tunnel ending in a splashing finale. It’s not for the feint-hearted, but even I had to admit it’s a very smooth and exhilarating ride. Don’t worry about the watery ending, you won’t get wet as a rider.

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

     Scorpion

     

    The second roller coaster built at Busch Gardens with a 360-degree vertical loop, Scorpion has been thrilling park guests since 1980. Riders experience 3-G forces and speeds of 50 miles per hour as well as a fun helix towards the end of the ride. Another fun feature of Scorpion is the lap bar instead of an over the shoulder restraint. Something that is rather uncommon on rides with loops and which definitely adds to the thrill!

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

     Cobra’s Curse

     

    Cobra’s Curse is Busch Garden’s most recent coaster attraction. This wild-ride built around the legend of a snake king in Egypt takes you up a 70-foot vertical lift and then down a twisting track facing forward, then backward before racing into a free-spin frenzy. With a lower minimum ride height of 42” inches this is definitely a thrill ride to enjoy with the whole family.

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

    Montu

     

    The massive Montu coaster can be found in the Egypt section of the park. Named for an ancient Egyptian god of war the sprawling layout of this coaster features seven inversions including a 60-foot zero-G vertical loop. While the dips into and out of various trenches make you feel as though you are bounding across Busch Gardens the ride is incredibly smooth for its 20-year age. Ride in the back row for the most intense experience!

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

    Falcon’s Fury

     

    In the Pantopia part of the park you’ll find Falcon’s Fury. This unique freestanding drop tower is it’s the tallest of its kind in North America – standing at 335 feet.  If that’s not exciting enough, after reaching its impressive height this ride turns its riders downward 90 degrees so that they face the ground before plummeting them toward the ground in that position.  For a few seconds you’ll be flying like a falcon towards the ground at 60 mph before slowing down and returning to a normal angle. The amount of time that you are hanging in midair before dropping is variable adding to the suspense of an already exhilarating ride.

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

    Best of Busch Gardens Water Rides

     

    Florida’s sunny climate makes water rides a welcomed way to cool off on a hot day. Prepare to get completely soaked on these favorites:

     

    Congo River Rapids

     

    A seemingly gentle and relaxing 12-person raft ride turns exiting with a few surprise drops, waterfalls, and rogue water canons. You are bound to find yourself laughing along with your raft-mates as you go under geysers and drop into the white-water rapids at just the right angle to get totally drenched.

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!