A few weeks ago, Brian came home from work saying that he wanted to take a vacation. With a three-day weekend coming up, we decided that we should leave town for the weekend but not go too far--it would be the perfect chance to test out traveling with a toddler without spending a fortune on plane tickets and dealing with the hassles of flying with a toddler. We went back and forth, trying to decide between a city trip and a trip that would be more hiking, and finally decided on the city trip, because we've missed wandering around cities, we knew we needed to experiment with that kind of travel with Adriana, and we haven't spent any where near enough time in San Francisco since we moved back to California. Also, it's easier to find a last-minute affordable hotel in the city than up in Point Reyes.
On Saturday we ate an early lunch at home and then drove up to San Francisco. We parked at the de Young museum, and headed inside, only to realize that it was a beautiful day and we would rather spend it outside. We spent the afternoon wandering around Golden Gate Park, loosely following a couple of walks from our deck of City Walks cards: we circled Stow Lake and wandered onto Strawberry Hill, strolled through the botanical gardens, and then ventured into the Sunset district where we grabbed a couple of wraps and returned to the garden, so we could eat and Adriana could get out of her stroller and play on the lawn. I was worried because Adriana hadn't nursed since nine that morning, but she had been nibbling on Cheerios from her snack trap while we walked (we began calling her Gretel over the course of the weekend, because she was leaving a trail of the things all over the city) and was very interested in what I was eating, so I shared my falafel with her and realized that I should be happy that she can go longer between feedings from me.
Turtle in Stow Lake
Eventually we headed back to the car and went to our hotel (the Westin Market Street--I found a great deal through hotels.com) to check in. We let Adriana wreak havoc in the room for a bit, before I realized that being trapped in a hotel room with a baby who was getting into everything was certainly not my idea of a good time. Even if we weren't yet hungry, it was time to get OUT. We put the baby into the Beco and headed over toward Union Square. Adriana fell asleep on my back as we wandered around the square and surrounding streets. We finally decided to stop and get a bit of dinner, which was fine until I decided I needed to get the baby off of my back. I tried lowering her gently onto the bench of our booth, but she woke anyhow. And she wanted nothing to do with the high chair, so we took turns holding her and eating dinner. And in spite of the late nap, she still went to bed at a respectable hour that night.
We got a fairly early start on Sunday. I wanted to have a big yummy breakfast somewhere but hadn't planned on any place in particular, so we walked down to the Ferry Building, thinking that one of the restaurants there would serve the kind of Sunday brunch I was hoping for. Alas, all the restaurants were closed, so we got pastries at Peet's and let the baby run around outside, patting friendly dogs and chasing pigeons. I studied my walk cards, and we went from the Ferry Building to Chinatown. It wasn't yet ten o'clock, and the streets were fairly quiet when we got there. We peeked inside the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company, and the people there motioned us inside. I stood and watched for a while as the machines turned out perfect circles and people folded them into fortune cookie shapes. One man said something to me, and pointed to a basket of crisp circles that hadn't been folded into cookies yet. I didn't understand him, and he said something again. When I still didn't get it, he pointed to me, then the basket and said, "You. Take." So I did.
At St. Mary's Square, we released Adriana onto the playground. She spent a fair amount of time just playing with the gate, but eventually discovered the play structure--the one that wasn't in a sandbox, as she refuses to walk on or touch sand. She finally even asked to nurse, which surprised me, as I had been expecting a repeat of the previous day. We spent a little more time after our play break wandering Chinatown while Adriana napped in her stroller, and then we tried to get ourselves some lunch.
Lunch was a fiasco. We found the place where my friend Melanie and I ate last fall, which had been recommended by her copy of Lonely Planet. They didn't have high chairs, but back in September when Adriana and Eliza were eight and six months old, that wasn't too much of a problem. At first we weren't concerned, because Adriana was asleep in her stroller, and they let us squeeze the stroller in by our table. But then the baby woke up and wanted out, and the restaurant was getting more and more packed with other tourists, and we ate quickly and left. The food wasn't even that great.
We made another playground stop, but Adriana was obviously still tired and didn't want to play, so we decided to go back to the hotel to see if she would take another nap. She didn't sleep then, but she did nurse well, and we sorted through the deck of walks, and picked out a couple that would take us through the Mission. I had planned on doing the Cole Valley and Haight Street walks, but somehow these other ones sounded more interesting--plus we figured we would end up near some good Mexican food in time for an early dinner--so we hopped on BART up to 24th Street.
I'd never done much walking around the Mission, and it was interesting to take the time to see the neighborhood. It reminded me of DC's Columbia Heights or Logan Circle, with the transition to hipster gentrification in process, but with more murals and more signs in Spanish. There was a beautiful playground with murals and a mosaic dragon, but Adriana had conked out in the stroller again. Starting to get hungry, we headed toward Valencia--it was early, but we thought if we ate something light, we could have a second, later dinner. We just knew that we needed to get food before we got cranky--a valuable lesson we learned when we first traveled together back in 2001. We stumbled upon Dosa, and I immediately remembered that on a trip to California when we lived on the east coast, but the only night we were going to be in the city on that trip it had been closed. I gave up on the idea of Mexican food (or even on the idea of one of Jeff's pizzerias, since I'd left the list at home). They weren't serving dinner yet, so we settled into a coffeeshop for a snack. Adriana woke up while we were there, but we were able to keep her happy with Cheerios and repeated readings of Good Dog, Carl.
After the disaster that was our lunch, I was a little intimidated by going into another restaurant with a rambunctious toddler, but the staff at Dosa handled it great. We stashed the stroller by the coat rack, and they had a high chair ready for us. I was also relieved to see two other groups with babies--it made me feel much more comfortable. Adriana loved the pappadam that they brought to our table, and our dosas arrived quickly and were delicious. We live near some excellent Indian restaurants, but I had missed South Indian food. Still, we didn't linger over the meal, and we wrestled the baby, our daypack, the carrier, and the stroller out through the crowded restaurant fairly quickly.
The busy day had left Adriana tired once again, and after dancing around the hotel room to the radio (she was quite pleased that she could turn on the clock radio herself by just pushing on the sleep button), she was asleep by 8:30.
We were determined that on Monday I would get my brunch, although we decided that we might grab something light beforehand to make that possible. But our dinner the night before had been early, so I woke up starving at 6:30. I showered quickly and ran across the street to pick up something at Starbucks. After juice, croissants, and hot chocolate, second breakfast seemed unnecessary, so we decided to pack up our things and head out to Land's End for our final walk before heading home.
The City Walks routes all begin at a spot along a bus route, but because we were driving we began just above Ocean Beach. We loaded the baby into the backpack, stopped to look out at the water, and were pleased to see dolphins porpoising just out beyond all the surfers. Realizing that we had taken a long enough time getting out of the hotel that we could eat again, we decided to grab second breakfast at Louis' before heading out on our walk. Adriana and I shared a big plate of pancakes that were fantastic.
Those little specks are dolphins, I swear.
The views along the Coastal Trail were fantastic. We marveled at the wide open ocean and speculated about the container ships we saw making their way toward the bay. We had intended to walk to the Palace of the Legion of Honor and then back to our car, but when we came around the corner at Land's End and saw the Golden Gate in the distance, we started talking about walking all the way there. I am a bad judge of distance but it looked like it could be done. And Brian had never walked across the bridge. We went back and forth as we walked, wondering if we could do it. As the trail emerged out onto the road, there was a sign that included distances: 2.7 miles to the bridge, 1.7 miles back to the Cliff House. Adriana was tolerating being in the backpack fairly well. Some of the time she babbled and giggled to herself, and when she started with her "Eh? Eh?" noises, we knew to check to see what she was signing for--usually she just wanted her water bottle, sometimes she was requesting a snack, and once she had asked for milk. So long as we met those needs promptly, she was fine. We decided to do it.
Things did get a bit confusing once we'd emerged from the Coastal Trail near Eagle Point. We could see the bridge, and we could see the beaches below us, but walking through Seacliff, we were unsure if we were on the right track. We stopped at China Beach, hoping that there would be a ranger or someone there (I don't know, it seemed reasonable at the time) who could help us. Instead we used the restrooms there and gazed back up at the huge houses above us. While we were there I thought I heard a cat meowing, but decided I was probably crazy. But, as we were leaving, I heard it again, and noticed a large, grey-striped cat sitting there looking at us. I approached it, in spite of Brian's warnings that it was probably mean. I scratched his head and noticed he had a tag on his collar: I PLAY BEACH I KNOW WAY HOME KTHX. I laughed, remembering our neighbor in Alexandria who had been stuck with vet bills a couple of times when her cat had been picked up by well-meaning strangers who had noticed his limp. He was a former barn cat who liked to be outside and had had the limp as long as Karen had had him. He died last year, but I thought that if he were still alive I would have had a similar tag made for him.
Back on the road, confused about whether we were actually going to find a trail to follow, I dug through our deck of cards and found a walk from the Golden Gate to Baker Beach. That didn't quite connect us back to the Coastal Trail, but we were able to tell from the map on the back of the card that we were on the right track. As we walked down toward Baker Beach, we started wondering if we would feel up to the walk back--after all, between the baby and the backpack itself, Brian was carrying an extra 30 pounds on him ("Hey, I lugged around an extra 30 pounds when I was pregnant with her," I told him). Once we were past the beach, the signs telling us how far to our destination were more frequent, giving us the encouragement we needed. There were several artillery batteries along the coast, and we stopped at the first one we came to, Chamberlin, but I refused to walk down the steep steps to the other ones, determined to just make it to the Golden Gate.
And then we were there, just like that. First it was right ahead of us and we could see the cars heading onto it, and then we went through an underpass, and suddenly we were on the other side. We stopped on the grass for a drink and a snack and a diaper change. As we sat there on the grass, Brian asked me, "Do you want to walk to the other side?" I considered it for a moment, thinking that it wasn't a very long bridge and that I was feeling pretty good, before realizing that he was joking. Instead, we picked up our things and headed back the way we'd come. We laughed noticing the little three-wheeled yellow cars we'd been seeing around since Saturday, because this time we could hear the computer talking to the passengers, reminding them to look to the left at the stop sign before continuing on to the right. "In case you don't have your wife with you to nag at you," I told Brian.
The other side!
The walk back seemed shorter than the way there. The sun, which had come out sometime between our pancakes and when we'd reached the beach, was starting to disappear into the clouds again, so we kept up a good pace to stay warm. Adriana was starting to lose patience with the whole endeavor (she had napped a little bit on the way to the bridge, but the backpack isn't ideal for sleeping), so I walked along putting Cheerios and pieces of freeze-dried apples into her mouth, since she'd given up on feeding herself.
Looking back the way we came.
We made one last detour, up to the Palace of the Legion of Honor. We watched a couple having wedding portraits taken while we stretched out our legs and backs. Adriana asked to nurse, so I fed her and then took a couple of pictures of Rodin's Thinker. We circled the parking lot, studying the Holocaust Memorial and admiring the views of the city before looping back down to the path.
It was a relief to see the Cliff House in front of us at last. We passed by it back to our car ("Look at that view!" a Go Car computer exclaimed to its passengers as they came around the bend and passed us). We wondered about heading back into the Mission to find a good taqueria, but instead opted to head back down the peninsula, giving the baby a chance to rest. We saw hang gliders and parachuters as we drove down the Great Highway, which seemed somehow like the perfect end to the weekend.
And it would have been the perfect end. We would have come home triumphant, pleased that we had managed a successful trip with the baby, having figured out how to travel in a city and do a decent length hike (10 miles!) with a toddler, but we pushed things a little too far by deciding to grab a bite of dinner in Palo Alto on our way home. Adriana woke up as we got her out of the car, and proceeded to let her discontent to be well known. Brian drank his margarita while I took her outside, then I went back in to drink mine and eat my enchiladas while he occupied her looking into storefronts, and then we switched again so he could eat. Finally we went home, where Adriana delighted in seeing all her toys again, and fell fast asleep by eight o'clock. And we weren't too far behind her.
So now we feel pretty confident about traveling with a toddler, although I am a little terrified of taking her on a plane. We know how to meet her needs while we're out and about, and if we do so promptly, we don't have to move at a much slower pace than we used to. Last fall we declined a trip with some of Brian's colleagues for a hike near Stinson Beach, but now I think we could handle it. I'm looking forward to doing more hiking, and to doing more walking around the city. The City Walks deck of cards was a good investment, I think. I wish the cards included a bit more detail, both on distances, and on some of the things you come across, but they gave us good starting points. The walks are pretty short and easy, but they can also be combined with nearby walks for a longer outing. We did the walks from eight cards over the weekend, so we only have 42 more to go.