A Family-Friendly Trip To San Francisco

On a recent trip to San Francisco, I thought I’d do a little snooping around the area and report on what it offers to those of you who are considering using it as a cruise port.

Jelly belly Factory, Fairfield, CA

As a resident of Northern California (and yes, there is California north of San Francisco– many people mistakenly believe the state ends there) this trip south is a short and convenient one.  We made the jaunt down I-5 toward San Francisco for a long weekend recently, and discovered there are lots of family-friendly activities, not only in the city, but in the surrounding area as well.

One of the more highly anticipated stops on our trip was the Jelly Belly Factory, in Fairfield, California.  The Jelly Belly Visitor Center is open daily from 9-5, and guided factory tours operate daily from 9-4, with some holiday exceptions. My advice, however, is to try to visit during the week.  We happened to stop at the factory first on a Sunday, when the production lines were shut down, so our visit consisted mainly of a simple walk through.  We visited again on Tuesday, when all the lines were running, and it was much more exciting, giving a better feel of the process and for the volume of candy that’s produced there.  My kids enjoyed the free samples (no-brainer there), robotic elements, videos that told about the history of the factory… and especially the gift shop, which offers all manner of Jelly Belly candy and merchandise.  (Note: We also had lunch there at the café, where their jelly-bean-shaped hamburger buns and smiley French fries were an instant hit with the under-12 crowd.  The food was surprisingly good.)

Click here for a video with more information and details on the Jelly Belly Fairfield Visitor Center and tour.

Marine show, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom

We stopped next in Vallejo at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, which possesses some truly heart-stopping rides and a pretty impressive marine show.  We watched Shouka, the killer whale, demonstrate some amazing out-of-water leaping abilities, along with playful “dancing”, waving, and prolific audience splashing.  This is just one of several live shows, (see more about the animals shows here) and probably my favorite part of the park.  A couple of tips: you can buy tickets online, but pay attention to the park days and hours of operation, in spring; they’re only open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  Also, wear good walking shoes, the distance from the parking area to the park is probably close to a mile, although you can make it easier on yourself by taking a tram at least part of the way.  Kudos to the staff there, we found them to be unexpectedly welcoming and friendly in every circumstance.

Another stop along the way was Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science, which is located high (HIGH) above the city of Berkeley.  Although at times I did suspect that the GPS might be laughingly leading us on a wild goose chase, we did, in fact, wend our way through the hills into a clearing that houses the museum and an absolutely spectacular view of the city and the bay, where we could see the tips of the Golden Gate Bridge peeking out through the fog.  The view alone is worth the trip.  The museum itself is engaging, and currently has hands-on exhibits and information for kids on nanotechnology, and Earth and space.  It also offers a design challenge to build a bridge prototype and test it. Outside, the facility features an earthquake simulator and hands-on erosion tables where you can control the water flow from the simulated Sierra Nevada, compare rock types, and examine the native

Lawrence Hall of Science, Image via UC Berkeley

plant collection.  The next exhibit to be featured, according to their website, is Tony Hawk | Rad Science: Skateboard legend Tony Hawk joins forces with physics to make 900-degree revolutions in midair, ride up vertical walls, and fly over rails.”  Read more about the Berkeley Lawrence Hall of Science here.

After experiencing all of these things, we were ready to head to San Francisco.  Having decided to stay in Corte Madera, we planned to take the Larkspur ferry into the city.  More about the stay and our visit to the city in the next post….

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