Travelling with Toddlers: Jenny in San Francisco and Napa Valley

May 25, 2015 , In: Travel, Travel with Toddlers , With: 9 Comments

Jenny is an enthusiastic and happening mom to Ziggy, 3, who is great friends with my son. Besides also being a sorta ex-pat (Jenny’s originally from ‘out-west’ too), I was pleasantly surprised to see we share a similar design aesthetic (we have more than one home decor item in common) and love of great food. She also lives nearby and has been a sympathetic ear for more than one rant-fest in the park. Jenny and her family are lucky enough to travel to California every winter to escape the cold and she’s amassed a great selection of tips including bringing kiddos to the wine tasting (genius!)

There are no photos of Jenny unfortunately as she told me she’s ‘always the photographer’ so you’ll just have to trust me that I’m not making her up.

Read on for how Jenny and her family survive Montreal winters.

Work brings us to California every February so we’ve turned that into reason enough to stay and play. We extend our stay to an entire month splitting our time between San Francisco and Napa and we bring along our 3 ½ year old son, Zig the Kid.

San Francisco

We love San Francisco for it’s hilly cityscape coloured in by famous historical landmarks, beautiful parks and ethnically diverse neighborhoods and eats. The landscape is gorgeous and the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay flank the city.

Also, there is no snow there.

As repeat visitors, we have yet to run the gamut of kid friendly activities. There is just so much to do and see. Plus, the mild winter climate allows us to spend most days outdoors in t-shirts and sneaks. That says it all.


Getting Around

The city is wonderfully walkable and the public transportation is vast and convenient once your magic decoder ring tells you whether you should be on a cable car, streetcar, bus, trolleybus, metro or train. It may be confusing but all of these options are preferable to finding parking, which can be atrocious. (For example, one day I was looking for parking near Delores Park and finally found a spot in Siberia.)


Ziggy loves taking the historic cable cars and streetcars about town. He is pretty oblivious to the final destination and the ride is his adventure.

Tip: The lines for the cable cars can be eye-gougingly long, especially at the terminals, so go early and on a weekday if possible.


Eating Out

For breakfast we eat at the hotel and by that I mean in our hotel room. We usually have fruit and coffee or maybe some waffles off the George Foreman grill (see the Allergy section below for an explanation on why we bring along our own George Foreman…) Who says it can’t be Christmas everyday?

Besides the good room service, here are a few mainstays on our hit list for eats with the kid:

-Dim sum at Great Eastern Restaurant in Chinatown

Anchor & Hope

-eating our way through the Ferry Building

In-n-Out Burger

-the top floor of the Westfield Mall houses several restaurants great for families



Akikos Restaurant for sushi (although it is not equipped for rugrats, we open the doors at 5PM and scarf our fish down before Z starts sounding like a lawnmower but it’s worth it.)

Tartine Bakery & Cafe



We stay at the InterContinental Hotel downtown, which puts us within easy walking distance to all modes of public transportation and many local attractions.



Here’s a sampler of a few things we did our last visit to the city.

The Children’s Creativity Museum is kitty corner to the hotel and a quick fix on rainy days when we can park ourselves inside and zoom around the multitude of multimedia activities or ride the beautifully restored old carousel. There is also a small park right next to the museum with big tube slides and just enough space to keep Z happy to run around in.

The kid and I took a 20-minute streetcar ride to the Exploratorium, an epic science museum filled with thoughtfully engineered, hands-on exhibits to teach how stuff works. I wanted to hip check all the kids out of the way to get a turn.

We have friends who live in the Mission District so we often take the subway to hang out in Delores Park which has amazing views of the city and on weekends gets supremely packed with everyone and their monkey’s uncle.



We made a daytrip to the west coast of San Francisco to hang out on Ocean Beach and then on to Golden Gate Park (see photo at the top). The bus ride to get there is approximately 45-minutes from downtown. The California Academy of Sciences, a natural history museum, is a great option for kids and located near the eastern end of the park.

Tip: The distances within the park are huge because the park is honkin’, so sometimes we’ll hop on a bus to get to one end faster.



Once we hit the two-week mark we pack up the Prius rental and hit the road for Napa, which is less than a two-hour drive out of the city. We love heading into gorgeous wine country because drinking goes better with everything except driving.

Also, there is no snow there.


En Route from San Francisco to Napa

As our little family tradition dictates, after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on our way out of the city (which never gets old), we stop at Muir Woods National Monument. This is an old growth coast redwood forest where we take time to marvel at the majesty.

Then we head into Sausalito for lunch at Fish. Fish is a kid friendly joint with outdoor picnic tables down on the harbor and most importantly, really good sustainable seafood.

This year on our way to Napa, we took a detour to visit the Point Reyes National Seashore. The surf, sand and sound were astounding.

In the winter months, elephant seals use the beaches during breeding season and we were lucky enough to see a few lying around (once we realized they weren’t logs).



We rent a house in Saint Helena through VRBO in Napa County just off the main drag so we’re walking distance to shops, groceries, restos and parks.


Many late afternoons were spent whiled away at Crane Park. The location can’t be beat and in either direction it is never more than a 30-minute drive to a neighbouring town or vineyard.

We took an afternoon trip to the Old Faithful Geyser in Calistoga. There are picnic grounds, a goat farm and hula-hoops! It is quite a sight with the surrounding Palisade Mountains in the background. The geyser blew its stack every 3 minutes, which provided endless fun for Ziggy – every 3 minutes.


Wineries in Napa with a Kid

There are many kid friendly wineries in Napa where you can belly up to the bar for tastings without an appointment although we are always there during low season when the crowds and traffic are thin. V. Sattui Winery, Sterling Vineryards, Joseph Phelps Vineyards, Hill Family Estate, Castello di Amorosa are just a few we’ve dragged the kid to with great success. Many will even give your kid grape juice. Yeah, they’re touristy but hey, we’re tourists with a kid.


What to do with a kid at a winery?

V. Sattui has picnic grounds but food must be purchased on site. Z spent his time running after the vintner’s cat and circling the barrel room.

At Sterling, there is a gondola. Done.

In years previous, the Hill Family hosted tastings in their beautiful home, which had a huge playroom for Z to dive into while we drank. Done.

The Phelps estate is gorgeous and we brought our tastings outside while the kid practiced his karate chops.

Castello di Amorosa is an authentically built medieval Italian castle with a dungeon and roaming barnyard animals. Done.


Eating Out

You just can’t get a bad meal in Napa even when it’s cooked at home for you and brought to the restaurant (see allergies – below). This is serious food and wine country and chain restaurants are banned in Saint Helena. There are more Michelin stars in this little town, population less than 6,000, than all of Montreal.

Some of our staples:

Gott’s Roadside

Mustards Grill

Tra Vigne

Model Bakery

Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa

Buster’s Southern BBQ in Calistoga

Bouchon Bakery and Ad Hoc in neighbouring Yountville.

Travelling with Toddlers: Jenny in San Francisco and Napa

At Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch

The kid looks happy and he’s not even drinking. And we’re eating outside. In the middle of February.


Dealing with Allergies While On the Road 

Z has multiple food allergies, which turns hotel living into campfire tales. I never thought I’d say, “I never leave home without my George Foreman grill”. I can tell you it ain’t crack I’m cooking up in the hotel room, it’s grilled shrimp and veg. Housekeeping sure thinks we are  on crack though. There is a Whole Foods Market a quick 10-minute walk from the InterContinental Hotel we stay at in San Francisco. This supplies all the goods to keep Z safe and well fed. Regardless of whether we are ordering room service or eating out, I cook Z’s food and he eats it on the go or in a restaurant. He is a total trooper.


See you next year! Same time, same place!


(ps… yes, Ziggy is his nickname and not his real name)

A HUGE thank-you to Jenny and her family for sharing their story and their photos!

Other posts in this series – New York CityGeneral Tips & Tricks and Bali


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Michelle Little

Writer & Photographer

Originally from the prairies and now in Montreal, I love exploring new places, eating great food and modern design. I'm mom of two wild things and paper and cake make me happy. Photographing your cutie family would make me very happy.

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