Thursday, November 15, 2012

Free days at SF (and beyond) museums

San Francisco is a city full of museums, large and small, catering to pretty much every age and interest imaginable. While a few are always free - for example the Cable Car Museum, the Chinese Cultural Center Gallery and San Francisco Fire Department Museum - others have certain days or times when they waive or reduce their usual entry fees. 

Tuesdays are a particularly popular day, with the first Tuesday of each month free for the Cartoon Art Museum, the de Young, Legion of Honor and Museum of Modern Art. The first Wednesday of the month can find free admission at the Exploratorium and Bay Area Discovery Museum.

For those who prefer the outdoors, there are free guided walks offered by the San Francisco Public Library and the San Francisco Botanical Gardens as well as an enormous variety of nature walks offered by county and state parks.

Outside of the city, both Stanford and Berkeley have free museums on their campuses, and the Museum of California in Oakland is free the second Sunday of each month.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and programs are no doubt subject to change, so please double check before you head out to sample and enjoy!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Defining the Bay Area

Every region has its lingo, and the Bay Area is no different. People routinely refer to East Bay, the Peninsula, South Bay...but what exactly do they mean? Here's a quick overview to help you sound like a local.

Peninsula - Area code 650. Includes anything south of San Francisco down to Mountain View. This area is east of highway 280, on the west side of San Francisco Bay. San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.

North Bay - If you cross the Golden Gate Bridge, you are in North Bay. Mostly Marin County; shares the 415 area code with San Francisco. Farther north is Sonoma County.

East Bay - Once you head east over one of the three bridges (Dumbarton, San Mateo or Oakland/Bay Bridge) that cross San Francisco Bay, you are in the East Bay. Oakland, Fremont and Berkeley are all East Bay. Mostly area code 510. As you move further inland from the Bay, south and east of Oakland, there is an area sometimes referred to as the Tri-Valley region. It includes the cities of Pleasanton, Dublin, Livermore and San Ramon.

South Bay - Anything south of Mountain View, up to and including San Jose and Milpitas. Generally area code 408. Mostly Santa Clara County.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Sunday Streets

Looking for a new way to explore San Francisco's many and varied neighborhoods? Check out Sunday Streets ( On specific Sundays from March through October, different San Francisco neighborhoods close their streets to cars, encouraging people to explore on foot or bike. Various activities, demonstrations and shows add to the mix. From the Western Addition to Chinatown, Sunday Streets offers another great way to discover the city.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Big trees. A lot of really big trees. When you go to Sequoia National Park, that is what you will see. And, to be candid, not a whole lot else. There are a variety of hikes, from paved little trails to all day adventures (the quick but steep trek up the 'stairs' of Moro Rock was our favorite), a small museum and a visitor center. And while the giant sequoias are absolutely awe inspiring, once you have seen a few the wow factor does begin to fade .  After a couple of hours my son, generally a happy hiker, wondered "Are we going to do anything today but look at big trees?"

Luckily, Sequoia shares an east-west boundary with another impressive national park, Kings Canyon. The two play off one another, with the dense forests of Sequoia giving way to the jaw-dropping sheer cliffs and lovely water falls of Kings Canyon. Sitting almost at the border of the two parks in Grant Grove Village, which has a visitor center, restaurant, small grocery store and Ranger Station. Lodging options include a camp ground, a cluster of small, basic cabins or for those who prefer a few more creature comforts, John Muir Lodge. We opted for the cabins which, as our guide book said, are one step up from camping. They do have electricity, a small desk, two double beds and your own covered patio with a picnic table and nifty little outdoor stove.

California is a state of micro-climates, and these parks are no exception. As Grant Grove is at an elevation of about 6000 feet, temperatures were lovely. However, at either end of the two parks, it can be a different story. Entering Sequoia at the Foothills Visitor Center, the car dashboard read 104 degrees at 4pm - not exactly hiking weather. And, after a night up at Grant Grove we descended into the Canyon, losing about 3000 feet in altitude and gaining about 15 degrees in temperature. Taking the time to follow Kings Canyon Scenic Byway almost to Road's End is well worth the drive. A stop at Zumwalt Meadows made us feel we were in a mini Yosemite, but without all the people. We hiked two miles to the Roaring River Falls and saw a grand total of one other group (and one baby bear cub!) the entire time. We also stopped at Cedar Grove Lodge for some picnic supplies - from our quick stop not a place I would recommend for either eating or accommodations. Although other stops - including Grant Grove and Lodgepole - offer better food selection, your best bet, for both price and variety, is to load up on supplies before you even enter the park.

After a hot day on the trails, Hume Lake offered a welcome respite. One end of the lake is very busy, as there is a large, private camp. We drove a bit father and took a short path down to a shady spot at the far end of the lake, where our boys had a great time swimming, jumping off logs and exploring on the rocks.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Bay Area Parent - pick up a copy!

When we first moved to the South Bay, I found this magazine to be a great resource to help me get up to speed on whats what from a parent perspective. Its free, available at many local libraries, malls and community centers, and has articles that run the range from toddler tantrums to college applications. Published monthly, the magazine offers Silicon Valley, Peninsula/San Francisco/Marin and East Bay specific editions, so you get useful, local information and tips.

Another useful link is Bay Area Kid Fun. Sign up to receive their regular email highlighting kid-friendly events across the Bay Area. It is a great way to get out and explore new places, and the variety of offerings - plays, music, sports, special events - never ceases to amaze me. They also provide links for summer camps, pre schools, birthday party places, kid-friendly name it! Check out

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Farm fresh

Living in Silicon Valley it is easy to overlook the fact that California is the nation's agricultural powerhouse, leading all other states in farm income. Over 400 crops are gown here, from almonds and avocados to peaches and pistachios, and you can find many of them at your local farmers' market. Now is a great time to visit a market, with so much fresh produce in season. Most towns have at least one weekly, often year round market - check out the listings at the California Farmers' Markets Association (, if you want to be sure you are buying direct from a farm. There are also many other legitimate markets, you can simply search on line for a selection near you.

Another option is 'pick your own'. Many farms and orchards cater to the 'u pick' crowd, some with activities to entertain the kids when the novelty of gathering their own fruit and veggies begins to wear thin. The site provides suggestions of where and when to go, as well as tips on canning, freezing and cooking with your bounty. Bon appetit!

Beating the crowds at Yosemite

The first time we visited this National Park, the novelty and the scenery managed to combine to outweigh a fact you otherwise cannot ignore: it is a very narrow valley with a lot of people. And all those people want to see and do pretty much the same thing, at the same time, and stay within a small couple of square miles. So when planning a return trip this spring we decided to try something a bit different. While the areas in and around Yosemite Village and the forest of yurts in nearby Currey Village account for the most foot traffic, it is a very big park. And making the effort to go just a few miles off the beaten path is worth it.

We tried a night at a yurt at White Wolf Lodge, and loved it. With just 26 yurts and 4 cabins, White Wolf is a cool oasis above the valley floor and provides easy access to some fabulous vistas and impromptu hiking. By that I mean that rather than taking your place in a stream of people marching along a marked trail, (although there are many marked trails and far fewer people, so that is not a bad option) you also have the opportunity to simply spot a good looking piece of rock, pull over and start climbing. You can pretend, as our kids did, that you were discovering a new spot and give it your name. You can visit mountain lakes, meadows, sequoia groves, creeks and mini domes. True, you don't have all the dining options of the Valley, and accommodations are pretty much limited to camping and yurts, but the sense of exploring something new and different; of truly getting away, are well worth it. And with no cell coverage, it is the perfect place to bring an overworked friend or spouse for a forced withdrawal from their electronic tethers. Don't get me wrong, we're glad we hit the highlights around Yosemite Village on our first trip, but there is much more to see and do. A ranger told us the average visit to Yosemite lasts just four hours, and that is a shame as the park deserves much more!