Over spring break, we drove the kids and their cousins to Northern California. The highlight of the trip was staying in San Francisco. At ten years of age, I would have been intimidated by a large city, but these kids couldn’t wait to hop on a cable car and explore.
Here are a few ways to enjoy a city:
Make them take the bus — The first thing to remember is that, in the city, far from nature, the experience differs but the inward delight of travel still lightens the spirit. Every city offers a unique travel experience. In a city, we are in awe marveling over the architecture and in admiration over the architecture in juxtaposition to nature; we discover places of history; we visit marketplaces and find delicious foods. And in the city, where parking is at a premium, we walk or use mass transit.
City travel offers an opportunity to show kids how to use a bus or train. This is a project-based learning opportunity … a teachable moment. Which bus or train should we catch? Which way do we want to go? Do we need to transfer mid-route to another bus? How much will it cost? Look at the map, so we know where to get off of the bus.
From the bus or train, you walk to your destination. In the city, you may walk just as much as you would on a hike. This in turn provides a golden opportunity to reinforce the golden rule of travel: only take what YOU can carry because you will be carrying it all day long.
Ask them how they picture the city — Another thing to consider when traveling to a famous city is that your kids might have some sights in mind to visit based on movies or TV shows. My itinerary included the classics: California Street cable car, Lombard Street, Nob Hill, Fisherman’s Wharf, China Town, the Financial District, The Bay Bridge and The Golden Gate Bridge. However, the kids said they wanted to see the Painted Ladies in Alamo Square because “it is in the beginning of Full House”. It turned out that the kids really wanted to see these houses, so I squeezed in one last stop before we got on the freeway to go south to Monterey.
Always consider that the kids may have their own notion of what should be seen in a destination and plan to include it in your agenda if possible. Everyone on the trip should feel the adventure and excitement of the trip; everyone should feel included.
Let them be kids — A third suggestion is to take a break and let the kids be kids. When we exited the cable car in the Financial District, lunch had just began and the crowds of city workers were stepping out of their high rise offices. The sight of buildings and people everywhere greatly impressed. It was otherworldly to walk along city streets, and be in the hustle and bustle of it all when you come from suburbia. The pace of life quickens in the city. The kids felt it and thrived on the energy and excitement of it all. They wanted to stop and take it all in and take pictures. So we stopped for coffee and snacks and let them enjoy themselves taking iPad photos and flying a drone.
Although we stayed in San Francisco for two nights, went to Berkeley, and then traveled south along the California coast, being in the city was the highlight of our road-trip.
Ultimately, we didn’t see everything, but we saw lots of classic San Francisco sights. No one complained; we walked a lot and took breaks and even did some shopping. I still feel their excitement and hear their comments:
“How cool. We can walk on a bridge.”
“Those sea lions are so loud and stinky.”
“My favorite part of the whole trip was going to a city.”
My favorite part was sharing a city that I love with these kids.