We love the Bay Area — there’s so much to do, from cultural and artistic activities to nature, food/wine, adventure and more. Whether you’re heading here for a romantic getaway or to sip wine in Napa and Sonoma Valleys or coming with kids in tow, there’s plenty to keep you busy. We typically report on a couple of family travel pieces in northern California each year — be sure to read our summer round-up. Since we were exploring San Francisco and Marin over the holidays, we thought we’d report back with a few great choices we discovered (and experienced) over the holidays.
San Francisco Love Tours
We’ve seen these artsy psychedelic looking vans around San Francisco for awhile now and always wanted to experience one of their tours. After all, who wouldn’t want to buzz around one of America’s favorite and most beautiful cities in a van that makes you think of flower children, peace, love and freedom?
San Francisco Love tours provides you a unique experience with your San Francisco Tours. At Love Tours, they are passionate about our belief in the principles of Peace, Love, Freedom, and Adventure and their hope through the tour is to provide an enthusiastic and authentic way to experience the beautiful City-by-the-Bay. All their tours are infused with the spirit of the 1960’s.
Their ever so epic and iconic VW Hippie Buses have neon blue seats, beaded curtains, and shag carpet throughout, so makes for great visual eye candy during the tour itself. Locals run the tours who are great storytellers and are passionate about sharing the best of San Francisco based on their own experiences and vantage point. Because the vans are much smaller than traditional tour buses, you can explore smaller, unique and artsy streets that you otherwise would be able to — and, the tour includes inspirational spots which have been a catalyst for famous writers, musicians, poets and more.
Because we wanted to get some day time shots (and visuals of the ever so creative vans themselves), we didn’t opt for an evening tour although they offer both day and night time tours. And, because we were exploring during the Christmas season, they had a Holiday Lights Tours of San Francisco! The Holiday Lights Tours start the day after Thanksgiving through December. If you happen to be in the Bay Area during the holidays in 2020, give it a try. The Holiday Lights Tour includes Tom & Jerry’s House, Lombard Street, City Hall Lights, Bay Bridge Lights, Polk Street, The iconic Castro, the lights on the Embarcadero, Macy’s Holiday Display in Union Square, the Palace of Fine Arts and Fisherman’s Wharf.
San Francisco Love Tours were founded by brothers Allan and Roberto Graves, who grew up in the heart of San Francisco who wanted the 1960″s and 1970’s Volkswagens to feel homey as if you’re touring with family and close friends. The vans are an homage to San Francisco hippie history- complete with orange shag carpet, colorful beaded curtains in the doorway, and hand-painted murals on the outside.
Their VW-hippie buses can take up to six people at a time which makes it perfect for families or small groups if you want the van to yourself. They take slightly different routes but what’s nice is that they include some of the more interesting things to see in San Francisco — you get sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge from a couple of spots (below) and drive past Fort Mason and the beautiful Presidio, which is a 1,500-acre park on a former military post. It boasts stunning forested areas, miles of walking trails, a golf course and scenic overlooks.
You are also taken down the infamous crooked street Lombard, the hippee historical sections of the city — Haight and Ashbury Streets, and of course, along the picturesque Embarcadero.
We also got to walk through an old fort as well, which had amazing shots of the Golden Gate Bridge.
San Francisco Love Tours
Pick up is at: 2899 Hyde Street
San Francisco, CA
Visit their website for more and to book.
Walt Disney Family Museum
Previously an active Army base and the Pacific coast’s strongest coastal defense from 1846 to 1994, the Presidio is now home to The Walt Disney Family Museum. As a California Historical Landmark since 1933 and National Historic Landmark since 1962, the Presidio now also serves as a national park. Located in the building at 122 Riley Avenue, the Diane Disney Miller Exhibition Hall has housed all of the museum’s rotating, major exhibitions since November 2012. It was dedicated and renamed in March 2014 in memory of the museum’s founder and Walt Disney’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller.
Inside the main building, you get a comprehensive history of Walt Disney’s life — how he started, inspirations and other brilliant creative designers he worked with to develop a myriad of characters, from Mickey Mouse and Minnie to Goofy, Tigger and all your favorites from childhood. On display are original drawings, original films, photos and awards.
Below, original black and white images of Walt Disney and others he worked with at the time.
There’s a Hollywood section for that chapter of Disney’s life as well.
Original cameras from the 1930’s are also on display.
One of the things we loved about the experience was the feeling of magic as you walked through the exhibits. Magic was something Disney spoke of often and delivered again and again.
They also have an area where you could practice drawing Mickey Mouse with handouts to guide kids (and adults) on precisely how to draw America’s favorite, iconic mouse.
You also get a glimpse of how Mickey Mouse changed visually over the years as well.
The exhibitions change and offer new inspiration all the time. While we were there in December, the Walt Disney Family Museum had on show Mickey Mouse: From Walt to the World, a celebration of animation’s most beloved and recognizable character. This original exhibition chronicles Mickey’s influence on art and entertainment over the past nine decades and tells the story of his origin, rise to fame, and enduring world-wide appeal, in relation to Walt Disney’s inspiring, parallel story of course.
It is guest curated by legendary animator Andreas Deja, in collaboration with co-curator Michael Labrie and features more than 400 objects, including rare and never-before-seen original sketches, character model sheets, and concept artwork, together with nostalgic merchandise, vintage photographs, and a variety of Mickey’s earliest and most recent animated short films.
For the pop artists of the late-1950’s and 1960’s, Mickey personified the culture of the time. In the exhibition, there are works by prominent artists such as Andy Warhol, Gottfried Helnwein, and Wayne Thiebaud, as well as more contemporary works by Tennessee Loveless, Lorelay Bove, Eric Robison, and San Francisco-based muralist Sirron Norris. It is part of the museum‘s 10th anniversary and runs through February 17, 2020.
Also on exhibit while we were there was A Powerful Force: Working to End Homelessness Through Art which features original artwork created by young people experiencing homelessness. The exhibition’s title was inspired by sentiments original expressed by Walt Disney himself: “There is great comfort and inspiration in this feeling of close human relationships and its bearing on our mutual fortunes—a powerful force to overcome the tough breaks which are certain to come for most of us from time to time.”
A Powerful Force features artwork created by homeless youth with three greater San Francisco Bay Area partner organizations: Raphael House, Larkin Street Project, and Youth Spirit Artworks. These nonprofit organizations each strive to help at-risk youth and their families achieve independence by providing career-building skills, educational programs, and safe housing. Bravo Bravo!
Upcoming is an exhibit which depicts Walt Disney Studios and World War II, which starts in May 2020 and runs until January 2021.
Walt Disney Family Museum
104 Montgomery Street in the Presidio
San Francisco, CA 94129
Visit their website for hours and more details.
The GoCar Tours is also something we’ve been wanting to experience for awhile now. They tout themselves as the world’s first GPS-guided tour car to take you on one-of-a-kind adventures through the streets of some of the world’s most amazing cities. Yup, San Francisco isn’t the only city they service. San Diego, Barcelona, Bordeaux, Monterey and Lisbon are just a few of the other cities they are currently supporting.
They have two pick up locations in San Francisco – one on Beach Street near the Embarcadero and the other in Union Square. We picked up two cars on Beach Street and asked them to set our GPS “talking system” for a one hour tour. Although we had the cars for the entire afternoon, you can select what kind of tour you want and it will automatically guide you along the route. If you get off the route (by accident or purposely), you’ll need to physically look at an old fashioned map (which they provide) or a digital map to get back onto the original route. Once you do, the guided voice begins again.
Our guided tour took us along the Embarcadero and then up to the Presidio and to the Golden Gate Bridge before circling us back — we took a few detours. I love the shops and cafes on Chestnut Street, so we parked here, grabbed a coffee and looked at some of the quaint shops here. What’s nice is that the cars are so small, that finding parking is never a problem — they can fit in spots that regular cars (even small ones) cannot. It makes it a perfect option for sightseeing in a densely populated city.
The GoCars operate a bit like a motorcycle which means you can also park it in a motorcycle spot as well. You cannot take the GoCars on the Golden Gate Bridge nor the highway but you probably wouldn’t want to go beyond the city anyway given its size and the fact that the cars can’t go that fast. Quite honestly, you wouldn’t want them to — part of the charm of the cars is that you can go slower and because you’re so low, you can see things as if you’re on a bike or even walking.
Before you head out, they’ll fit you for a helmut and have you sit through a short video that talk about the safety aspects of the GoCars as well as how to operate them, i.e., turn on, park and so on. There’s no reverse on the GoCars so if you need to go backwards, you need to get out of the car and push it back — easy to do as long as you’re not on a very tall San Francisco hill.
Bottom line: they’re fun and make a great way to see a city. And, it’s nice not having to think about research in advance or looking at a guide while you are driving through the city. The guided tour lets you know what is interesting to look at historically. For example, as you pass the school that OJ Simpson went to, the voice lets you know, just as a physical tour guide would.
Their custom designed tours guide you to many of a city‘s most iconic landmarks, wheeling through colorful, vibrant neighborhoods and past sweeping vistas while telling you about the rich histories that live around every corner. You can opt to see the city from a local’s perspective or choose your own trail and adventure if you like.
They offer all day excursions as well as short trips. Each car fits two people, hence the reason we needed two for four of us to see all the sights. Most of them don’t have a cover, so it’s not a great option if its raining, however we saw that they had a couple of GoCars with a roof. Ask about this before you book, which you can do online or by calling them directly. Important note which we didn’t realize in advance: your car insurance won’t cover you with a GoCar because it’s considered a motorcycle more than it is a car — you’ll need to opt in to their offered insurance – if you decline, they’ll put $500 on your credit card for security just in case there’s an accident.
Upon return, you simply check out and you’re set to go. If we did it again, I think we’d depart from their Union Square location which is a little less hectic to get in and out. My other suggestion is to avoid holidays and book it for a weekday rather than a weekend. It’s a great thing to do if you’re traveling as a family — the kids will love it.
An additional resource for all things San Francisco is SF Travel — be sure to check out their website for other great ideas. #sftravel, #AlwaysSF
Union Square & Beach Street
San Francisco CA 94133
Visit their website for more and how to book.
Note: we were hosted by vendors, but all opinions expressed are entirely our own.