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A Weekend in San Francisco, CA

The Painted Ladies.jpg

In August I had a video shoot for work pop up on my calendar in San Francisco. Jeff and I had never been to the city so we took the opportunity for a weekend away just the two of us to explore the city together. Here’s where we stayed, what we did and where we ate.

STAY

Because this was a work trip, which tend to pop up last minute, I delayed booking our hotel until a few weeks out. And at this point, all hotels within the city proper were either full or completely outside of our price range. As an alternative, I took to AirBnB and found the steal of a century: ROAM San Francisco (one of 4 global locations) had availability during our exact trip dates and I clicked ‘book’ as fast as I could. ROAM is a network of co-living and co-working spaces that provides ‘everything you need to feel at home.’ In other words, ROAM is buying up sweet old houses and building and repurposing them into bookable accommodations that challenges the traditional hotel market - this 100% intrigues me.

ROAM San Francisco was incredible. Not only was it clean, comfortable and provided increbile WiFi… but it was also the best location (right on Alamo Square - I’m not kidding, we could see the Painted Ladies from our bedroom window), had the nicest staff and some of the most incredible interior decor I’ve ever seen - and this coming from a gal who works for a furniture company. If you’re up for something new, pass on the hotel and book at ROAM for a great experience.

DO

We covered a TON of ground while in the city - I clocked an average of 25,000 steps each day we were there. It’s extremely hilly and we were extremely glad we took others advice in wearing comfortable shoes. Here are some of the things we did:

Hiked Muir Woods - This was so-so incredible. If you’re at all into hiking and/or nature, the Redwood Forest here is a must see. It takes a bit of planning to get there including booking tickets to the park and either reserving/paying for a parking space on site or booking tickets to a bus transport ahead of time - so be prepared. But the effort is completely worth it.

Cross the Golden Gate Bridge - Lots of folks choose to bike, but we just booked an Uber that took us to our pick up location for the bus to Muir Woods. But no matter how you get across, make the trip to the other side and visit Sausalito. PS - Spoiler alert, the bridge is not golden.

Visit Downtown Sausalito - San Francisco’s cute neighbor to the north is a short 5 min drive across the bridge. We took an Uber - our transportation of choice. There you will find cute shops and restaurants that will give you all the small town beach city vibes.

Ride the San Francisco Bay Ferry - On the way back to San Francisco we purchased tickets ($7.50/each) to one of the ferry transports landing at Pier 41. On the ride across you get fantastic views to Alcatraz Island (which might be your best bet in seeing the attraction if you didn’t purchase tickets to the island ahead of time) as well as a great view of the San Francisco skyline and Golden Gate Bridge. Fun fact - there is a bar on the ferry!

Visit Alcatraz Island - Holy moly was this neat. We love historical tours and this one was quite unique. We got very lucky in snagging two tickets to their evening tour on Thursday night and our only regret was not packing a thicker jacket - the wind is something fierce out there! They have an excellent audio tour that’s given by men who once occupied the prison walls as both guards and inmates - so cool.

Hike Lands End - Another great, but way easier hike to get to in San Fransisco is the Lands End trail. It has great views of the Sutro Bath ruins as well as Instagram worthy scenes of the Golden Gate Bridge. The trails have little spin offs that lead you to the edge of the cliffs where you can catch glimpses of seals sun bathing on rocks.

Bike the Golden Gate Park - GGP is huge! with lots of things to see and do. You can purchase tickets to the Botanical Gardens, Japanese Tea Gardens, the Conservatory of Flowers or the DeYoung Museum. Or just enjoy your ride through the park and be sure not to miss the roaming bison or the twin Dutch Windmills just before you hit the Bay. We did check out the Botanical Gardens which were nice, but in comparison to Fredrick Meijer Gardens back home in Grand Rapids, it was not worth the $17 per ticket. There were also plenty of Segways roaming around if you’re into that sort of thing!

Shop the Ferry Building Marketplace - A great time to tour the Ferry building is just before or after your ferry ride across the Bay. And if you happen to be there for the breakfast or lunch hour, perfect timing! It’s an indoor-open market of sorts and has plenty of options for quick bites, coffee and food shopping. You might even grab a snack/coffee for your ride across the Bay.

Watch the Giants Play at AT&T Park - Jeff is a huge baseball fan (while I’m a huge fan of hotdogs and popcorn) so checking out one of the best, if not thee best ballparks in the MLB was a no brainer. We got lucky and they had a home series the weekend we were in town so we snagged tickets for some cheap seats above home plate. The park is gorgeous with an sweet view of the McCovey Cove which is the part of the Bay off to right field famously named after former Giants first baseman Willie McCovey. We watched some baseball and ate some popcorn. It was a good way to spend a Friday night.

Walk Along Fisherman’s Wharf & Ghirardelli Square - We were warned by locals to ‘just stay away’ from these places because they are so touristy. However, we don’t live in San Francisco and by default, that makes us tourists. So, we embrace it! Here is where you can find souvenirs and over priced bike tours. I hunted super hard for some California Republic t-shirts for the kids and surprisingly, failed miserably. You can also find a loading point for the famous trolly rides if you wanted to make that part of your trip as well.

Visit the Museum of Ice Cream - I work in digital marketing and when there’s a social trend that’s covering my media channels I go nuts like a kid in a candy store - which is an extremely appropriate phrase here because that’s pretty much what the Museum of Ice Cream is… room after room of sugar inspired ‘experiential installations’ meant for (and this is my interpretation) taking pictures with. Yes, a place where you pay money for a ticket ($38 in fact), in order to take pictures of yourself, that are meant for posting to the internet. Go and experience it yourself!

FOOD & DRINK

Burma Superstar - By recommendation of our neighbors back in Grand Rapids, we made Burma Superstar our first stop after checking into our AirBnB. It was a bit out of the way so we took an Uber from our place on Alamo Square but it was a good lunch choice and something we can’t get at home. It’s very small with not a whole lot of seating so the wait times are extensive - up to 2 hours sometimes! We went around 2p so we didn’t have to wait - the time difference was in our favor.

Limon Rotisserie - Right in the heart of the Mission Square District, Limon Rotisserie was a little slice of Peruvian heaven! Their specialty is roasted chicken with your choice of all kinds of fantastic sides. I ordered garlic green beans and a side salad. I did, however, have food envy of our neighbors sweet potato fries! It’s a small atmosphere with an open kitchen concept that was great for our dinner date night out.

CREAM - After dinner we walked over to CREAM for specialty, made to order ice cream sandwiches. Who doesn’t love a solid cookie sandwich with gummy bears?! Heads up, it’s a chain and they have locations in 4 different states around the U.S.

Mr. Holmes Bake Shop - This little place has three locations (2 in L.A. and 1 in S.F.) and is a bit of a social sensation. People go 50% for the baked goods and 50% to take their Instagram picture in front of the ‘I Got Baked’ neon sign. We ordered a cookie dough donut, snapped my pic and were on our way all within a few minutes. We saved our treat till we reached Lombard Street and enjoyed the calories with a view of the winding cars.

Cliff House - This casual bistro house was the perfect place to rest our feet for a bit after the walk along Lands End trail. We ordered wine and some appetizers and oddly what I remember most are the French fries. They were thin, salty and very tasty! Cliff House has a great view of the Bay and was easy to get into. It’s a great place to stop for a drink, a snack and the view!

Copita - This is a great Mexican food place in downtown Sausalito. Upon returning from our hike through Muir Woods we were starving and thirsty! Nothing sounded better than chips n’ salsa and a cold Corona Light with a lime. Copita was packed with tourists and for good reason, the food was delish. We snagged a few seats at the bar (our M.O. on this trip! Helps when traveling as a duo) and got wonderful service.

Tartine - With locations in both San Francisco and L.A., you must add Tartine to your travel list! Their manufactory building was located two blocks from my video shoot that morning so I stopped in for coffee and a danish and was not disappointed. The coffee was fantastic and the danish was almost too beautiful to eat. I wish we would have visited sooner as we likely would have returned for dinner or lunch.

And for some quick tips on traveling here:

  • Dress in layers! Everyone warned us about this and we took the advice, but should have packed more. I wore the same jacket every day. It’s incredibly windy and even a raincoat to block the wind would have been helpful and super light to carry around.

  • There is TONS of diversity in San Francisco and we loved it! In most places we felt like the minority which is not the case back home. We were among folks speaking all sorts of languages.

  • Residents who live in Sausalito get incredibly offended when you group them into ‘San Francisco.’ I made that mistake at one of the bars we stopped in for a drink - it was like I kicked his dog!

  • There is a very large homeless population in San Francisco which leaves the streets very dirty and smelly in some spots.

  • It’s a pretty expensive city to live and visit. Hotel prices rivaled that of New York and Chicago and the price of a beer was usually $2 more expensive than what we’re used to.

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Family Camping Trip 2018 - Ontonagon, Michigan

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In the U.P. a cabin is called a camp, a term that describes not so much a place but rather a way of life. Camp life is simple. There is no electricity, no running water, no cell service and it takes upwards of 45 mins to get there from the nearest town, Ontonagon, MI. There are flashlights and coolers filled with ice. Lots of bug spray. Piles of firewood and an outhouse. 

At Camp Whiskey Hallow, the camp my Dad and brother built with and for family and friends, time is spent hanging out on the porch, fishing, watching meteor showers at night, reading a good book, snacking, drinking (lots of canned beer) and taking late night saunas. There's kayaking, 4-wheeling and this funny little ATV that goes on land and in water called an Argo. It's the bumpiest ride in the world. 

Our daily schedule revolves around two things. First, preparing and eating meals. There are usually two meals a day: breakfast and dinner that are separated by heavy snacks in between. Breakfast is always huge. We're talking waffles, French toast, eggs Benedict with slices of Spam because we're classy like that. And if you pay close attention the breakfast almost always includes remnants from dinner the night prior.

Dinner can be anything from burgers and brats on the grill with homemade fries to the annual Low Country Boil which is seafood galore! This year Jason and my sister-in-law Rachel prepared a slow roasted corned beef roast, something I've never had, and it was quite tasty. 

The second thing that drives our days is my Dad's list of projects. Camp is his forever project and there is always something to be done. Whether it's chopping wood for the sauna or grading the trail, he's good at putting us all to work. This year's big project was finishing the wood siding on the gable above the porch roof. It ended up taking longer than expected and filled two full afternoons. Jeff doesn't mind the work - it's good break from his usual work at the office - but I personally had a hard time sitting still with my air-cast boot! I ended up reading most of the time while the kids napped, or didn't nap because of the nail gun against the side of the cabin wall while the guys worked. But alas, the gents got the job done and were rewarded with more Bud Light and a steak dinner.

In other parts of the week we spent time on Lake Superior with friends. The water was certainly colder than  Lake Bella Vista back at home, but the temps were in the 80s and the chill down was welcomed. And besides, the kids don't care how cold the water is. The beaches there are lovely and includes lots of privacy. It's peaceful. It's pretty bizarre to look down the beach in either direction and be the only folks in sight. And not many boats either. 

Twice we stopped by our favorite bar in town: Stubbs. I should probably mention there are only two bars in Ontonagon, Stubbs and The Shamrock.  Stubbs has walls filled with 'stuff.' Taxidermy, neon signs, old photos, hornets nests (common decor in those parts), fishing poles... plenty to keep the kids busy with discovering new treasures. They pour stiff drinks, make a mean frozen pizza and it's a great place to run into old friends. 

Visiting Ontonagon is a Smith Family tradition and one we continue to honor. Family vacations are tough to come by these days and we're grateful for the time spent together last week. 

To read more about our camping trips to the U.P. check out the Ontonagon Travel Series

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Disney World, Kladder Family Vacation 2018

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This summer the Kladder Family really amped up our level of quality time together with an eight day trip to Orlando, Florida. The whole crew of us: 10 adults and six kids ranging in ages from one-year-old to Grandma and Grandpa really did the whole 'trains, planes and automobiles' in real life. The automobile was actually a 15 passenger van, and there was a tea cup and river boat raft in there somewhere as well, but you get the picture. 

Natalie had the time of her life at Disney and watching her interact with the characters was entirely too much fun. She especially loved Tinker Bell and because of her affiliation for the Disney Junior cartoon series Sofia the First she was super smitten with Princess Elena of Avalor. If you follow along with my Instagram feed you'll likely recognize Natalie's purple amulet necklace she never takes off. As the story goes, Princess Elena was stuck inside her magic amulet (Natalie's purple necklace) and so you can understand why she was very excited to meet her. I think after her visit to Disney, Santa is now likely chump change, which is ironic because Santa is the one who gave her that necklace. 

The week long schedule included two travel days, three park days and three days together poolside. Grandma and Grandpa rented a giant house in a resort community through Airbnb, just a short 15 minute drive from the park. The house was great! Not only did it have enough bedrooms for everyone to really spread out but it also had it's own pool (which we were in nonstop) as well as the clubhouse pool which boasted it's very now lazy river, zero entry kid pool and water slides. We grilled hotdogs, played games and soaked up the Florida sun.

Our three park days included two days in Magic Kingdom and one day in Animal Kingdom. Jeff, who's very good at planning vacations/travel was in charge of mapping out our park schedules and fast passes. It was a challenge to create a schedule that would work for our entire group of 16 and even with our three-hour-rain-delay we hit in Animal Kingdom (that we all blamed him for!), he really delivered. I always depend on Jeff to lead our travel and this was no different. 

And while Jeff's success in leading was no surprise my expectations in doing Disney with a one-year-old where ill calculated. Packing our double stroller with two adjustable seats for reclining was a game changer (I saw those Disney strollers available for rent and they were crap) but what I didn't expect was that Thomas wouldn't sleep for more than 30 mins each day in the park. And we couldn't blame him, it was incredibly hot - even his mini fan couldn't keep him from sweating. Jeff and I spend some extra time one on one with Thomas (and Natalie a few times) because there are height requirements for most of the big rides. On the negative side it meant missing a lot of the rides with the rest of the family but on the plus side I got to do some extra shopping inside the air-conditioned gift shops and found some adorable diamond Minnie Mouse earrings for Natalie. I also know where both the Starbucks are located after treating myself to multiple iced coffees a day! 

Perhaps years from now when our kids are older we'll go back to Disney for round two. And in thinking ahead to that trip, this is as good a place as any to record and share some of those helpful tips and tricks.

Disney Travel Tips & Tricks 

  • Book your fast passes 30 days exactly from the day you'll be in the park. If you're going multiple days, you'll have to log on multiple times. Hint: if you say on the Disney property you'll have access to the system 1 hour before everyone else. 
  • Get a turkey leg at Magic Kingdom. They are $12, salty delicious and can feed an army!
  • Sunscreen yourself and your kids (with nothing less than 50 SPF) BEFORE you get to the park. Save yourself from rubbing lotion onto your almost immediately sweaty body. 
  • Bring your own stroller. The ones at the park are gross. Think your kid is too old for a stroller? Think again. Our niece Emma is 8-years-old and we found her riding in the stroller just as much as her younger cousins. I would also recommend bringing a stroller for your stuff (bags, snacks, purchases, etc.). 
  • Pack snacks. Ones that don't melt. There are plenty of things to purchase in the park but having quick items for your kids (and yourself) are nice. Think Clif Bars (probably not the chocolate chip ones) and Goldfish Crackers. Also, suckers! Suckers were a big hit while waiting in the longer lines with the kids. 
  • Wear comfortable shoes. Jeff and I both purchased these Crocs on Amazon before our trip (yes, we had matching shoes and yes they are Crocs!) that were really comfy. We also didn't worry about them getting wet - which sometimes happen on the water rides. I wore mine with those no show socks. They worked great. 
  • Make dinner reservations. This was one thing we did not do that I wish we had. Apparently you have to book them closer to 6 months out from your visit time. I think if we ever go back we'll definitely book a character dinner. 
  • Bring refillable water bottles. There are plenty of water fountains and bottle filling stations around the park. Jeff's brother also brought Camelbaks for his crew that doubled as back packs. They said they loved them. But save yourself the cash (and waste) of the plastic bottles you can purchase in the park by planning ahead. 
  • We got the kids this little mister fans from Meijer before the trip. They were just as much a toy as they were good for cooling them down in the stroller and in line. Word of warning, Natalie had hers for less than 2 minutes and somehow managed to get her hair wrapped around the spinner. So maybe give them to your kids with a little instruction like: don't put the fan in your hair. 
  • If you're considering a family trip to Disney and have younger kids, we'd recommend waiting till your youngest is at least 4-years-old (or at least tall enough to get on the bigger rides). That said, we can attest first hand how neat it was to watch Natalie, who's three, believe in all the magic Disney had to offer. To her, it was all real. Which would certainly differ from an older kid's perspective. 
  • Instead of staying on the Disney property, we rented an Airbnb about 15 mins from the park. It was WAY cheaper and extremely nice. A quick search on Airbnb.com will show you countless options for neighborhoods that are designed for family trips like ours to Disney. Having a home base and 'off days' from the park were so fun and even allowed for us to take breaks between busy park days. 
  • And before you go, download and get to know the Disney App. Jeff used it constantly during our visit to monitor wait times and rebook fast passes. It was awesome. 

All in all, our family vacation was a big success! I know visiting Disney World is not something everyone gets to do, let alone make the trip with their entire extended family. A big thank you to our parents.

On the way to the park one morning I asked Jeff's Dad if it felt, "weird to have his entire family in the van he was driving." It reminded me of the completely ridiculous scene in Billy Madison when the entire O'Doyle Family drives off the side of a cliff in their woodie station wagon to their deaths. It made me giggle. Not sure Dad had the same feeling. Love you guys!

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