Being a San Francisco Tourist at Home

More people are taking staycations, and while we’re not doing one, we still like to get out and explore any time we have a free day. Generally, we avoid heavy touristy stuff. We love visiting the Ferry Museum, but we rarely head north of it along the Embarcadero into Pier 39/Fisherman’s Wharf territory filled with San Francisco tchotchkes, tons of people, and guys spray painted and still, pretending to be statues.

Recently, we broke our rules and went straight into Fisherman’s Wharf to try something new. We took a duck tour, just like we did the summer before in Boston, this time to see our city from new eyes. We had been by all of the places we drove past, except one: McCovey Cove, from the Bay entrance. My son’s been begging to kayak into the cove, and riding on a duck boat was the closest I was going to get to his kayak wish.

We arrived early for an 11 a.m. boat ride, which was a great decision. Not only was parking plentiful, but we had time to explore while it was still quiet. We headed to Museo Mecanique, which is a place I’d long wanted to take the kids. For quarters, the kids placed old arcade games, probably the same ones my dad played as a child when the machines were at Playland at the Beach. The games were low tech, but amazing at the same time, and my kids were fascinated by them. We could have stayed longer, but the duck was quacking (not literally, although that was to follow).

We boarded, which was surprisingly casual. There wasn’t a need to get there 30 minutes in advance, as with our Boston tour. Unless with a large group who wants to sit together, showing up a few minutes early is enough to be comfortably on board before the tour begins. Everyone gets a duck whistle (whistle is not quite the word. Quacker?) when boarding, which is something you want to collect from your kids before you begin driving home. There is nothing like changing lanes in traffic, only to jump in your seat when you hear a giant QUAAAACCCCKKK! from right behind you.

Off we went, through North Beach, Chinatown, Union Square, and China Basin before the part we’d most looked forward to happened: we transformed into a boat. It was a beautiful day and really lovely to be on the bay, especially a part that I’d never before been in on a boat. We got to see an old dry dock, some huge ships that made us seem small, and then we circled near AT&T Park, which was awesome. When on water, kids can have a chance to drive the boat, and while my son briefly raised his hand, he changed his mind, just as fast. I’d hoped my daughter would do it, but when asked, she said no, which was fine because there were plenty of others interested in taking the helm.

The water was beautiful. This is the perfect time of year to be on the bay, and I would have loved to have lingered there longer, but the tour must go on. Out we went and back to the wharf. The weather was much warmer than when we left, and as it was lunch time, the place was packed. We walked over to see the crabs for sale across the street, then decided to eat lunch there, too. We went in to Alioto’s Waterside Cafe, and had some of the best clam chowder I’ve had in a long time. The side of sourdough bread made the lunch better than Boston fare.

After lunch, we walked around a bit, spotted Alcatraz, watched people and birds, then headed home. It was all perfectly relaxing, until the quack while driving. Which, I was told, was an accident. The poor child accidentally had the plastic beak in her mouth, and accidentally blew hard through it, as it was explained. It was an accident.

Even with the quacks, it was a fun day playing tourists in San Francisco. There was something about being higher up in the duck boat that was very different from driving the same streets by car. We had a great view of the frisbee players in Washington Square Park, and the crowded markets in Chinatown. No surprise, our favorite was a view of the ballpark that we’d never seen before. For a few hours, we were on vacation, too.

Disclosure: Our tour was provided free by Ride the Ducks San Francisco. All opinions are my own. 

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