Travel for 16th birthday
April 27, 2008 9:45 AM   Subscribe

Teen daughter wants to go to California for 16th birthday. It will be a Mother/Daughter getaway. Of course I don't want to break the bank or use the college fund for a trip (not that she would mind). She likes shopping, site-seeking and staying in nice hotel rooms. We''ll probably do 4 days or so. I'm thinking San Francisco. Any hotel and/or activities recommendations?
posted by sandra194 to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
what does she like? maybe she'll like L.A. more -- nice hotels, really cool shopping on Robertson and West 3rd, Melrose, really nice restaurants, really nice hotels.
posted by matteo at 9:49 AM on April 27, 2008

(downton's cool, too. and you can have her promise to go see at least one museum and one art gallery in your time there, the LACMA is very nice)
posted by matteo at 9:50 AM on April 27, 2008

Response by poster: Ya know--I have never been to L.A. but for some reason, the thought of it makes me cringe..I dunno why, I love most big cities.
posted by sandra194 at 10:02 AM on April 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

what about a spa day or two, osmosis spa is really cool (in freestone) and the best bread in the world at wildflour bakery is right across the street from it. This is about 1.5 hours north of the bay area, on the coast.

it all depends on what she likes. san francisco bay area has culture, diversity, amazing houses, the marina, great places to shop, hike, etc. in berkeley and oakland. socal is more, beach and glamour culture.
posted by healthyliving at 10:03 AM on April 27, 2008

San Francisco is pretty good. Most of the sites are walkable from downtown - you could easily spend four days in the city itself.

Shopping - plenty of it in downtown. Nordstrom, Macy's, Bloomingdales, the Nike store, Diesel, Levi's, Rasputin (music and videos) ... If she likes trendy sneakers and hip-hop clothes, take her to the Haight.

Sites to see include: Coit Tower, North Beach, the USS Pampanito (WWII submarine, a personal favorite), the Presidio (by car), Golden Gate Bridge (car), Chinatown, City Lights Books, SF MOMA, the Japanese Tea Garden/Golden Gate Park (car or Muni), the Haight (Muni).
posted by zippy at 10:05 AM on April 27, 2008

just a few more thoughts for the bay area

fellini's in berkeley
ciao bella in ben lomand (by santa cruz 1.5 hours from the bay area, the waitresses sing and perform on stage, say it's her birthday and they'll sing in italian - all age appropriate)
crepevine in oakland
cafe gratitude is such a ca experience

4th st. in berkeley
union square in san francisco
the mission in san francisco
college ave in oakland and berkeley
north beach in san francisco
hayes st. in san francisco
downtown san rafael
downtown santa cruz (pacific ave)

site seeing

monterey bay aquarium
santa cruz beach boardwalk
walk across the golden gate bridge
the ferry building in san francisco (take a ferry across the bay)
go to the marin lighthouse (across the golden gate bridge, first exit, follow directions, it's got this crazy precarious looking bridge that you can walk above the water to get to the lighthouse)

i probably have lots more ideas, but this is a good start. have fun. feel free to email with questions.
posted by healthyliving at 10:16 AM on April 27, 2008

actually, double check if ciao bella is age appropriate, i just looked at the website, and it might be a bit suggestive
posted by healthyliving at 10:19 AM on April 27, 2008

If neither of you is bird-phobic, I recommend going to see the famous wild parrots of San Francisco. They generally show up around 5-6:00 in the park at Drumm and Clay, which is near Embarcadero where there is lots of nice shopping/sightseeing to be done. They're lots of fun to watch! Listen for their tremendously loud chatter and you'll find them.
posted by gusandrews at 10:39 AM on April 27, 2008

Does she like marine life? The Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the best in the world, and it's a nice scenic (2 hrs or so) drive south from SF. Good shopping and dining around Monterey as well. It would be a nice day trip if you're staying in SF.
posted by Koko at 10:50 AM on April 27, 2008

If she's looking for the warm california beach scene, try Santa Barbara before San Francisco. There's nice shopping there, too, and plenty of fancy hotels.
posted by you're a kitty! at 11:15 AM on April 27, 2008

San Francisco is great, but it sounds like y'all would really like Monterey/Carmel. The aquarium, as mentioned above, is outstanding. Monterey has a lot of galleries, and Carmel is full of shopping. There are lots of excellent hotels in the area. (My favorite is Hotel Pacific in Monterey. Very comfortable and stylish, without being 'fancy,' and it's a block or two off the plaza, so it's very convenient.)

Monterey/Carmel also have otters, sea lions, seals, flowers, an extraordinarily beautiful coastline, lots of great food.

If you're flying, San Jose is just as convenient as SFO.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:05 PM on April 27, 2008

I live in San Francisco and totally adore it, but if she's looking for a "typical" California experience, Santa Barbara, San Diego, or similar might be a better bet. If her birthday is in the summer, the weather here at that time of year is just about as far from the California beach scene as you can get. Very chilly, very gray, and very foggy a great deal of the time. I've known a lot of people who came out during that time of year who were really disappointed because of the frequently anti-summer. However, if her birthday is in September or October, it's likely to be lovely.
posted by mostlymartha at 12:13 PM on April 27, 2008

Just seconding mostlymartha's note about weather -- SF in the summer is not particularly summery, so be forewarned if that's when you were thinking of taking the trip. (Even here in L.A. it can get pretty overcast in May-June, hence the phrase "June gloom" -- though it certainly isn't as chilly/foggy as it gets in SF.) So different parts of the state will be better or worse depending on the timing.

Also, don't be put off by the reputation of L.A. as an endless sprawl. Stay out in Santa Monica by the beach (with easy access to both Venice and Malibu), skip the Hollywood tourist traps, go to the Getty instead of LACMA, and you've got the perfect 4-day trip to L.A. that won't involve much driving at all.

I also think Monterey/Carmel (and possibly even Big Sur and San Simeon) would be a great alternative to any of the big cities.
posted by scody at 1:29 PM on April 27, 2008

When were you considering coming? You might want to consider combining checking out some colleges in the area while vacationing if coming to California's a possibility for your daughter. There's UC Berkeley, Santa Cruz, and Davis as well as numerous private schools.

San Francisco is an amazing place. Try to pick a hotel or b&b that's in a fun neighborhood because walking around is really the best way to enjoy SF. We had relatives stay at the Hotel Triton and at the Washington Square Inn enjoyed it.

Not sure about the rates - you can spend a lot here on food & lodging, but there are also amazing bargains if you want to look for them.
posted by jasper411 at 1:32 PM on April 27, 2008

Some free (or cheap) stuff I used to do when I lived in SF:

Sit at the Embarcadero near the Bay Bridge at Sunset and wait for the lights of the bridge to come on.

Ride the glass elevator in the St. Francis Hotel Tower up to the top and back down. You just walk through the lobby like you belong there, all the way to the back elevators and push the button for the bar on the top floor. The trip up gives you a great view of the Bay and City, and the trip down is white-knuckle fun!

Get on the Embarcadero line of the streetcar on Market (not the famous "trolley") and ride it along the bay to Fisherman's Wharf. (Make a stopover at the Ferry Building for good shopping and great restaurants.)

For shopping that is unique (i.e. not malls or major dept. stores) check out Fillmore St. or Union St. (Your hotel can tell you exactly where, and how to get there.) Very hip neighborhoods. It won't be cheap, but it will be different and interesting.

Hope you two have fun!
posted by shifafa at 2:16 PM on April 27, 2008

16 year old girl? YOU WANT TO GO TO SANTA MONICA.

Fly to lax. Pay about $25 to go to santa monica.

Get a nice hotel near the beach (yeah, it can run from $55-$800/night, depending on the season and day). Since you're doing 4 days, some of the smaller hotels near the beach will DEFINITELY give you a nice discount because you'll be staying on their not-so-popular days.

Walk EVERYWHERE. Beach, promenade, main street, venice boardwalk.

She will love it...and YOU will love it.

San a FANTASTIC place, but is that more what you want, or what she wants?
posted by hal_c_on at 3:32 PM on April 27, 2008

I love living here in San Francisco but like the others said, if she says "California" then she's thinking of the beach cities in LA and Orange County. Seconding Santa Monica and the Promenade.
posted by junesix at 5:39 PM on April 27, 2008

Best answer: I want to second shifafa's comment, and to say that I just did this trip with my stepdaughter last month, who is a couple years younger but really loves the shopping/sightseeing/nice hotels also, and wanted to visit California for the first time -- although she does not watch any of the TV shows set in SoCal so I know she wasn't envisioning Orange County. Your Teenager May Vary.

What made me choose San Francisco was two-fold: we weren't going at a beach-friendly time, so that was less of a factor... but ultimately the decider was that we wouldn't have to rent a car. I've also been to LA, Monterey/Carmel, San Jose -- and I felt that we'd both get more bang for the buck if I didn't have to deal with loads of driving, maps, parking, etc. Much like you, I was looking to spend a little money but not break the bank, and I just felt like LA or Carmel would be a lot of spectating and window-shopping. I wanted us to feel like we were really enjoying our destination, not just looking in from the outside.

We got a very good rate at the Palace Hotel on Market Street (the address is 2 New Montgomery but it's on the corner of New Montgomery and Market), so we got the ultra-glamorous, historic hotel experience, but for <$150 a night. One morning we slept in and then had their lavish breakfast buffet before heading out sightseeing. Bonus for the Palace is that it's right next door to a Starbucks, Jamba Juice and Chipotle -- "yawwwwn" for me, but ideal at times where the child wanted familiar tastes in known quantity.

(The one caveat with a downtown hotel is that I wouldn't do too much walking around in the Financial District late at night; as with any 9-to-5 business district, there is very little foot traffic after business hours, and lots of panhandlers. There wasn't any point where I felt unsafe -- but you know there's a difference between "where do I feel safe on my own as an adult," and "where does the Mama Bear instinct kick in when I'm out with my kid." We just took cabs at night, which kept us from standing around at bus stops.)

Some of our specific activities/highlights: on the first day, we bought a 3-day Muni passport at the kiosk at Powell and Market; it covers all city buses, cable cars and light rail. The F-line, with the historic streetcars, runs all up and down Market Street and stops right in front of the Palace Hotel. This served as our main transportation, and we had fun trying to sample all the varieties of car. (We decided we liked the Italian ones least, as they are very cramped for space)

We took the F-line down to the Ferry Street Marketplace one day, where we saw the Bay Bridge and walked around and sampled all the great foods and wares... cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, roasted chicken from Mistral, cupcakes from Miette (and macarons for snacking on later at the hotel) -- this was a big hit. Then we took it on to Fisherman's Wharf and saw all the touristy stuff, and had In-N-Out Burger for dinner.

On another day we did the Union Street shopping, and she got a special treat: a teen facial at Gunilla Skin Butik -- I'm not in the habit of that kind of splurge for the child, but Gunilla gave her really good tips on skin care, diet, and how to reasonably manage blackheads, whiteheads, exfoliation and all the general problems that plague teen faces. Her approach of all-natural treatments was exactly what we needed to hear, at a time when the kiddo's friends are all jumping willy-nilly (and prematurely, for some of them) onto harsher chemical treatments like Proactiv and Accutane and dermatological prescriptions. Gunilla came so highly recommended that I frankly was skeptical... but I have to agree now. One caveat: she's an amazing aesthetician, but she's the only one at her salon, so you can't book simultaneous services.

After Gunilla's we had an early supper at the creperie next door. And the crepe maker is at the glass storefront, so you can watch him make them on the big hot iron before you go in. They have hearty savory crepe dishes and light snacky sweet ones too. Fresh hot crepes and Nutella mmmmmmmnomnomnom.

Chinatown was also a big hit. We did Barney's and all the fancy Union Square stores on the way up, and then we went north on Grant through the gates. (We passed the Hotel Triton and my step pronounced it "cool-looking.") The kiddo appreciated that she could get cool-but-cheap gifts for her friends on her pocket-money budget. Then we turned the block and came back down through "the real Chinatown" as my SF friends call it: south on Stockton, which is devoid of the touristy souvenir shops but full of produce markets, offices and restaurants.

Neither of us had the stomach for the two-hour wait and the huge long line to ride the cable car, that amasses at Powell and Market if you plan to ride either of the Powell lines. So we took the California line instead, which I recommend. Just as much hot cable car action, with far less impatient teenager + cramped ride thanks to the extra tourists. If I had it to do again, I might get on the California, get off at Nob Hill and walk over to one of the Hyde/Powell stops, and then take that up to Fisherman's Wharf.

Feel free to ping me if you want more info on any of this stuff! We had a fabulous time, and I don't regret the San Francisco choice for an instant. We had a very memorable few days, and I felt like SF was a great first introduction to the West Coast for her. Glamour was to be had, and yet there were still plenty of great sights and culture to experience.

Plus, we even saw a celeb at SFO while waiting for our flight home. We connected through LAX and saw zero celebs while in LA. :)
posted by pineapple at 5:55 PM on April 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

When I was 19 or 20, my mom and I actually had a great CA road trip that included Big Sur, Carmel, Monterey, San Francisco, and also Bodega Bay (because we're Hitchcock fans). It was great, and I strongly recommend the stretch between Big Sur and SF -- take or leave Bodega Bay depending on your level of Hitchcock fandom.

You've already gotten good recommendations on some of the specifics upthread (e.g. shopping in Carmel) -- just wanted to add my vote for this itinerary as the daughter half of a very successful mother/daughter trip.
posted by somanyamys at 7:20 AM on April 28, 2008

I am actually from SF, but for a "typical" teenager I think SoCal would be more appropriate. Santa Barbara or Santa Monica, as mentioned above, would be my suggestions. When I was 13 I went to stay with my aunt in LA and I thought that the 3rd Street Promenade in SM was sooooo cool. Also we went to SB for a college visit when I was 17 and I thought the downtown was just adorable.
posted by radioamy at 8:42 AM on April 28, 2008

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