staycation


Winchester Mystery House with the kids

Raise your hand if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and have never visited the Winchester Mystery House. OK, I see your hand there! As residents of the Bay Area, especially those of us who grew up here, we tend to avoid anything deemed “touristy.” The Winchester Mystery House has that reputation-and it shouldn’t! This is a local landmark all of use need to see at least once in our lives!

The first time I visited the Winchester Mystery was back in the 1990s. My friend, who was from out of state, wanted to see all the attractions the Bay Area had to offer. We visited every site in the Bay Area people travel hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles to see. It was really eye opening to go to all the places people rave about, but those of us from here never see. When she took me to the Winchester Mystery House, I fell in love with it instantly.

It’s a beautiful home with an interesting story; and an even more interesting one-time owner. Sarah Winchester was a wealthy woman who inherited a portion of the Winchester fortune through her late husband. She moved out west on the suggestion of a medium and found this home in the Santa Clara valley. Legend has it the medium told her to continually work on the home in order to confuse spirits who were after her; or at least following her.

As you can see in the placard above, she ensured work was continually done on the home throughout the time she lived there. She had remodeled the original, 8-room farmhouse, into a seven story mansion which sustained some damage in the 1906 earthquake. You can view the damage, and learn how the building was stabilized, during the mansion tour. It’s very interesting! The mansion you see now does not go up seven stories, it is shorter, and more earthquake friendly. Of course, some of the features are a bit odd, such as the “door to nowhere,” and interior staircases which lead to a wall or ceiling. See below-

These are the features which make this house so interesting! You can see a lot more strange features such as these on the standard mansion tour. This is the tour I took my family on over the weekend, including my Mom. The reason we went on the tour was because my Mom informed me she had never been to the Winchester Mystery House! What was it that I said about Bay Area natives not seeing all the cool places we have around the area? Yup, my Mom was born and raised in San Francisco, she has lived in the Bay Area her whole life, and this was the first time she saw the Winchester Mystery House! Whhhhh-aaaaaaattt?????

It was so much fun taking her to see the mansion. Just like me, my husband, and my kids, she really enjoyed the ornate interior fixtures, the beautiful windows, the incredible light fixtures, and of course-the history! Seriously, the tour guides are a plethora of knowledge; both of the house and Santa Clara valley. You can learn so much from them. We really enjoyed our tour guide, and learned so much about Sarah Winchester and the home.

Despite the fact that both my husband and I have visited the home before, and taken the same tour, we learned new things! I feel like this is a tour you have to take multiple times in order to remember everything. There is a new tour on the schedule, which takes you to an additional 60 rooms in the mansion which have never been open before. We definitely want to take that tour next time we visit. Our kids had so much fun, and they want to go again! They also want to attend one of the special events the Winchester Mystery House holds. They have a Halloween event, and various holiday themed events throughout the year. Definitely check out their website to plan your visit! Keep reading-

Although I have droned on about the history and interior features, there is much more to visiting the Winchester Mystery House! The outside areas are absolutely beautiful. You can see the beautiful exterior features on the home as well as the manicured gardens. There are also several buildings on the grounds which were used to help run the estate.

You can find the gas lighting shop used before electricity was installed on the estate, and you can also find the carriage house, tank house, foreman’s house, stables, and more! They also have activities which are fun for both kids and adults. There is a museum, a cafe, and a large gift shop which my kids discovered instantly! haha

The Winchester Mystery House is located across the street from Santana Row, and walking distance to Valley Fair, so you can easily make a day of it! I highly recommend making reservations and buying your tickets online. This will ensure you get the tour time you want. You can also leisurely review all the different tours and activities they have available when you want to visit.

This is a staycation activity all Bay Area residents need to see! Also, if you are from out of town, I highly recommend putting the Winchester Mystery House on your travel itinerary.

You can learn all about the home and what is has to offer at WinchesterMysteryHouse.com.

I hope you have as much fun as my family and I had when we visited!

XOXO
Cathy


Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk tips during summer vacation

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wearing: squared hoop earrings / sunglasses / summer lipstick / olive green henley tee / summer nail polish / handbag / snake buckle belt / jeans / black mule espadrilles /

One of my kids favorite summer activities is heading over to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. While we enjoy going during the off-season in order to avoid the crowds, there is something nostalgic and fun about going in the thick of summer vacation. Of course, when we go to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk during the summer months, we still know how to avoid the crowds. So if you are planning a trip to the Boardwalk, here a few tips so you can visit and enjoy the area like a local.

How to visit the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk like a local

  1. Go early: Never ever ever go to the boardwalk after lunch. The whole world shows up between 1pm and 4pm. Always go when they open at 11am so you can hit all the fun rides before the lines get long.
  2. Get a wristband: Don’t bother counting points, get the all day wristband so you can freely enjoy going on all the rides, and going on your favorite rides multiple times in a row. If you are local and plan to visit multiple times during the year, consider getting the season pass.
  3. Go on a weekday: If you can avoid heading to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk on a weekend or national holiday-do it! The best time to go is on a weekday, more specifically, on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Those are the slowest days, with the shortest lines. If you must go on a weekend, go early at 9am and enjoy brunch at a local spot such as The Picnic Basket or the Beach Street Cafe.
  4. Take the train: If you can’t go first thing in the morning, or you want to have some fun, take the Roaring Camp Railroad train to the boardwalk from Felton. It’s a fun way to get there, plus you don’t have to navigate traffic during peak hours.
  5. Rides first, arcade later: The lines for the rides are usually longer than the ones for the arcade or mini-golf. Hit all the rides first, before the crowds arrive, then go inside for the arcade after lunch. You can go inside when the temperatures start to soar, plus avoid all the long lines at the rides. Mini-gold indoors is also quite fun!
  6. Stay for the show: The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk also has amazing concerts. Enjoy the boardwalk and the games first, then relax on the beach near the stage so you can enjoy the concert at night. You can make a day of it!
  7. Leave before everyone: If you are not staying for the concert, go back over the hill around 2pm-3pm. Once 4pm hits the traffic builds up and it’s beach traffic galore. Go early, leave early, and you will have an enjoyable ride.

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One of the rides you can’t skip when visiting the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is the historic carousel. It’s a beautiful and fun carousel installed in Santa Cruz in 1911. It’s a National Historic Landmark, and it has it’s own Wikipedia page! It’s one of the oldest surviving rides on the west coast, and it’s a must-do! Don’t miss the roller coaster either, it too is historic, and from 1924.

Shop my Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk look:

Enjoy your trip to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk! If you have been before, what is your favorite ride? Feel free to share your tips in the comments below!

Thanks for stopping by!

XOXO
Cathy

santa cruz beach


Things to do in Chinatown San Francisco with kids

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My San Francisco street style: blue plastic hoop earrings / lipstick / blue scarf (other colors avl)  / black faux fur coat / black tee / small PVC tote / skinny jeans / spring nail polish / plastic bracelets (hidden by coat) / street sneakers (so comfy!)

It’s ski week! My husband has a big conference this week at work, so he wasn’t able to take time off for a family vacation. Instead, we are having a staycation! When I was a kid, my mom always took me into the city to explore, shop, and get out of Marin. She grew up in San Francisco, so she has always preferred it to the suburbs. My husband grew up in the Bay Area too, so he also has many memories of heading into the city with his family. Ours kids always have such busy schedules, so it is a rare occasion that we can throw everyone in the car and drive an hour north into San Francisco; but we did it!

My mom always took me to Chinatown as a kid. We loved getting dim sum, shopping in the stores, and walking up and down the streets. She always knew which jewelry stores had good deals, and which ones to stay away from. I have such fond memories of spending time here with my mom growing up. I am so happy we can pass those memories along to our children!

There are so many fun things to do in Chinatown San Francisco with kids. Of course, to fully enjoy everything Chinatown has to offer, it is best to time your trip correctly; or you could end up in a giant mob of tourists. I’m going to give you some tips so you can enjoy San Francisco’s Chinatown just like a native San Franciscan.

How to enjoy Chinatown like a local

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When you visit San Francisco, the best time to go is when other people are not going. Ski week in February is a great time because all the locals are in Tahoe, and the tourists don’t think to visit. The hotels are less expensive, and everything is a lot less crowded. As long as you don’t mind 50 degree weather, February is a fabulous time to visit San Francisco. October, November, January, and March are great times too.

If you cannot visit during the off-season, always hit the tourist spots on a weekday. All the locals from the suburbs come in on the weekends, in addition to the tourists, making Saturday and Sunday almost unbearable during the busy season. I want you to enjoy our beautiful city!

Arrive early: The early bird catches the worn for a reason! My mom taught me from an early age to always get into the city before the stores open. Once 10am hits, the whole world appears on city streets. If you can get into the city before 10am, you will park easily, and maneuver around a lot easier; especially if you would like to check out the city’s street art.

Chinatown street art

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The street art in Chinatown is always evolving. This dragon wall mural is absolutely stunning, but it sits one block above where a staircase used to be painted with really cool quotes. You can see it in this 2017 post. My kids always love those stairs, so it was one of our first stops when we arrived in Chinatown. Alas, they were painted over with grey paint. Thankfully we looked up and saw this beautiful dragon mural! Fingers crossed it doesn’t get hit with graffiti!

In addition to the dragon mural on Grant Ave., there are many other murals on side streets off Grant. If you like to snap photos for the ‘Gram, this will be your heaven. In the photo at the bottom of this page, you can see part of another mural on the corner of Grant and Sacramento.

You will also find carvings, statues, and other forms of art throughout Chinatown. Many of it will be reflective of the Chinese culture, while other works are local American/San Franciscan art. In addition to art, there are always red lanterns strung across the street. They are so pretty!

Of course, you can’t spend your entire day looking at street art. One of the must-do’s in Chinatown is to eat dim sum! My absolute, hands-down favorite dim sum restaurant is Peninsula Seafood. They are located one block off Grant on Jackson. Go early like a local! If you arrive before 11am you have more of a chance of grabbing a table without waiting too long. On a busy summer day, expect to wait an hour for a table. If you arrive when there is a wait, it is worth it! The food is delicious. They have the best Har Gow, and Shu Mai-be sure to eat them!

You cannot visit Chinatown, or San Francisco in general, without checking out the Cable Car Museum. It is located at 1201 Mason street. Again, go early when they open around 10am. It is a tourist attraction and can get super busy. It’s a short visit, but the kids will love it; and you will too!

Do you like fortune cookies? The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory is a must-see when you visit Chinatown San Francisco. You can see how fortune cookies are made, and you can eat them too! Yum! It’s very touristy, and as locals, we only go once in our lifetime on our own-we also go when someone is visiting from out of town. That being said, you have to go at least once in your lifetime; and the kids will love it! After all, kids love fortune cookies-and us adults do too. haha. It’s located at 56 Ross Alley.

Lastly, you cannot go into Chinatown without shopping! Look for cheap jade (which is usually dyed but who cares), inexpensive jewelry, cheap fans, and decor. It’s a fun place to find Chinese decor, jewelry, and clothing, which is inexpensive. If a store seems expensive, skip it. You can buy expensive jewelry and clothing elsewhere; the stores in Chinatown are for tourists. Look for bargains and things priced under $20. The kids will love getting a souvenir-and you might too!

Have a blast when you visit Chinatown in San Francisco! Let me know if you have any other questions.

Thanks for stopping by!

XOXO
Cathy

things to do in chinatown with kids