A Day trip to San Francisco: I Spy Eight Jumping Jacks and Johns

This week my family began our summer vacation.  We started with two days in the San Francisco Bay Area.  We have long-time family friends in the area, and they were dear enough to open their house to my family of five.  Their home was our jumping off point for a day trip into San Fran. The city is one of my favorites, but I saw a whole new side of her this week…  A little less fun, culture, and romance and a little more freezing, waiting, and toilet stops (johns).  You’re intrigued, no? Let’s get started:

John #1: Before hauling off to the BART station we wisely use the john at our friends’ house.  This is not that significant seeing as how all trips must start in the john when you have kids.

Arrive at the BART station, get tickets, make our way through the turnstile, get to platform, wait for train, kids super exciting – have ants in their pants. Jumping jacks to calm down and “I spy an American flag; an orange construction cone; a train coming down the track!” Board train, transfer train, children bored. “I spy an American flag; an exit sign; a boat; a tunnel.” No johns on the train, also unable to do jumping jacks on train due to safety concerns (safety of children and bystanders).

John #2: Upon immediate departure of train station, we need a John. Powell Street station is also a big mall; we find a john quickly and use it. All of us… if one goes, we all go!

Cable Cars are a top priority for this trip. I researched from home; we get in line early when the line won’t be so long…. It’s two hours long.  It’s also very cold.  Jumping jacks to warm up the kids and “I spy an American flag; people running; a large white capital ‘g’ (Gap store, score!); a giant ice cream cone.”

John #3: an hour of waiting, kids need a john, husband takes kids to john, I stand in line, realize I am freezing. I do camouflaged jumping jacks (one leg out, bounce a little, shift weight to other leg, bounce a little… also looks like I need to find a john, ironically).

My husband returns with Starbucks and kids, I confess lack of warmth and go buy an overpriced sweatshirt. “I spy a stupid tourist who thought it would be warm in San Francisco in July and is now walking around in an expensive American Eagle sweatshirt that says “San Francisco” on it so everyone who sees her today knows her whole story.”

John #4: Cable car ride: awesome. Front row seats for kids, husband and I hanging on the outside like we are in a movie: awesome.  Disembark cable car at Lombard St. and kids need a john. Walk to nearest coffee shop, order a coffee, we all use the john.

Lombard Street (the crooked-est street EVER, if you didn’t know) is cool, but very much uphill. No need for jumping jacks thanks to steep incline, but “I spy an American flag; a blue door; a no parking sign; a curvy street sign.”

John #5: Walk all the way down to Fisherman’s Wharf with no need for a john. Huge surprise.  Promise kids Rainforest Café (despite everything in me screaming we should not be eating at a chain restaurant), find restaurant, take pictures with giant gorilla, now we need a john.  Luckily, we are in a restaurant already.

While waiting twenty minutes for our table, guess what we did?! Jumping jacks to keep us busy (how many jumping jacks can you do?!) and “I spy an American flag, a blue macaw flying; a gorilla beating his chest; a tree frog climbing a branch.”

John #6: You don’t think we left the restaurant without using the john again, do you?! No way. We all used the john one more time before leaving.

No trip to San Fran would be complete without seeing the sea lions at the pier. So off we march to see the silly animals, make up conversations trying to guess what they are barking at one another: “do you see those silly kids over there on the pier doing jumping jacks?! Their mom must be crazy.” “Sure thing, but at least they are entertaining us!”

John #7: Psych! Johns (men’s and women’s) at Pier 39 have the longest lines. No dice. Gonna have to hold it, kiddo.

Crowds of people, stands selling everything-especially winter hats… in July, people(!), statues of pirates to be photographed with, people riding elliptical bikes (?), boats on the water… ideal for a game of I Spy. Also, big grassy hill in front of Ghiradelli square is not only ideal for jumping jacks, but cartwheels as well. We did some of those just for fun.

John #7 (for real this time): We order chocolate milk from Ghiradelli… huge mistake, head over to Cable Car pick-up spot, get in another line, husband takes boys to john. This time we forsake “if one goes, we all go” and daughter stays in line with me. Seriously boys, what is the deal with all the john stops?! Daughter is the oldest, so starts a more serious and detailed battle… “I spy an American flag on top of  a brown building, a blue circular window; a small boat with a red stripe; a pair of orange shoes.” (It’s awkward when your child runs up to the lady wearing orange shoes and points at them and then yells to you “These shoes, mom?! They’re orange! These must be them!”)

Cable car back (front row again, sweet!), into BART station, wait for train, jumping jacks competition to make time go by faster, onto train, one stop and train is broken, everyone off train, and….

John #8: After waiting for 5 minutes for the train to pick up all the stragglers from the broken train, we need to use a john. No public johns in the BART station. We go up to the exit and ask a worker where the closest restroom is and he graciously lets the kids use the staff ‘s john.  As last child is pulling up his pants we hear the rumble of the train below us. We go down to platform. Train is gone.

Seventeen more minutes until the next train. “I spy a sign with two people laughing; a sign with two people laughing; a sign with two people laughing.” This station has the same billboard up repeatedly. I am so over I Spy. Everyone’s legs are too tired to do jumping jacks.

We get on our last train to take us back to our friends’ home, surely the kids will sleep, maybe I’ll even shut my eyes for a few…..


“Mom, wanna play I Spy?! I spy… with my little eye…… an American flag.”


Tip #1: There are no public restrooms at BART stations.

Tip #2: Powell street is a great place to start your San Fran adventure… lots of things to “spy” while waiting in line for cable cars, lots of stores to buy the sweatshirt you will need when you realize it is FREEZING even though it is late-July.

Tip #3: The line for the cable cars is long. Very long.

Tip #4: Super cute coffee shop at the corner of Taylor and Lombard Streets. They have snacks and sandwiches too and a bathroom.

Tip #5: Almost all maps (from BART stations, etc.) offer some sort of discount many restaurants. We scored free appetizers at Rainforest Café.

Tip #6: It is fabulously entertaining to try to guess what the sea lions are barking about to each other at Pier 39.  Without fail two sea lions start to wrestle and fight, it’s fun for the whole family to try to guess what’s going on. Or maybe my family is just easily amused.

Tip #7: Do not order hot chocolate (or maybe anything?) from Ghiradelli store at Ghiradelli Square… it’s crazy in there. The hot chocolate is a cup of hot milk and five chocolate bars… for us to drop in the milk… and wait for them to melt… and then mix together. Not quite what we were hoping for with three little kids antsy for their hot cocoa.

Tip #8: If you ever play I Spy, the American flag is a pretty handy one to use. Fortunately there always seems to be one flying nearby and that’s pretty awesome.




About blogheavenstobetsy

Me... a military wife (Go Navy!), a mom, and just me. Writing about the adventures our family has from the day-to-day to the amazing opportunities afforded us by my husband's career. Blessed beyond belief and trying to capture it all with words. View all posts by blogheavenstobetsy

5 responses to “A Day trip to San Francisco: I Spy Eight Jumping Jacks and Johns

  • Maura

    You forgot: “Whilst standing in line for cable cars, I was lucky to receive a phone call from my amazing friend, Maura.” (Couldn’t stop laughing at the image of Grace running up to the lady with the orange shoes.)

  • jennewby71

    you NEVER go to Ghiradelli and order anything BUT a hot fudge sundae…regardless of how long the line is! It’s totally worth it! 😉 Oh and if you catch a cable car anywhere in the financial district right next to China town, you will never wait in a line. (at least we never did for some reason!) I love SF…favorite city in the USA.

  • Mom

    Great blog, Betsy! You have such a talent! I laughed all the way through. (Our family was never as much fun as you are creating with yours. Where did you get that?)

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