Looking for ways to entertain visitors and a young child at the same time? Hop on the bus!
When my husband jets off for a long business trip, I feel the need to bring in an entourage for parenting and distraction to help with my sanity and our son's serenity. Recently when he went off to Asia for two and a half weeks we flew my folks in to help during the time he was gone.
My dad loves traveling (I hate flying) especially to the Bay Area which is where he grew up. And, since he is partly retired it is easy to convince him to come out from New England. My mom takes more work—but we manage to talk her into the trip, too.
To entertain her and our son over a weekend I suggested we take one of the many tour bus trips through San Francisco. My son has been lobbying for one of these tours for a while since seeing the large double-decker buses that cruise by the Academy of Sciences (we have a membership and have gone frequently this summer to make sure we got our full value). I thought it would be a fun surprise for him and a neat way to go around the city for my parents.
These buses exist in a lot of cities. I always smirked when I saw them when we lived in New York City. I love New York and it seemed like these tourists who floated above the streets were looking down on all the locals. These seemed like people who were afraid to really get down and experience the fun and exploring the city on foot.
Fast forward several years to us with a young child living on the Peninsula—and, that "silly" bus trip now looks like a lot of fun—still silly, but in a much more enjoyable way.
We grabbed the Caltrain to the city and walked to the nearest pick-up for our particular tour bus company. It was a bit of a walk for a 5-year-old, about a mile. But, we fortified at the Whole Foods near the train station. We took our time, played walking games and had a fun time just getting there.
These tour buses are kind of neat because they are open-aired double-decker buses. The pole position seating exists at the very front, up top. On some buses the front window rises up from the floor, giving the feeling of being pushed forward into each new street. Lots of fun for our son. Of course any seat upstairs beats anything on the first floor, so even if you don't get the pole position, we liked the top of the bus the best.
A word of warning: You are so high up in these vehicles that there was an urge to duck under every traffic light and power line.
There are tour guides on each bus pointing our local interests, histories, fun facts If you get a good one who knows a lot and is very chatty it can be informative. We had two kinds on the buses we took. The first one was great; the second had only been on the job for a week—having just moved to San Francisco (there was lots of dead air and uninteresting facts about her exploits around the city with that guide). And, this is where it is nice that you can get on and off the bus at various stops.
When we were ready to go home we quickly hopped on another bus. This last bus was jam-packed with people heading back to hotels at the end of the day. There were no seats on the top floor—too bad! Boy, as fun as they are to ride around on the upper deck, they are tortuous to ride down inside the lower deck when it is stuffed with people and filled with strong smells of diesel exhaust.
We toughed it out and got off earliet—just leaving a slightly longer walk to the train station for our ride home.
Editor's Note: Here's a short list of some double-decker tours.