Our Kid-Friendly, Playground-Filled Trip to San Francisco! [Part 2]

IMG_0480 By now I know you have completely forgotten that we ever went to San Francisco… but there is more to share! But first of all — isn’t this such a sweet picture of Elliott and Lena?! I love those two blue-eyed people so much.

IMG_1677 To pick up where we left off, we were on Day 3 of our five-day trip to San Francisco, and our agenda for Saturday morning was to meet up with my college friends Emily and Anthony (who fell in love and got married after we graduated) and their two beautiful girls.

IMG_1691 We got kind of lost on our drive to meet them, though, and decided to check out Lombard Street as long as we were nearby. The crookedest street in the world! I’ve been on some crooked streets in my time, but I have to agree — this one wins.

becca-garber-san-francisco-5 Across the Golden Gate Bridge, a historic moment! We met up with our friends at the Bay Area Discovery Museum, which is a completely amazing place, all structured to delight and engage little minds and bodies.

IMG_1709 This thing they’re all bouncing on was a water-filled “lily pad,” like those water beds from the ’80s. More kids’ museums need to bring this idea back!

IMG_1704 View from the top of the hill outside the museum. We were surrounded by amazing, natural play structures and gardens outdoors, too. becca-garber-san-francisco-3 Streams to play in, giant building blocks that the dads wanted to play with too… you get the idea. It was awesome. Thanks for inviting us, Emily and Anthony, and I hope it isn’t too long before we can all play together again!

The rest of Saturday was a wash because the kids were still recovering from being sick and we all needed some time to curl up with books and take it easy. That afternoon we met up with my college friend Alison at another playground, and she and I got to chat and sip chai while Elliott followed the kids around the playground.

Afterwards we went home and I made pasta and Elliott said, “That really hit the spot,” and meant it, and you know it’s been a good day when you are so tired and full of delicious carbs and just happy.

becca-garber-san-francisco-2 The next morning we were up early to eat breakfast at the Ferry Building before starting a full day of adventuring. I took pictures of the building, shops, and my kids while Elliott waited in line at Blue Bottle Coffee.


IMG_0475 I bought cheese pastries and apple turnovers for breakfast at Acme Bread, which is famous for a reason.

IMG_0497 Latte, pastries, and a playground on a beautiful San Francisco morning… I could get used to this…

Right after it opened at 10am, we arrived at the doors of the Exploratorium, a science museum along the waterfront in San Francisco. We had been warned that it would be a little too advanced for our young kids, and our friends were right, but Lena and Gil still managed to have a lot more fun than I expected.

It helps to have a science-loving, super playful dad. ;)

becca-garber-san-francisco-1 IMG_0505 IMG_0532 IMG_1730 (1) This face-distorting photo machine had us all in stitches. Also, how fun is it to laugh with your whole family at a mutual, inside joke? Look at Lena’s face!

IMG_0572 After that we met up with our dear friends David and Heather and their boys to go on a boat tour of the San Francisco Bay. We see each other about once a week in San Diego and decided to do almost the exact same trip at the same time — what are the chances?!

IMG_0541 Goodbye for a little bit, San Francisco.

IMG_0543 The island of Alcatraz! After this Elliott and I went home and finally watched Escape from Alcatraz for the first time in either of our lives.

IMG_0558 IMG_0561 Afterward our bay cruise, we decided to get lunch with our friends, so we all hopped on a tram to ride down the waterfront back to the Ferry Building. These crazy kids loved it!

IMG_0592 IMG_1733 Lunch at Hog Island Oyster Co. was out-of-this-world amazing! The chipotle-roasted oysters were my favorite part of the meal… and the bread, of course.

IMG_0610 We had heard so much about a hotel in downtown that has a special discount for members of the military, so we decided to spend our last night there. The Marines Memorial Hotel was great — and so was this free happy hour in the upstairs lounge and the free buffet breakfast the next morning — but overall we loved our cozy neighborhood experience in our AirBnB better.

IMG_1735 On our last evening in San Francisco, we walked down to Union Square and then up to Chinatown at sunset.

IMG_1736 And then we caught the trolley up to Nob Hill! I unfortunately was man-handling the stroller for our entire trolley ride (it would not fit where the engineer insisted I had to fold and store it), but Elliott got to sit on the outside bench with the kids and I think they all had a great time.

We returned after sunset, tired and content, and all managed to share a hotel room that night with no problems whatsoever. A new era in our lives where the kids actually go to sleep pretty much when they’re told and sleep all night!

The next morning we went…

IMG_1758 … to Monterey! The last stop on our list was the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and we met up with our friends again to explore the waterfront and then the aquarium. Both were smaller than I expected (especially after the grandeur and scale of everything in San Francisco), but the wonders of the ocean world were magnificently displayed.

IMG_1772 IMG_1778 “That’s a clown fish!” “Nemo!” “Yes, a clown fish!”

IMG_1783 IMG_1784 This Open Ocean display was my favorite thing in the entire aquarium. It’s so huge, and the fish swim by so fast, disappearing into the depths and darkness for minutes at a time before reappearing, flashing by, and disappearing again. It gave me a greater sense of being in the real ocean than any other display that day.

And that was our trip! Oh, and we picked up a new family member on the way home:

IMG_1992 But more about her later. ;)

3 :: in family, life lately, travel

Our Kid-Friendly, Playground-Filled Trip to San Francisco! [Part 1]

IMG_1563 Last week my family and I did something I have been wanting to do since we moved to California — we went to San Francisco! For a week! It was a dream come true for me to spend so much time in that city and really soak it up, so thank you, dear Elliott, for taking the time off and making it happen.

We haven’t been to San Francisco since our honeymoon (almost six years ago) — and we were only there for half a day on our way between Tahoe and the Pacific Coast Highway. I was thrilled to spend more time eating, walking, and playing our way through the beautiful city.

When we lived in Sicily, we traveled a lot, but it could be stressful, tearful, and limited thanks to having two babies. By contrast, this trip was… amazing. The kids were talkative, curious, full of questions, still happy to ride in the stroller, just old enough to cheerfully skip their naps, and went to bed without complaint around 7:30/8 every night. We had so much fun with them, even on the eight-hour car ride up there and back. Little troopers.

IMG_1570 We arrived in San Francisco on Thursday afternoon (October 1), and we were able to find our way easily to our AirBnB rental apartment in the Mission district. We weren’t sure what we would find, but we loved it! It was huge, and the Japanese artist who owned it charged us less than we would have paid for a hotel room. The kids loved this “tiger pillow” and “polar bear blanket.”

Elliott is very sad that in both these pictures he is on his computer — but in his defense he was researching where we should explore first in our neighborhood… and he came up with this:

IMG_1578 He lead us around the corner and up a street into the beautiful Bernal Heights neighborhood, which felt like D.C.’s Capitol Hill in some ways (beautiful, eclectic rowhouses and lots and lots of young parents and kids) except it was built on a steeeeeep slant, just like the rest of San Francisco. We played at a beautiful neighborhood park for a while and then started walking up and up and up and up…

IMG_1590 … high above the city streets and into Bernal Heights Park, which has a breathtaking view of the city at sunset.

IMG_1586 We had to adjust to the constant breeze and chilly air in San Francisco. I can’t believe that locals call September and October “San Francisco summer” and that it’s usually colder and foggier than this. Brrr!

IMG_1594 On the top of the world! Right at the highest point of the park, overlooking the whole city, we found the most amazing swing we’d ever seen:

IMG_1612 Later, famished, we walked back into Bernal Heights and found a little noodle shop on the main road. Doesn’t this bowl of ramen look like the perfect dinner on a blustery, chilly night? It was!

IMG_1616 We walked the final mile back home, tired and satiated, and then walked into our apartment building to find that Gil had fallen asleep in the stroller! He was sick at the time (and unfortunately had croup for the first three nights of our trip, which was miserable for all of us), which is the only reason he fell asleep in the stroller — he never does that! We all crept around him and whispered, treating him like the baby of the family once again.

FullSizeRender-1 The next morning, I had one goal in my mind: Tartine. I’ve been hearing about this bakery for years, and I was thrilled to find that it was only a mile from our apartment. We packed up and left the loft for an entire day of exploring.

becca-garber-san-francisco-6 Tartine did not disappoint! I waited in line while Elliott and the kids waited outside, and then — miraculously — I snagged a table that was big enough for all of us inside. Lena was so excited to dig into this famous morning bun and delicious Gruyère roll!

IMG_1629 Not pictured: a delicious turkey and cheese melt on top a long, thin slice of real Tartine bread. We savored every bite of that amazing breakfast, and I think I’ll dream about it until I can go back again. I am such a sucker for good bread and deep lattes, so San Francisco and I got along swimmingly.

Also, Gil’s face here is priceless:

IMG_1633 We walked a few more blocks to beautiful Mission Dolores Park, which was calm and peaceful on a weekday. Apparently it is the gathering place for smokers, musicians, and alternative lifestyle-livers on the weekend… which is hard to imagine from these photos!

IMG_1637 We found the second awesome playground of the day there in the park:

IMG_0453 Below: “One for the money… two for the show… three to get ready, and four to goooooo!”

IMG_1638 (1) Also, this is the second of the only two photos that were taken of me the entire week in San Francisco. I guess I was too busy eating my way through the city to pose! (And I am not kidding… “where shall we eat next?” was a constant, happy refrain in my mind.)

IMG_0456 I think this was our fourth playground of the day? We were walking from the Mission district west across San Francisco, and along the way we literally came upon a new playground every half-mile! San Francisco has some of the best playgrounds in an urban space that I have ever seen (except maybe here).

That said, at home in San Diego I walk by playgrounds all the time and say, “No, kids, not right now, we’ll be here tomorrow to meet our friends anyway…” or some other excuse, but in San Francisco Elliott stopped at EVERY. SINGLE. PLAYGROUND. that we passed. Which was 10 playgrounds that first day alone! Dad of the year? Probably.

But he wanted to play on them too! And it made the kids so happy!

And he is — more than occasionally and in all the right places — a total softy.

IMG_0462 IMG_0463 We walked through the famous district of Haight-Ashbury because I wanted to see where the hippie movement started in the ’60s, although everyone said it was pretty grungy. We liked it, though, and some of the architecture and shops were beautiful. We also came across an amazing bookstore where we all wanted to spend about twice as much time as we did!

IMG_0470 But our goal was the California Academy of Sciences, and hopefully before closing time. We kept walking, came to Golden Gate Park, ate a picnic in the grass of one of the meadows, found another playground…

IMG_1651 … with another awesome slide…

IMG_1654 … and then finally dragged ourselves away to the museum. Which was, just as everyone had promised us, completely beautiful!

becca-garber-san-francisco-4 Our favorite part might have been the indoor, climate-controlled rainforest (top left) which also had a deep pool filled with Amazonian fish and animals, and a glass tunnel underneath so you could walk through and let the fish swim over you. We lingered as long as we could, enjoying the beautiful displays of hundreds of animals, plants, and birds.

IMG_1666 We had to get to the Ferry Building, though, because we were meeting my college friend Dan. We hadn’t seen him since our wedding! I failed to get a picture, but we had a great time catching up, enjoying a drink together at Gotts, and exploring the foodie shops of the Ferry Building. Next time we’ll all go flying, Dan!

FullSizeRender-2 That night, my friend Emily’s babysitter came to watch our kids while we went out for a date. We had made a reservation at The Slanted Door, a famous Vietnamese-fusion restaurant in the Ferry Building, but because Gil was still sick, we decided to stay close to our apartment. I found this list of the 30 Hottest Restaurants in San Francisco and discovered the top three were within a few blocks of our apartment. The Mission district is the place to be!

Ultimately we decided on the Old Bus Tavern restaurant, which looked promising and brews its own beer, but in the end we were pretty disappointed with the avant-garde menu. Pictured above: quail eggs. That was the only description, but when they arrived we discovered that they were poached, pickled quail eggs on a bed of salty, spicy fried leeks. Exciting! But ultimately the dishes went too far even for our adventurous palates. Oh well, maybe we’ll get another chance to eat out on a date in San Francisco in another five years!

To be continued in San Francisco – Part 2…

8 :: in family, travel

Life Lately… An Overdue Update!


First of all, the giveaway for a signed copy of Elliott’s first novel ends at midnight tonight! Enter by commenting on this post if you’d like to win. :)

Secondly, I have stopped looking at/posting regularly on Instagram for a while after getting back from Yosemite because I enjoyed the break so much, and I don’t like the [self-induced!] pressure of always trying to take an “Instagram-worthy” picture. Can anyone else relate to this? Anyway, I’m sure I’ll eventually post/browse regularly again, but in the meantime I wanted to bring some of the family memories back to the blog again. It’s been a while! Here are my favorite photos I found on my phone from the past month:

IMG_1312 As we often do in the evenings here, a few weeks ago we jogged to the beach to enjoy the sunset and a family picnic. Lena’s 4.5 years old now, and sometimes she amazes me by how grown up she seems!

IMG_1314 The setting sun shines down on Point Loma and a lone fisherman.

IMG_1322 The tide’s coming in, save the tractor!

IMG_1335 I hosted a pool play date at my house for my local moms club after feeling convicted that I haven’t been opening up my home much lately. Elliott and I don’t know how much longer we’ll live in Coronado, and I want more friends to come over, see my dirt, feel loved, and enjoy our home with us. Anyway, tangent aside, sooo many kids came (mine aren’t even in the pool here), and I had to get a second baby pool for the little ones, and there were snacks everywhere, and moms could only get five-second conversations in before they were interrupted again and again, but we all had so much fun. Must do this again!

IMG_1357 The kids and I went to the zoo with my friend Heather and her three boys, and at the end Heather pushed four kids in her stroller up a huge hill. Look at that front tire! I don’t know how she did it, but I was her cheering squad as I pushed one lone child in my own stroller beside her.

IMG_1373 This is a memory from a fun morning, so I thought I’d share it. I write for a local online paper, and one article I wrote recently was about a brand new breastfeeding support group in Coronado. For the first 30 minutes of the support session, no one showed up, and so I just chatted with the lactation educator and hoped she’d get some clients. And then three moms and babies walked in! We were both so happy, and I think her support group is off to a great start.

IMG_1392 Later that week, I took my family out to a restaurant (Calypso Cafe in the Coronado Cays for my local readers!) to write a food review for my job. It was a special outing, since we don’t eat out as a family very often, and we all enjoyed the delicious food by the water.

IMG_1403 Not the best picture, but Lena and I are finally twins! I’ve been wanting to get us matching Saltwater sandals for a long time, and finally a pair became available in her size on eBay to match my own favorite shoes. Now she picks both pairs out of the closet and brings mine to me before we go anywhere.

IMG_1425 It RAINED one day! I delayed nap/rest time for an hour so that the kids could enjoy the deluge outside. Mostly they enjoyed one of their favorite activities: crushing chalk just to see what it will do… because our house is where chalk comes to die.

IMG_1426 My friend Maggie invited us over to her house to watch a movie on a rainy afternoon, another novelty for many reasons. The kids looked so cute all lined up and snuggling!

becca-garber-life-update The first photo is from a run I took a couple of weeks ago with my friend Annelie. I haven’t run more than four miles in a long time, so this was a historic day! Next I’ll work on my pace (haha)… but Annelie and I talk too much during our weekly runs to go much faster! I love that the map shows we ran around the island of Coronado (the whole western half is a military base), something I’ve wanted to do since I moved here.

The second photo is of another fun trip to the zoo with friends! Lena is always happiest when climbing the highest thing in sight, and Gil is always happiest with a bag of snacks in hand.

IMG_1459 We spent a Saturday at the beach! I got a little reading in before some of our friends arrived, and we spent the rest of the morning playing in the sand and surf. I actually swam in the ocean that day because it was so warm, something I’ve never done before in Coronado! The beaches here bring currents of water down from Alaska, meaning the water is bone-chillingly cold most of the year.

IMG_1462 IMG_1465 Auntie Jess came to visit for a few days! We took her out to one of our favorite restaurants in Balboa Park, Panama 66. Their tuna melt and cheese board are to die for…

IMG_1472 Elliott played hooky from work for a couple of hours so we could go hiking at Torrey Pines, one of our favorite urban hiking spots near our house.

IMG_1477 On another night, I took Elliott and Jess out to dinner for San Diego Restaurant Week, as I was reviewing their menu for another article. I loved all the seafood, but that key lime pie for dessert is what I’m dreaming about now…

IMG_1476 We took a picture of the receipt showing the 100% discount for being a “media/travel writer!” Dreams really do come true.

IMG_1495 Lena walked out of rest time in her bedroom one afternoon covered head to toe with marker ink. I tried so hard not to laugh out loud and almost succeeded. The end of her rest time that day turned into a solo bubble bath!

IMG_1507 Lena and Gil are taking classes this fall at our community center, and Lena is taking a STEAM class (science, technology, engineering, art, and math). She came home and told me about the vinegar and baking soda they mixed in a bowl, and that reminded me of a science experiment I did in elementary school with my mom. We made a volcano out of play doh and then watched it erupt!

IMG_1514 This is all Gil wants to do for several hours every day: “my wanta paint.” (“My” is his word for me, I, and myself these days.) His favorite part is taking the tops off and lining up all the bottles, but he does enjoy painting every now and then too…

IMG_1525 One last delicious food item because I couldn’t resist! This is from Saturday night, when Elliott and I reviewed a local European cafe and then walked across Coronado to a little community theater to review the play Thoroughly Modern Millie. I love this writing/reviewing work so much, and Elliott is also enjoying the upgrade to our dating life. ;)

What have you been up to in September? I hope wherever you are that a pumpkin spice latte sounds perfectly seasonal and amazing. I am waiting for that day to come to San Diego, but it’s the hottest time of the year here… so I’ll keep dreaming.

And that’s all for now!  Oh, except… go here to enter the giveaway if you haven’t yet!

10 :: in Coronado, family, Gil, home sweet home, Lena, life lately, memories, San Diego

On Becca’s Bookshelf // August 2015 Edition

Recently Updated6

I thought I’d continue the theme of books on this fine Friday morning — what do you think? Our book giveaway is going strong, and here are some more book recommendations for your weekend! I have another post up my sleeve for next week, though, which is a smattering of pictures about our family these past few weeks, since I haven’t shared a personal update for a while.

In the meantime, here’s what I read in August!

  • The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin I knew nothing about the Lindberghs other than Charles L. looked very handsome in that b&w photo after he flew across the Atlantic for the first time. This book was an amazing window inside a strong and influential woman in U.S. history, and was written in such a way that I didn’t want to put it down despite its length. I had no idea of the unlikely alliance of the Lindberghs’ marriage, the kidnapping of their infant son, Anne Morrow’s slow steeling over time, and her independent author’s life in the sunset of their marriage. Historical fiction at its finest. Definitely recommend.  4 stars
  • The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder by Charles Graeber Over 16 years in 9 different hospitals, Nurse Charles Cullen intentionally killed approximately 400 patients with drug overdoses. His motive? The book explores that as well as the timeline of the murders and the investigation. It’s well-written but poorly edited, and the subject is definitely more interesting to me since I was an ICU nurse like Charles was… meaning that I think most people would find it too long and somewhat tedious.  2 stars
  • The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan — This is a hefty tome entirely written for women who are obsessed with Will and Kate and all things British royalty. (I am the wrong person to read this book because I’ve forgotten Will and Kate’s children’s names, but even still, I really enjoyed this novel!) It’s is the first-person account of Becca, an American college student who spends a term at Oxford and lives in the same hall as Nick, the prince and heir apparent to the throne of England. The two fall helplessly in love, despite the fact that they can never get married — or can they? And what will the royal family say when they find out? It was fun, irreverent, and satisfying. Warning: it would be rated R if it was a movie, so don’t read it if you wouldn’t watch it! — 3 stars
  • Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine BrooksThis is my first Geraldine Brooks novel, and I found it to be magnificent in its scope and background research, a truly masterfully written novel. It’s not for the faint of heart or stomach because she spares little detail or mercy in describing the horrible suffering the plague victims endured, both socially and emotionally as well as physically. I was surprised and vaguely disappointed by the last 1/5 of the book, but I suppose that is the author’s choice. I though it was an abrupt departure from the direction the rest of the novel had taken. Either way — now I want to read her other two novels! — 4 stars
  • I Know How She Does ItHow Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time by Laura Vanderkam — This is a non-fiction book that I picked for my book club to read, and I’ll just say that in some small ways it has changed my life. The author researched the lives of working mothers who make over $100k per year by having them fill out a weeklong time log showing how they spent their time in 30-minute increments. How do they handle dinner, babies, childcare, and house cleaning? It was fascinating. The book was heavy on the data in the first half (about work), but it was easier to appreciate her wisdom and find it applicable in the second half (about time management and self care). I only work part time, though, not full time, and so I am sure moms would find it more relevant who work 30+ hours a week. Now I’m tracking every 1/2 hour of my week, just to see how I spend my time (ie. how I do it), and it’s already interesting and making me rethink my time management. — 4 stars
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee — I read this only because Elliott was horrified to see that I’d checked Go Set a Watchman out of the library and wasn’t going to re-read TKAM again first. Apparently we’d agreed to do this and I had totally forgotten, but anyway — I went ahead and read TKAM again. Let me just say that the novel reads very differently when you are an adult who has experienced pain and suffering and life and death vs. a kid in 9th Grade who has just begun to feel. I laughed out loud, predictably teared up, and felt breathless when I closed the novel on the last page. What a magnificent book! After that, I felt like I’d experienced the greatest American novel, and I wasn’t going to ruin it or my opinion of Harper Lee by reading the discarded first draft of TKAM (Go Set a Watchman). Read it (again)! You won’t regret it! — 5 SPARKLING GOLD STARS

What’s on your bedside table right now? I am finishing this convicting memoir about putting down my phone and focusing on my children, and I just got this book at the library tonight to prepare for an upcoming trip to San Francisco! What have you read lately that you recommend?

8 :: in book reviews, good reads

Elliott’s First Book — and a Giveaway to Win Your Copy!

FullSizeRender(4) I’m so excited to share some big news with you today: my husband’s first book was just published!

Elliott has been working on this novel since before Gil was born, beginning with weekend mornings and workday evenings in Sicily when he would quietly close the bedroom door for a few hours, turn off the internet on his computer, and write. Even though it was a long, long road to get to this point — a published novel!!! — he never lost that gleam of excitement in his eye. He had a story, a good story, and he couldn’t wait to get it on paper and out into the world.

So what is the story? Cole McBride, a Special Forces veterinarian, is in the Congo doing research when he discovers a family of gorillas suffering from an unknown illness. With his beautiful South African coworker, he cares for an orphaned gorilla suffering from the illness, and then learns that a nearby aid hospital just admitted a patient with a strangely similar human case. Cole realizes he’s in a race against time to discover the virus’s origins and to stop it from spreading around the world. His journey spans the globe from Iran to Washington, D.C., and leads up to a white-knuckle 4th of July finale.

The Chimera Sequence falls squarely into the thriller category, and it is much more interesting and a lot harder to put down than most of the books I recommended last week! The book has been extremely well-received since it was released a few weeks ago: he has 44 reviews on Amazon (4.7 stars!), 32 reviews on Audible (4.2 stars), and 24 reviews on Goodreads (4.47 stars).

Yes, it’s on Audible, too, and he got an amazing narrator to read the book — just in case audio books are more your speed!

Every step along the way, Elliott has made thousands of decisions about exactly how this book should look, from each word on the page to the font to the cover design to the author photograph. And for each and every decision, he’s turned to me and asked my opinion, or asked for my help. I can’t tell you how many hundreds of times we examined another draft of the cover together before he ultimately decided to change one more thing! It was truly amazing to be by his side for all of it, to edit the first rough draft, to take his author photo for the back cover, to hold the first proof in my hands.

Bit by bit, I watched my husband craft a beautiful thing. He was a perfectionist about it, thoughtful and meticulous, and I watched his stamina and dedication with awe. Even now, when I see copies in our house, I’m amazed that he did this and it’s finished. The book is beautiful, and we’re so proud of him and of it!

The_Chimera_Sequence_Elliott_Garber copy

And now it’s your turn! Would you like to win a copy, signed by the author himself? Just comment on this post for a chance to win! If you’d like to earn extra entries, you can share this blog post (or a link to Elliott’s book) on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or another social media platform, and let me know that you did so in a comment.

Winner will be chosen next Wednesday, Sept 30, at midnight and announced the next morning. Good luck and happy reading!!!

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