An Amateur’s Guide to Planning a Trip to Central California

MiJin Cho, Business Manager

Just as the baby ducklings follow the mother duck’s lead, my brother and I have usually remained passive in the trip-planning process for past vacations. With only a couple mumblings of food recommendations from the internet, I stayed entirely out of the hotel booking, activity planning, and scheduling for the vacation days. The summer of 2017, however, became my first time “leaving the nest”, or holding main responsibility of what my family and I do during my our stay in Central California.


When I was first given the trip-planning task, I felt doomed. As much as I knew my family members and each of their interests, I didn’t know how to plan the “perfect” vacation for all of us. The daunting feeling eased away as I began seeking for a common ground or overall theme for the trip. I quickly came to realize that, for the Cho family, the purpose of the trip was to rebuild the disconnect our family had amassed over the year due to stress from work, pressure from school, and a joint overwhelming sense of tiredness. Understanding my goal to make a family-bonding, relaxing trip, I began my search.

San Francisco 

The trip found its starting ground in the bustling streets of San Francisco, California. With four days to plan, I ran into the problem of timing. Questions such as “how long should we stay there?” and “what is the best time to see this place?” began to accumulate. It was through this process that I found one of the most important ingredients to a successful trip: communication. Questions for a family trip can only be reached through a group conversation. I collected my family’s responses and preferences to individual places and completed allotting appropriate amount of time for our day-to-day schedule in San Francisco.

The following is the my family’s completed list of top 6 locations to visit in San Francisco:

Twin Peaks

The Twin Peaks are two hill that line up to show a top view of the San Francisco city. This place was absolutely the best photograph location and served as my favorite view of California. The best time to head up this hill is at sunset, where the sky casts a beautiful gradient of purple, pink, and blue. However, one thing visitors must be on the look-out for is theft in parked cars; be sure to keep an eye out on peoples hovering around cars.

San Francisco Zoo and Gardens

The Zoo is a classic must-visit place for families with children and teenagers. We spent around four hours in the zoo, exploring animals from all over the world. Although this is not the best place for taking portraits or family photos, the habitats and its animals will not fail to excite visitors and their cameras.

Fisherman’s Wharf and Exploratorium

The San Francisco piers combined with Fisherman’s Wharf provide not only a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean, but also lively vendors, aquariums, and renowned seafood cuisines. The Exploratorium on Pier 51 sheds a different light onto the busy piers by providing over 500 hands-on scientific experiments and activities. I especially enjoyed the activities development of zebrafish as it showed its life stages through microscopy, tanks, and comparisons to humans development.


I found Chinatown to be a great representation of urban shopping and market places in Asia, bringing a dynamic center of foods and shops to San Francisco. Navigation and narrow streets, however, proved to be a problem for many visitors. For Chinatown, it is best to come in with a restaurant or shop in mind, parking the car further outside the town.

Golden Gate Park

The Golden Gate Park is the center of arts and sciences. My family and I were enthralled to see the Academy of Sciences, Conservatory of Flowers, and the Japanese Tea Garden. Find pictures and more information here.

Golden Gate Bridge and Baker Beach

The biggest tourist attraction is the Golden Gate Bridge, which was the longest bridge in the world in 1937. Spanding over 4,000 miles, the bridge connects the San Francisco Peninsula to the end of Marin County. Although the sight of the bridge amazed me, the views from the local beaches nearby made an even greater impact. One of these recommended beaches is Baker Beach, which provides a side view of the famous Bridge.

Napa Valley

After spending four fulfilling days in San Francisco, we headed straight to Napa Valley, a place known for down time and wineries. I chose this place to satisfy one of the two main goals from the trip: relaxation. Napa Valley definitely provides a stroll-in-the-night, comforting feeling, especially in contrast with San Francisco. I specifically left big gaps within the schedule, providing breaks throughout the day with only one main event per day.

Muir Woods

In driving the Napa Valley, I wanted to set the mood for the upcoming wineries, fields of farmland, and nature sceneries. The Muir Woods National Monument was exactly what I was looking for: a beautiful hiking trail that bring deserved justice to the rolling hills in central California.

Sterling Winery

Keeping in mind that the Valley was known for its fine wine, we found over 50 wineries near our hotel. However, the Sterling Winery stood out for its aerial tram, or lift, up to the winery. The winery is mostly consistent of open areas so be sure to plan to head to this winery when the air is cool, not blazing with sun.

Success Trip

The key to planning a successful trip is preference. As I lay out the skeleton of my trip to California, I can’t expect for all visitors to enjoy the places my family and I have. If you are also planning a trip for the first time,  look at what YOU love and enjoy. Keep your overall objective of the trip in mind and you won’t stumble as you leave your nest.