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Bridges, Redwoods & Alcatraz: San Francisco With Your Grandchild

Program No. 21059RJ
A jailhouse that has stories to tell, bridges that stretch across the sparkling sea and the tallest trees on Earth! Discover these and more in the Bay Area with your grandchild.

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At a Glance

Climb aboard a classic cable car with your grandchild to explore the City by the Bay and the nature that surrounds it. Ride a ferry to Alcatraz Island to explore the famous jailhouse, and take in the sights, smells and sounds of the largest Chinatown in America. Walk across one of the most famous landmarks in the world, the majestic Golden Gate Bridge, and tinker with some science experiments at the Exploratorium. Plus get outside the city to play amongst the foot of giant redwoods in Muir Woods and hike to a seaside lighthouse. Introduce your grandchild to this world-class city as you explore our favorite spots around San Francisco, making new friends along the way!
Activity Level
Let's Go!
Walking up to three miles at a time over varied terrain, including stairs. Extensive use of public transportation.

What You'll Learn

  • Experience natural and cultural wonders including Redwoods at Muir Woods and the complex history of Alcatraz Island.
  • Go behind the scenes at the Academy of Sciences, where you’ll be transported into a rainforest, an earthquake and into a starry night sky!
  • Learn what life was like for people aboard the Jeremiah O'Brien, a WWII ship that is now a living museum near Fisherman's Wharf.
Featured Expert
All trip experts
Profile Image
James Dalessandro
James is a writer and filmmaker best known for his novel '1906,' a retelling of that year's earthquake in San Francisco. He has more than 20 feature film and television scripts to his credit. He wrote and directed 'The Damnedest Finest Ruins,' a documentary on the earthquake. In his adopted hometown of San Francisco, James lectures on the Transcontinental Railroad, Old Chinatown, and the Golden Gate Bridge as well as the history of its artists: Mark Twain, Jack London, Isadora Duncan and the Beat Generation.

Please note: This expert may not be available for every date of this program.

Profile Image of James Dalessandro
James Dalessandro View biography
James is a writer and filmmaker best known for his novel '1906,' a retelling of that year's earthquake in San Francisco. He has more than 20 feature film and television scripts to his credit. He wrote and directed 'The Damnedest Finest Ruins,' a documentary on the earthquake. In his adopted hometown of San Francisco, James lectures on the Transcontinental Railroad, Old Chinatown, and the Golden Gate Bridge as well as the history of its artists: Mark Twain, Jack London, Isadora Duncan and the Beat Generation.
Profile Image of John Martini
John Martini View biography
John Martini is a native San Franciscan and a life-long researcher into the history of California and the American West. He worked as a national park ranger for more than 25 years at parks around the country including Fort Point National Historic Site, Alcatraz Island, the National Maritime Museum, the USS Arizona Memorial, the Presidio of San Francisco, and Teddy Roosevelt's estate at Sagamore Hill National Historic Site. For many years, John was stationed at the Marin Headlands District of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area as a supervisory park ranger for interpretation and education. He completed his long career with the National Park Service at the Presidio of San Francisco where he served as curator of military history. He now works as an independent historian and consultant specializing in historical research, interpretation and preserving of cultural resources.
Profile Image of Kenn Sparks
Kenn Sparks View biography
Kenn Sparks is an award-winning journalist, foreign correspondent, and Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker. His life has taken him from the once-closed cities of Siberia to debating business economics with Barack Obama. Kenn’s Road Scholar groups explore the mysteries of old Chinatown, hear tales of treacherous sea voyages to Gold Rush California while aboard a famous 19th-century Square Rigger, experience the mostly unknown legacy of the wives of the Big 4 Robber Barons, and wonder at centuries of Medieval and Renaissance art and relics at Grace Cathedral.
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While we make every effort to ensure the accuracy of our published materials, programs are typically advertised more than a year prior to their start date. As a result, some program activities, schedules, accommodations, personnel, and other logistics occasionally change due to local conditions or circumstances. Should a major change occur, we will make every effort to alert you. For less significant changes, we will update you during orientation. Thank you for your understanding.
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6 days
5 nights
11 meals
5 B 3 L 3 D
Registration, Orientation, Golden Gate Bridge Presentation
San Francisco, California
Hotel Riu Plaza Fisherman's Wharf

Activity note: Hotel check-in from 3:00 p.m.

Afternoon: Program Registration: 3:00 p.m. After you check in and have your room assignment, join us at the Road Scholar table to register with the program staff, get any updated information, and confirm the time and location of the Orientation session. If you arrive late, please locate your Group Leader and let them know you have arrived. Orientation: 4:00 p.m. The Group Leader will greet everyone and lead introductions. We will review the up-to-date program schedule, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer questions. This is a Road Scholar Grandparent program. Grandparents are responsible for their grandchildren at all times. If/when separate age group activities are conducted concurrently, program staff will supervise. Minors are never to be left unsupervised. In addition to our Group Leader, local experts will give lectures and lead field trips. Transportation for program-related activities will be via motorcoach and public transportation unless specified otherwise. We expect to walk up to 3 miles over the course of each day. Be sure to bring personal, refillable water bottles on each field trip. Periods in the schedule designated as “Free time” and “At leisure” offer opportunities to do what you like and make your experience even more meaningful and memorable according to your personal preferences. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may change due to local circumstances/conditions. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding.

Dinner: At the hotel.

Evening: We’ll be joined in a meeting room by a local expert who will tell us more about San Francisco’s most iconic landmark — the Golden Gate Bridge — that will be the focus on a field trip tomorrow. We’ll learn about its origins, design, construction history, and legacy. The first proposal for building the bridge was in 1916, but it took a long time for plans to be developed. Construction began in 1933 and the bridge opened in May 1937. The day before it opened to vehicles, almost 200,000 people walked across what was then the longest single-span suspension bridge in the world. Since then, the Golden Gate has been shut down only three times. Continue getting to know your fellow Road Scholars, settle in, and get a good night’s rest for the day ahead.

Golden Gate Bridge, Point Bonita Lighthouse, Muir Woods
San Francisco, California
Hotel Riu Plaza Fisherman's Wharf

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving about 36 miles, multiple stops throughout the day. Walking 1 mile to/from Point Bonita; uneven terrain, steep decline/incline; cold, windy, often foggy conditions, dress accordingly. Curvy Road to Muir Woods; if prone to motion sickness, plan accordingly. Bring refillable water bottle. Elective 2-mile walk across Golden Gate Bridge; windy conditions.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: We’ll board a motorcoach and ride to the Golden Gate Bridge — exceptional for its length of 1.7 miles, 746-foot tall towers, sweeping cables, and Art Deco styling, flanked on each side by beautiful parks. Built in 1937, the Golden Gate hosts thousands of people and cars daily. We will have some time for independent exploration at the Golden Gate Bridge Pavilion with exhibits that tell fascinating stories such as the Halfway-to-Hell Club or sit and relax. Those who wish to take an elective walk across with the Group Leader are welcome to do so; windy conditions. The bridge has been featured in dozens of movies, from disaster epics to science fiction, action pics, and romances. One of the first was “The Maltese Falcon” in 1941. One of the latest was “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” How many can you name?

Lunch: We will ride to a local restaurant.

Afternoon: Next, we will hike to Point Bonita Lighthouse, built in 1855 and still active. Point Bonita is one of the Bay Area’s jewels. It was only the third lighthouse on the California coast and is the only lighthouse in the U.S. crossing a suspension bridge. When the fog is dense, as it often is, a foghorn supplements the Fresnel lens in the light. A park ranger will be onsite to answer questions about the lighthouse and surrounding area. We’ll then ride to Muir Woods National Monument in Mill Valley, famous for huge redwood trees. For thousands of years, native peoples lived here in harmony with the primeval forest when trees lived to unknown ages. Those we see today are estimated to be from 400-800 years old. Settlers began arriving in significant numbers in the 1800s and needed raw materials to build houses. Logging began cutting vast swaths through these ancient trees, clear-cutting many areas. The conservation movement gathered momentum in the early 20th century. Muir Woods has been protected since 1908, but by the time Redwood National Park was created in 1968, more than 90% of the original old growth forest was gone. We’ll have some time for personal independent exploration. Imagine telling family and friends back home about walking on trails through a grove of never-been-logged redwood trees in this cathedral of nature.

Dinner: This meal has been excluded from the program cost and is on your own to have what you like. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

Evening: At leisure.

Chinatown, Exploratorium, All About Alcatraz
San Francisco, California
Hotel Riu Plaza Fisherman's Wharf

Activity note: Getting on/off public transportation. Walking up to 1 mile; steep blocks, hills, stairs, standing during field trip.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: The first Chinese immigrants arrived here in 1848. Since then, San Francisco’s Chinatown — the oldest in North America — has grown to become the largest Chinese community outside Asia. We’ll be joined by an expert on Chinatown for a specialized walking exploration with kids in mind. We’ll walk through alleyways where actual businesses are located, not to be confused with shopping streets. The sights, sounds, and smells of Chinatown are unique to these few blocks. Among the shops are street-side displays of Chinese fruits and vegetables and bakeries. Portsmouth Square is where the city of San Francisco began. Today, this is the “living room” for many of the elderly Chinese people who reside in small rooms, sharing kitchens and baths with others on the same floor, who come here to meet friends and enjoy games.

Lunch: We will walk to a popular Chinese restaurant. Sik fan! (Let’s eat!)

Afternoon: We will take public transportation for a field trip to the Exploratorium with amazing interactive exhibits on the water’s edge at Pier 15. We’ll explore science in a different way with exhibits that allow for learners to manipulate and experience science in an unconventional way.

Dinner: At a local restaurant.

Evening: Back at the hotel, we will gather at a designated time in a hotel meeting room where we’ll be joined by a local expert who will tell us all about Alcatraz — the site of America’s most notorious Federal penitentiary — in preparation for our field trip tomorrow. Early native people never settled there permanently because they considered it cursed, but in 1969, Native American activists occupied it in protest to demand recognition of Indian rights. They held out for 19 months. Contemporary American Indians return each year for commemorative ceremonies. Alcatraz has been a bird sanctuary, a Civil War fortress, and home of the West Coast’s first lighthouse. Through pictures and stories, we’ll learn about the colorful history, infamous criminal inhabitants, and legendary escape attempts from “The Rock.” The cells in B & C blocks measured 5 feet by 9 feet and had only a small sink with cold running water, a small bunk, a shelf, a folding steel table, a chair, and a toilet — one prisoner per cell. Could you have done hard time?

Jeremiah O'Brien, Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz Island
San Francisco, California
Hotel Riu Plaza Fisherman's Wharf

Activity note: Getting on/off a public ferry; 20 minute ride to/from Alcatraz. Walking up to 2 miles throughout the day; from Alcatraz dock to penitentiary at top of hill is 1/4 mile; elevation change 130 feet, equivalent to climbing a 13-story building. Bring refillable water bottle. Food and beverages other than water not permitted on Alcatraz. Cold, windy, often foggy conditions; dress accordingly.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: After breakfast we will explore the maritime history that is being preserved in San Francisco with a local guide. We will walk to the Jeremiah O’Brien on pier 35 to explore a living museum. The ship has been restored and kept in sailing shape. We will learn about the people who built and sailed on the World War II ship. Our local guide will walk us through the ship to learn about why the ship was built an what it was used for during WWII.

Lunch: On your own to enjoy what you like on historic Fisherman’s Wharf or nearby Pier 39. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

Afternoon: We will walk to and board the ferry for the ride to Alcatraz Island. Upon arrival at the dock, we’ll be greeted by a National Park Service ranger who will give us a brief orientation including information on any special activities available that day. The remainder of this field trip will be a self-directed exploration according to our own interests, at our own pace. Park Service staff offer free presentations to visitors throughout the day on topics such as escapes, military history, American Indian occupation, natural history, and more. There are numerous exhibits including a cell house audio covering the penitentiary era. The Group Leader will be at the ferry approximately 2 hours later for those who would like to return to the hotel together. Those who would like to stay longer and return independently are welcome to do so.

Dinner: On your own to have what you like. You might like to hang out in Fisherman’s Wharf or explore another area of San Francisco. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

Evening: At leisure.

CA Academy of Sciences, Free time, Wrap up
San Francisco, California
Hotel Riu Plaza Fisherman's Wharf

Activity note: Getting on/off public transportation; riding about 20 miles, approximately 1.5 hours total riding time. Bring refillable water bottle.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: We will walk to a nearby bus stop for a field trip to the California Academy of Sciences, founded in 1853. There are hundreds of exhibits, an aquarium, a planetarium, a natural history museum, a 4-story rainforest, and 40,000 live animals. The building is considered a masterpiece of sustainable architecture with a “living roof” and other innovative features and operations that minimize its carbon footprint. You will have a chance to explore the museum independently in the morning. Each registration packet will include a schedule of the day’s activities to plan accordingly. There’s so much to see! The Discovery Tidepool has creatures from coastal California tidepools. The Naturalist Center has interactive games and specimens. Earthquake: Life on a Dynamic Planet explains “We know where, but not when.”

Lunch: We’ll have vouchers for lunch at the Academy Café.

Afternoon: We’ll go on an expert-led, behind-the-scenes exploration to get an insider’s perspective. We’ll learn about the academy’s history and how its scientists are tackling critical questions about life on Earth. We’ll see the research collections, a working laboratory with geology specimens in the vault, and have express entry into the most popular areas including the planetarium, rainforest, living roof, and earthquake simulator. Free time. This period of time has been set aside for your personal independent exploration to see and do what interests you most. Please refer to the list of Free Time Opportunities. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. Please note that the period scheduled for free time is subject to change depending on local circumstances and opportunities for independent exploration. You might like to spend the rest of the afternoon continuing to explore the Academy of Sciences. Or, set out on your own to see and do what interests you most. At a designated time and place mid-afternoon, the Group Leader will accompany those who wish to return to the hotel.

Dinner: At the hotel. Share favorite experiences and enjoy camaraderie with new Road Scholar friends during our farewell dinner.

Evening: After dinner, at the hotel we’ll be joined in the hotel meeting room by a Bay Area entertainer who will delight us with a performance. Prepare for check-out and departure in the morning.

Program Concludes
San Francisco, California

Activity note: Hotel check-out 12:00 p.m.

Breakfast: At the hotel. This concludes our program.

Morning: If you are returning home, safe travels. If you are staying on independently, have a wonderful time. If you are transferring to another Road Scholar program, detailed instructions are included in your Information Packet for that program. We hope you enjoy Road Scholar learning adventures and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future. Don’t forget to join our Facebook page and follow us on Instagram. Best wishes for all your journeys!

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