As I mentioned previously, I’m excited to share our journey along the coast of California as a celebration of my son’s high school graduation. We began in San Francisco.
Day 1: San Francisco
Of course, when you go to California with two teenagers to celebrate your son’s graduation, you have to be strategic about how to spend each day. Should there be a little shock and awe mixed with impressive sights and “fun stuff” included in each day?
We tried to break up our travel and sightseeing in each city or town we visited, mapping out our days and the plans for each. Our 13-day trip began in San Francisco as we scheduled hotels in various cities all along the California coast with our final destination as San Diego. In case you haven’t looked at a U.S. map lately, when you take a close look at California, you realize just how enormous a state it is with a lot of ground to cover. Our mantra for the trip was this: We know we can’t do everything, so we have to come to terms with that.
So for two children who had never been to San Francisco, we knew the ground we needed to cover to give them the full flavor of the city. After getting in late on Saturday night and eating dinner at Scala’s Bistro, we began our Sunday by having breakfast in the hotel—the Courtyard by Marriott in Union Square—and starting our trek to the afternoon San Francisco Giants baseball game. This excursion led us directly to the city’s largest celebration of Pride Week in the country and a parade. As you can imagine, the city was booked solid with visitors from all over the world in celebration of Gay Pride, so we took a moment to view the celebrations. From stark naked men walking around with erections to floats and marching bands, the streets were jam-packed with rainbows, glitter, and, yes, lots of naked people.
After some time, we managed to make our way past the parade to the BART to take the subway to the game. Within minutes, we were at AT & T Park, and in awe. After spending seven full-time seasons working at Camden Yards in the 1990s, and knowing Baltimore’s ballpark was an inspiration for the Giants’ ballpark, my husband and I were thrilled to finally see it in person. Set on the San Francisco Bay, with kayakers ready to catch any homerun balls that are sent flying over the outfield walls, the ballpark’s setting took our breath away. And thanks to a dear friend, our third-row seats on the first-base side weren’t too shabby, either. There’s something about a Sunday game in beautiful 70-degree weather under a cloudless sky that’s poignant, and the four of us enjoyed every minute of that game. With limited amounts of pounding music and an organist who entertained between innings, it was easy to watch the game and have conversations the whole way through, reminding me of ballparks of years before when the game was meant to be relaxing and social.
After the Giants won in extra-innings and we took photos of some of the statues celebrating great players like Willie Mays surrounding the ballpark, we began our walk to the boat where we would take a twilight tour (and the last tour of the day) to Alcatraz. We’d booked these tickets well in advance, so if you’re planning to go to San Fran and it’s a sight you want to see, be sure to order your tickets ahead of time. Along the way, we stopped at the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero, an historic building that serves as a terminal for ferry boats, a marketplace, and an office building. It’s worth pausing to take a photo from this location because it’s so beautiful. We continued on to our tour and lined up, and just as we did, the sky became cloudy and the winds began to pick up; the creepiness of Alcatraz was set in the distance and the sky reflected its stature and mood.
However, upon our arrival to the island, it was difficult not to notice the abundance of flowers—the colors of reds and yellows and pinks and oranges along the walls and grounds framing the landmark. Tour guides greeted us and offered a bit of brief history before we put our headsets on and listened to the best audio tour we’ve ever taken. The narrator, who guides and directs you through the jail, has a great voice—part gangster, part hard-ass cop—and he tells you to “turn left…look up…there are the keys that the prisoners stole…” as he recounts stories of jail, wardens, life on Alcatraz, and the famous escapes. Our kids thought this tour was fantastic, and my son does a pretty amazing imitation of the narrator.
Our last stop was Ghirardelli for some chocolate and ice cream, but the night didn’t end before our Lyft driver, Tommy, drove us down the famous crooked Lombard Street on our way back to the hotel.