I am married to a guy who loves to travel. He went on lots of fun vacations with his family when he was a kid and he has a whole list of places that he is dying to take our kids to.
When I was a kid we went on five family vacations. Three were to Yellowstone. We would take one day to drive there, one day to drive through and one day to drive home. One of those trips was during the big fire, all we saw was smoke.
One trip was to Mount Rushmore and one to Minnesota and Iowa to visit family friends. The last trip was to Calgary to see the Calgary Stampede (and that trip is a story for another time).
What I’m trying to say is that Joe and I have vastly different experience levels when it comes to travel, add in his overseas travel for work and he was by far the more seasoned traveler. I really like the idea of travel and I do enjoy learning about new places and seeing different parts of the world but I don’t really enjoy the process of getting there and I’m a bit claustrophobic and basically the opposite of brave and have a tendency to create disaster scenarios in my head. So, you can imagine how much fun I can be on vacation.
Most of our “trips” in the past few years have been to Casper Wyoming so I decided it was probably passed time to let Joe start crossing destinations off his list.
So, Joe booked a summer vacation to San Francisco. My first reaction upon hearing the destination was to say, “Excuse me, but there could be an earthquake!” To which Joe responded, “Excuse me, Wyoming is on top of super volcano.”…..touché.
(the ironic thing is that there was an earthquake just north of where we stayed, just a few days ago but long after we were safely home. I said, “See what I’d tell you.” The response was a heavy sigh and eye roll)
So, off to San Francisco we flew. The flight was uneventful and as comfortable as flying can be these days. Our first stop was Palo Alto to visit the Stanford campus. It is a really nice campus. We, unfortunately, ran short on time so didn’t get to see as much of it as we wanted but we enjoyed the walking around and visiting the bookstore and at lunch at the student union.
Then we drove north to San Francisco. Here are a few things we learned about San Francisco and a few of the places we visited.
It’s really hilly! I mean really, really steep hills. I kept thinking that I would not want to try to pull a horse trailer around that town. It’s also quite the workout walking around town.
It’s kind of cold. It’s not really very warm at all, even in August. We stepped out of the car at our hotel and were surprised at how chilly it was. The warmest it got all week was 67. We had to buy jackets. We were thinking, California, summer, who needs a jacket. Well, if you’re visiting San Francisco you need a jacket….and a hat if your going to do the open bus tour because your ears are going to get cold.
It’s foggy. Like every day. That’s the one thing that I just couldn’t get used to. I really enjoyed visiting but I don’t think I could deal with the grayness everyday.
There is a lot of history. If you like history, like I do, it’s a really fun place to visit. We stayed in the Fairmont Hotel which has tons of interesting history. It was built by two sisters, Tessa and Virginia Fair, to honor their father, James Graham Fair. They sold it on April 6, 1906 to Herbert and Hartland Law, just days before the great earthquake on April 18, 1906. The Fairmont withstood the quake but succumbed to the fire that followed. The Law brothers rebuilt it and it re-opened a year later. There are lots of interesting stories and people associated with the Fairmont, plus it’s a really nice hotel. As we left to go to dinner the first night we asked our driver what all the security people and cameras were about. Turns out we had just missed Arnold Scharzenegger. So for the rest of trip we kept wondering if he left saying, “I’ll be back”…..
We took an open top bus tour, which I would definitely recommend, although you will want a jacket and a hat.
Alcatraz is a hot ticket. We wanted to visit Alcatraz but made the mistake of thinking we could just show up and buy a ticket. Turns out they book those trips out 2-3 months in advance, so we had to settle for a boat ride under the Golden Gate and around the island.
We had wanted to ride the cable car down to Fisherman’s Wharf but the line was really, really long. So, we ended up taking the bus. I very nearly had a panic attack on that stupid bus. We were crammed in like sardines, standing room only, and the driver just kept letting more people get on! I had to stand on one leg squished in between people I didn’t know. Then the driver says, “just a friendly reminder, there are probably pick pockets on the bus, so get to know your neighbors.” I can not tell you how glad I was to get off that bus and have vowed to never ride a bus again.
Then before I even had time to calm myself down, we were suddenly standing in line to board a boat (boating is not my favorite activity because you know, sharks, drowning, the titanic). I looked back and forth at the line of people, looked at the boat and declared it was very likely going to sink and there was no way they had that many life jackets on that boat. Joe said, “we will be fine.” I pointed out sharks, drowning, titanic. He gently took me by the shoulders and said, “If you really don’t want to go, there is a really nice bench right over there. I will buy you something to drink and we will be back in hour.” To which I said, “Well if you all are going to drown and get eaten by sharks I think I should be there!” He said, “Fine. You can come but please stop acting like we are marching to our doom. It’s a boat ride.”
So, I wasn’t happy about it but I got on the boat and it actually wasn’t too bad. But we did hit a really big wave that came over the edge of the boat and knocked a lady down so I felt somewhat vindicated in my assessment of the danger. (The lady was fine and it may have been the slippery floor that made her fall more than the wave but still)
Ghirardelli Square. What can I say, we ended up there twice because they had really good chocolate, really good ice cream and also Kara’s Cupcakes. We had to have Kara’s Cupcakes in honor of my friend Kara. I took a picture for her and thought about trying to bring some cupcakes home for her but there was no way we weren’t going to eat them before we could them back to Minnesota. So, we each ate two in her honor instead.
There is a nice beach area just across the street from Ghirardelli Square. Anne declared that it had deluxe sand and it was her favorite spot of the whole trip.
California Academy of Sciences. We had an excellent plan for the day we visited the Academy of Sciences. We would get early, have a quick breakfast and get there before the crowds. It was an excellent plan that was poorly executed. And it turns out that executing a plan is just as important as the actual plan. Bottom line is we slept in…..and it was crowded. But still very interesting.
Cable Cars. We did finally get on a cable car. We waited in line for about an hour but we finally made it on.
The Redwood Forest. The next few days we spent along the northern shore in the Arcata area checking out the Redwood Forest. We drove up highway 101. In San Francisco there wasn’t much evidence of the drought going on there but we definitely saw evidence of it on our drive. It looked really dry and we drove through quite a bit of smoke from fires in the area. We also drove past a base camp for some of the fire crews. All the smoke reminded me of two summers ago in Wyoming when we were surrounded by fires. We went from foggy to smokey and then back to foggy by the time we got to Arcata.
The view from our hotel in Arcata wasn’t quite the same as our view at the Fairmont.
The Redwoods are pretty amazing. Max, Joe and I all had cameras, so we came home with 1516 pictures of trees. Here are a few. The rest basically look the same.
Arcata Scoop. We found the best ice cream in Arcata. Even better than the Ghirardelli ice cream. And it was the cutest little shop too. I had a scoop of chocolate and honey vanilla lavender. It was the best ice cream I have ever had…except of course for Max’s homemade ice cream.
Sneaker Waves. We also stopped at a couple of beach areas along the coast. One had this sign.
We don’t have sneaker waves in Wyoming or Minnesota so I had to google to figure out exactly what they are. Basically, it’s an unexpectedly large wave that can happen at anytime and sweep you out into the ocean to your doom. I was on constant lookout from that point on and I think I started to annoy my family with my constant shouting of “sneaker wave!” and “never turn your back on the ocean”
And then there was this sign at the other one. We were in constant danger, although I seemed to be the only one who cared.
Big Foot. It turns out this area is big on Big Foot sightings and he was nice enough to pose for a picture with us.
And also Joe made a new friend.
And then it was back down to San Francisco to fly home. It was a fun trip (aside from the bus and the boat) but it was also really nice to be home again.