I’ve had a long-running obsession with California since middle school. My obsession with American Idol (and, consequently, Hollywood) likely sparked the fire, but I’ve dreamed of visiting the state–any part of the state, all of the state–for well over a decade. A series of serendipitous events conspired this past weekend to bring me to California for the first time with a weekend trip to San Francisco.
After flying in Friday night, the trip really began Saturday morning, first with a walk around Fisherman’s Wharf that ended at the promised land: Ghirardelli Square.
Granted, I suppose I likely could buy most of the items available at the two (!!) stores in Ghirardelli Square in Chicago, but I couldn’t resist stocking up on chocolate since I was there and all. Since it was only around 10 a.m., I didn’t get any ice cream, but man oh man did the concoctions look mindblowing.
Ghirardelli Square sits conveniently across the street from San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. While I have never had a special interest in shipping, I do have a special interest in history, so that became stop #2. You can walk around a fair portion of the park for free, but I really wanted to go on board the historic ships at Hyde Street Pier, for which the National Park Service asks $10 to issue you a “boarding pass.”
You could access four ships that day–and I did–but I particularly enjoyed the Balclutha, a square rigged sailing ship. The Balclutha sailed nearly everywhere in the world during its 65+ years as a shipping vessel and carried all sorts of cargo at different times, ranging from grain to timber to canned salmon. You could explore a bunch of areas of the ship, including the ‘tween deck, which had displays of various kinds of cargo, the captain’s quarters, sailors quarters, and all of the main deck.
Other ships open that day included the CA Thayer, a schooner:
the Hercules, a tugboat that I may or may not have wanted to go on entirely because of Hercules Mulligan (#hamilton), but that is neither here nor there:
and the Eureka, a ferryboat:
After all that exploration of historic boats, it was time to head to Pier 33 to get on a modern boat for more history: a trip to Alcatraz.
I was familiar with Alcatraz prior to visiting San Francisco in the sense that I knew it held a maximum security prison at one point, that Al Capone was imprisoned there for a time, and that these days, you can “Escape from Alcatraz” via a triathlon once a year. As it turns out, there was WAY more to Alcatraz’s history than I realized, starting as a military fort, then turning into a military prison, and finally becoming the federal prison most of us associate with the island today.
The trip to the island started with an hourish long tour around a fair portion of the island, starting at the dock, going along the Agave Trail, moving towards the area of the industrial buildings, and finishing at the audio tour of the Federal Penitentiary Cell House itself. I could NOT get enough. My only Alcatraz regret is that I didn’t spend more than three hours there, because I imagine I easily could have. Well, that, and I regret that I only had an iPhone to use to take photos. One of these days, hopefully a sooner day rather than a later day, I’m going to get an SLR. Regardless, visiting Alcatraz was incredible, and I’m going to subject you to a photo dump. Sorry not sorry.
The lighthouse, Warden’s Home (in ruins) and cell house from the parade grounds.
Ruins of the family housing for correctional officers.
An Anna’s Hummingbird feeding. As you can imagine, if you remember my affinity for birds, I lost my mind upon seeing this.
Al Capone’s cell.
The view inside the Warden’s House, which was the military commandant’s house prior to the island becoming a federal prison.
San Francisco from Alcatraz, with the ruins of the correctional officers’ homes in the foreground.
Ruins of the social hall.
After returning to the mainland, the walk back involved a stop at Pier 39, where I lost my mind (again), this time due to sea lions rather than hummingbirds.
These guys amused me to no end. They lolled around on the docks, occasionally roaring at each other when one would plop on top of another, before losing their will to care and falling asleep again. It was simultaneously one of the most hilarious and cutest things I’ve ever seen.
Saturday evening’s plans called for dinner with friends at John’s Diner, where I got more than my fair share of seafood. Can’t say no to that when I’m in a city on water!
As a lifelong Full House fan, the Painted Ladies and the Full House house were two stops I had to make while in San Francisco, and that happened Sunday morning.
Alamo Square Park, where you see the cast picnicking at the end of the theme song, is currently under renovations and was mostly closed to the public, but they still had a small part open so you could take a picture and get the skyline in the background.
It was both raining and sunny at the time, which made for an awesome rainbow to the north.
The Full House house itself is not a Painted Lady (which I think is fairly clear from the exterior), but isn’t that far from the park and available to be photographed as well.
After that, it was time for a trip across the Bay via the Golden Gate Bridge to Muir Woods National Monument.
I’ve never seen redwoods before, but have wanted to see them for a long time, so I was really excited to visit Muir Woods. Once again, I kicked myself for not having a better camera than my iPhone, but I did my best.
The woods were stunning. There weren’t too many other people, so it was quiet and peaceful. I was able to add two more birds to my Life List: the Varied Thrush and the Pacific Wren. Speaking of, I also saw Cormorants in the Bay (not in the woods, obviously, since they’re water birds) so I added a total of four birds to my Life List on this trip. Success! (Life Lists, for those unaware, are lists birders keep of all the birds they’ve ever seen. I’m not serious enough to have an actual, physical, detailed list, but I would like to start one some day!)
I always try to run at least a mile whenever I’m on vacation so I can, minimally, add that state to the list of places I’ve run that year, but as was the case with this trip, add a whole new state to my list entirely. After a 2.5-mile run along the water, it was off to Boudin’s for an afternoon with more friends. I didn’t realize that Boudin’s sourdough bread was such a San Francisco staple, but it was fun to eat at the restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf and then tour the attached Bakery Museum afterwards. I learned that Boudin’s has made its sourdough from the same mother dough since 1849! The bakery’s founder’s wife even saved it from the 1906 earthquake! The same mother dough that started the sourdough process before the Civil War still goes into every single loaf of Boudin’s sourdough today, which I think is incredible.
Since afternoon rain scrapped our original hiking plans, we headed down (up? South of Fisherman’s’ Wharf, but you do have to go up some SUBSTANTIAL hills in the process) to Mission District to a place called Urban Putt, an indoor mini golf place. Now, when I hear “indoor mini golf,” I think “go karts, laser tag, arcade games, etc.” Suburban entertainment center Urban Putt is not. The best way I can think of to describe it is “steampunk mini golf,” or, perhaps, “the most San Francisco thing I did while in San Francisco that wasn’t touristy.” It was located inside a renovated…something (the website says mortuary, but it’s also clear that the history of Urban Putt as written on the website is definitely exaggerated, so I don’t know what the building used to be for sure) and features some of the most inventive mini golf holes you’ve ever seen. It was such a unique experience, and the perfect rainy afternoon activity.
I caught an early morning flight back to Chicago on Monday to make an afternoon meeting at work. Even though it was a quick trip, it was so, so worth it. I saw sunshine for the first time in weeks and got to cross so many things off my travel bucket list. I love the West Coast, and I’m really glad I had the chance to visit this past weekend.
Have you ever been to San Francisco?