Although you can't always take vacation time off from work, sometimes you can take a weekend drive to all the beautiful destinations all around California. Our latest California road trip was a quick weekend trip to San Francisco from Los Angeles.
On an unusually cool summer Friday afternoon, we drove up the 101, stopping by the pretty but touristy Dutch town of Solvang for an early dinner, then took the scenic route north through the beautiful hills of central California, and booked ourselves into a hotel in downtown San Francisco.
The newspaper has been reporting about the homeless crisis in the cities of California so we were expecting downtown San Francisco to be as bad as or worse than Los Angeles. We were a little surprised to NOT see the tent cities lining the sidewalks of San Francisco like in some parts of downtown LA. Our hotel was a pretty little hotel half a block from City Hall and across the street from the Opera House called the Inn at the Opera. There were actually no homeless people in the downtown areas where we walked.
In the morning, we had breakfast at the hotel and then drove to Chinatown for some shopping and proper Chinese food. On the walk around Chinatown, we stopped at a park and I took pictures of the Chinese Cultural Center across the walkway. I snapped 3 pictures in a row, seconds apart, rotating my cellphone between the shots. Only later did I notice the weird line of light coming from the left side of the last picture, going to a ball of light and a cloud above the center, a cloud that was not there in the 2 previous shots. Bruce says it's probably just some reflection of the light but I don't think so. Am I paranoid or what? Never mind the string and ball of light, where did that cloud come from?
Although House of Nanking was a top tourist destination restaurant in San Francisco Chinatown, featured in the Food Network show House of Fang, we chose to stop at the smaller House of Xian dumpling next door for some hot and spicy dumplings and lamb skewers. They were all delicious.
We split up after lunch, the boys and Bruce drove to Oakland to see the aircraft carrier USS Hornet while the girls and I went exploring the Haight-Ashbury area. We looked through the bookstores and gift shops and bought several cute outfits from the curated and trendy used clothing store So-So Supermarket. We stopped at the Haight Patio Cafe and Crepery for some afternoon snacks before the long walk home. The savory crab and spinach Florentine crepe was fantastic and so was the Berrylicious crepe we ordered for dessert.
On the long walk back to downtown, the girls and I crossed the Alamo Square park to view the row of houses called the Painted Ladies. We witnessed a very interesting spectacle of people spread out on the lawn across from the houses just looking at this famous row of houses, even though there were other more beautifully painted and preserved houses all around the area. It must be unnerving to live in these houses, having all these strangers staring at your house every day.
We got back to the hotel after 4 o'clock and found out that the Asian Art Museum closes at 5 p.m. so we rushed across the Veteran Memorial and City Hall to catch a couple of exhibits at the museum.
In the evenings, we went back to Chinatown for a formal dinner. There were so many good choices but I picked Lai Hong Lounge based on some reviews I read and we were not disappointed. Everything was tasty and well presented, from the very tender and crispy pork belly to the oxtail stew, to the amazing tofu and mushroom dish.
San Francisco in the night is even more magical than its daytime views. The fog rolls in and over the city very lightly at night, draping it in a flowing veil of mist. So pretty.
On Sunday morning, we went down to the docks to drive through Fisherman's Wharf. The kids had wanted to go shopping at the Ferry Building where you can catch the ferries to Angel Island, Sausalito, Tiburon, and all points north of the city. They have many fun shops and we were all able to grab something different for lunch, from empanadas to bagels and lox to schwarma, fortifying ourselves for the long drive home.
Like most city excursions, San Francisco has so much to see and do that you can spend a week there and barely scratch the surface. But it was a fun road trip that was close enough to Los Angeles and yet was different enough in its vibe that we could feel like we definitely took a vacation to a cool and interesting land.