The Best of the Rest: Bay Area 2020

This whole anniversary trip started with an email notifying me that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child would be expanding to San Francisco. I pretty much booked tickets as soon as they became available. Adam and I both grew up in the Bay Area and moved out to Colorado as pre-teens (though we did not meet until our late twenties), so this seemed a lot more attainable than flying out to New York to see the play on Broadway.

Right after I booked the Cursed Child tickets, I was like, “Why not do this right and go to Disney while we are out there?” So I emailed my Uncle Peter to see if he would have us and we decided we would do a week with him in Southern California, then fly to the Bay Area to see my other uncle and go to the play. This is where we got REALLY lucky, because my parents still have a lot of close friends out in the Bay Area and one of them had offered to them come stay for a month in their back cottage at the exact time we would be coming out. My parents then extended the invitation to us, so we also were able to stay in our own room in the cottage. This meant that we didn’t have to pay for lodging our entire vacation and we are INCREDIBLY thankful for our blessings.

We packed up our stuff from my Uncle Peter’s house and flew on over to the Bay Area, where we were promptly reminded why we will never live there again. We tried crossing a toll bridge without cash (assuming we could just pay with a credit card) and were handed a Toll Violation notice with a $25 fee… that we could pay online… with a credit card. *Sigh*

Adam’s Timelapse of Us Landing in the Bay Area

It had been a while for both Adam and I since we visited our roots – about 7-10 years for both of us. So we did take a day to relax a little and visit some of our old haunts. Unfortunately, we had been a little ambitious with our plans given how awful traffic can be, so we didn’t get to do everything we wanted. But it was still nice to decompress from our Southern California leg of the trip and spend some time with my parents doing one of the Disney puzzles we had purchased as a souvenir.

On our second day there, we woke up very early to meet up with San Francisco’s best tour guide: my Uncle Richard. My uncle has lived in the Bay Area his entire life and he absolutely loves visiting San Francisco. He was kind enough to oblige us on whatever we wanted to do – which was mostly a bunch of touristy things we had done as children and wanted to relive. First, we were headed to Alcatraz. We rode Bart from San Leandro to San Francisco, took a trolley to our port, and hopped on the first ferry over to the notorious island. Just getting there was a little bit of an adventure.

Alcatraz was… stunning. On so many levels, it is stunning – in good and bad ways. I didn’t take any pictures inside the prison because it felt weird to. The halls are enriched with so much history, some of it quite gory. You take the tour by wearing a headset and following along at your own pace. As someone who works in media, I applaud how they pieced together the stories of this building through narration, first hand accounts, and audio drama. If you have never gone on this tour, or its been a while since you have gone and you can’t remember it, it’s definitely an interesting, immersive experience. It’s also sad. One of the first things I asked Adam when we walked into one of the buildings was, “Is that their bathrooms?”

He responded with, “That was their everything.” I couldn’t believe how small the cells were and what little these people had to live with. I understand many of them committed horrific crimes, but it was an eye-opening experience to be sure.

The actual island is covered in one of the most amazing gardens found in California. The greenery is gorgeous with plants brought in from all over the world and only enhances the gorgeous view of the ocean with San Francisco off in the distance. If you’re interested, you can read about the Gardens of Alcatraz here. I am so grateful that not only the building, but the lush gardens, have been preserved through an alliance with the National Park Service.

After spending a significant amount of time touring Alcatraz, we were hungry! After hopping off the ferry, my uncle hooked us up with an impressive ride down the street to Pier 39. A gentleman with a bicycle and a buggy managed to bike all three of us over to the pier. I couldn’t believe he managed it! He earned a nice tip!

We ate at the famous Boudin Bakery, renowned for their Sourdough Bread. Everything about our meal was delicious and we enjoyed exploring the factory afterward. This is definitely a place we would love to eat at again.

After lunch, we walked across the street to re-live one of Adam’s favorite childhood memories. As part of the Boy Scouts, he had been able to spend the night on the retired war submarine, the USS Pampanito. This was another self-guided tour with the headsets, and we all enjoyed ourselves – though the space can be quite tight.

Another classic San Francisco tourist spot is Musée Mécanique, the Penny Arcade filled with classic arcade machines. These ranged from “naughty” peep shows, fortune tellers, feats of strength, video games, music boxes, dioramas, pinball machines, the list goes on and on. Everything is affordable and all three of us had a great time trying out the huge selection of classic machines they offered.

My favorite thing at the arcade: A Scene Made Almost Entirely of Toothpicks

After all of this, our day wasn’t over yet! We found a great Groupon for a double deal where we could visit Madame Tussauds Wax Museum and their next-door neighbor, The San Francisco Dungeon. Madame Tussauds was okay. It definitely wasn’t the best I had ever been to, but we still had a lot of fun.

We don’t have any pictures from The San Francisco Dungeon because photography wasn’t allowed, but that was a touristy blast! It was an active, live-theater experience that took us through some rather campy, exaggerated parts of San Francisco history. It’s one of those things that we probably would never do again, but that stands out as a good time on our trip!

After all of that, we were all exhausted! Kudos to my Uncle Richard for being such a good sport and sticking with us through all of it! We went out for a nice dinner somewhere classy that I can’t remember, and then went home and crashed. We had to wake up early again to go see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

What a spectacular day – spectacular vacation, really – this all turned out to be.

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