Growing up, my family has always ventured to Europe for family vacations, fortunate enough to discover monuments with years upon years of history and stroll along the cobble stone streets where war leaders and politicians once stomped. Beside the occasional trip to New York or Miami, we haven't done tons of traveling within the US. This past week, however, we added another state and a new place to our list of cities-- San Francisco, California. I've always imagined what California was like, based on images viewed on Tumblr and dream-like scenes in films, but being there in the flesh was evidently a different experience. I was fascinated not only by the culture and the people, but also by the extensive opportunities California provides concerning activities. One day, you could ride along Route One and see Big Sur, and within a few hours be "shredding the gnar" on the slopes. While we didn't get to travel much throughout CA, I did gather some activities around San Francisco for another "5 Gems" post, just as I did after visiting Paris last January. I hope this is helpful to you all. xoxo Isabelle
Alcatraz is not just some random deserted island in the San Francisco Bay-- it was once a high security prison for convicts who caused trouble, even within prison confinement. Residents included the notorious gangster Al “Scarface” Capone and murderer Robert “Birdman of Alcatraz” Stroud. If you're interested in walking the halls of this famous prison, you're going to need to get tickets about a few weeks in advance. After getting our tickets stamped, we boarded a ferry for a short ride to the island, where we had a guided audio tour of the interior and also saw the hospital. The audio tour is really informative and worth the trek out to this island. They offer several languages for the audio tour, so don't worry about that aspect. I'm not really one for so-called "scary" things, but the history and voices featured on this tour were worth the lingering eery feeling Alcatraz brought about.
Three or four summers ago, my family traveled around China in the sweltering August heat. China holds so much history and its own distinct culture, which rendered my experience there even more meaningful. However, walking through the gates of China Town in San Francisco this past week also brought its own unique experience. We were doing a historic type of food tour there, and I was given insight into the marginalization the Chinese faced when immigrating to the United States. After years of oppression, present day China Town is a way for this group to hold onto its identity, through its language, notable cuisine, and familiar architecture. By the time we left China Town, I had nearly forgotten that we were in California, until I heard less Chinese and more English. Even if you're not into discovering the cuisine options, it is fun even just to walk around to observe, and snap pictures too. Make sure you stop by the authentic fortune cookie shop, pictured above. China Town must not be missed.
Okay, I know I just mentioned a food tour in the China Town description, but we also did yet another food tour. This tour took place in the Mission District of SF, which features beautiful, empowering murals and unique shops and restaurants. While this food tour entailed several stops, I can't seem to forget about the delicacies at Tacolicious. I'm not terribly great at describing tastes and what makes a meal so good, so you should just try their tacos out yourself. Another great option, after you've had your tacos, of course, is Bi-Rite Creamery, which boasts unreal salted caramel ice cream behind the long line out the door. I'm not kidding when I say that we went and got ice-cream here twice in one day, within hours of each other. When we weren't indulging in tacos and ice-cream, we were observing the murals of the historic Women's Building and wishing we could sit in the park as it down-poured.
If spending time in the city isn't your thing, a day trip out to the Muir Woods National Park is a nice escape. I'm not normally apt to be out in nature for a long period of time, but these trees, which measure upwards of 380 feet tall, are undeniably amazing. Beside walking around and pointing your camera upwards to capture pictures like the one above, there's also plenty of history to discover there as well, concerning John Muir and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. After about an hour or two at this park, followed by a necessary trip to the gift shop and a "I Love California" tee purchase, we continued our day in Sonoma to check out Gloria Ferrer Winery and Larson Family Winery for a sampling. My sister and friend had recommended Gloria Ferrer, which has seemingly rolling plains and tasty drinks. Although I could not participate in the winery part of our day, even just seeing the beautiful mountains and the technique that goes behind the process of fermentation and bottling the finished product was neat.
Tartine Bakery, located in the Mission District, is distinct not only for its delectable pastries and lingering scent of deliciousness, but also its seemingly endless line out the door, even in inclement weather. My friend who lived in San Francisco during the summer insisted that my family try out the pain au chocolat. Even though I couldn't finish it because it was basically the size of my face, those few bites brought me back to my year living in France, eating pain au chocolats frequently. My mom and brother both picked the banana cream pie, and were unsuccessful in completion as well-- if you're even remotely *not hungry*, I would suggest you just share something. To go with my pain au chocolat, I sipped on a hot café au lait. The odds of being able to snag a table at this rather small bakery are slim, but if you are in the Mission District and the line does not faze you, pop into Tartine Bakery for a warm snack.