Four girls, three dogs, a car, a plane, a train, one ferry, a bit of homework assignments, a tour book, Rosie the Riveter, and my 21st birthday. That just about summarizes my spring break trip to San Francisco.
At the beginning of February, three dear friends came to me. Our conversation went something like this:
Hannah: “You have family in San Francisco, right Em?”
Me: “Yes! Loads.”
April: “I found some really cheap flights.”
Kayla: “To San Francisco.”
Me: “….when are you going to San Fran?”
Hannah: “Spring Break!”
Me: “You ladies are?”
Them: “Ah…well…uh…we were, y’know, possibly thinking maybe perhaps we could potentially all maybe go with you?”
And this is the conversation that set off our last-minute, unplanned adventure to San Francisco, California.
Allow me to quickly introduce you to my friends.
First up: April. If you like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain, then April is your girl. I fondly call her my wild child with a backpack soul. She is also brilliant and fairly aggressive. Like a pit bull. Tread carefully.
Next up: Kayla. Kayla the Navigator has led me across seven lanes of traffic without a single death. She is also shockingly sassy and too quick with the one-liners. I tell ya: some Canadians are not to be trifled with — in French or English. Kayla is one of them.
Finally: Hannah. You may think Canadians and Italians are opposites. Well, they are. One moment, Hannah is apologizing for you running her over; the next, Hannah is passionately emphasizing her point about feminism, democracy, social justice, the Middle East, or coffee. Unpredictable at best. Dangerous at worst.
Now that I have outlined my friends as sociopathic public enemies, allow me to continue my story:
I announced to my office that I would trekking to California for a week for a spur-of-the-moment adventure. My boss told me that he missed the university days, when one could toss aside responsibility and jet-set to a distant city on a whim. Then I told him that I was spending the night in the airport. He decided that there are definite advantages to a salary.
When I say I spent the night at the airport, I am not exaggerating. April’s boyfriend dropped us off at Seattle-Tacoma international airport at 9pm. Once we cleared security, bought some late-night snacks, bemoaned the broken Frostie machine, watched a movie, complained about the Arctic air-conditioning, and dressed in our snow gear, the four of us took over an entire quadrant of chairs. We slept fitfully, freezing, on top of our iPhones and laptops — just in case an airport burglar mugged us at 3:00 am. Looking back, I should have slept on my school notes: those are the only things completely irreplaceable.
When 7:00 finally rolled around, our quartet boarded Allegiant Air with bedheads and red eyes. We looked pretty great, if “great” can be found under parkas, beanies, gloves, and goosebumps. When I say that airport was freezing, I mean that I could have sued for hypothermia. I’m still considering it, to be honest.
But you know what they say: no pain, no gain. When we arrived in Oakland, finding my wonderful aunt waiting for us—in a car that we would be borrowing for the week—I decided I would survive. It was a conscious effort to remove my parka, however. But again: no pain, no gain.April, Hannah, Kayla and I truly arrived in San Fran with only two arrangements:
- We were borrowing the car from Aunt Lisa
- We were staying at Aunt Pam’s house
Viola. You are now as informed as we were.
Our parents worried a bit.
But my sweet Aunt Lisa gave me a tour book as my birthday present, and we set about making plans for the rest of our week. Our decisions: island prison Alcatraz, WW2 aircraft carrier USS Hornet, Chinatown, and the beach.
Here’s the briefing:
What an adventure! We arrived at the USS Hornet with a new-found knowledge: all of us loved WW2. We pulled up to the old war ship in the most incredible rain storm EVER. It was wet, folks. Ocean wet. In fact, we may have boarded the Hornet wetter than the ship was.
Our tour guide was this cute, little old man named Stanley. We thought he must have some connection to the ship, but no — his wife was tired of him retired, so she volunteered him. Hah! And this was not some “volunteer” gig. It required a thorough knowledge of history, mechanics, communication development, the military, gender studies, ship-talk, ships and planes. Stanley’s wife is one smart woman.
THREE HOURS. Stanley showed us the ins and outs of the USS Hornet for three hours. He was an incredible guide, taking us behind all of the “Do Not Enter” signs. We were paraded past the captain’s rooms, the navigational rooms, the early radio rooms, and even the nuclear bunker. It was great.
If you have never been on an air craft carrier, I cannot describe how massive one is. We actually missed most of the second deck, but that leaves something for next time!
The Alcatraz island prison is a staple tourist site for all San Fran visitors, and we were no exception. We happened to go on the most BEAUTIFUL February day I have seen in a long time. We were also lucky enough to visit on a day that an author was lecturing on the life of Al Capone. Did you know that Al Capone’s son changed his name to Brown? And that Al Capone’s granddaughters refuse to communicate with the media? Family secrets will forever be silenced.
In particular, I appreciated the escape stories. Those have always been my favorite because they are so ridiculous. Making fake masks? Digging through concrete with spoons? Holding guards hostage until the Marines bomb the ceiling in? Yeah. Ridiculous, but true.
Chinatown (and San Fran)
I turned 21! For my birthday, we headed into the city for the day. Chinatown is one of San Francisco’s claims to fame, although I should add that it seems particularly touristy. (We must have missed authentic Chinatown) We did have a lot of fun meandering through the stores, however, and we took some great pictures. We also had a delicious meal at a restaurant off the main drag, which was not only priced remarkably well, but had very quick service.
For the rest of the day, we climbed up hills so steep that cars weren’t allowed, and we hunted for parrots. We’d been told that there’s a hill covered in parrots, but apparently they were vacationing in Santa Cruz or Santa Monica or Santa Claus because they were gone. I was sweaty and mad.
For my birthday dinner, we headed back into the suburbs to have Old Spaghetti Factory meals with my extended family. It was a lovely day.
On our final day we went to the beach, and also met up with my cousin Meagan, who brought local clam chowder with her. It was a beautifully sunny day, albeit a tad cold, and we spent a good two hours lying on the beach, enjoying the Californian weather. And by “enjoying,” I mean that it was almost as cold as the airport. But, hey! it was California.
The following morning, my cousin Sean drove us to the airport in the wee hours of the morning. We bussed from Seattle to the border, and then we split ways — Hannah took the bus to Vancouver; Kayla, April and I walked to a truck stop, where we were picked up by Kayla’s sister, who dropped us off in the Staples parking lot, where we were picked up by April’s dad, who dropped me off at home.
And that concludes my summary of our adventure! We had a wonderful time, and it was delightful to get to know my friends so well. I think we would all repeat our escapade in a heartbeat. I owe a huge thanks to everyone who helped us out along the way.
p.s. My sister is heading to England and France in a month. You can check out her blog here.