I had been dreaming of visiting San Francisco for years; everything from its rich history to its parks, landmarks and especially the nearby wine country had made me enthusiastic about a possible trip. Panama played an important role in the California Gold Rush, the Panama Railroad being one of the preferred routes for those traveling into California, as opposed to the hazardous journey across the continental United States. (Now we have the Panama Canal). In 2015 I watched The Age of Adaline, a beautiful movie starring Blake Lively, and the images of Chinatown, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the spectacular scenery of Marin County portrayed in the film induced an even more overwhelming desire in me to visit this city in Northern California. It’s hard to explain but deep inside I knew I would love it there, and coincidentally, my mom called me in late 2015 wanting to plan a family trip over New Years. When she suggested San Francisco, I said that’s the one.
There are a few direct flights from Panama City to SFO; however the one we booked through United had a stop in Houston. It was December 26, and I have never, EVER, seen such a packed airport in my life. The lines were ridiculously long and we barely made our connecting flight. Our luggage? Not till the next day… But it’s all part of traveling and honestly, what can you do but take it with a grain of salt. We were so happy the adventure had begun.
We stayed at the Hotel Stratford right on Union Square. The boutique hotel was great, and the location was really convenient and centric. Our first morning we took the Alcatraz tour, despite it being chilly the sun was shining and it was a lovely day. Once we arrived at Fisherman’s Wharf, which ended up being one my favorite areas of the city, we saw Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges for the first time. It was a beautiful morning and we got some nice views of the city and the bridges, despite it being a little foggy. We explored the island and the cellhouse, hearing some very interesting stories about the penitentiary, even from former correctional offices and prisoners thanks to the award winning audio tour. It was a little eerie, I won’t lie, and I was far more impressed with the beautiful flowers on the island and ocean views, but my little brother was dying to go and I’m honestly happy to scratch that off my bucket list.
That afternoon we went to Chinatown, one of my aunt’s really had not stopped telling us we had to try the Chinese food there. It’s the oldest Chinatown in the U.S.A, as well as the biggest Chinese community outside of Asia. We had a great time going in and out of the different bazaars and getting a feel of the cultural and ethnic identity of the community; not to mention how delighted we were to try different foods like chop suey, dim sum, spring rolls, and dumplings. We were not disappointed!
On day two we booked a Segway tour of the Golden Gate Park; we’d heard from some people it was a great way of exploring every corner of the magnificent 1,017-acre park, and I totally recommend it. The GGP is commonly compared to Manhattan’s Central Park, despite being 200 acres bigger. It’s home to the De Young Museum, the Academy of Science, several sports facilities, dedicated memorials, and of course the stunningly beautiful Japanese Tea Gardens. This was a highlight of San Francisco for me. The Gardens consist on a variety of century-old trees, paths, and ponds, and is influenced by Japanese culture and religion, specifically Buddhism. It was such a lovely place that gave us the chance connect with nature in a harmonious and relaxing atmosphere. Near the end of the Segway tour, it started raining horribly, so we called a cab and headed back to Stratford. When it’d finally cleared out, we made our way to the Wharf. After walking down the Fisherman promenade, we had dinner at the Rainforest Café (my brothers love it there and such a fantastic option with the family) before heading back to the hotel to sleep.
On December 31st, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. The almost-two-miles long bridge connects San Fancisco with Marin Country. Considered a Wonder of the Modern World, the bridge took over 4 years to build and opened in 1937. Just a few minutes after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge is picturesque Sausalito, a place of dreams. The houses on the hillsides are colorful, and right on the beach promenade you get the cutest little boutiques and coffee shops. I’ll admit I’m a totally envious of the people who live in Sausalito since they’re super close to one of the coolest cities ever YET get all the tranquility and easy-vibes of this gorgeous beachfront community. We had croissants and coffees at FRED’S Place, before heading back to Fisherman’s Wharf to board our New Years Bridge 2 Bridge Cruise.
I loved every single minute of being on that cruise; it was a magical way to welcome the New Year. The panoramic views from the city’s skyline were amazing, and sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge took the experience to a whole new level! You could really admire the length of the bridge and the whole structure from underneath. Even though it started getting windy and cold, we stayed in the top part for the whole two hours. The Bay Bridge was also impressive, way longer, and I had no idea it’s a double decker. Finally, the sunset that day could have not been more beautiful and the pictures don’t even do it justice. That night we went to MY China, my absolute favorite restaurant of the trip. It was only a couple of blocks down from our hotel and had the most amazing food. We ordered Dan Dan Noodles, Peking Roast Duck, Honey Glazed Walnut Shrimp, and Kung Pao Chicken to share between all of us. The food was so good and everything came out fast as well.
The next day we checked out of Stratford and rented a car so we could drive around Northern California for a few days. We visited the majestic Muir Woods and walked with the giant California Redwoods – God, the stories these trees could tell! These species is found only in the Northwestern Coast of the U.S and lives more than three thousand years. These amazing trees are the tallest in the world and are among the oldest living species in our planet, dating back to the Jurassic Period (180 to 135 million years ago). Human demand for lumber is responsible for most of the destruction of the first growth Redwood forests. I was so amazed at the beauty of this forest that I did a little research on the history of the place and learned that in 1908, former US President Teddy Roosevelt declared the Muir Woods a National Monument.
Saving those woods from the axe and saw, from money-changers and water-changers, and giving them to our country and the world is in many ways the most notable service to God and man I’ve heard from since my forest wanderings began. – John Muir
We finished our trip with two nights in Napa. I wrote a post on Castello di Amorosa, the gorgeous winery we toured in Calistoga. Looking back, what a lovely family trip this was. I cannot wait to be back and visit more of California and Northwestern United States – it might be my favorite region of the country. Maybe one day do a roadtrip and drive all the way up to Vancouver. I hear it’s incredible up there.