In July of 2007, a typical middle-class, four-person Houston family embarked on a California vacation that was memorable for all of them. I was part of this tourist quartet, tagging along with my mom, dad, and brother younger by two years. Our destination: San Francisco. The last formality and/or scene-setting factoid I’ll give before I go into the cool details is that I was 15 at the time, and three years later I can still vividly remember virtually every aspect of the trip.
For a reason that I cannot quite vividly remember, my family and I flew into nearby Oakland rather than our actual destination. From there, the four of us managed to cram ourselves and our luggage into a Chrysler PT Cruiser, its paint a color I like to call waiting-room blue, and head onward to find out what the San Francisco had to offer.
A word of advice: develop your map-reading skills. Due to having parents deficient in map-reading, our little PT Cruiser wove in and out of downtown streets amidst jam-packed narrow roads of some of the angriest drivers in the world for close to three hours before we finally decided to take refuge at a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in order to reassess our own vacationing abilities. After this intake of yard bird, we managed to muster up all of our inner tourist determination and set out for the Golden Gate Bridge. On the way we stopped at a small, scenic beach in the shadow of the bridge and enjoyed the temperate breeze and the sand between our toes. We then took a long trek up a flowered path to the bridge and walked about halfway across it, enjoying the breathtaking view of the San Francisco Bay as cars whizzed past us, and as their tires rolled across the joined parts of the bridge it made a quack type of sound.
After this, all our tourist energy having been drained, we drove to our hotel in nearby Daly City to the south to recharge our batteries. The closer we got to our hotel, the more scared we became. The travel websites didn’t indicate that our hotel was smack in the middle of a very unsavory community that grew more sinister with every block, leaving us fearful of exiting the vehicle. Despite that fact that we arrived at our hotel shivering in terror amidst apologies from my mom for booking us there and her promises that we didn’t have to stay for more than a night, we turned out to be pleasantly surprised. We ended up with the largest room in the small hotel, which was more than convenient for a family of four that expected much less, and the owner was very friendly. We ended up staying there for three nights during our trip.
This trip was probably the most amazing one I have ever been on. We toured the old prison on Alcatraz Island, we walked through Chinatown and took pictures with a fortune-cookie factory owner who looked like Yoda, took a hike through the towering redwood trees of Muir Woods across the bay, walked down the most crooked street in the world (which featured a rather charming array of contemporary architectural styles), and even rode on the famous trolleys—yes, hanging onto the side of the trolley as it hits breakneck speeds of twenty miles an hour is as fun as it looks.
The lesson to be learned from this story is that San Francisco is amazing, despite the early bumps in the road that rattled our tourist party a bit. Go there, now.
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