Since we didn’t get to go to Yosemite on this trip as planned (biggest bummer of my life), this was the only outdoorsy thing we did and it was the highlight of the trip for me … so I (kindabutnotreally) apologize for how many pictures of trees you’re about to scroll through.
If you’re in the market to see giant trees, there are a few different options in Cali. Although they’re usually just called “redwoods,” there are two different species – the coast redwood and the giant sequoias.
So what’s the difference?
Giant sequoias only grow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Cali’s eastern border. They’re the largest living things on Earth, reaching 280 feet tall and 23 feet across (although the largest of them are closer to 300 ft tall and 30 ft across!). The oldest giant sequoias are around 3,000 years old. You can find these massive trees in three groves in Yosemite – Mariposa Grove, Merced Grove and Tuolumne Grove. You can also head to Sequoia National Park, the home of the largest living organism on the planet by volume: the (est.) 2,000-year-old General Sherman. We did not get to see giant sequoias on this trip.
We did get to see coast redwoods. Although they don’t usually get as wide as the giant sequoias, coast redwoods are the tallest trees on the planet. The tallest one, located in Redwood National Forest, is 380 ft tall — that’s as tall as a 37-story building! Like sequoias, these trees also live thousands of years. Try to imagine that. Thousands of years. What’s even more mind-blowing is that coast redwoods as a species have been on the planet for more than 240 million years (like, they were around when dinosaurs existed). Along with Muir Woods and Redwood National Forest, you can find these trees in Humboldt Redwoods State Park and Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
I’m part of the lululemon collective and may receive a commission if you make a purchase through the links below.
2-Hour Walking Tour of Chinatown + Dim Sum Lunch
We started today with a walking tour of Chinatown. We booked this through Viatour and although I knew the girls would be really excited about it, I didn’t have very high expectations. I’ve done walking tours before and have thought they were OK, but they were never something I’d rave about. I was pleasantly surprised with this tour and would definitely recommend it! Our tour guide Linda grew up in Chinatown and was able to offer an authentic viewpoint of what life is like for the residents. She was very funny and I laughed a lot on this tour! As an added bonus, I had multiple “Linda listen” flashbacks during her stories.
We started the tour with some brief history on how the Chinese ended up in California in the first place, then we walked over to a store that sells herbal remedies and fills herbal prescriptions. We had been running late this morning and weren’t able to stop for coffee (end of the world stuff here, y’all) and I was DELIGHTED to find canned iced coffee at this small herbal store; it tasted like a store-bought Starbucks Frappucino which was just fine with me. I also picked out a couple herbal soup remedies to bring back home and try out. In the picture on the right, below, you’ll see prescriptions that are being filled.
The next stop on the tour: a Chinese temple. The Ma-Tsu Temple is built in honor of Ma-Tsu (or Mazu), a Chinese sea goddess revered for protecting the lives of fisherman and sailors and, today, travelers of all kinds. Ma-Tsu translates to “Maternal Ancestor” or “Mother”. The golden columns you see in the pictures below hold the names of worshippers who have purchased a spot in her temple, and with it protection during travels, for the year.
The final picture you see below is from our third stop, a fortune cookie factory. Maybe surprisingly, the only country that doesn’t serve fortune cookies with Chinese food is … China, according to Linda. She informed us that the first modern version of the fortune cookie was served in the U.S. in the 1890s or early 1900s by Makoto Hagiwara of the Golden Gate Park’s Japanese Tea Garden (which we visited and I wrote about on our first day in SF). Sometime around WWII, fortune cookies evolved from a Japanese-American dominated tradition to a Chinese-American one.
I’m part of the lululemon collective and will receive a commission if you make a purchase through the links below.
I had originally planned today as our Yosemite day, however that plan quickly changed last night as Ruben started imagining himself driving the roughly 5 hours to Yosemite Valley or Glacier Point. So, instead, we took the opportunity to slow our pace and play the day by ear. We stopped at Lombard Street for an IG photoshoot, walked around Union Square, checked out a couple lululemon stores & hit a few restaurants.
Our big touristy activity today was going to the curvy part of Lombard Street in the Russian Hill neighborhood for a full-on IG photoshoot. The girls were all over the place taking pictures from different angles and trying out different poses. There were tons of tourists also there for pictures so you had to be patient and take turns in certain spots, but the view was definitely worth it. After everyone was pictured out, we got into the car and drove down the big curvy hill just to say we did it.
I cannot stress enough how much I recommend breakfast at Fred’s Coffee Shop in Sausilito! It was amazing! The ambience is nothing special, it’s very casual with large round tables and a stammtisch vibe. Oh wait, you don’t know what stammtisch is? Weird. Ok, I didn’t either, but there’s a bulletin board on the wall at Fred’s with an explanation of the German word and lots of pictures of regular customers. I ordered The Swedish, which I thought was going to be a sandwich but was more like an open face sandwich: 2 over-medium eggs and a burger patty stacked on top of three pieces of toast. I also ordered a side of Fred’s Sweet Bacon — HOLY COW. This stuff is three times thicker than traditional bacon, sprinkled with red and black pepper, brown sugar and red pepper flakes and then baked for 2.5+ hours. Best bacon I’ve ever had, hands down.
We were in the Union Square area around lunchtime, so after a quick Yelp search, we walked over to Tropisueño Mexican Kitchen, an “order-at-the-counter and sit down with your number” type place. I ordered a Super Taco with carne asada and a Baja Fish taco. The carne asada taco was ok, but form the meat description on the menu I was expecting steak rather than the ground beef I was served. The Baja Fish taco was a pleasant surprise – the fish serving was large and the house slaw was tasty.
The kids really wanted to dress up for a dinner, so tonight was our “fancy” family dinner night. Dani did some research for places close to our Airbnb and picked Piazza D’Angelo in Mill Valley. Sadly, the food was hit or miss. Two of us ordered the Fettuccine Funghi e Pancetta and I think everyone loved it; I cleaned my plate. The Tortelloni Della Casa was also a table favorite. Ruben ordered the Fettuccine Bolognese and he liked it, although I was just ehhh about it. One of the girls ordered the Ravioli (I don’t remember the full name), but it wasn’t very good.
[ The dress I’m wearing above is the Here to There Dress. I’ve worn this LBD for many events and always get a ton of compliments! Plus it has pockets, ladies! Everyone is always surprised to learn it’s from lululemon. Shoes: Target’s Ema High Block Heel Pumps in Black]
Anytime we go on a trip, I always look up the closest lululemon stores and try to squeeze it into our itinerary. There are three stores in pretty close vicinity to one another in San Fran and we were able to hit up two of them: lululemon Union Street & lululemon Grant Ave. I should’ve taken pics in the stores so y’all could see how the layouts and displays or in front of the stores just for fun, but it didn’t cross my mind at the time. <<womp womp>> I’m always excited when stores have newer display fixtures and different product than my store (nerd alert, I know). Both stores we visited got the Barry’s Bootcamp collab product and the Grant Ave store had the intimates display fixtures and products. I tried on a couple of the bralettes and my favorite was the Simply Strappy Bralette although I didn’t pull the trigger to buy it just yet.
I’m part of the lululemon collective and will receive a commission if you make a purchase through the links below.
It’s our first full-day in San Fran and we’re starting out with an Angel Island + Alcatraz Island combo tour that we booked through Viator.
Angel Island State Park
Angel Island is the largest natural island in San Francisco Bay (it’s about 33 times larger than Alcatraz Island). And it’s basically the Ellis Island of the West Coast. That’s obviously way over simplifying it, but historically it’s fairly accurate.
At different points in time: – it was a cattle ranch, – it was an army fort called Fort McDowell, – it was home to a Nike missile station (bombs designed to shoot down nukes, none of which were ever deployed), – it served as a quarantine station to screen Asian passengers for the Bubonic plague before entering the U.S., – and, finally, it served as a a U.S. Bureau of Immigration inspection and detention facility which processed immigrants from 84 different countries, approximately one million being Chinese immigrants.
Today, Angel Island is a California State Park and the Angel Island Immigration Station is a federally designated National Historic Landmark.
Alcatraz Island, aka “The Rock”, is located in the San Fransisco Bay, only about 1.25 miles off the coast of San Francisco. The 22-acre island was once a fort, a military prison and a maximum security federal penitentiary. And, for about 19 months beginning in 1969, it was occupied by a group of Native American activists from San Francisco as part of the protest for Native American civil rights. Today, it’s part of the Golden Gate Recreation Area and is managed by the National Park Service.
Although there are other buildings on the island, the main attraction is the award-winning audio tour of the main cellhouse. Although taking an audio tour sounds kind of lame, it was actually really cool to hear stories from two very different perspectives – prisoner and correctional officer. If you go to Alcatraz and don’t listen to the audio, you’ve botched it.
“Doing Time: The Alcatraz Cellhouse Tour” is narrated by four formers prisoners and four former correctional officers. The tour walks you through the general layout of the prison while former prisoners explain what life inside was like and former officers tell stories of escape attempts.
In the photos above, you’ll see a picture of a stone floor with pock marks and a picture of a hole in a white ceiling. Those are remnants of the “Battle of Alcatraz”, an unsuccessful escape attempt which lasted from May 2-4, 1946. These two pictures show where prisoners drilled holes in the prison roof and dropped grenades down onto the floor below. If you’re interested in the whole story, you can read it here.
During the audio tour, one of the former prisoners recalled how you could hear sounds from the mainland carried over the water by the winds. The pictures above show the view from the rec area looking out towards San Fran. It was a beautiful view for me today, but it must have been so horrible as an inmate to see that yet be stuck there.
The biggest surprise of the day was that Bill Baker, a former prisoner, was in the gift shop signing his book about life behind bars in Alcatraz. We met him, he made jokes about us being Georgia peaches and signed a couple books for us. (Don’t worry, mom, he didn’t kill anyone … that I know of.) According to the events program announcer, Bill is one of 5 guys who served time on the island who is still alive today.
Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli Square & Pier 39
After getting off the ferry back from Alcatraz, we walked over to Fisherman’s Wharf for a quick dinner at Chowder Hut to warm up over some crab chowder and other seafood, then headed to Ghirardelli Square for dessert. (Note: the “Lands End” Salted Caramel Brownie Sundae is amazing, but the Decadent Drinking Chocolate was not a crowd favorite.)
While in Ghirardelli Square, we saw a place called The Cheese School. Obviously I was immediately excited, but we didn’t have time to go inside. I did take (too many) pictures of and with the quotes on the front windows of the building though. I’ll only make you look at three pics, but there are (unnecessarily) plenty more.
After dessert, we walked down Pier 39 to see the sea lions. We learned that the sea lions migrate south for mating during the summer months, so there were far less of them than normal. But they were entertaining nonetheless. I also learned that shouting “Gerald” at sea lions is a must, according to the kids.