“When the lights go down in the city– “Lights” – Vocals by Journey and Music & Lyrics by Stephen Ray Perry & Neal Joseph Schon
And the sun shines on the bay
I want to be there in my city”
In 2020, my planned trip to Pittsburgh with my dad was scrapped. We had airplane boarding passes, hotel reservations, and baseball tickets to see the New York Yankees vs. Pittsburgh Pirates. The loss of this trip is insignificant in light of the tragedy many have suffered during the ongoing pandemic. Yet, the cancellation of our journey led me to reflect on our father/son baseball connection, which I discussed in previous posts. Furthermore, it made me think of our trip to California in July of 2012, nearly ten years ago. It was a memorable trip, filled with historical sightseeing and live baseball. There is no better way to heal my empty “travel” heart than by recalling this father/son trip to San Francisco in today’s post.
Why San Francisco? Why not?
“The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”– Mark Twain
Mark Twain probably didn’t utter the above quote, but it’s a wicked unique saying, nonetheless. Why did my dad and I decide to travel to San Francisco in the summer of 2012? At the time, I was living in Hawaii, and my dad was living in Florida. I lived on the island for nearly three years and had only returned to the Northeast twice per year, in December and August. Therefore, I had seen my dad merely once during that time. It’s not easy to go that long without seeing loved ones. However, sadly, it seems I relived a similar separation in large part because of the lockdowns initiated by the pandemic in early 2020. While I have seen most of my family since vaccines became available, that trauma has not left me, nor was it new.
In 2012, my dad suggested meeting halfway in California for a short weekend. I asked if he had a city in mind, and he said, “San Francisco.” As mentioned previously, my dad and I are huge baseball fans, so this trip would allow us to check a baseball stadium off of our list of MLB Parks, Oracle Park, home of the S.F. Giants. I enjoy a National League baseball park. It seems they are far more intimate and classic than American League stadiums, like Yankee Stadium, which feels more like a shopping mall. A game in San Francisco would inspire us to explore a city that had always piqued my interest. This feeling is true since many movies and television shows occur there, and the city offers a beautiful backdrop to classic cinematic moments.
It took me practically no time to consider my dad’s proposal, agreeing immediately. I mean, who wouldn’t? For days after, I researched the trip and found our adventure options were endless, but time was short. Decisions required attention, but it wouldn’t be easy, although that was exciting. In the meantime, I squared away the “easy” stuff like booking our hotel and seeking out flight ticket ideas. Since we were flying from opposite sides of the world, we had to schedule our flights to arrive within minutes of each other. Then we would meet outside the airport, where a shuttle would take us to our hotel accommodations. Uber began in the city around 2011, but I was unfamiliar with it and decided to use an airport shuttle.
As far as the hotel, my dad chose the Holiday Inn Express & Suites San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf, an IHG Hotel located on North Point Street, only two blocks from the historic Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. What the hotel lacked, in overall luxury, it made up for with adequate accommodations and a fantastic location to essential sites. However, it was a little bit of schlep to Oracle Park, formally AT&T park. We didn’t lack access to the city’s urban amusements, but we didn’t rent a car, so residing in a central location was incredibly helpful.
In the weeks before my departure, I mapped out the area around the hotel and planned our itinerary with surgical precision. My dad is easygoing, so I knew that while we had specific plans, we could quickly pivot if need be. The main goal was to see the MLB game and visit a “bucket list” site, Alcatraz. With everything in order and travel day upon us, I departed Honolulu, and my dad left Florida. Upon meeting my dad in San Francisco, I remember it being a wonderful reunion, a long overdue one. We departed the airport shortly after, and roughly 30 minutes later, or about twelve miles away, we arrived at our hotel.
Take Me Out to the Ball Game
“Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too.”– Yogi Berra
Shortly after our arrival, my dad and I found a local eatery to get some delicious seafood. We stumbled upon it as we walked towards Fisherman’s Wharf. My dad and I are seafood fanatics, having grown up in a fishing community. So, we can be judgmental when it comes to the quality of seafood we eat. Overall, we had a great lunch, which allowed us to fill our stomachs, although with the understanding that delicious snacks awaited us at Oracle Park while watching the L.A. Dodgers vs. S.F. Giants. After our meal, we took in the wharf area but didn’t stroll too far off course since we wanted to grab a coffee before heading to the stadium.
I am a much better traveler in 2021 than I was in 2012. I had moved to Hawaii two years before, but I had often traveled with others who did the planning. I never dreamed of a day when I would visit Ireland, Shanghai, or the dozens of other locations that have helped me become a seasoned, even if still limited, traveler. Yet, in 2012 I still had “training wheels” on and was filled with travel anxiety. Today I would have called an Uber, but in 2012, I got the bus schedule and figured out the appropriate route to and from Oracle Park, roughly 20-25 minutes away, around 3.6 miles. In hindsight, we could have walked, but I was comfortable with how to get there with a bit of reading and, admittedly, a chat with hotel staff.
Navigating the San Francisco mass transit system was easy, and we arrived at the stadium with no problems. The sight of the stadium was majestic. We have watched dozens of sporting events together over the last four decades, and it is the type of experience I hold close to my heart. Together we walked the grounds and marveled at the exterior architecture. We took time to offer our respects to the statue of one of baseball’s best players ever, Willie Mays. As we stood outside, my dad shared his memories of baseball moments past. It was wonderful. We then made our way to the box office window and secured standing-room-only tickets.
If our stroll outside the park gates proved emotionally thrilling, our entrance was bliss. To this day, I remember the first time my dad took me to Fenway Park, where I watched my first professional baseball game. The walkway ramps to get to our seats, the bright lights, the Green Monster with massive net, before the stadium seat expansion. It was a magical moment. Baseball offers something so incredibly emotionally complex, at least for me as well as my dad. On that Friday night, we walked around a beautiful stadium with incredible views of McCovey Cove, honoring former Giants player Willie McCovey. We inspected nearly every inch of the stadium, often watching the game from various vantage points.
There was no better spot than from the right-field 24-foot wall “in honor of Willie Mays, who wore number 24” and designed to appear similar to the Polo Grounds, a Manhattan home to various New York Sports teams until 1961. We watched as two home runs were hit into McCovey Cove, thus witnessing two of nearly 100 “splash hits” sent there since the stadium opened. It was a fantastic game, yet I couldn’t tell you who won. It didn’t matter; we didn’t cheer for either team. We love baseball. Well, stadium snacks too. As we often do when enjoying a game, we had a couple of hot dogs, popcorn, a giant soft pretzel, peanuts, and a beer to wash it all down. It was a great evening! Although we often leave games early, this night, we didn’t. Instead, we stayed for the entire game and formed a lifelong memory.
Alcatraz & Fisherman’s Wharf
“Ladies and gentlemen, I… cordially invite you to become inmates of Alcatraz, temporarily of course.”– Raymond O’Connor (Ranger Bob) from The Rock
The following day, we got breakfast in the hotel, although my dad was awake a couple of hours before me, so he took a walk and got himself a coffee. The hotel breakfast was decent, doing enough to satisfy our hunger. Soon after, we explored Fisherman’s Wharf and trekked to Pier 39. Pier 39 is a touristy shopping area that houses local boutiques, a two-story carousel, restaurants, and views of sea lions relaxing out on the docks in the marina. Pier 39 was, quite literally, around the corner from our hotel on the east edge of Fisherman’s Wharf district, “close to North Beach, Chinatown, and the Embarcadero.” It includes access to the historic F-Market streetcars, which we considered chasing on one occasion.
We walked from the hotel, strolling through various Piers and standing near the water, taking in the cool breezes that made this July morning incredibly refreshing. It was in Pier 39 where we spent the most significant amount of our time. We visited several local shops with coffee in hand but stopped to observe dozens of sea lions resting on the docks. Other than stumbling upon sleeping sea turtles on the Big Island of Hawaii, I had not seen this many amazing creatures huddled in the same spot, putting on a pleasing display for the tourists congregating near the pier’s edge. Hey, we were tourists, after all. We found one place with amazing views of Angel Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, and Alcatraz Island.
To say that we were excited to visit Alcatraz is an understatement. For me, this excitement had a lot to do with the island’s history, as a military fort during the Civil War and, later, a notorious prison. Men like Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud (the Birdman of Alcatraz), George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis – all called the island home. Alcatraz was also the site for the 19-month protest occupation by “Indians of All Tribes” (IOAT), leading to activism in the United States. Those historical details have always fascinated me, and although this subject is not a historical topic I have studied, like my Philadelphia friend Lorin, it is captivating. The mystic of Alcatraz and its depiction in American cinema has always interested me.
I remember watching Escape from Alcatraz in the early 1990s and was mystified by the prison’s legacy of being impossible to escape, like how the Titanic was unsinkable. Larger-than-life ideas and definitions ascribed to people, places, or things to make them seem more impressive, intimidating, or even beyond comprehension. I was amazed by Clint Eastwood’s performance and how the film’s cinematography seemed so raw. That was probably the first film I watched, starring Eastwood and depicting the infamous prison, as well as the uniquely planned escape. It leaves viewers to ponder whether Frank Morris, John Anglin, and Clarence Anglin survived their flight or if they drowned in San Francisco Bay.
Yet, after we had lunch at a local cafe, my dad and I began our walk to Pier 33, where we would purchase our tickets for an Alcatraz Cruise ferry to the island; there were a couple of other films that came to mind. Another period piece, like Escape from Alcatraz, transports the viewer to when the prison operated at full strength. Murder in the First, starring Christian Slater, Kevin Bacon, and Gary Oldman, premiered in 1995 and is about an “idealistic young attorney who defends an Alcatraz prisoner accused of murdering a fellow inmate,” but “his client had just spent over three years in solitary confinement.” I remember the movie being terrific. Its script, acting performances, and inherent drama stay with the viewer long after watching. Inspired by a true story, the film is “my” visual interpretation of an Alcatraz reality.
Films such as The Book of Eli, X-Men: The Last Stand, and J.J. Abrams’ 2012 series Alcatraz used the prion as a backdrop, in some unique fashion, but there is one film that did it far better, although not exploring the prison’s history. Michael Bay’s 1996 action-adventure thriller The Rock is a 136-minute joyride, which I am more than happy to buckle up for, more often than I care to admit. My brother Jeff and I did a movie rewatch of The Rock ten months ago, and our chat did not disappoint. Rated 7.4 on IMDb, far too low, the film starred Sean Connery and Nichols Cage, Ed Harris, Michael Biehn, and John McGinley, to name a few. With beautiful San Francisco and Alcatraz images, Michael Bay action, before it became a cliche, an electrifying Hans Zimmer score, and a fascinating, if also far-fetched plot, The Rock offers something for everyone.
I love cinema and movies that use Alcatraz as a storyline, depicting reality, Murder in the First, and focusing on fictionalized terror and unique weapons of mass destruction, The Rock. Still, how did we feel about setting foot in such an infamous place? Well, I should start by saying that the boat cruise to Alcatraz Island was terrific. We arrived at Pier 33 about an hour before our departure time. We bought our tickets, and with it being a busy Saturday afternoon in July, we secured a seat on one of the earliest ferries to the island. After getting a souvenir photo taken, we were on the ferry headed towards Alcatraz. The further we traveled from shore, the more picturesque the city skyline appeared.
Upon our arrival, my dad and I walked the grounds on a self-guided tour. It was something to observe; the historic cell blocks and solitary confinement area, and the Recreation Yard located northwest of D-Block and, ironically, with spectacular views of San Francisco. The first building we visited was building 64. This building was used for families when visiting the prison, and during the Native American occupation, activists “drew graffiti in red around the ‘United States Penitentiary’ sign saying ‘Indians welcome’ and ‘Indian land.’” There we watched a historical video, observed some incredible images, and visited the gift shop. We then headed to the center of the island’s historic prison, the Main Cell house. We spent a significant portion of our time walking the main prison, administrative block, and dining area – all connected by a corridor called “Times Square.”
After spending some time in the Recreation Yard, observing the New and Model Industries Buildings, Powerhouse, and Water Tower, below our elevation, we exited and walked around the former Warden’s House. Today, it is a shell of what it once was, destroyed by a fire during the Native American occupation. It was fascinating examining its ruins, with the city skyline off in the distance and the Island Lighthouse directly adjacent. Afterward, we strolled along the waterfront path and observed Alcatraz Island’s small creatures and, now, natural plants. It was excellent, and we took photos together, alone, beside guard towers, and inside old prison cells. I had some moments where I thought about Sean Connery and The Rock scene in the Recreation Yard where he “schools” Ed Harris about “Patriotism.”
After several hours of temporarily becoming prisoners of the “tourist attraction” known as Alcatraz, we walked to the boat dock, the island’s main entrance and exit point, and said our goodbyes to this haunting historical landmark. I am not sure I will ever have the chance to return, but since my wife, Corinne, has never been, I feel the odds of my return are better than average. As they say, moments are fleeting, but memories are what remain. I am lucky to have had this opportunity to observe the smile on my dad’s face as he peered, through bars, into the dining hall or wearily stepped inside a solitary confinement cell. It was well worth the price of admission, and I felt pretty emotionally satisfied on the ride back to the mainland.
Sightseeing Done, Moderately, Well
“The Rock has become a tourist attraction?”– Sean Connery (Mason) from The Rock
Like clockwork, the following morning, my dad was up early before me and returned with a coffee. We visited the hotel breakfast, again, as it proved perfectly adequate the day before. We had another full day ahead of us, as we planned to join a double-decker bus sightseeing tour. Honestly, I am not sure what the company’s name was, I think Big Bus Tours, but I imagine it’s one of several and has business in most major cities in the United States. It’s not the type of tour I often do, but we both wanted to be tourists. The length of our stay was limited, so this seemed a perfect way to see as much as possible. With the sun shining on a cool Sunday morning, we grabbed our jackets and headed to the rendezvous point.
When we arrived at Pier 41, at the end of Powell Street, we were the first ones there, and since I had purchased our tickets in advance, all we had to do was wait. When the bus arrived, we headed to the top of the double-decker bus and got fantastic seats close to the tour guide. Recently, tours like this have switched over to a prerecorded audio tour, either due to cost-cutting or the pandemic. Even so, when we booked the hop-on/hop-off tour, we had a young woman with decent knowledge of the tourist points of San Francisco. Of course, as I have worked in public history, I know the guide “may” work from a script, and the presenters “might” embellish some facts. I enjoyed the leisurely tour and fascinating background information they provided.
The tour first took us to Chinatown, where we got a good visual of Coit Tower. We had the opportunity to walk the grounds of the summit of historic Telegraph Hill, where the 210-foot Coit Memorial Tower resides. Coit Tower “was built in 1933, the legacy of” one of San Francisco’s most colorful residents who sought “to add beauty to the city which” she loved. We walked to Greenwich Steps before jumping on another bus to continue our tour. The bus drove toward Market Street while passing by the Transamerica Pyramid Tower and proceeding slowly and maneuvering down Market Street to the historic Ferry Building. Market Street is the “major transit artery for the city of San Francisco.” Although it extends from the Embarcadero to Portola Drive in the Twin Peaks neighborhood, we followed it to the Ferry Building.
The Ferry Building, built in 1898, is visually stunning. Historically vital, from “the Gold Rush until the 1930s, arrival by ferryboat” became one of, if not the most essential way travelers reached the city. We walked the grounds, and although the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market was closed, we enjoyed examining the length of Market Street from the Ferry Building’s position. Once another bus arrived, we boarded and headed to the next location, Union Square South. This “one-block plaza and surrounding area” houses one of “the largest collections of department stores, upscale boutiques, gift shops, art galleries… making Union Square a major tourist destination and a vital, cosmopolitan gathering place in downtown San Francisco.” We departed the bus here, and found a lovely eatery, then examined the area’s important landmarks, like the Dewey Monument, a statue of “Nike, the Ancient Greek Goddess of Victory.”
After departing Union Square, we went through but did not walk around the Civic Center area. Several government buildings and performing arts venues bookend this location. City Hall, “a sprawling 1915 landmark with a gold-leafed dome, anchors a complex that includes the elegant War Memorial Opera House, the Asian Art Museum, and a large plaza.” It was nice getting a good audio rundown of the area while atop the bus. Our guide explained the importance of the buildings and pointed out some unique monuments, like the Pioneer Monument, dedicated to Manifest Destiny, and open areas like Civic Center Plaza. As the guide reminded us, the plaza’s location is near the Tenderloin, making it popular for several of the city’s famous events, including the world-renowned San Francisco Gay Pride Parade that began in 1970.
Staying on the bus as we slowly passed through the Civic Center area, we hopped off at our next two stops, Alamo Square and Haight Ashbury. My dad and I were excited to see these two locations based on their iconic visual design and historical gravity. Regarding Alamo Square, I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, which means I watched a ton of television, and Full House was always at the top of that sitcom pile. I still hum the theme song and picture them running across Alamo Square Park or driving on the Golden Gate Bridge. Every time I hear the words, “wake up,” I instinctively say, “San Francisco!” It was incredible walking around Alamo Square and getting up close to the “Painted Ladies.” These are Victorian homes “facing the park on Steiner Street,” offering a panoramic picture with San Francisco’s downtown in the background.
After quality time at Alamo Square Park, we headed for Haight-Ashbury. As a professional Historian of US history, it was a thrill exploring the “birthplace of the 1960s counterculture movement.” Haight-Ashbury is known to draw a crowd of tourists looking to take in the hip and historic vibe. During the late 1960s, especially in 1967’s Summer of Love, Haight-Ashbury was central to new mainstream and radio music. While songs like “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair,” vocals by Scott McKenzie, epitomize the era, the district observed bands such as the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane rise to well-known status. It was a vibrant neighborhood, and our guide offered incredible insight into its legacy.
As we continued our tour, we exited Haight-Ashbury to the west, the Panhandle to our north, and entered Golden Gate Park. Covering 1,017 acres, Golden Gate Park is massive and the third most visited park in the United States. As you might assume, we could not see every square inch, so we stayed close to the most eastern portion of the park, keeping Crossover Drive as our western boundary. We observed, from a distance, the Conservatory of Flowers, which opened in 1879, but to be honest, we walked the paths rather than going into any one place. We spent an hour in Golden Gate Park, then returned to the bus and, with a new guide, continued on route to our next stop.
You can’t visit San Francisco without seeing the Golden Gate Bridge or parking at Golden Gate Bridge View Vista Point, where you observe San Francisco Bay and the beautiful bridge. While there is a walking trail spanning the entire length of the bridge, we did not do that. Instead, we spent some time off the bus, walking around Vista Point viewing and capturing photos since it was a wonderfully clear day. Then we returned to the bus, and it drove us across the Golden Gate Bridge. I looked up and to the east, then felt the wind as it slammed into me as the bus shuttled us across. It was wicked awesome and a touristy must-do.
After crossing the bridge, the bus took us around beautiful Downtown Sausalito. We drove by Swedes Beach, which had stellar views of San Francisco and Tiffany Park, offering a pleasant walking environment to observe the beautiful homes. Once we passed the Sea Lion Sculpture, created by Al Sybrian, and then Viña del Mar Park, we headed back to San Francisco and, once again, over the Golden Gate Bridge, and this time by the Palace of Fine Arts. Located in the Marina District, the Palace of Fine Arts was “originally constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition” to showcase works of art. We lacked the opportunity to walk the grounds. Still, we obtained a sample of the area’s vibe, including a pass-by of Presidio Park and a drive through the Cow Hollow District before approaching our last stop; Lombard Street.
We departed the bus adjacent to George Sterling Park, where we had spectacular views of the city. Still, we spent the remainder of our time walking down the steps of Lombard Street, from Hyde Street to Leavenworth Street, as we enjoyed the “eight hairpin turns” and observed the famous eastern segment in the Russian Hill Neighborhood; considered the most crooked street in the world. After our time at Lombard Street, we decided not to get back on the sightseeing bus, and we walked the remainder of our way back to our hotel where, to no one’s surprise, we rested. We did get a quick bite to eat along the way. The tour took several hours, and we needed to recharge, so we napped upon returning to the hotel. Still, I had one more thing to do before we departed the next day.
Lights Go Down in the City
“If you’re going to San Francisco– “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” – Music & Lyrics by John Phillips
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
If you’re going to San Francisco
You’re gonna meet some gentle people there”
I am by profession a Historian who specializes in Maritime History. In those years after my trip to San Francisco, I would have the opportunity to work for a historical maritime site in Massachusetts. I took this time in San Francisco to visit its Maritime National Historical Park, only a couple of blocks away from the hotel. A visit to Aquatic Park, Maritime Garden, and Maritime Museum, made up the bulk of what I did on my solo stroll in the National Park area, as my dad continued resting. I took even more time at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park Visitor Center and walked the Hyde Street Pier, observing ships docked in the maritime park. The 1886 built square-rigged sailing ship Balclutha, the 1890 Eurekasteam ferryboat, an 1895 built schooner C.A. Thayer, a 1907 steam tug Hercules, and an 1891 built scow schooner, Alma – all made this a thrilling experience.
While the lumber schooner C.A. Thayer was under significant restoration, and I didn’t have time to board the Alma or Hercules, I did step aboard the Balclutha and Eureka. Each of them had its historic charm, as well as wonder. I spent about two hours walking around each ship, taking photos, and enjoying the stellar weather beside the gorgeous bay. It was a perfect way to close out a wonderful day and soul-fulfilling weekend. After I toured the National Park, I met my dad for dinner. We were exhausted, emotionally and physically, when we stumbled upon Wipeout Bar & Grill, located in Pier 39 and consists of “California-style tacos, burgers, pizza, and fresh salads.” The restaurant, according to the website, is “reminiscent of classic California beach restaurants and ‘surf shacks.’” The food was good, and the vibe, with “a wide-open patio, outdoor bar, roaring fire pit, and celebrity-signed surfboards,” was refreshing.
That is how we ended our short but wicked incredible San Francisco father and son trip. We relaxed the rest of the night before departing very early the next day, my dad to Florida and me to Hawaii. The city of San Francisco was extremely welcoming, and it granted me the chance to do something special with my dad. Explore culturally significant locations, visit a haunting prison, and watch Major League Baseball at Oracle Park. Baseball has always connected me to my dad, amongst other things, and it was great to observe our favorite pastime in a hip, exciting city. I look forward to traveling with my dad again, hopefully sooner than later. I will wait until the right moment and perfect location and visit a new stadium. It may very well be Pittsburgh, which we missed out on, or maybe Chicago, or possibly St. Louis. No matter what, I imagine it will be a time to remember.