Thursday, January 9, 2014

California Knows How to Party

My husband is a Michigan State alumnus and die hard fan, so when Michigan State won the Big 10 championship, guaranteeing them a spot to play in the Rose Bowl, it also guaranteed us a trip to California. Admittedly I wasn't excited about the idea of this trip given that our other potential trip alternatives were more appealing to me, but a week on the west coast in warm weather turned out to be the perfect cure for the Michigan winter blues.

I insisted, however, that if we were going to California we were not just going to go to Los Angeles. So we compromised by flying into San Francisco and starting our trip there. I've been to San Francisco once before, in 2006, to run the Nike Women's Half Marathon (my first). I fell in love with the city then (we all know my penchant for falling in love quickly and easily with great cities).  Interestingly as we've traveled more and seem more places, my barometer for what I love about places has changed.

San Francisco has it all - it's walkable, dense, great public transit, public art, lots to do and see. On paper it is the cat's pajamas. But there's something about San Francisco that isn't quite there for me. It's missing that certain jen e sais quoi that I feel in Boston or Chicago or Portland, Maine. Nevertheless San Francisco is a beautiful city, and we had a great time.

We started our first morning in San Francisco with a City Running Tour. I discovered City Running Tours last summer, and I ran one in Chicago with my co-workers. Ladies and gentlemen if you are looking for the BEST way to see a city, City Running Tours is it. We met our guide, John, at the Ferry Building and ran down Embarcadero toward Fisherman's Wharf. We stopped for brief explanations of the amazing Boudin Bakery, checked out the wharf and watched sea lions (my favorite part) at Pier 39 as the sun came up. It was the absolute best way to start the trip, and I cannot recommend doing a City Running Tour more highly.  

At Boudin Bakery during our City Running Tour
Pier 39

Fisherman's Wharf
My husband and I had three full days in San Francisco, and we packed them with activity. We walked miles and miles through the city. We stayed at the Hilton in Union Square, and from there we had a relatively easy walk (if you love hills like I do) to a lot of places in the city. We walked through China Town to North Beach, San Francisco's Italian neighborhood where we had a delicious lunch. We walked through Ghirardelli Square and then all the way to Golden Gate Park and back. We climbed more than 400 stairs to Coit Tower.  We walked up and down Lombard Street, famous for its hairpin turns. This crazy girl ran up Lombard Street much to my husband's chagrin. It was hard, and it was awesome.

Climbing over 400 stairs to Coit Tower

Striking a silly pose at Golden Gate Park
The east side of Lombard Street. Yeah...I ran up this.
We ate some fantastic food including at Tadich Grill, California's oldest restaurant. The cioppino was everything the reviews said it was - incredible.  

On our last day in San Francisco we went to Alcatraz which was an incredible experience for history nerds like us (and even non-history nerds would enjoy it too). 

I look bored in prison.
At Alcatraz enthralled by the listening tour

During the trip we fit in several good runs. It was amazing to run in shorts and t-shirts knowing that it was freezing and snowy in Michigan.

On Monday we were sad to leave San Francisco, but that sadness was brief as we began our drive down the Pacific Coast Highway. I'd heard stories of the PCH and how beautiful it is, and honestly words cannot do it justice. The views are panoramic and breathtaking.  We stopped repeatedly for photos along the way with each view more unique than the last. It was so wonderful that I regretted not having more time to leisurely make our way down the coast.

Amazing views from the PCH
Taking it all in
We stopped to spend the night in Monterey, California. Monterey was not chosen by accident. My dad was stationed at Fort Ord, Calfornia in Monterey in the late 1960s, and I thought that would be an interesting place to stop. We saw their Fisherman's Wharf, walked through a quaint and lovely downtown, and learned that I am a sea lion whisperer. We even visited the ruins of Fort Ord which deserve a blog unto themselves.

Touring Monterey, CA
A new sea lion friend
It was New Year's Eve as we rolled into Hollywood to prepare for Rose Bowl festivities. We attended the MSU pep rally and then joined friends for the alumni association New Year's celebration. We celebrated the new year on east coast time so we could head back to our hotel and prepare for an early day.

Game day came early, and we joined friends from our tailgate on a bus to Pasadena. My husband was in heaven with his fellow Spartans, and it was very fun day. The game was fantastic, and I am not sure my husband has stopped smiling since.

Before the 100th Rose Bowl

Victory for MSU!
It was a gorgeous sunny day in LA on our last morning. We went for a quick run near our hotel. Once again I was soaking in the warm weather knowing that it wouldn't be like that for months once we returned. We followed our run fantastic breakfast outside at Square One Dining near our hotel. A basil, asparagus, squash and goat cheese omelette? Yes please. The restaurant just happened to be right next to the Scientology headquarters which was CREEPY.  

The Hollywood sign in the distant background during my final run in Cali

So...this happened.
After hotel checkout we strolled Hollywood Boulevard to look at stars and check out the scene. I was sad to head to LAX for the red eye back to Michigan, but all good (and warm) vacations must come to an end).

Elizabeth Montgomery played my namesake's character on "Bewitched"
The trip was amazing, but it reinforces for me that while I like California weather (really...what's not to love), I am an east coast girl through and through. They should find a way to bottle that weather though. It's a runner's paradise!



  1. It looks like you had an awesome time! My mom and I took a week trip to No Cal a few years back with a few days in San Francisco. We loved it. While I love NYC and Boston, you're right. San Fran is definitely a different vibe. I really want to go back sometime soon.

    1. It was gorgeous. I have a plan to go back to Napa for my 40th birthday...and it's kind of sad that it really isn't that far away. :)