Northern California: San Francisco & San Jose

This summer I stayed a month with my sister (Cat), brother in law (Skye), and their kids in Fairfield, California. Not only was I there for my niece’s and nephew’s birthday parties, AND my grandparents visited from DC, but I also did a ton of traveling around this part of the state! Previously I had only been to Los Angeles, so it was great to see different areas of California including San Francisco, San Jose, Fairfield, Napa Valley, and Red Bluff.

While Trolls was not my favorite movie (after watching it five times) it may be my favorite birthday party theme. Glitter! Color!

Where are we?

Screen Shot 2017-11-30 at 4.52.47 PM
Long travel days

This post will only discuss random travels in San Francisco and San Jose (part 2 will include Fairfield, Napa Valley, and Red Bluff). While these are very different places–and I’ll talk about them separately–they are all a part of Northern California. This isn’t a geographic designation, but a political one. The division between the two segments of California is usually at the 42nd parallel, which was the boundary established by Spain and the United States in the Adams-Onís Treaty (1819).

Of course I need to include the obligatory background of the region and Northern California has SO MUCH culture and history. The Shasta, Miwoks, and Yokuts all inhabited areas of now Northern California for hundreds of years before Europeans landed on the coast; these Native Californians spoke over 100 languages and 300 dialects! In 1770, Spanish missionaries began building settlements along the coast and Spain continued to colonize the area until the early 1800s. Around 90% of the Native Californian population died during this time, mainly from disease. After gaining independence from Spain, Mexico continued their colonizing work until the Mexican-American War in 1846, when the Mexican government ceded the entire state of California to the United States. It is important to note that the American government did not recognize Indigenous land titles. The Gold Rush and Trans-Continental Railroad increased the number of people, particularly Chinese immigrants and Americans from the East, to California.

Okay, history lesson over. Let’s get to all the things:

San Francisco: 


Places to Visit:

Someone loves the ferry!

We traveled to San Francisco by ferry which was overall a great experience! It beats going by car (gas, parking, traffic, ugh) and wasn’t too expensive. The kids loved it and Caroline said she wanted to grow up to be a Ferry Conductor.

Aquarium of the Bay: 

Via Fine Art America

The Aquarium of the Bay is AMAZING and a must-see if you’re in the area. Unfortunately, I didn’t take many pictures because I was enjoying the actual aquarium, but thankfully there are a ton of photos online. My favorite was the super cool river otter exhibit (featuring crazy otters running around everywhere) and the underground “Under the Bay” tour that was awesome, if not a little scary, to be surrounded by water. The Aquarium also helps run the San Francisco Bay Area Sustainable Seafood Alliance, which includes the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch, a sustainable seafood guide that we actually began using at the College of Charleston when we started tracking food purchases (they also have personal guides too, check it out!)

Golden Gate Bridge:

I had to include a Full House gif

Like a real tourist, I had to stop at the Golden Gate Bridge. The state has a pretty solid parking and trail near the bridge so people afraid of heights (me) can see the bridge without actually walking it (never in a million years).

Shout out to Skye Thompson who parked with the sleeping kids!
Built in 1937, it is still the tallest bridge in the United States


Skye and I also spent the afternoon wandering around San Francisco on our very own brewery crawl discussing The Martian (book or movie better?), how we can make my sister less-stressed (a fool’s game), and Rick & Morty (thankfully, I let Skye talk me into a marathon of the show).

ThirstyBear Brewery:


ThirstyBear was our first stop. The first and only Organic brewery in San Francisco, we really enjoyed our beer and the atmosphere. ThirstyBear boasts a Spanish-inspired menu (we unfortunately didn’t try anything) and an extensive beer list. I tried the California Common and Howard Street IPA.

21st Amendment Brewery:


I loved 21st Amendment! We were able to grab seats before the game finished (perfect timing) to have a few beers and a snack. The 21st amendment is in my top five favorite Constitutional amendments so I pretty excited to visit a brewery named after the repeal of alcohol prohibition. I tried the Summer Saison and Brew Free or Die IPA. I’d love to go back and try their Winter Saison (whaaa?) which has the description: “You might not expect a Saison in winter. But the enemy didn’t expect Washington to cross the icy Delaware, either. Expectations be damned, we say.”


21st Amendment also had TACHOS, which if you haven’t eaten tachos, please reevaluate your life; this was one of my favorite snacks in CharlestonSO GOOD.

Anchor Brewing:

Via SFGate

Finding and touring Anchor’s Brewing was a little bit of a disaster; the actual taste room was closed and the shop was almost closed as well. They were also working on the building itself so we weren’t able to tour the actual brewery itself, but picked up a couple of beers to take home with us. We enjoyed their beer (they’ve been brewing since 1896!).

Honorable Mention: Gracias Madre

Not pictured: Me, sobbing.

Oh what could have been. After taking an uber in rush hour traffic out to Anchor’s, we were pretty far behind schedule for dinner AND making our ferry. Gracias Madre is “the one that got away” for me in terms of San Francisco. They were booked when we finally arrived, much to my dismay, as they are known for their amazing vegetarian cuisine. Next time!

Always have to finish the day with an old fashioned (and Taco Bell, thanks Cat!)

San Jose:

We were only in San Jose for the afternoon (where my grandparents were staying the night before their flight the next day) but I’m glad we stopped.

Winchester Mystery House:


The Winchester Mystery House is another tourist spot but cool to see if you’re in the area. Built by Sarah Winchester, the widow of William Wirt Winchester, the mansion is known for its crazy layout and number of rooms.

Yes, that Winchester. Go watch Shaun of the Dead.

When her husband passed away in 1881, Sarah inherited more than $20 million, as well as 50% ownership of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, which provided her with $1000/day income; this equates to around $23,000/day today. Rumors state that Sarah was told by a Boston psychic to leave her home on the East Coast for the West to build a home for not only herself but also all of the victims of the Winchester rifle (known as “the gun that won the west”). As a result she built, and continued to build, her mansion in San Jose.

An overview of the House (via Amusing Planet)

Originally seven stories (now only four after the 1906 earthquake), the house has 161 rooms, 47 fireplaces, and 10,000 panes of glass. Because construction was constantly continuing (as instructed by the psychic) with no real purpose, there are a number of stairways and doors that lead to nowhere, as well as only one toilet (the other bathrooms were built to confuse the spirits that haunted her). Already a short person herself, Sarah developed arthritis in her later years; she had all of the staircases amended for short steps. As a result, all of the stairs are tiny and barely inches above one another (perfect for me and little Caroline).

©David Swann
via Winchester Mystery House

Sarah also slept in a different room each night. When she passed away, she left her belongings to her niece and secretary. The niece sold mostly everything in the mansion, which required six trucks working eight hours a day for six weeks to remove everything from the home. The house itself was not mentioned in her will and was considered worthless at the time–due to its insane layout and lack of completion–the mansion was purchased and is now held by a private investor that maintains the home’s integrity and hosts tours to the public.


The property also holds a couple of museums and exhibits including one area dedicated to the different guns created and developed by William Wirt Winchester.


Part 2 coming soon!

My favorite Shaun of the Dead gif

Ashlyn (2)

Reading: Ghost Wars by Steve Coll

Listening: If You Leave by Daughter




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