Last fall, I received an unexpected call from my best friend advising that she would be working in the bay area for a couple of weeks. My best friend and I have not resided in the same state for eight years - she currently resides in Denver. When I left New Mexico in 2005, we made a vow that we would try to visit one another at least once a year. We've done pretty well - she's visited me in Houston, I've visited her in New Mexico and Colorado, and we've gone on vacations to Orlando, Los Angeles, Scottsdale, and Las Vegas through the years. I was worried, however, that 2013 was going to pass without our annual visit, so I was elated to hear she would be in California!
Being that she was in California primarily for work, and I also work during the week, we knew we only had the weekend before she started and one weekend while she was here to get together and hang out. I drove to pick her up at the airport in Sacramento (long story - mishap with her travel arrangements left her stranded!), and we made our way to Fairfield to get her settled in to her hotel. We had planned to spend all day in San Francisco, but the delay set us back a bit so we made the most of the time we had.
After toiling about in the various gift shops near Pier 39, my best friend and I spied a fishing boat offering tours of the bay for $10. I had taken a similar tour a long time ago, and assured her we'd be ok. The one hour tour was cold, wet, and lots of fun! We sat with two girls visiting from Spain on holiday, and they were a hoot. They got a kick out of trying to translate our Spanglish into words and phrases they could understand.
One of the main highlights of the tour was going under the famed Golden Gate Bridge. This beautiful bridge is a favorite of mine, and it was a treat to take my best friend under it. The day had been fairly foggy, but luckily the fog momentarily dissipated while we went under it. Legend says that wishes made under this bridge come true - fingers crossed!
The boat captain made sure to point out many of the attractions as we boated around the bay, but the other highlight had to be when we went very near and around Alcatraz. For those unaware, Alcatraz (aka The Rock) is a famed, now defunct prison located a mile and a half from the city of San Francisco. Although left largely untouched by natives who occupied the bay area, the Spanish attempted to build it on when they first arrived. It later served as a military base/prison and a federal prison, for which it is most widely known. It is said that no prisoner ever successfully escaped the penitentiary, although many tried. Our tour guide said the sea surrounding the island is known for great white sharks, but we happily didn't see any that day. After our tour ended, I took her to quickly see a couple of my favorite San Francisco landmarks, including Lombard Street (the city's famed crooked street) and The Cliff House (for one of the best dinners I've had in a long time).
After a very long day, I took my friend to her hotel in Fairfield and stayed the night with her there. My friend told me that Fairfield is known for being the home of the Jelly Belly factory, so I immediately made plans to hit that tour on my way home the next day. The Jelly Belly factory, formerly known as the Herman Goelitz Candy Company, was founded in 1869. Although famous today primarily for their Jelly Belly beans, the company didn't actually start making them until over 100 years later.
The Jelly Belly tour gave a great overview of the history of the company, the popularity catapult that came from Ronald Reagan, and showed you how Jelly Bellies (and Jelly Belly art) is made. The tour is well done, and includes video of the factory at work in case you happen to go on an off day like I did. I won't spoil the surprises that await inside, but would wholeheartedly recommend it. The tour takes only 45 minutes, and is totally free. One recommendation - go early! I was among the first in line, but the wait when my tour ended was already at 30 minutes... and this was on a Sunday!
The following weekend, my best friend drove down to SoCal to visit me. It was nice showing her where I live and work, but we both knew we'd have more fun if we drove a little further down to LA. So... off we went! I gave her my "quickie" tour, taking her to see the Hollywood Sign, the Universal Studios Overlook, and around many of studios in Burbank.
My personal favorite studio to stalk if you're not actually going to go in and take the tour is Warner Brothers Studio. You can see so much without going inside. My best friend and I totally started singing the Animaniacs song as soon as we saw the water tower. We're such dorks sometimes.
All that driving made us hungry, so stopped in for a bite for our favorite Mexican place - Don Antonios! We first discovered this restaurant while on vacation in Lala land back in 2007. I was a big fan of The Hills at the time, and had watched the stars of the show dine there on more than one occasion. Being that we both love Mexican food, but neither knew the city well during our visit - we decided to give it a try. It was love at first bite!
Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and my best friend's temporary job in Fairfield came to an end. She flew back to Denver to go back to her home office the following weekend, and I've missed her ever since. We're both hoping she gets promoted to a position in the bay area soon, so perhaps more California adventures are in the works for the two of us in 2014. Only time will tell!
Until next time...