Essential
Experience
49

Romance in the City by the Bay

San Francisco, California
September 27, 2011
There is also something intangible about San Francisco that captures the senses. I think it’s the very light that fills you with emotion.
Romance in the City by the Bay The iconic Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

I did not leave my heart in San Francisco, as the old song goes. It came home with me, joined to my new husband as we started our married life together.  San Francisco left something of itself with me in the form of an enduring memory of the wonderful time I spent there on my honeymoon.

Of course, most honeymoons would be described as romantic, but I think that San Francisco meets the criteria in a unique way. A hillside city that tumbles onto a scenic coastline–how could that not inspire romance?

There is also something intangible about San Francisco that captures the senses. I think it’s the very light that fills you with emotion. From the amber glow of the sun on the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset, which warms the senses, to the chilly fog that suddenly sweeps in off the water and makes you want to cuddle close, the city has an ambience that plays to couples.

There’s an adventurous facet to San Francisco that is also romantic. I realize that Alcatraz Island–the famous former prison that was guarded in part by shark-filled waters–and the heart-skipping hills that seem like roller coasters don’t fit most people’s definition of “romantic.” But San Francisco’s daring edge increases your pulse and draws you closer to your partner.

Then, the city’s famous restaurants, waterside parks, walkways and scenic views (the view from the top of the hill at Twin Peaks Boulevard, for one) would bring out the romantic in anyone.

My husband Tom and I celebrated our honeymoon in San Francisco 14 years ago, almost to the day. My mother gave us the trip as a wedding gift. Because Tom runs his own business, we had little time to spare. It was a brief, golden getaway, just three nights, with two spent on a cruise from Vancouver and one in San Francisco. But I think its brevity, its fast, few days, made us appreciate every moment that much more.

Lisa and her husband, Tom, on their wedding day – a week before their honeymoon to San Francisco.

Tom and I both grew up in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley.  We married in Valencia, Calif., in a joyful celebration, but due to business commitments, we had to wait a week for our honeymoon so we were anxious to go.

There are variations in vacation styles. There’s the adventurous vacation, which would most certainly describe my husband’s style, and then there’s the more refined, which sums up my preferred method. Tom is all about Harley rides and motorhomes. I, being introduced to cruising by my parents years before, appreciate the comforts of a vacation at sea.

Our honeymoon was definitely more my style, but Tom has more than made up for that in the intervening years, as I have spent many days touring the southwest on the back of a motorcycle!

It was a charmed trip. Our flight to Vancouver was unexpectedly upgraded to first class; I remember enjoying champagne on the flight north. A limousine whisked us from the airport to the ship, and once we were on board Regal Princess the purser, Sue, had a surprise in store: another upgrade to a coveted balcony cabin, where champagne on ice and chilled shrimp awaited.

Our two days on the ship were relaxing and fun. The Pacific Northwest coastline is absolutely beautiful, but nothing topped approaching San Francisco by sea. The Golden Gate Bridge, said to be one of the most photographed sights on earth, links San Francisco to picturesque Marin County. Sailing underneath this beautiful, deep-red bridge heightened our anticipation of the city to come.

A San Francisco cable car with Alcatraz in the background.

While some ports drop you off miles from town, in San Francisco you dock at the busy Embarcadero, near the nexus of Fisherman’s Wharf. This is a touristy spot for sure, but it has its signature experiences. For one, the sea lions lazing along the pier, seemingly oblivious to the busy waterway behind them and the multitudes of camera-toting visitors in front of them, are a blast to watch. The seafood stalls along the wharf, selling freshly caught crab and shrimp cocktails, are pure San Francisco, too.

We hopped into another limo and headed to our hotel, the venerable St. Francis, a city landmark with a dramatic, marble-pillared lobby, located on Union Square. To get there from the wharf, we traversed a series of steep hills, skirting Nob Hill and Chinatown, just two of San Francisco’s eclectic neighborhoods.

With just a day to spend, Tom and I quickly checked into our suite and returned to the city streets. We took a cable car back to Fisherman’s Wharf and had lunch at Scoma’s, a longstanding, family-run seafood place on the water. The New England-style clam chowder was fantastic and the pier-side table offered incredible views of the bay.

We walked off lunch by heading to Ghirardelli Square, the former site of the Ghirardelli chocolate factory and now a pretty place to shop, dine or have a drink. The square is located near a cable car hub, so we caught one for another precipitous ride back up the hill to Union Square.  Our time in San Francisco wouldn’t have been complete without a cab ride up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower and down the winding, crooked Lombard Street that runs through stately Russian Hill.

Another view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The next morning we were on our way to the airport and back to work and reality. It was a whirlwind honeymoon for sure, but the perfect wedding gift, enjoyable down to the second.

Over the ensuing 14 years, Tom’s and my vacation preferences remain the same. He likes quick, rugged, three-day bike vacations, while I love to travel the world by cruise ship, now with our 12-year-old daughter, Emily. Marriage definitely requires compromise.

Reminding myself to pursue my more adventurous mother’s philosophy of life–to die living rather than live as if you were dying–I cautiously board the back of the Harley and speed off for desert overnights. In turn, Tom also takes quick domestic cruises with Emily and me when his business allows.

We haven’t returned to San Francisco since our honeymoon, but it occurs to me that a bike ride along the Pacific Coast and into San Francisco is a vacation that could only delight both of our vacation styles. There’s always our 15th anniversary to plan.

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