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Exploring: Ringing in the New Year in San Francisco (updated 2022)



 
INTRO:
 

Hopefully you rang in the new year however you wanted to ring it in. As for me, I traveled, again. It’s somewhat of a common them. On the more exciting occasions, I’ve celebrated NYE in Times Square, Washington DC, L.A., Cincinnati, and now San Francisco. It was a blast (no pun intended, considering the fireworks!), and I'll tell you all about it.


Rearview Mirror Reflection of Clouds

2012 is back there somewhere....


 
NAPA:
 

The first stop on this roadtrip, six hours north of home, is Napa Valley. The last (and only) time I have been there, I was 17. When you’re that age, wineries aren’t fun at all. Back then, visiting Beringer, I was offered a lovely tasting of water. It was a real bummer, watching my dad and my brother live the life of connoisseurs, approving of the wine bouquet and asking each other if they can detect any notes of lovely-sounding things like chocolate and berries.

As for this recent visit, the quick stop in Napa turns out to be a worthwhile experience. Good thing, considering this reputation of this place. The area is always so hyped up, yet I'm not any more impressed by it than the central California/Santa Barbara-area wineries. Both areas are beautiful, and in both regions you’ll find a combo of hits and misses. Also, it’s worth noting that tastings in Napa are more expensive than the other wine regions I’ve visited. At some places, the pours can be very conservative, and you might only get to taste three wines for $20. Some basic tastings in Napa can even run about $40 per person!

A coworker highly recommended grabbing lunch at Gott’s Roadside (formerly called Taylor’s Refresher), which is a small burger joint in St. Helena (near Mondavi Winery). We check that out and, despite the frigid temperature, there is a long line at the outdoor order window. It doesn't take long to figure out why the place is hoppin’… It's delicious! My Wisconsin Sourdough burger and onion rings taste really fresh, and excess grease is minimal. That’s not to say I don't feel sick to my stomach after the fact, after gorging myself, but that’s my bad since I don't often eat hamburgers.


 
WINCHESTER MYSTERY HOUSE:
 

From here, the next notable destination is the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. The location is really surprising. Photos seem to give the feeling that it’s fairly isolated. That’s not really the case at all. Rather, the home is effectively surrounded by a business/mall complex, movie theaters, and a freeway. Except for the heavy mall traffic on a Saturday night, the location really has no bearing on the overall experience - it's just very different from what I had in mind.


Rear View of Winchester Mystery House in San Jose

Taking the first Grand Tour of the morning is probably a wise move. We are in a small group of about 10 people – and, later, for the optional, paid basement tour, that number dwindles down to 4. The tour guide was expecting 12, so it's great having more-personal attention instead. The basement isn’t too exciting, except for seeing how much the wood beams supporting the house wore down during the 1906 earthquake.

As for the main tour of the hour, it's awesome. Imagining little ol’ Mrs. Winchester (it’s said she was 4′ 10″) wandering the corridors, forever trying to appease the spirits, is fascinating. The architecture is beautiful, and the monstrosity of the house is amazing, yet the mansion doesn’t have much of a creepy vibe like I always expected. Maybe taking a daytime tour had something to do with it. And maybe my previous work on Ghost Hunters changed the way I approach these environments. Weird, unexplainable occurrences have happened – I can attest to that – but they are so few and far between that you can’t expect that kind of experience.

 
SAN FRANCISCO:
 

San Francisco proper is next on the agenda. During the run-up to the holiday break, a coworker had warned against driving in the city, due to parking being such a headache. Maybe it was a fluke due to the holidays, but it's worked out okay.

daytime view of downtown San Francisco - photo by KilmerMedia

The first night, we park a few blocks south of the marina. Right at 7 PM, as I'm about to put coins in the meter, the light on it stops flashing and it shuts off! That's the same for all the other meters up the street. Free parking and perfect timing! Cha-ching, bada-bing! So, metered parking isn’t 24/7, which can help save you some cash. This is a great area to walk around and check out some of the iconic sights San Francisco has to offer.


daytime view of Alcatraz from San Francisco proper - photo by KilmerMedia

Ending up in the same neighborhood the following day, I discover some free, 4 hour max. parking near Ghirardelli Square. We park there and spend a couple hours biking to and across the Golden Gate Bridge and back.

your author biking across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco - photo by KilmerMedia


On the return trip, it's dark - REALLY dark, and I just about take a spill off the path several times, since I can barely see it where it turns. I had no idea how helpful a flashlight could be for this excursion.


At times, it's easier and less stressful to just hop off our bikes and walk. Along the way, the Golden Gate Bridge provides some great scenery:

Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco at night - photo by KilmerMedia

Finally we get back to the bike shop, move the car to a different parking spot closer to Ghirardelli Square, and spend a couple hours at dinner. It has all worked out great!


At 9 PM, like clockwork, my phone rings. It's my good friend, Matt, celebrating the new year on the east coast. Every year, we get on the phone and sing "The Lunes Song" we learned in Spanish class in 8th grade, sung to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne". It's really a lot more fun than singing the real song. I don't remember when we started this, but I cherish the tradition. In case you're interested, here are the words:


Hoy es Lunes,

no me digas

Lunes otra vez

me melostan estos Lunes

cuatro cada mes


Me encantan Viernes, Jueves,

hasta Miercoles

pero estos Lunes,

oof, que pena

Me don dolor de cabeza! As this day starts to wind down and the West Coast NYE festivities start to pick up, we head east. We finally have to pay at a garage parking and walk to the Embarcadero. 200,000 revelers fill up that area every year for New Years Eve, so it's a pretty busy place. Plenty of people have apparently spent the hours leading up to midnight at the bar, so there's a lot of inebriated energy in the air.


San Francisco Ferry Building

With the giant crowd concentrated near the Ferry Building, we head up the street and stake out a spot on Pier 3. It turns out to be perfect, as the firework display is amazing, with the Bay Bridge as the backdrop.


New Years Eve Fireworks over San Francisco Bay

Overall, it's been a great, quick roadtrip from L.A.... and also an amazing, new experience to end one year and kick off a new one. Have a great year, everyone. Cheers!

Painted Ladies Row Houses in San Fran
 
SAVING MONEY:
 

San Francisco has a reputation for being one of the most expensive cities in the world. The experience doesn't have to send you to debtors' prison. Like in any big city, consider happy hour options. If you're going to drink alcohol, consider buying your preferred beverage from the corner store and having a nightcap at the hotel, rather than at a restaurant or bar.


 
SAFETY TIPS:
 

Among big cities, San Francisco is relatively safe. As of 2022, however, reports seem to suggest an uptick in property crime, especially crimes of opportunity like camera thefts and car break-ins. The situation is bad enough that our National Park Service has tips for safeguarding your valuables while you're parked in the San Francisco Bay area.

For life-threatening emergencies, 911 is the dispatch number for police, paramedic, and firefighting services across the USA.

 

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