If you follow my Instagram religiously, you may have noticed I was quite the traveler over spring break. As part of the Gonzaga University Concert Choir, I traveled from small town Spokane to the stunning (and sunny) San Francisco over the course of a week. It was an exhausting trip that involved some less than glamorous transportation, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the sights and sounds of Northern California with my choir family.
Our first destination on our song-filled trip was The Grotto in Portland, Oregon. The beautiful stone church melded into the cliff seamlessly, providing the perfect backdrop for our choral repertoire. Mystical is really the only word I can use to describe the area. Soggy would be a good word too, seeing as the rain soaked our concert attire in a matter of minutes.
Later in the evening we split off into groups and mine went to Voodoo Doughnut, a Portland landmark. The city often gets identified as weird because of it's offbeat population and even-wackier attractions. Voodoo Doughnuts is one of those attractions, and with their quirky selection of treats, it's easy to see why. I bought one of the least offensive donuts (the most offensive being a phallic-shaped creation): the Voodoo Doll. I never knew revenge could taste so sweet until I took a bite of that raspberry jelly-filled treat.
The next morning we sung at a brand new church in a small town in Oregon before embarking on a day-long bus ride to Vallejo, California. I entertained myself with my choir companions and a free H&M magazine I picked up at Pioneer Place while still in Portland. The instant we crossed over the California border, I was elated by the scenery.
Following a night in Vallejo, we spent some free time at Jack London Square in Oakland. Breathing in the bay air and perusing the sunlit dining options made the time spent in a confined bus all worth it.
We stumbled upon the Home of Chicken & Waffles restaurant and naturally could not say no to a meal. I've never tried the soulful combination of meat and a breakfast staple, so I was excited to get the chance to eat it. The diner did not disappoint with a crisp waffle and juicy wings that satisfied my craving for something savory and sweet.
We visited a lot of high schools over the trip, but the only one worth writing about is the Stevenson School in Pebble Beach. This boarding school has an elegant campus complete with a coffee shop, chapel, swimming pool and a lush outdoor amphitheater. I can't imagine the students there actually get any studying done.
To kill time before performances, we visited the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas. I'll admit I've never read Grapes of Wrath or Of Mice and Men, but the exhibit was pretty interesting to look at. The museum is located in Salinas because that is where the famous writer grew up.
My favorite place to perform was the San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo Mission. The mission was founded in 1771, features five foot thick walls, gorgeous art and thirty foot reredos.
Being in the basilica and surrounding grounds was a really uplifting experience. I loved the earth tones of the Spanish style buildings paired with the brighter flowers scattered in the outer gardens. There really is so much beauty in places that are hundreds of years old.
"God is like the sun. When the sun shines, it shines for everyone. God is for everyone."
- Ziggy Marley
Another slice of history that we visited was the aptly named History Park in San José. The entire place was deserted, giving it a slightly eerie vibe. Being an architecture appreciator, I marveled at the buildings of old.
Our first real San Francisco stop was at Ghirardelli Square, the home of the famous chocolate company. I ordered an almost ten dollar sundae with warm cookie inside and did not regret spending so much on a single confection.
Our last performance was at St. Ignatius Church right in the middle of the University of San Francisco. The space sounded as good as it looked, which allowed us to have an ideal sendoff concert. I got a little nostalgic realizing that this would be my last performance on a choir tour, so I sang my little heart out.
By the end of the week, we got to have a whole free day to explore San Francisco any way we wanted to. I'm sure you can guess what the first thing on my itinerary was: shopping.
The main shopping district in San Francisco is Union Square, which includes all my favorite stores: Barneys, Forever 21, Nordstrom, Zara, H&M and Banana Republic. There were two Forever 21 stores within a couple blocks of each other, reminding me of the excess of stores I'd seen in Las Vegas this summer. There are two hundred specialty stores in the multi-leveled Westfield Centre alone. You can imagine my delight as I looked up into the centre's atrium. In Union Square Park, there's outdoor dining, sculptures and palm trees galore that created an amazing atmosphere on that sunny day.
From Union Square, we made our way down to the waterfront and passed through streets and streets of signature sights. From pristine churches to equally pristine cars, the hilly avenues were packed with busy businesses. I loved seeing La Boulange, the original collection of bakeries that sparked a Starbucks line of pastries.
I couldn't visit San Francisco without seeing Chinatown and chowing down on the popular In-N-Out Burger. Chinatown was huge mini-city of it's own that was culturally refreshing to walk through. As we got closer to the waterfront, we passed by Joseph Conrad Square, a cute city park that resembled those I'd seen in New York. When we finally got to sea level, we lined up for a "Double-Double" combo at In-N-Out. I saw my fries cut from a fresh potato right in front of me. Tasting the mighty meal lived up to all my expectations formed by recommendations from my California friends.
The last excursion we made before boarding the bus back to campus was visiting the Aquarium of the Bay. Sharks, seals, fish, otters, jellyfish and anemones colored the expansive tanks in the state-of-the-art facility. I definitely felt like a child again, which is exactly the type of feeling you want on spring break.
This year's choir tour was easily the best one I've been on during my college career. San Francisco has easily entered the list of my favorite cities. I can't wait to return to the Bay Area in the future, I know I have a lot more of it to see!