The countdown to the Redbox Bowl kickoff draws near. Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California is not exactly located in San Francisco — strange considering the team that plays its home games at Levi’s Stadium is called the San Francisco 49ers.
As Thumpasaurus has mentioned when talking about Illinois Football heading to California, “We’re going to San Francisco like Kankakee is in Chicago.” There is a significant distance between San Francisco and Santa Clara, 40 miles to be exact.
That said, if you are going to the game, you are likely also going to spend a few days in the area, and the area does indeed include San Francisco.
If you’ve never been to the bay, here are a few sites to check out.
Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary (San Francisco)
A must visit for anyone heading to the Redbox Bowl for the weekend, and the Illinois Athletics Department is certainly aware of this fact when it announced the team and traveling party will make the trek to the island.
Alcatraz Island is a short ferry ride from mainland San Francisco, and back in its heyday the Federal prison used to be where the country’s worst of the worst criminals were sent. From 1934 to 1963, gangsters and murderers from Al Capone to Ellsworth Raymond ‘Bumpy’ Johnson to George ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly Barnes all spent time at the nearly-inescapable prison given its location in the middle of the chilly waters of San Francisco Bay.
Now a museum, the site is as much fascinating as it is haunting to visit. You get to see where the prisoners ate and slept, where they exercised and where they showered. You get to learn about what the daily routine was like for the prisoners, guards and warden.
The prison would eventually close in 1963 for various reasons, the main one being the extremely high cost of operating a prison isolated on its own tiny island.
Golden Gate Park and Golden Gate Bridge (SF)
I recognize these are two different things.
- Golden Gate Bridge: You don’t necessarily have to drive on it, but if you can, you can say you’ve driven on arguably the most famous bridge in the world. It’s one of the iconic landmarks of the United States and representative of the state of California – painted red, spanning across the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Underneath the San Francisco side of the bridge is the Presidio of San Francisco, a massive park at the northern most point of the city. Underneath the other side is Battery Spencer near the city of Sausalito. From there, you can capture some incredible views of the bridge.
- Golden Gate Park: San Francisco’s equivalent of New York’s Central Park, this park is enormous and offers a great opportunity to walk around and explore various ponds, museums and entertainers. There are gardens and exhibits, and all in all it is a fun place to stroll around and get lost in the sheer size of the large public space. The famous Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival (similar to Chicago’s Lollapalooza) takes place every August at Golden Gate Park.
Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood (SF)
As 2019 comes to a close, classic rock fans, and really anyone interested in American culture and history took the opportunity this year to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of Woodstock — a music and arts festival that continues to inspire and transcend space and time all of these years later.
Woodstock took place nearly 3,000 miles away from Northern California in Bethel, New York, but its roots are all based in the Bay Area, and many of the musicians lived in one particular neighborhood of San Francisco — Haight-Ashbury. The hippie and 1960’s counterculture era was based in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. Musical acts such as the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin all lived in Height-Ashbury in the mid-to-late 1960s.
Today there is not a whole lot to do there, especially in the winter (yes, California has winter) — but if you are a music fan, it is hard not to feel the magnetic vibes coming from a place that at one point was the center of the music and counterculture universe.
Located just north of San Francisco (12 miles to be exact), Muir Woods is 550 acres of forest, much of which are those old, enormous Redwood trees which can soar well above 300 feet off of the ground. Several of those Redwood tress are over 1,000 years old.
You get a sort of out-of-body experience walking and driving around the area, especially in the winter when the dense fog adds to the aura of the place named for the man responsible for wildlife preservation in this country.
From sea otters to banana slugs, the wildlife in and around Muir Woods is a site to behold.
Go to a San Jose Sharks game
If you are reading this, you have to be a sports fan, right?
The San Jose Sharks, a team that’s reached the NHL postseason four consecutive years running have two games in late December that you could choose to go. On December 27 and on December 28, the Sharks will play their rivals the Los Angeles Kings and then play the Philadelphia Flyers. Both games are evening games.
The SAP Center, home of the San Jose Sharks, is located in the heart of downtown San Jose and is just eight miles away from Levi’s Stadium where the Illini will play Cal at the Redbox Bowl.
The Sharks are struggling so far this year, but they are regular contenders in the Western Conference of the National Hockey League. San Francisco does not have a hockey team, nor does Oakland. The San Jose Sharks represent Northern California in its quest for Stanley Cup glory.
Pebble Beach Golf Links & Monterey
Pebble Beach: It’s certainly far from Levi’s Stadium and even farther away from San Francisco. If you are a diehard golf fanatic, and even if you are not — golf course scenery and backdrop does not get much better than Pebble Beach.
Jagged-edged cliffs hovering over the pacific ocean. Mountains and sailboats in the background. It’s a unique, picturesque setting for one of the world’s most challenging golf courses.
In August, the site is also the host of Concours d’Elegance, a classic car show featuring all types of automobiles dating back to the turn of the 20th century.
Monterey: This beautiful seaside town has a population of roughly 30,000, and there is a lot to do (and eat) in the area. From personal experience, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the best in the world to visit — especially if you have kiddos, they’ll love it. Fisherman’s Wharf is pretty touristy, but there is history there and a ton of great restaurants if seafood is your thing. It’s also a fun place to walk around.
What are your plans looking like (aside from going to the game) if you’re making the trek out to California? Tell us in the comments.