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California Dreamin’

Our dog-friendly trip to San Francisco, Disneyland, and Universal Studios

Luna and Tessa Cannon Beach
Image Credits: Tessa Perkins

I recently finished watching the entire first season of Fuller House, which, aside from making me wonder why I was watching such a terrible show (nostalgia, pure nostalgia), made me want to return to the beautiful city of San Francisco. It was at this time two years ago when my boyfriend and I drove down to California with our dog Luna. It was the first time we had taken Luna on a vacation with us, so that was a lot of fun. It was also easier to travel with a canine companion than I thought it would be, although the border guard had his doubts.

“What are you going to do with that when you’re at Disneyland,” he said while pointing to the backseat. After a minute of trying to figure out why he cared about our cooler, I realized he meant Luna. We had done our research and found out that Disneyland has a Disney Kennel Club where you can leave your pet for the day, and Universal Studios has a similar setup.

We took two and half days to drive down to San Francisco, taking our time and stopping in Portland, Oregon and Redding, California along the way. Most hotel chains accept dogs; many simply charge an extra fee of about $20, so we didn’t have any trouble finding a place that Luna could stay with us. The only trouble we ran into was the cost of accommodations in downtown San Francisco, so we opted to stay in a suburb, San Mateo, just to the south of the city. I got the chance to try out their efficient commuter train from San Mateo into downtown when I had to go take my final exam for a distance education geography course. I arranged to have someone at a law library invigilate the exam, and it was a beautiful place with a friendly receptionist who gave me shopping tips afterwards.

For our big sightseeing day to Alcatraz, we found a dog sitter for Luna, and we left her with a friendly couple who lived across from Buena Vista Park. She had tons of fun with them while we went sightseeing to Alcatraz, Angel Island, and Fisherman’s Wharf. The day we were at Alcatraz they had a book signing by former prisoner William G. Baker who wrote his memoir of life in the prison in Alcatraz #1259. I bought a copy of his book, got him to sign it and snapped a photo with him. A real Alcatraz prisoner at Alcatraz, how cool is that! The island that Alcatraz was built on is beautiful, and the ride over on the ferry gives a stunning view of the bay and surrounding areas. Our ticket also included a ferry ride over to Angel Island and a tour around it. Larger than Alcatraz Island, it has been used as an intake point for immigrants, a military base, and is now a national historic landmark that welcomes tourists and has a population of 57.

Just down the street from the Alcatraz boat dock is Fisherman’s Wharf; we roamed around that area looking in the touristy shops and enjoying the beautiful sunny weather and view of the water. We picked up Luna from her day of fun in the trendy Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood, and went back to San Mateo. Since we had Luna with us we avoided eating at restaurants and ended up with some pretty bad takeout meals, but we were just glad to have her along for the ride.

Another highlight of our stay in San Francisco was seeing the San Francisco Ballet, and seeing it for free. A girl I used to dance with became a company member at SFB (she has now moved on to the Joffrey in Chicago), and although I didn’t get to see her dance because she was injured at the time, she met us at the theatre and got us complimentary tickets. We saw the company perform a wonderful version of The Rite of Spring in their large ornate theatre, and I got my performing arts fix.

Another evening, we found ourselves in Concord, about an hour’s drive across the bay. It’s a quaint suburb with manicured lawns and nice homes, and we made the trip there to meet a friend that my boyfriend had met through playing online Xbox games. It was interesting to meet him and his partner, see their small basement suite that cost them an exorbitant amount of rent, and see another city of the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s a beautiful, sprawling area, and I can understand why real estate and rent there is steep. On our last day we took a drive around the city, admiring all the beautiful Full House style homes and looking in awe at the view from the Golden Gate Bridge and the lookout on the other side.

We took a drive through Beverly Hills while listening to Weezer’s “Beverly Hills”. . . I can cross that one off my bucket list now

We had a wonderful time in San Fran, but it was time to make our way down to southern California. We spent a couple nights in Anaheim, and on our first day we went to Disneyland. I’ll never forget Luna riding with us in the tram that transports you from the parkade to the park itself; she seemed just as surprised as the other guests, wondering how she was allowed to get on with us. We couldn’t bring her into the park though; she had to stay in a small kennel for the day, and we came to visit her a few times to take her for a bathroom break. We felt like bad dog parents since she wouldn’t eat or drink anything while she was in there.

Disneyland is a much different experience being there as an adult, and I remembered it quite differently from my time there as a seven year old. It was still fun, but I realized that I don’t have any desire to return until I have children of my own.

The next day, Luna had to spend her time in the Universal Studios kennel, but not before getting her photo taken on the red carpet in front of the large entrance gates. Universal is much more fun for adults than Disneyland, and even though we had bought the VIP tickets where you can skip the long lines, we were running around the park to fit in all the rides. It was a whirlwind day of entertaining shows, thrilling rides, and hot, hot sun.

When we went back to pick up Luna, we found her free of her cage, and standing nervously in the hallway between the rows of kennels. She had broken out. We were not pleased with Universal’s unattended kennel system, but we were somewhat proud of our dog for being that industrious and at the same time we felt guilty for leaving her somewhere that she felt such desperation to break out of.

On our final day in Los Angeles, we were passing through the city on our way back north, and we took a drive through Beverly Hills while listening to Weezer’s “Beverly Hills”. . . I can cross that one off my bucket list now. We drove into one of the Beverley Hills neighbourhoods full of million dollar homes and perfect lawns and imagined what it might be like to live there as we took Luna for a walk before we began our long day of driving up the coast.

For the drive home we decided to take it slow and scenic and take Highway #1 that follows the coastline. The views are worth the slower drive, with the breeze from the pacific and the quaint surfing towns you pass through along the way. We only stopped to sleep on the way back up, spending our days driving and aiming to get home as soon as we could. Perhaps we were in too much a rush though, because on a dark stormy night in Oregon we got a speeding ticket. We tried not to let the stress of the fine ruin our happiness or the enjoyable trip we were just finishing up, but it was hard to push it to the back of our minds. One place we did stop on the way back up the coast was the drive through redwood tree in northern California, and I also made a point to stop in my favourite place on the Oregon Coast: Cannon Beach.

Luna had quite an adventure on her first road trip, and so did we. I would love to return to San Francisco and explore the city some more, but I won’t worry if I don’t ever make it back to LA with its crazy traffic and smog.

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