A gay wedding at City Hall and a visit to Alcatraz

Skyline view of San Francisco from the ferry to Alcatraz

DAY FOUR — While in San Francisco , we not only saw historic sites like Alcatraz  but we felt like we were witnessing history when we were invited to a Gay wedding in San Francisco’s majestic city hall.

These friends who live elsewhere and came to San Francisco for another family wedding are long time partners and figured they should take advantage of the law in California that makes same-sex marriages legal. Massachusetts is the only other state. Gay weddings are good business for California, bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars. The couple had taken care of all the paper work ahead of time so we just showed up at City Hall at the appropriate time — the witnesses signed the legal documents and we all trooped over to the front staircase where a city official married them. The ceremony took just a few minutes but it did feel like history in the making.

“We can say we got married here before it was legal everywhere!” said one of our friends. They posed for some photos outside before they headed to the airport. Other couples — both gay and straight — were waiting. We offered them the bouquets that had been part of two weddings that weekend but there weren’t any takers. We all left smiling.

We were also even more immersed in history when we switched hotels to stay at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins (www.markhopkins.net) on Nob Hill that was built in 1926 on the spot where railroad typcoon Mark Hopkins had once lived in his mansion. During World War II, servicemen would gather at the Top of the Mark cocktail lounge. Its sweeping views of San Francisco Bay also made it a natural for sweethearts and wives who wanted to watch as the boats sailed out of the harbor. Today the Top of the Mark is still a spot to celebrate special occasions — it’s holiday teas are especially popular with local families, I’m told.

I’ve also become a fan of hotel executive lounges like the one at the Mark Hopkins. Though you pay an extra fee (typically $60 per room per day), it’s well worth it to be able to feed the kids free breakfast, snacks, drinks and for you to enjoy a well-deserved drink at the end of a long day sightseeing.

As for Alcatraz, if you’ve never been, you’ve got to go see “The Rock,” which remains one of the city’s top tourist attractions. The ferry ride alone with its stupendous views of the San Francisco waterfront and skyline makes the trip worthwhile. But so does the tour. The well-done audio tour features the voices of Alcatraz inmates, correctional officers and residents who reminisce about life here as you walk through the cell blocks that look as if they did when the prison was open decades ago (it closed in 1963) Alcatraz, by the way, had beautiful gardens and is now a sanctuary for birds like Cormorants, Hawks, hummingbirds and more.

Alcatraz was a maximum-security prison and most of the inmates were men who had proved to be problems elsewhere. Their existence was Spartan. Kids-especially little boys—seem to love this place. It’s certainly spooky enough!

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