The DriveIf you've ever driven from Los Angeles up to Bakersfield, Sacramento, San Jose, or anywhere else in Northern California, you understand just how long and painfully boring that drive can be. But that didn't deter my mother and I from our quest for some Ghirardelli chocolate in San Francisco. We loaded up our long-term Volvo S60 with all our bags and small cooler for the extended weekend. Looking at the amount of stuff we managed to fit into the trunk and backseat, you'd think we were going to spend weeks up north.
What was supposed to be an easy up-and-back trip almost didn't happen.
It was a good thing that we went over the Volvo and checked a few things out the day before we left. I knew it had been a while since its last service appointment, and boy did it need it. All tires were extremely low, oil was low, and it was out of windshield wiper fluid. After filing everything up, we were ready to go.
Heading out at the crack of dawn--well, 8 a.m.--on a Friday morning, we had a few driving options. Did we want to take the long but scenic route up to coast, or the shorter but boring Interstate 5 up the center of the state? We decided on short and boring; there's no point spending extra hours driving if we didn't need to. Eight hours one way is long enough.
Too bad Los Angeles traffic decided to hold us up.
We didn't think there would be as much traffic heading out of town on a Friday morning, but since we routed ourselves straight through downtown Los Angeles, rather than going through the beach cities, we hit a rough patch. At this point, we added at least a half hour to our total drive time. Soon enough, the radio cut out, and as my mom didn't particularly like the music on my phone--"It's just noise!"--the Volvo plunged into silence. I don't do well with silence. Cue the fidgeting.
Finally we passed through the Grapevine and made it to the longest stretch of the drive. It's so hard to stay awake on this road. There's literally nothing on either side of you for hours, and when you finally feel like you're getting somewhere, all that's in front of you is more nothing. To pass the time, my mom suggested we play a game.
"Leap Frog" turned out to be the best thing we did.
My mom would point out which two cars she thought I could get in between, and I'd try to do it. I kept my speed under control, careful not to break any laws or get pulled over. Not only did it shave off a decent amount of time off our drive, keep us entertained, but it showed us what the Volvo is capable of. It had quick acceleration, responsive braking, and the steering was spot on.
I asked my mom for a few notes. "The Volvo S60 was very comfortable for such a long drive from Orange County, CA to San Francisco," she wrote. "It had good power and acceleration, which we needed when we were playing leap frog on the two lane road." She went on to say, "The car was roomy and stylish as well. The only small thing that bothered me was that when I moved the visor to the side window to block the sun, it didn't slide so I still had the sun in my face. But hey, that's nothing compared to the rest of the car and the wonderful trip."
After what felt like decades, we made it to the main highway that takes you across the bridge and into San Francisco. Of course, no road trip would be complete without a few wrong turns here and there. Surprisingly, none of which happened in the city itself, with all its one-way streets and "slight turns" here and there. By early afternoon we were in the comfort of our hotel room overlooking Fisherman's Wharf and able to take a quick nap after our long drive.
The FestivalGhirardelli Square takes up a good part of Fisherman's Wharf, where it overlooks the bay, has a clear view of Alcatraz Island, and always has families playing in the huge lawn situated in front of the water. Chocolate lovers congregated from all over the world to be a part of the 18th Annual Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival. This two-day event had most of the Wharf swarming with crowds you usually only see on holidays and early summer.
My mother and I managed to snag press badges to the event, where we were able to sit in on a presentation on how chocolate is made, from seed to bar. To wrap up, those in attendance were presented with chocolate sundaes made with Ghirardelli's newest fudge. Not one for chocolate normally, I thought I'd have a few bites, but after that first bite, it was just too good to turn down.
I think that was the best breakfast I had the entire trip.
Not only did we get delicious ice cream sundaes, all media attendees were offered goodie bags filled with more chocolate than we could ever eat: a bag of fifty chocolate squares, hot cocoa, five specialty chocolate bars, and free samples for the event. On top of that, we managed to snag an extra bag. Already too much chocolate, and we hadn't even been to the festival yet.
Waiting right outside was 360 Vodka's booth, offering a "chocolate donut:" half double-chocolate vodka and half glazed donut vodka, with a splash of soda water. Talk about starting the day off right. We both grabbed a drink and made our way to the festival.
There was a whole street of vendors, all offering samples of their chocolate, from cocoa to cookies to cupcakes and everything in between. The first day we grabbed chocolate from Ghirardelli as the other vendors had lines going almost all the way to the water. We didn't think we'd need to even come back for the second day. But we did. We sampled chocolate wine, more vodka, cupcakes, and grabbed even more chocolate to share with others before we left on our return trip back to Southern California.
The return trip was filled with much of the same as the ride up, playing "Leap Frog," banging my head against the steering wheel out of sheer boredom, and no music to fill the hours of endless silence. The Volvo proved to be a great road trip vehicle for our eight-hour stretch, and we can't wait to take it on another trip in the future.