Hockey Road Trip: The Mysteries of Silicon Valley

18 September 2014

It amazes me to think that I lived in Los Angeles for nearly a decade before I ever traveled up the coast to see northern California - and when I did, to attend a friend's bachelor party, I only stayed one night and flew back home the next day.  After continually putting off plans to finally go back to the Bay Area, I decided that my "quest" to see all of the NHL arenas would be a good excuse to visit San Jose for a weekend.

Interestingly enough, this trip only came about because I had another plan in place to go to Alberta at the end of January, but when that fell through, I saw that the Sharks would also be playing at home that weekend and seized the opportunity.  It wasn't until after we bought the tickets and booked the hotel room that I realized our game was on the same day as the Kings-Ducks outdoor game at Dodger Stadium.  Not that I had necessarily planned on attending that game, but I guess it would have been nice to have had that option.  (NOTE: The NHL has announced that the Sharks will be hosting the Kings for an outdoor game this season, which seems like a great chance for me to finally see some hockey under the California stars)


Chad picked me up around 8am, and after a quick stop for snacks/drinks at the local 7-Eleven, we were on our way.  On the I-5 Freeway.  For the next six hours.  SIX.  HOURS.  I really can't stress that enough.  To put it best, this was pretty much our entire view that morning and early afternoon:

Yep.  Just this.  All morning.
Making matters worse, when we finally DID arrive in San Francisco just before 3pm, traffic was at an absolute stand-still.  We got a nice view of downtown while we crept patiently along the Bay Bridge though:

Being from Los Angeles, I'm used to spending time in traffic - but this didn't seem right.  It was almost as if the streets in the area were closed for some reason.  A quick check of the internet on my phone revealed that my hunch was correct: an anti-abortion group had staged a march downtown, forcing the closure of many of the streets, sending drivers scrambling to find alternate routes with which to get around the protesters.  Resourceful as we are, Chad and I managed to find a quick detour that took us around the chaos and into the beautiful city of San Francisco.

Unfortunately, the traffic slowed us down enough to where we didn't really have a whole lot of time to take in the sights.  We took a quick spin through the Mission District, as well as Haight/Ashbury and the Castro, before reaching The Presidio.  While I certainly remember the 1988 movie of the same name, and have heard wondrous stories about the beauty of the surrounding area, we were pretty much here for one reason: it is now the home to Lucasfilm headquarters, and specifically, this awesome statue of Yoda:

Chad and I are huge fans of STAR WARS (is there anyone from our generation who ISN'T?!?), so this was a must-see on our trip.  After offering up the proper amount of admiration for the 900-year-old Jedi, it was off to that other tourist attraction nearby.

Golden Gate Selfie

"Welcome to 'The Rock'"
It's really hard not to be amazed by the views as you stare out upon the northern end of the San Francisco Bay: you've got Alcatraz to one side, and on the other, The Golden Gate Bridge.  THE Golden Gate Bridge.  It's one of the most famous sights in the entire world, and it took my breath away.  I mean, just look at it:

The awe.  The majesty.  A marvel of engineering and design.  An iconic visual landmark that encapsulates the prevailing sense of wonder of a major metropolitan area.  The Golden Gate Bridge.

Of course, there's only so much you can do there, and since Chad and I didn't have time to walk across the bridge itself, we thought it would be best to head down to San Jose before it got too late.  We checked in to our hotel, then walked the short distance to the SAP Center, home of the San Jose Sharks.

We arrived with plenty of time to kill before face-off, which afforded us the chance to walk around the "Shark Tank", as it is affectionately known.  It's a very cozy arena, one of only seven in the NHL that are more than 20 years old, and it has a certain charm to it - a "hometown vibe", if you will.  The fans reminded me of those friends and family members I encountered in the Midwest, and the mascot (SJ Sharkie) is a real character.  This was going to be a fun Saturday night!


After a rousing introduction, which involved the players skating on to the ice through a gigantic shark's mouth, we were treated to a very entertaining contest.  The visiting Minnesota Wild jumped out to a 2-0 lead, before the Sharks evened the score with two quick goals midway through the second period from Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, popular fan favorites who each signed 3-year contract extensions that morning.  At that point, Chad and I used the second intermission and the third period to continue our tour of the facility, starting in the team store and randomly wandering around to get different views of the ice:

We made it back to our seats to watch the final moments of the game, which came to a 2-2 tie at the end of regulation.  It was now on to overtime!  After a tense few minutes, featuring scoring chances for both teams, the Sharks and their fans would soon go home happy as the aforementioned Thornton netted the game-winner with 90 seconds left in the extra period.

I'm sure I'll be back at the Shark Tank again at some point in the near future, but we did make sure to walk around and soak in the ambiance one more time after the game was over.  From there, a nice leisurely stroll through the pleasant San Jose night concluded with a return to our hotel, and some much-needed rest after a rather long day.


So, what else is there to do in San Jose?  My father spent years traveling the world during his time in the United States Navy and fell in love with the Bay Area when he came there to visit in the 1970's, so when I posed this question to him, he had a simple response:  The Winchester Mystery House.  He said that he'd always heard the stories of this famous mansion, and urged me to see it on his behalf.  It might have been an odd suggestion, but it turned out to be a worthwhile outing - it's a fun way to spend a Sunday morning, and I'd recommend it to anyone who visits the area.  You're not allowed to take photos inside, so I waited until after the 90-minute tour had ended, and found a nice view of the front of the building:

But a funny thing happened on our way out of the Mystery House: within a display case full of brochures for the various tourist attractions in the area, I saw a card promoting a STAR WARS exhibit at the museum that was located next door to our hotel.  We still had time before heading home, and Chad didn't need much convincing, so we back-tracked and returned to where we began the day.

The Tech Museum of Innovation, a state-of-the-art science center in the heart of San Jose, served as a host for the traveling exhibit known as Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination.  It featured a fascinating display of Star Wars memorabilia, from props to costumes, in addition to presenting various interactive experiences designed to educate visitors on the modern-day concepts that grew from ideas originated in the beloved film franchise.

Of course, putting a dork in a room full of nerdy artifacts will eventually lead to some goofy photos, especially in the presence of a Tusken Raider or Sith Lord...

Apparently, he "found my lack of faith disturbing", and insisted that I had "failed him for the last time".
It was an unexpected surprise during our stay, and a timely one at that - the exhibit would only remain for three more months before ending its tour for good.  I could not think of a better "parting gift" as we left San Jose...

At this point, we were starting to lose what was left of the day's sunlight, so we made a quick 30-mile jaunt through the Santa Cruz Mountains to the town of Felton, home of the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.  I've got several friends from northern California, and when I told them I was going up to see a Sharks game and asked for a good spot to see some redwoods, Felton was the recommendation.

We arrived just before the park closed, which gave us enough time for a nice half-hour walk through the woods.  These enormous trees really are a sight to behold - you can't help but be humbled by your surroundings.  I tried to document the area accordingly, but it's hard to get perspective through the frame of a photograph, so here's the best I could do, using Chad as a visual reference to show the enormity of the Sequoia:

After having experienced the crowded San Francisco cityscape, it was nice to spend some time in the confines of nature, complete with the subdued echo of the various insects who inhabit the forest.  Our relaxing walk took us along a circular trail through the woods, before wrapping up at the Nature Center, which featured a cross-section of one of the mighty trees (several plaques detailing the historical events that occurred during its extended lifetime were mounted on display):

Famished, we headed back toward civilization just as the sun was setting, arriving in nearby Santa Cruz for dinner at a local institution, the Santa Cruz Diner.  This charming little restaurant was a great spot for our final meal before the lengthy drive back to Los Angeles - the decor was inviting, the prices were great, and the food was terrific (I had the delicious Pineapple Tofu Scramble).

For a quick weekend adventure, I'd say we had a wonderful time - I'm kicking myself for having waited so long to make this trip up the coast, but I'm sure I'll be back again fairly soon.


Befitting for an arena of its age, the team store at SAP Center was rather small, at times forcing the fans to wait in line in the concourse until the people inside departed.  Once we finally entered, I found that there was only one shot glass to choose from, and I didn't much care for it.  Instead, I went online when I got home and found this sweet glass, depicting the team's original logo:


A long-awaited trip to "The City That Never Sleeps"...

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