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Car-Free Adventure: Ghiradelli Square Tree Lighting


Apparently I have two adorable children and one adorable zombie. I love them all the same.

I don’t know why my post about this event almost a year ago was sitting in drafts, but hey — the same event is coming up in a few weeks, on Nov. 27, from 5-9 p.m., so enjoy!

There are times when not having a car causes us inconvenience. Then there are times when we feel like being car-free is causing us inconvenience, only to realize that even if we owned a car, we would not have driven it to that particular destination.

That’s how our trip to the Ghiradelli Square Tree Lighting went down on Black Friday.

This trip was long and it took longer than we wanted it to. As so often happens, we left the house later than we meant to. The event began at 4 p.m. in San Francisco, but because we were busy getting our house ready for the biweekly cleaning crew and doing some half-price shopping at Goodwill and Salvation Army, we didn’t leave the house until around the time the event was starting. But that was OK, because the tree lighting, presided over by Santa Clause, wasn’t to occurr until 5:30 p.m.

We walked down to the bus stop. The O transbay bus was late, but when we finally boarded, it got us to downtown San Francisco in short order. We walked over to the F Trolley stop, and as usual, waited and waited there. By now, we had only 20 minutes until the tree lighting and we feared we would miss it.

We crossed over to the bay side of the Embarcadero and asked a pedicab driver how much it would take to haul all of us — more than 500 pounds of human cargo — over to Ghiradelli Square. He said it would cost $50 and advised us to take a regular taxi instead. We hailed one, and then proceeded to crawl through traffic, while I watched the clock tick down. Normally we would not take a cab as a family, because there were not enough seat belts for everyone in the back seat. But this was desperation: We did not want to miss Santa Claus.

You know how when you try to get into a taxi with too many people, you try to play it cool so the driver will agree to take you? That didn’t happen. The whole ride, Pebbles wailed, “I’m squished! There’s no room for me!” Real subtle, Pebbles.

This is the moment where I was tempted to curse our car-free lifestyle for making us late and for making us unsafely squeeze into this cab. But when we really thought about it, we realized we would have never chosen to drive to the city on Black Friday. We would have never found parking near Ghiradelli Square. So really, we were doing the best that we could. Our real mistake was deciding to have that third kid, but it is too late to fix that now.


When we finally got to Ghiradelli Square, the tree was already aglow and Santa was nowhere to be seen. But a band had just taken the stage to sing Christmas carols, and fake snow was falling from above, so the kids were not at all disappointed.


We slowly moved toward the front as other families gradually moved on, and we sang along, and grinned at how nice it felt to have “snow” fall on us while not feeling the least bit chilly.


After enjoying a few songs, we made our way to the back of the stage, so I could check in with the press representative who had tipped us off to this lovely event, Ghiradelli Square’s 50th annual tree lighting ceremony. The event was open to the public, but it’s not something I would have known to attend without the heads up, so we were grateful. When I found my PR friend, she gave me a tote bag full of Ghiradelli chocolates, which certainly made the evening even sweeter. We found Santa back there too, with a long line of kids waiting to sit on his lap. My kids are funny about Santa, though — they like to see him, wave hi, and then move on. They never want to sit on his lap.

So instead we went and bought some pupusas from one of the street food vendors set up for the event. And then, since it was Friday night and we had no hurry to get home to bed, we took a long, glorious walk, through the Cannery area, down Fisherman’s Wharf and all the way down the Embarcadero. I showed Erik the behind-the-scenes things I had learned about the Wharf by taking the Detour beta audiotour, we stopped on Pier 39 for a bucket of mini donuts (of course) and we generally had a nice time. Only one of the kids whined continuously (she was thirsty, and it took a long time before we came to a fountain) (yes it was Pebbles).

We walked all the way to the Embarcadero BART station (it was after 8 p.m. by then and the last ferry to Alameda had already set sail). The really annoying part about taking BART home when you’re tired is that you then have to take a bus from Oakland to Alameda. (Maybe someday we won’t have to.) The first bus that came along only took us as far as Park Street, so then we had to walk home from there. The kids were remarkable troopers. Since we no longer carry a stroller, even the 5-year-old walked for miles that night. But it was a beautiful night, and in the end we realized that we wouldn’t have done it any other way.