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Travelogue California: The World’s Largest Gingerbread House in San Francisco?

Uphill in San FranciscoWe had all of two days to spend in San Francisco with my parents-in-law, and for some reason, I was stuck on seeing this two-story gingerbread house — made of real gingerbread, of course — at the Fairmont Hotel. So everyone decided to indulge me. (This isn’t so surprising, by the way.)

To capture the essence of San Francisco, our mission — and we all chose to accept it — was to abandon our car and navigate the hills and curves of the city by the bay completely on foot. Surprisingly, we more than managed (despite the stroller!) and we didn’t get lost. Not even once.

It turns out that getting to the aforementioned gingerbread house, though, was quite a hike. We started out from our hotel — the lovely Tuscan Inn, which hosts an evening wine reception and offers freshly brewed a.m. coffee — at the Fisherman’s Wharf, and headed west. Which turned out to be straight upward for more than a mile. Great exercise, yes, but not super-fun when you’re pushing a ten-month-old in a rickety stroller.

In any case, the trek itself was fun. Along the way, we stopped in North Beach for croissants and cappuccinos on Columbus Avenue. Then we paused for a break — which we certainly needed by then — at the Cable Car Museum (free!). The museum itself was fascinating — it showed the working gears of all three cable car lines, along with restored cars from the 19th century. There was a short documentary film, and photographs of the city before and after the great earthquake and fire of 1906.

The museum, it turned out, was only a few blocks from the Fairmont, but we didn’t realize that because of the giant hill in front of us. We huffed and puffed our way to the stately old building, which has been standing between California and Sacramento streets since 1907 — a year after the fire.

Gingerbread House at Fairmont HotelInside, the hotel was what you’d expect from these grand affairs: sprawling and a bit overdone, with a giant Christmas tree standing front and center. Behind it stood the famed two-story gingerbread house.

I have to admit: at first I was disappointed. This is what we had trekked all this way for? Sure, there was real gingerbread. Sure, it was decorated with gum drops and candy canes and all kinds of little treats. And sure, the structure was up to code. But the poles holding it up were not real candy. Instead, they were just plaster poles wrapped in striped paper. The whole thing just struck me as, well, sort of hollow.

Kavya at the Christmas TreeBut then something magical happened. Kavya noticed. She saw the tree, with it’s muted-yet-glittering blue and gold decorations. She saw the striped poles, and the brightly lit candy-coated house, she crawled about, touching wreaths and gum drops and this and that.

Suddenly, the formerly-shallow structure was emanating warmth, a Christmas cheer you couldn’t manufacture with gingerbread tiles and candy-coated window panes alone. It was the spirit of the moment — a warm family gathering in front of a minor marvel — that did the trick. We posed and played, she crawled about it and right through. And in that moment, our mile-plus uphill hike — a fun adventure in itself — seemed completely worth it.

Honestly, the whole thing reminded me of this: there’s nothing like walking as way to really get to know a new place, but especially a city. Meandering through the different neighborhoods of San Francisco, from the touristy Wharf, to the more mellow, hipster-y North Beach to the frenetic chaos of Chinatown, we really got a feel for how the city’s residents live. We got to marvel at the centuries worth of architecture, pointing out the old Victorians called Painted Ladies and oddities like the boxy mid-century building and one peculiar,  ivy-covered brownstone. But the long walks also gave us time for extended, energetic conversations, and a refreshingly sharp and interesting way to create a family trip.

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