As I mentioned in my blog a couple of weeks ago, at the beginning of summer my 16-year-old daughter, Valerie, made a list of places in the Bay Area that she wanted to visit before school starts in August. Most of the destinations on the list are shopping opportunities such as Nordstrom Rack, the bead store, and even the Dump where she wanted to scavenge for a funky shelf that she could repaint and use in her room. However, there was one place on her list of destinations that didn’t involve buying stuff but instead, culture and refinement: the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.

Valerie had gone to the Legion of Honor on a field trip with her English class last year and wanted to visit it again because the setting, the architecture, and the huge works of art there made her feel as if she had been transported to a European city. And with good reason; until I looked it up online, I didn’t realize that the Legion was a three-quarter scale adaptation of the Palais de la Legion d’Honneur in Paris. Quelle surprise!

If you’re lucky enough to go there on a sunny day when the Bay absolutely sparkles and San Francisco looks very charming because it is too far in the distance to know how congested and grubby it is, the Legion is a really spectacular place to visit.

The Legion of Honor offers a beautiful setting, a short drive, and a chance for the artists in my family to take their sketch books and literally draw inspiration from important works of art. Because we’ve opted to not really take a vacation in order keep the cost down, the Legion of Honor sounded like the ideal day-cation for us.

In addition to the museum, our daughters asked if we could put one other stop on our itinerary: since we were going to be in San Francisco, could we possibly make a quick stop at the Asian bookstore in Japantown? “Pretty please?” they said, followed by heavy batting of eyelashes. This bookstore in Japantown is the only place ““ including the internet ““ that sells the little boxes of plastic food imported from Japan that my daughters are crazy about. We had been there two weeks ago, and since then, they’ve been trying to figure out how they could feed their addiction to teeny-tiny food.

Let me pause here, to let you know that this story is not leading up to a punch line where the car breaks down, the museum is closed, we get lost and end up at home exhausted and wondering why we thought a trip into San Francisco was a good idea in the first place.

No, quite the opposite. Actually the day exceeded expectations. Steve knows the back-door and very scenic route to the Legion of Honor that took us past the multi-million dollar homes in the Sea Cliff area of San Francisco, it took us less than 40 minutes to get there, parking was a breeze, and most unbelievable of all, it was free.

The museum was busy but never felt like we were at Disneyland. And until we arrived there, we had forgotten that we had read in the newspaper that the Legion was hosting an exhibition of women impressionists. For someone like me who didn’t progress beyond Art History 101, I oftentimes struggle at a museum to understand what I should appreciate in a particular piece of art. I’m constantly thinking, “What is it I’m supposed to be seeing in this piece that makes it significant?”

However, the artwork of the woman impressionists was so lovely and peaceful that I could enjoy it just because they were such pretty pictures. And because these artists drew from every day life, they are also very easy to relate to. For instance, Mary Cassatt’s “Woman Preparing to Wash Her Sleepy Child,” well, there’s a situation I know something about.

Everyone we encountered at the museum was unusually friendly from the security guy who asked Steve if he could see his sketches and ended up swapping life stories with him to the guard who volunteered to let us out the “emergency only” side door when we mentioned that was the closest exit to our car.

When we left the Legion and made our way on Geary through the Avenues to Japantown, the girls got a kick out of the mishmash of ethnic restaurants that we passed. There was Chinese, Korean, Russian, Irish, Thai, Basque, Israeli, Eritrean (where the heck is that?), Vietnamese, Mexican, Japanese, and of course, American-style diners. And I’m sure we passed a vegetarian restaurant or two.

We ended the day eating sushi at a little restaurant in Japantown and treating the girls to a couple of boxes of miniature food ““ at $3.90 each ““ from the Asian bookstore.

I know we had a darn good day-cation because as Jennifer said on the way home, “I really feel like I went some where.”

Now, if I could only get that annoying Go-Gos song out of my head”¦


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