First, the facts: the action takes place in present-day San Francisco (and other places) over two days in late spring: Thursday, May 31, and Friday, June 1.
We really get a California vibe from all the real San Francisco references, like Fisherman's Wharf (can't you just taste that King crab?), Coit Tower, and the notorious prison island of Alcatraz. Plus, there's Ojai, home of Ojai Park, which really does have a fountain like the one Josh destroys with his Hummer. Michael Scott clearly has an eye for geographic detail. But that should be no surprise, given all the mythological details he includes as well.
But let's face it: The Alchemyst is way too magical to just cool its heels in plain old San Francisco. We also journey to otherworldly settings, like Hekate's Shadowrealm, and we go "through the looking glass" to Paris at the end.
If you look really closely at the book, though, you'll realize most of the action doesn't take place in any one of these places at all—most of it takes place en route between real and magical worlds, with all of the characters piling into the SUV on a big road trip. As with many quests, it's the journey, not the destination that counts.
Despite the fact that several characters are hundreds or even thousands of years old, this book has an incredibly modern feel. In fact, much of the novel focuses on the clash between age-old magic and newfangled technology. Characters use a GPS system to drive to Ojai to visit an ancient Witch. They try to recharge their cell phones in a magical tree where no electricity is allowed. Oh, and they drive state-of-the-art Hummers into ancient wizard-villains.
This juxtaposition—a fancy word that means placing things side-by-side to bring out contrast—serves a key purpose in the novel. Every time Josh Googles a figure or guns the engine, while fighting bad sorcery, we're force to believe the impossible. We can't help but wonder if magic can happen in our time. Of course if you asked Josh and Sophie, they'd tell you, absolutely.