San Francisco

For our Honeymoon we chose to go to San Francisco, a city about which we had heard much and Vickie had been to briefly in the past. We asked many people for ideas of what to do and compiled a list: we aimed for 1-3 items per day, as we felt inclined.

Day 1: Civic Center, Cable Car Museum, and Ghirardelli Square

We stayed at the Hotel California at the corner of Post and Geary streets. It had a very nice lobby, a vegan restaurant (we passed on that), very helpful and pleasant staff, and very clean rooms. We learned, however, that at night the next block down the hill is not very pleasant to walk around.

On our first day out, we explored the trenches...we stepped out of the door, looked around, and headed for the tallest buildings... the financial district. Adjacent to the financial district was the civic area, with City Hall below, in the center.

In addition to many architectural delights, various areas in the city appear to have comissioned murals by artists. According to a friend who works with homeless people, San Francisco has the highest concentration, by a rather large degree (~2X?).

Naturally, we had to find Chinatown. While not quite as intense as NYC Chinatown when it comes to people, shops, and tall buildings; Chinatown in San Francisco is much more spread out (has its own library) and thus is less overwhelming to even the seasoned C-town traveler.

Clearly, a ride on the cable car was also on the list. At the end of one line is the Cable Car Museum, housed in the line's power stations. Below are the 4 motors powering two different cable car lines.

From the museum we travelled down hill to visit Ghirardelli Square (the chocolate place). They did have some original equipment on display, but the emphasis was on the gift shop and the cafe.

Justin could not decide what to try, and pragmaticaly selected both the cocoa and the liqueur (light and heavy hot chocolate). He could not finish the liqueur and we had it with breakfast the next morning, by which time it had solidified to a large truffle filling!

We walked back to the hotel that evening and stopped by the top of "the crooked-est street in the world", as they claim thereabouts, to take some night-time pictures. There is a really nice picture of the bay bridge in the gallery.

Day 2: Coit Tower, Telegraph Hill, The Embarcadero, Buena Vista Park, Japan Town

We decided to walk over to Coit Tower in the late morning, hoping to avoid long lines but not be thwarted by fog. [High hopes of a really cool panoramic photograph of the area around Telegraph Hill.] On the way, we stopped by a bakery which had the oldest brick ovens standing since the 'big one'.

There Justin found (and bought) the biggest macaroon he had ever seen. It weighed about 2/3 of a pound, cost $3.50 (if memory serves me correctly). Boy, was it good! The owner was very nice and told us a little about their business and the area.

We arrive at the base of the main ascent to Coit Tower. The tower was built as a fire watchtower, in memory of Mrs. Coit, who was a proponent of firefighters for the city during her life and left the sum of $125,000 for the project. The brick buiding at the top of the street is a grade school. Based on the sign, we assume they all walk to school.

On the far side of the hill, we descended toward the bay down a hillside walk/stairway which wandered through houses built on steps in the hill. Very pretty gardens surrounded most homes, but moving in and out (and carrying any construction materials) must all be done on foot.

Walking through Levi Square, we ended up on the Embarcadero, a street that runs along the waterfront where most of the piers are located. We had lunch at The Slanted Door, then walked the length of the Embarcadero, ending at the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market. The sourdough cheese wheels we found at one bakery inside were excellent.

At the end of Market Street, we picked up the BART and rode down to the Mission district for the best burritos in the world at El Farolito (around the corner from the Mission & 24th Streets stop). As advised, we ordered the "pulled roast pork super burrito". Alas, we were too full to eat there, so the burrito would have to wait until dinner time.

At Justin's behest, we walked back up Mission Street and then turned left to go see Buena Vista Park. We saw a lot of working class areas to start, then there was a slight gentrification towards Buena Vista Park (as we neared the Haight-Ashbury district). There was some good graffiti (both illegal and commissioned murals), which is in its own gallery. Buena Vista Park was bigger than we expected, it took 30-40 minutes to get to the top of all the winding paths. Below is not the main pedestrian entrance, but the street and houses were interesting.

We then aimed straight for Japan Town and went in search of Ramen (we forgot about the burrito). Below is the pagoda at the center of the Japan town square. The area features a small series of buildings which are somewhat connected to form a long mall in the center of the 12-block area of Japanese and Korean shops. You can just make out the Denny's sign above the dwarf trees...who knew?

Ah, ramen at "Mifune"! It was a really good end to a long day.

Day 3: Napa and Sonoma Valleys vineyards bus tour

We had the burrito from El Farolito for breakfast, and even though cold, it was the best burrito we had _ever_ had. Hands down, no question, we're going back and getting one to go after eating-in next time we go to San Francisco. That good.

We were still on work schedule, so the lobby was rather empty when we departed in the mornings.

Today's feature was an all-day tour out to Napa and Sonoma Valleys. For $125 a person (all costs except lunch included), we toured Madonna Vineyards in Napa, had lunch in Sonoma (it is a city as well as the valley region), and then toured the Viansa and Cline Vineyards in Sonoma. Tasting bars/areas varied was large and focussed on the wine, another felt like a grocery store, and the third a small tavern. Despite all the wines we tried, we ended up liking the cheapest stuff best!

For about $7, we enjoyed a classic lunch of cheese and fresh bread in the square at Sonoma City. Below Justin is momentarily overwhelmed by the cheese selection at "The Sonoma Cheese Factory" (the case is ~25 feet long), where there were free samples of ~30 cheeses in another display case.

The picture below is of the Viansa Vineyards--gorgeous grounds--which had a heavy sideline of hosting functions to enjoy the views their grounds offer: lots of weddings, we were told.

Althogh they seem expensive, the tours were definitely worth it, especially since we could talk and watch the countryside go by at will, entry fees of $10-25 for each vineyard were included, and some of the vineyards have no limit on what you can sample at their bar! Not to mention that we spent the entire day without worry, while being entertained and educated by our driver, John.

Day 4: Muir Woods, Sausalito, the Palace of Fine Arts, Japan Town (again)

Thursday began with another tour, this time half a day spent going to Muir woods and Sausalito. The Redwood trees at Muir woods were amazing. In the picture below, the hole in the rotted out center of this smaller tree is approximately 5 feet high. It is interesting to note that the trees in this region, which ranged up to about 10 feet in diameter, were the smaller of those in the state, as we only visited the southern-most enclave, we later learned. Breath-taking, nonetheless.

Sausalito was a nice town, but we did not have much time to do more than wander around the tourist-y (shopping) areas. I forget the name, but we had one of the best vegetable pizza slices around the bend in the road towards "Scoma's" restaurant... a little hole-in-the-wall place where they only spoke Spanish. Thankfully, Vickie was less ashamed of her Spanish than I was of mine and we were able to purchase a slice. I wish I had remembered to take a picture of the place, but I did not, so in its stead, here is a picture of an inn literally "on the water".

After returning from the Muir Woods tour, we took a bus from Ghirardelli square over to The Palace of Fine Arts. (We passed on the Exploratorium.) This beautiful structure was built for the San Francisco World's Fair.

Much of the structure no longer stands, due to neglect, earthquakes, and intentional razing.

After the Palace of Fine Arts, we walked though Cow Hollow and Pacific Heights towards Japan Town. There were a few hills involved. In the days of his stand-up career, Bill Cosby performed a skit about the hills in San Francisco where a local joker would place a stop sign just at the top to watch out-of-town drivers struggle to get back in gear. It's funny becuase some of the hills reach a slope of 30 degrees (or more), and if you don't like roller coasters, your first trip on the trolley or bus can be a little unnerving. Below is one of the steeper hills...the city gave up on the sidewalk and just put in stairs.

So good we had to come back for more! Just as good at "Osakaya Japanese Restaurant".

Day 5: Alcatraz, Diego Rivera mural

Ding! Ding! Rice-a-roni, the San Francisco treat! At the end of this line, since there is no room for a loop, cars coast to a turntable and are rotated to the return leg of the loop.

What trip to San Francisco would be complete without a trip to 'The Rock'? We took a morning ferry to Alcatraz and spent about half of the day there, wandering around. The park features themed tours lead by rangers, but you are generally on your own to explore the many acres and structures. We learned a lot of the island's history as we roamed about, including that guards' families lived there full time, and children were ferried to and from the mainland for school every day.

The parade ground (during the fort's time) where Nicholas Cage waves off the fighters with green flares in the movie "The Rock".

The "yard" from the corner under the iconic water tower.

After returning from the park, we walked down to the financial district to find a hidden art treasure. Behind the old exchange building, at the top floor of the building can be found one of the few large murals by Diego Rivera, comissioned during the rise of his popularity during the Art Deco explosion. We should note that the interior of the first floor of Coit tower is covered with murals by those who studied with him.

The building was beautifully decorated, and the elevator doors on the top floor were single sheets of copper with embossed designs, each set of doors different!

The main lobby. The guard was very knowlegeable, explaining that there were many hidden and lost treasures in the building, spanning the decades since it was built.

Day 6: home and rest

The last day we took a morning flight home, and enjoyed a good meal while we looked through all these pictures! We placed some more in the gallery, so have a look.

All in all, we had a lot of fun explring the city; ate a ton of great food; saw many more shops, parks, buildings, et cetera; and walked so much (averaging 8 miles per day) we either lost weight or put on none. We still have more on our list of things to do/see, so we'll soon be back.