The trip is over. After a v-e-r-y l-o-n-n-n-g d-a-y, we arrived in NC, to find none of the wine bottles had broken in our suitcases, a very happy-to-see-us cat, and our own bed. Can you tell we’re happy to be here, even in the chill and the rain, despite having a wonderful trip? We had good coffee Saturday morning without having to truck over to Starbucks, and picked a very tired Gracie up from camp. Life, laundry, and the pursuit of groceries. We are home.
Most of Thursday was filled with a tour to Sonoma, but to get there we walked along Bay Street past the odd numbered piers of San Francisco to the Port Building to meet up with the tour group. The pier buildings date to the early 1900s and – unlike the beach piers in North Carolina – are large, stone, really beautiful old buildings (with an actual pier attached to the back side, I assume). Odd numbered piers go from the Port building in downtown San Francisco over as far as Fisherman’s Wharf, and the even numbered piers continue away from the Port building on the opposite side. I believe most actual commercial shipping is done on the Oakland side of the bay these days, and some of the San Francisco piers have taken on a retail and/or tourist flavor (such as Pier 39).
We met our tour group near the trolley stop in front of the Port clock tower, and rode through a number of San Francisco neighborhoods before heading over the Golden Gate and on to wine country.
You can see the difference in the terrain as we get into wine country. The hillsides which are brown now, in the dry season, turn a lush green as the season moves to winter and rainy in November or December. We also left behind the gloomy chill fog of the city, and traded it for a glorious, sunny, seventies day. Although the temps are warmer in wine country, they stay fairly constant throughout the year.
We first visited the Viansa Winery. That’s a combination of the owner’s names, Vicky and Sam. I guess if Vicky and Bubba ever start a winery, it could be called Vianbu. We enjoyed a tasting, mostly reds, and left with a bottle of Cabernet Franc (John’s favorite) and a Pinot Rose.
Next, on to the actual town of Sonoma. It’s a quaint, adorable, touristy type of town, with the government building in the center of the town square, and shops on the four bordering streets.
Sonoma is home to the northernmost of the original California missions. The missions were built by Spanish Missionaries, each roughly one day’s horseback ride apart, from the Mexican border up as far north as Sonoma. We didn’t go into the mission as we had just around 2 hours in the town, and wanted to eat lunch, and have sufficient time for ‘tasting’. Fortunately, the strategy paid off. We spent most of our time in two wine shops, the Charles Winery and Sonoma Wine Shop. Both establishments had very friendly, chatty hosts. We sipped and talked, and talked and sipped. I feel fortunate that we came home with just four bottles of wine, and joined only one wine club. The Charles Winery rendered a most excellent Pinot Gris, and the Sonoma Wine Shop provided a wonderful zin. Our ‘host’ at the Sonoma Wine Shop lived in Asheville for a few years, so we actually had a little bit in common.
One more winery, with a welcoming sign, . The Buena Vista winery was founded by a Hungarian scallawag named Agoston Haraszthy, who is largely credited with founding the state’s wine industry, having imported European grape vines to get the whole thing started.
Thursday evening we concluded our week with dinner in North Beach at The Stinking Rose (mmm…got garlic?) and a walk through China Town.
We are so spoiled. Bob and Barbara picked us up again this morning at the hotel, and took us over the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County. Wisps of foggy mist floated downward from the mass of grayness in the sky, and the chill in the air showed me the San Francisco climate I’ve envisioned. The top of the bridge wasn’t visible, but as we passed the bridge area into Marin County, things cleared up a bit and we saw some sun peeking through at times. I think John was a bit nervous winding around the mountain roads, then back down to Muir Woods. So beautiful. So unnaturally full of people. So worth seeing anyway. I’m sad that the photos I’ve posted will never do justice to this unbelievably beautiful environment.
After our venture into the woods, we wound back down into Sausalito, passing big houses practically stilted into the hillsides. A different style and look, but strangely reminiscent of my native Pittsburgh. Sausalito is an adorable little town, with pretty garden spots and trendy little shops. We stopped at Horizons on the waterfront for a long and delicious lunch. We sat on the deck, overlooking the bay, and could see Alcatraz, Angel Island, as well as both the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. Even with heaters on the deck, it was still a bit chilly, but just too beautiful to remain inside.
After lunch, we crossed back over the Golden Gate to San Francisco. Bob took us through the Presidio area, which we hadn’t seen before, and through some beautiful residential neighborhoods. They dropped us off back at the hotel late in the afternoon and, after expressing just how enjoyable they’ve made our San Francisco stay and extracting a promise from them to come visit us soon, we took our leave of Bob and Barbara. I think this trip turned some acquaintances into friends for us, for which I am very thankful.
We walked past this place a number of times in the past couple of days since we’ve been in SF. Today, however, when we got off the Alcatraz ferry and, searching for food, gave in to the trashy, touristy, Bubba Gump Shrimp sign, did I fully realize just how BIG this place really is. There are bunches of restaurants, tons of shops, and even a carousel. The best part, however, was the seals. They called us over to see them with their barking. SO exciting! (oh, and lunch wasn’t bad either.)
Today started with the “early bird” tour to Alcatraz, and actually 9AM does seem a bit early when on vacation. It was a short and easy walk to the pier, and even though we were earlier than we needed to be, there were a lot of interesting Alcatraz related displays that helped to while away the time. Did you know that the name Alcatraz was derived from the Spanish word, Alcatraces, which means something like “strange bird”, believed to be a reference to the pelicans found on and near the island? Or that quite a few families lived there during Alcatraz’s days as a federal prison, as the workers were permitted to bring the families along?
At any rate, we boarded the ferry and left port around 9:10AM for about a 20 minute ride out to the island.
The tour is self guided, using a taped audio tour and headset. Although self guided, a park ranger gives everyone an intro to the island when you get off of the boat, then it’s recommended to watch a 17 minute film about the history of the island. Although the island was in use during the Civil War, and housed military prisoners in WWI (largely conscientious objectors), the tour focused on its use as a federal prison, presumably because that’s its most recent history. The gray, damp, fogginess of the day and the chill wind makes one realize just how bleak it would have seemed to the prisoners. The cells were about the size of my bathroom at home. With a cot inside the cell, I’m not sure how they didn’t wind up with muscle atrophy, despite daily visits to the recreation area.
Please take a look a the Alcatraz photos, if you have a few minutes.
Slept in a little today – after 6AM. I must be getting accustomed to Pacific time.
We decided to walk to the Golden Gate from our hotel, and walk across as far as our sensibilities allowed. We made an initial stop at Starbucks near Ghiradelli Square, as my coffee addiction wouldn’t allow us to pass it by. What an absolutely gorgeous start to my morning to sit on a park bench with my most beloved, and watch the beauty of San Francisco bay as I ate my bagel and swilled strong coffee.
From there, we began our walk to the Golden Gate Bridge. There’s a very nice walking path that follows the bay, I believe from the Bay Bridge to the Golden Gate (or at least that appears to be the case). The first items of interest were the Maritime Museum.
and a really cool looking sailboat.
We even saw a sea lion lolling around in the water, but not close enough to snap a photo.
Next, we continued on through the Fort Mason area, formerly an Army base,
Back near the waterfront through the Marina district
Then to Crissy Field, an old Army airstrip built on former swampland that had been filled with rubble. It’s now a very nice waterfront park, with many of the old buildings having been re-purposed.
From there, it was a steep climb up a pedestrian stairway to the bridge itself.
I’ll take up where the last post left off ( I think ) with the drive by AT&T field. We somehow managed to get there at precisely the time when a ball game was finishing, and traffic was creeping along just ever so, giving a great opportunity for us to chat a bit, and to take photos that don’t show too much movement. So, just for George, here’s AT&T park.
Coit Tower is truly impressive. Visible from all over the city, Coit Tower illustrates a symbol dedicated to San Francisco Fire Fighters with its shape representing the nozzle of a fire hose. With a fantastic view of the city, Coit Tower attracts numerous visitors each day. We were fortunate enough to visit on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and saw the red-white-and-blue lights illuminating the site.
As I start writing, I am just hoping I can remember enough to do justice to the wonderful tour given to us by John’s college friends, Bob and Barbara Cosby. Barbara is a native North Carolinian, having grown up in Roanoke Rapids, but Bob was born in San Francisco and, though living many places as a Navy brat, considers San Francisco his childhood home. They picked us up in front of our hotel around 10AM. We drove first by Ghiradelli Square, and saw Bob’s and Barbara’s first apartment near there, back in the 70s, then proceeded through a number of park areas including Fort Mason, Crissy Field (formerly an Army air field) and a very nice trail (that we plan to walk) around to the Golden Gate Bridge. We drove past the Palace of Fine Arts, a very impressive structure in the Marina district, built in 1915 as part of the Panama American Exposition.
We also drove through the relatively flat Marina district residential area, which Bob says was built on a foundation of debris from the 1906 earthquake and fire. (Bob is a wealth of knowledge about San Francisco.) Bob also says it’s where single women live – due to the safety of the streets and trendy shopping areas – and the SafeWay grocery store is a notorious pick up spot for young men on the prowl. Probably not what you hear on most guided tours.
Before crossing the Golden Gate, we parked and took a look at some of the views.
Next, we drove over the Golden Gate to Marin County, home of Sausalito, an absolutely adorable little town, and presumably quite pricey according to Barbara. We drove on to Muir Woods, a 240 acre redwood forest. We attempted to park in the closest parking lot….then the next closest…. then on down the hill….until it became apparent that we were not going to be able to park at all. Instead, we stopped for a delicious brunch at a British style tavern called the Pelican Inn, in Muir Beach. After lunch, Bob wound around a lot of mountain roads (yes, mountains, John) and down to the beaches. My first view of the Pacific Ocean!
As we approached the bridge to return to the San Francisco side, we learned that a toll is charged going into the city, but not going out. An interesting concept. I’d love to see the revenue projections behind that decision. We moved on to the Cliff House. As the name implies, the building sits on a cliff overlooking San Francisco Bay, the Seal Rocks, the Sutro Baths, and one of the widest beaches I’ve ever seen. The history of the place is fascinating, with 5 different buildings having been on the site since the mid-1800s. If you are interested in such things, take a look at the wikipedia link to read about the moguls who built the early buildings, the storms, shipwrecks, and explosions. Although now pretty much a beautiful restaurant with a historic location, there was once a Victorian hotel, baths (actually something akin to indoor swimming pools, in the days before indoor swimming pools), and even an amusement park on the beach. We walked around outside, viewing the sites, and had a panoramic view of the bay in which to enjoy our afternoon cocktail. One of my favorite spots so far, having so many lovely pictures that I have added the photos to a separate page.
Cliff house was followed by a driving tour of every neighborhood in San Francisco you might be able to name, from the financial district, to the Castro theater district; North Beach to Chinatown; Russian Hill, Nob Hill, Telegraph Hill and the Haight. The Dolores Mission, unfortunately, was closed when we arrived there. It is one of the original missions in San Francisco, dating to the 18th century, and within it’s walls is one of just two cemeteries in the city of San Francisco. Although disappointed not to see inside, I was able to obtain a couple of exterior photos.
I still have so much more to add regarding yesterday’s trip. AT&T field pics for George, photos from the Twin Peaks. The many photos of Coit Tower will probably need a page of their own, not to mention some new plants to add for Althea, and the revolutionary hotel shower curtain. So much more to tell. How can I possibly be ‘falling behind’ while I’m on vacation??? No time to ponder that now. More places trails to blaze and sights to see. I’m off to the shower… More later.
I’m very proud of myself. I managed to remain in bed, and do some dozing until 5AM. Since I’m accustomed to waking up at 5AM eastern, this was quite a feat. After a shower (during which I discovered I packed two shampoos and no creme rinse) I was able to squeeze in about a half hour of yoga, courtesy of NetFlix, and get limbered up for the day.
John and I discovered there isn’t a preponderance of breakfast spots in Fisherman’s Wharf, with IHop being the most frequent recommendation. (Hmmm…there’s something wrong with flying for 7 hours to eat at IHop.) So we ventured out into the coolish, dampish Sunday morning, up Mason Street to the North Beach area, which is a very cool little neighborhood. It’s not a beach, and is supposed to be the Italian area, but it looked primarily Asian to me.
We found a few additional interesting food places on the way back to the hotel. A place sure to have a Sam Adams.
And (I think) the place where John learned to be so cheesy.
Alarm at 4:30AM, and out of the house by 6:10. No lines at the airport, no terrorists, all went well. A long day, however, with a 3 hour flight to Houston, followed by lunch at Bubba’s Bar & Grill in Houston, then a 4 hour flight to San Francisco. Our crazy van driver took us from the airport to Fisherman’s Wharf, where we are staying. We took the Ocean Blvd exit. Saw some ‘regular’ neighborhoods. The landscaping in people’s yards was very interesting. I couldn’t identify any of the vegetation outside of ‘grass’. All trees, bushes and flowering plants are new to me. Then we dropped off two seemingly nice young ladies that apparently are staying in the XXX district. A very interesting tour of SF, to say the least.
The room at the Radisson is small, but adequate. Great location. After check-in, we walked from the hotel to Ghiradelli Square only to find that the chocolate festival was closing up for the day. We wandered around in the surprisingly cool weather for a while, and stopped at Alioto’s on the bay for a yummy seafood dinner. I’m afraid Pacific time is doing us in, however, considering our early rising time on the east coast. It’s kind of hard to believe we are really here.