Tag Archive | San Francisco

Planning for the California Road Trip

Jon and I had some vacation scheduled for mid-March and of course, it fell to me to make a plan about where we should go.  Jon needed to take his vacation before the busy spring/summer season starts.  For those of you who have followed this blog, you know that I was also dealing with my sweet kitty Martini, who was undergoing chemo treatment for lymphoma.  I wanted to go to Virginia, but I was too anxious about flying somewhere and having something happen to Martini, so we decided on something within driving distance.  Sadly, we made the decision to euthanize Martini on March 1 – she was no longer holding her own against her lymphoma.

So, the idea of a California Road Trip was born.  I had been aching to get to San Francisco to see The Girl with a Pearl Earring, the famous painting by Johannes Vermeer.  The painting is currently on display at the DeYoung Museum until June, on loan from the Mauritshuis Royal Picture Gallery in the Netherlands.

Jon had been itching to visit Point Reyes again; he took a day trip there when he lived in California and really enjoyed the small town on the coast.  And what do you know?  Point Reyes National Seashore is there – an opportunity for me to get a stamp in my National Parks Passport!

We also wanted to visit the Northern California coast – we have seen most of the Oregon coast and the Southern California coast, so it seemed like it just had to be done.  There is also a National Park there – Redwood National Park.  Coast Redwoods are the world’s tallest and oldest trees.

And no trip to California would be complete without wine.  We have visited Napa, Sonoma, and the Santa Ynez Valley, and we wanted to add another wine-notch on our belt so to speak.  We had heard that the Anderson Valley is known for their Pinot Noirs, with cool night temperatures from the coastal fog that settles in the valley.  It sounded like a win!

To round out the trip, I planned visits to Monterey and Sacramento.  Monterey because I have heard nothing but good things about this little seaside community.  And Sacramento because Jon’s long-time friend lives there.  And I think Jon secretly wants to relive his memories of living there.  Or perhaps not so secretly.

So, just like that, we had a plan.  Who am I kidding?  I google-mapped distances, figured out where there were historical sites and national parks, tried to plot overnight stays in the most convenient, yet still affordable locations, and asked Jon 57,975 times for his input.  Which was answered each time with a “Yeah, I’ll look at it tonight.”  And finally I just planned what I wanted to do.  Because secretly (or not so secretly), I would rather just do what I want to do, and hey, if Jon isn’t going to provide input, then who cares!

And that is how the California Road Trip was born.  My series of posts will be coming over the next few weeks!

San Francisco Hill Workout in the Pouring Rain (aka Part 2)

The next day, we slept in a bit and got ready. We headed out for breakfast and found a diner with some really good food, but the grumpiest waitress on the West Coast. Geez, you’d think that she had just waited 45 minutes for her breakfast!

We decided that we were going to head over to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. I’m not sure that I had ever been to a modern art museum, and now that we have, Jon and I both agreed to avoid them in the future. I’m not an art snob by any means, but I think that for it to be art, it needs to be something I can’t do. These exhibits were just weird. There was an exhibit of collages made with other artist’s work (kind of a Van Gogh, Starry Night decoupage kids project), a billiard table with no pockets, a canvas painted all red (I could totally do that!), and my personal favorite, a room sized piece that consisted of a white clay baby Jesus surrounded by concentric circles of black clay poodles. Really, what is the symbolism of that? Are you telling me Jesus is going to get taken down during the second coming by a hoard of rabid poodles!? Jon and I were both in agreement that traditional art and history museums are more our style. But I supposed you have to do it so you can say you have.

Baby with Poodles

We left the museum and decided to have a little adventure with public transit. It was pouring, and we wanted to go see the Haight-Ashbury district and Golden Gate Park. Bus fares in San Francisco include the return ride too! So we got on and passed by the Capitol Building with its gold leaf dome, and passed through the Mission district. We got off in Haight-Ashbury and spent some time wandering around in the shops in the area. There was a really cool used bookstore with lots of good history books. And Jon’s favorite place, at the very end of the road… the record store. Amoeba records is like the Costco of record stores. New, used, movies, they had it all. Jon was in heaven! And I was bored. But he tries his best to not make me wait too long. He got a couple of things, and then we took a walk in Golden Gate Park. Mind you, it wasn’t really all that pleasant, because it was raining, so it was a rather brief walk. Once we got on the bus going back towards the Baldwin, we got to drive by The Painted Ladies! They are as cool as they look in all the movies. If I could live there, I would totally move to San Francisco. Something tells me I can’t afford them.

Golden Gate Park Carousel

Later that afternoon, we hooked back up with Pablo, and we got to go to another record store. This one had a weird valet elevator even! After that, we roamed around looking for something to eat, and found a little Thai place with the best food. The meal was delicious and the company was good. The only bad thing was that afterwards we had to venture back out in the pouring rain. By the time we got back to the hotel, we were soaked. My coat was still somewhat wet the next day.

The last day of our trip we only had a half day in San Francisco before we had to head back to the airport for our flight home. I had been curious about the Cable Car Museum, so after we got some breakfast, we walked to it. It was pretty neat. You can stand on a platform and watch all the cables in action. Literally, there are these gigantic cables, wrapped around gigantic pulleys, and the cable cars are pulled along their tracks from this location. They also have antique cable cars on display, and displays on the history of cable cars and how they came to be in San Francisco. And this museum is free too. We did buy a couple of souvenirs in the gift shop to help support the cause.

Antique Cable Car

After having a weekend of fun, it was time to go home. Any decent vacation is always too short.

San Francisco Hill Workout – Part 1

The first airplane trip that Jon and I took together was when we had been together about 6 months. At that point, I think we were both thinking that we were in the relationship for the long haul. The extended stay trip is kind of a milestone in a relationship, because it is a great opportunity to assess different skills (how does this guy react when he is tired and cranky and the airline loses his luggage?) Plus, there is the other important factor to be considered: will being around this guy 24 hours a day for several days drive me to the brink of insanity? So, to test our relationship (or just to take a vacation, whatever you want to call it), we flew to San Francisco in February 2009. I had never been to San Francisco before, but Jon had been there several times. We flew into the Oakland Airport, and had decided that for this trip, we weren’t going to rent a car. San Francisco has pretty good public transportation options and we are both physically fit and not opposed to walking places. Once we landed, we took the shuttle bus to the BART station, to make our way into San Francisco. It was dark by the time we got to the BART, so we couldn’t see any of the landmarks, and it took us a couple of stops to figure out that we were going the wrong direction – we had gotten on the wrong train… Oops. So, we hopped off, went over to the other track, and got back on in the right direction. That boo boo cost us about 20 minutes, but we were none the worse for the wear, and made it into the city without further incident.

Once we got there, we went and found our hotel, The Baldwin. The Baldwin is located about a half block from the gates of Chinatown, with a nice central location. The pros, it is a neat historic hotel, with a big clawfoot bathtub. Our room had a view into the condo across the alley, which had some really cool artwork and furniture. Of course, we tried not to snoop too much into the lives of our millionaire neighbors, but hey, they left their shades open! Some of the reviews on one of the travel sites said that the garbage trucks going through the alley in the middle of the night kept them awake all night, but we didn’t have any problem with that. The cons, the bed was soft and creaky, and past its useful life. The hairdryer was attached to the dresser in the room, so you couldn’t really do your hair in the bathroom. That was really just a quirk, but odd nonetheless. They didn’t have a continental breakfast, but most big city hotels don’t. They did have coffee and tea in the lobby at all hours, but no coffeemaker in the room.

Once we got settled, we headed off in the direction of Chinatown to find something to eat. The shops were closing, so could couldn’t peek around into any of them, but we managed to find a conveyor belt sushi place that looked decent. We enjoyed a meal of sushi and chatted about what we were going to do in the city. We headed back to the hotel so we could be up early to do some touristing!

The first full day in San Francisco started out with no rain and somewhat overcast. We had a quick breakfast at Starbucks, and then headed out for a walk up the hill to Coit Tower. Wow, that is a hike! Once you are almost at the top of the Telegraph Hill, which is steep, you have to climb up a series of steps to get to the Tower itself. Luckily we weren’t in a hurry! Coit Tower has been a San Francisco landmark providing butt-burning workouts since 1933, when it was completed at the bequest of funds by Lillie Hitchcock Coit upon her death in 1929. When Lillie Hitchcock was 15 years old, she began a lifelong affliation with the Knickerbocker Engine Company Number 5. As the story goes, in 1858, the Knickerbocker Engine #5 was understaffed, and the men were struggling to pull the engine up Telegraph Hill. Lillie Hitchcock was on her way home from school, and threw her books to the ground and began to help pull the engine up the hill, imploring other bystanders to join in the efforts. The Knickerbocker Engine Company never forgot her efforts and made her an honorary member of the department. Although Coit Tower really does resemble a fire hose, the architects insist that it was not intended to portray any sort of firefighting equipment.

Coit Tower is decorated with dozens of murals that were commissioned as a project under the Public Works Administration, President Roosevelt’s Depression Era New Deal federal employment program. The murals were mostly done by students and faculty form the California School of Fine Arts and depict city and rural life, the disconnect between the rich and the poor, and other everyday subjects. The murals are incredibly detailed. You can read the titles of newspapers in the pictures, and each time you look, you will see something different. When we went, it was free to enter the rotunda where most of the murals are (I’m not sure if it still is) – you just have to pay to take the elevator to the top. Since we had never been, we did take the elevator up, and I think it was worth it to see the panoramic views of the City. I probably wouldn’t go up every time though. It is like the Seattle Space Needle, it is the type that you only need to see every 5 or 10 years.

Coit Tower Mural

While at Coit Tower, Jon’s friend Pablo joined us. Pablo and Jon met when Jon lived in Sacramento, and they have been fast friends ever since. Pablo made the trip from Sacramento to join us and spend a couple of days. It was my first time meeting Pablo, but I could immediately see why Jon likes him.

After we left Coit Tower, we headed over to get a look at Lombard Street. Jon told me it was really close to Coit Tower, and at the time, I didn’t know enough to not believe his distance estimations. It was, if I remember correctly, about a half hour away (remember we are walking), down one big hill and back up another big hill (remember this is San Francisco). Some of you have heard Lombard Street called “the crookedest street in the world”. Well, apparently it is not, but it sure is close. The block is so steep that in order to accommodate cars, the street was built with a series of extreme switchbacks. In between the switchbacks are little flower gardens. I’m not sure who maintains the flower gardens, but if I lived there, I certainly wouldn’t want to be out there digging in the dirt when someone came barreling down the hill with no brakes! My theory is that all the little flower gardens are roadside memorials to the residents killed by crazy car-wielding tourists. But it sure is fun to take pictures.

Next we headed over to Fisherman’s Wharf. This was a downhill walk from where we were, but sometimes walking downhill is just as difficult. This walk is dotted with mansions, and I think several are being used as embassies. Tough life working in a mansion… But on the way, we found Patagonia! No, silly, not the geographic area, that’s in Chile and Argentina. The store! And they were having a sale! I found a really cool laptop bag with room to hold extra stuff. It is perfect for traveling with your computer. The only thing that has kept Jon from trying to steal it is the fact that it is lavender, that that Jon’s laptop doesn’t fit in the laptop pocket. Of course, that doesn’t always help. Sometimes he just takes it anyway.

All that shopping built up an appetite, so when we got down to the wharf area, we experienced another of those big city traditions that we just can’t get at home – In & Out Burger! Sometimes I just crave a hamburger, and these ones are so good. I’m sure I don’t want to know how many calories are in them – because I’m convinced that they butter the buns. But after all that walking I think I deserved it.

Down at the wharf area, there is a little museum run by the California Parks Department. It is pretty cool. It shows the location of all the shipwrecks that they know about in San Francisco Bay. There is an exhibit about the dangers of the Bay and the hazards that the sailors experience from back in the 1800s to today. And it’s free! We poked around in there for a little while and then it was on to the big reveal – Fisherman’s Wharf.

Fisherman’s Wharf is one of those ultimate tourist traps. I knew that before we went, but didn’t really know what it would be like. It is built on a Wharf (duh) and is kind of like a big, outdoor shopping mall, with all the stores catering to every imaginable tourist desire. T shirts, music boxes, candy, expensive art and lots of over-priced food. We wandered around for a little while, but it really isn’t that big of a draw for me. I was really more interested in finding the sea lions, but there weren’t very many hanging out on the day that we were there. Locals told us that there have been fewer and fewer of them in the last couple of years (maybe they are all heading up the Columbia River to chow down on the salmon at the dam).

Alcatraz Island from Fisherman's Wharf

 

That night was Valentine’s Day, and the next day was our six month anniversary. So, to celebrate, we walked over to North Beach and found a little hole in the wall Italian restaurant that was actually huge on the inside. The three of us enjoyed a delicious meal and Jon and I split a bottle of wine. Sorry guys, I have absolutely no recollection of what kind of wine it was – something Italian – but it was tasty. Funny though, I still remember that I had some delicious gnocchi, and Jon had eggplant parmesan.

That dinner wrapped up our day, and we walked our overstuffed, happy selves back to the Baldwin. I swear I walked 20 miles that day (Jon says it was only really 7 or 8), so I slept well!

And our last day in San Francisco

On the last day of our trip to California, we decided to head into San Francisco to see an exhibit of the Impressionists at the DeYoung Museum.  The exhibit is on loan through the beginning of September, 2010 from the Musee d’Orsay in France.  They are remodeling, and were willing to let the exhibit travel.  Our flight didn’t go out until 3:45, so we had a bit of time before we had to be back at the Oakland Airport.  Of course, traffic going into downtown San Francisco was heavy, so it took us a bit of time to get to Golden Gate Park.  We got to the DeYoung at 10 am, and they still had a couple of tickets for the 10 am entry to the exhibit.  It was a timed entrance, due to the crowds, so they didn’t let too many people in at one time.  Of course, even so, it was still really crowded.  It was an amazing exhibit, though, so we tried not to let all the geriatric visitors with their oxygen tanks slow us down!

The exhibit explained how Impressionism was born, and the paintings showed the progression from a more realistic style to the style we all recognize as Impressionism.  It also explained how some of the artists in the movement did not believe themselves to be part of the Impressionist movement.  Overall, the exhibit was well worth it.  We saw some paintings that we have all seen before, like Whistler’s Mother, and some that are lesser known.  Jon and I both really loved The Magpie, by Monet.

The Magpie by Claude Monet, 1868

We had a little bit of time to tour the other exhibits, but then it was time to go.  We headed back to the Oakland Airport for our flight back home, lamenting how our vacations are always too short.