From Hawaii, we returned to Oakland, and decided that if we were so close, we might as well see San Francisco. Stephanie had been there before and was excited to play tour guide for me. Our first day, we took public transportation in to Embarcadero, and walked along the waterfront to Fisherman’s Wharf. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I didn’t expect to be bombarded with shops restaurants, bars – all designed to part me from my cash. In retrospect, I probably should have expected it.
I also didn’t expect to see the famous sea lions. I had heard they all mysteriously took off a few years ago, and I’m sure there were once many more, but sure enough, there was a group of about 50 of them hanging out for our entertainment. They amused us endlessly by constantly clambering over each other and then barking their annoyance.
Further up the waterfront, we hit the mother lode for Stephanie: a chocolate factory with free tours and lots of free tasting! The place is called “Tcho,” pronounced “Cho.” They gave us a true factory tour, unlike another chocolate company near where we live that I will not mention (but it rhymes with “smershey”). The people at Tcho taught us to try our samples without chewing them, and honestly made us appreciate dark chocolate in a whole new way. This was fortunate, because we had been talking about trying to switch from milk to dark in an attempt to be a little healthier.
Full of chocolate, it was now time to see some more of the city, and what better way to see the hills of San Franciso than by walking. (Some would say climbing, and still others would say dragging up endless hills.) We turned inland, and climbed over 400 Steps up to Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill. After catching our breath, we continued on over to Lombard Street, “the crookedest street in the world.” For those of you who don’t know, Lombard is *so* steep, that the street zigzags back and forth because you could never just drive straight down it.
In keeping with our theme of the day, we climbed *up* Lombard Street and then caught an honest-to-goodness cable car. Now that we were riding, of course, it was all downhill. Packed in like sardines we got to experience the old-school way to see the city. We opted to hop off at the (free) cable car museum where we not only learned all about the history and operation of the cable cars, but we could watch the four cables (one for each line) come in and out from under the streets. So cool!
We capped off the day with a visit to a Dia de los Muertos art exhibit. One of my favorites was a typical Mexican shrine to the dead where all the photos were blank. There was a laptop, and once you logged into Facebook, it used photos and other bits from your profile to project images onto the shrine and make it a shrine about *you*. Very poignant and a bit eerie for Stephanie.
For our second day, we headed out of the city to Muir Woods to get a look at the redwoods that California is so famous for. We were not disappointed as we hiked for miles between trees that towered over 200 feet. We learned cool stuff like how the trees grow huge “burls” that grow into their own tree when the host dies. (It’s actually much rarer for new trees to grow from seed). And wouldn’t you know it – all the hikes were hillyJ No wonder everyone in San Francisco is in good shape.
On our last day, we figured that since we had walked and hiked so far, we might as well keep it up. Back into the city we went via BART, and took a Stephanie-guided tour through San Fran. First we stopped at Alamo Square to see the Painted Ladies – a row of Victorian homes made famous by the opening credits to the TV series “Full House.”
Haight Ashbury was the next destination for the day. The sixties vibe has given way to trendy bars and thrift/retro clothing stores. We did see a few “hippies,” sitting on the sidewalk playing guitar and singing, but when I identified the song they were singing as one by the band Radiohead, I realized they were more like hipsters than hippies.
After that we stopped by the house where Stephanie’s brother, Brian, lived when he lived in San Francisco. She rode the wave of family nostalgia as we climbed (up once again) to the top of Twin Peaks, which afforded us a spectacular view of the city, and the Golden Gate Bridge below, during our picnic lunch.
We ended our day by walking through Golden Gate Park. This park is huge, with museums, gardens, walking paths, roads and a lake spread throughout. We enjoyed some of the walking paths and eventually found Stow Lake, which was filled with seagulls and ducks and people feeding the seagulls and ducks. We also enjoyed the Chinese gazebo. We walked all the way to and around Stow Lake until the sun told us it was time to head home.
If there are any true hippies left in San Francisco, this park is also where they hang out. We passed a drum circle, and walked through several clouds of some kind of smoke. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it smelled like Amsterdam.
The only thing we were unable to accomplish in San Francisco was its biggest attraction – Alcatraz. This is because tours sell out days in advance, and there was nothing available when we got there. Who would have guessed that November was still prime tourist season? A great excuse to go back as soon as we can…