On our first night in SF we all wandered along Geary street unable to find a spot we all agreed on for dinner. One of the places we stopped at looked interesting to Paul and I but did not appeal to the rest of the group so we went back on our own for a late lunch on Sunday.
We 'require' a dim sum feast on any trip to SF and having a place like the Shai Lai Seafood restaurant just around the corner was a boon.
The food is tasty, delicious, and hot - VERY hot - you've been warned. When seated you're provided with an "order" list full of descriptive menu items to choose from, and your dim sum dishes are served to you when ready. We were a bit shocked at how quickly the food was prepared and delivered piping hot to our table. We over-ordered as we always do so we brought food home with us.
The dome of the San Francisco City hall stands tall over the civic center area. While we have walked past it many times we have never ventured in. When I discovered that they had free docent tours we decided to take on the the tours.
San Francisco is one of the biggest small cities in the world. With a total area of forty nine square miles and less than a million inhabitants, its city hall dome is almost a foot taller than the United States Capitol Building and it is considered one of the finest examples of classical architecture in the country. The dome is in fact the fifth largest dome in the world.
During the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the City Hall crumbled into rubble. On April 15, 1913 Mayor "Sunny Jim" Rolph broke ground on San Francisco's sixth City Hall. It took three years and $3.5 million to build. In 1989, a major earthquake struck again. This time, the City Hall remained standing, but it was deemed seismically unsafe. The city completed a $293 million upgrade and seismic retrofit in 1998.
This is the only remaining piece of the old city hall:
It was the head of the statue on the top of the old dome. It was only found a few years ago at an amusement park in southern California where it was a part of a display with twinkly lights in teh crown.
The resurrected city hall was officially re-opened on January 5, 1999. While it restored the building to its original beauty, the project wasn't just a cosmetic restoration. To isolate it from the shock of the next "big one," engineers installed 530 lead-rubber isolators that act like huge shock absorbers, making City Hall the world's largest base-isolated building.
Every feature of the building, from the rotunda with its imposing staircase and Mongolian mahogany-paneled the supervisor's chambers was restored to the original design.
During the tour we were shown the Mayor's office (although he was not at work on that day).
We also saw the room where the City Supervisors meet to do the work of governing the city. This room was stunning - the walls were decorated with carved Manchurian oak.
Many people have been married in the city hall, but one of the most famous marriages was Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe. The City Hall was the first place in the US where gay marriages were allowed and there was a special display commemorating marriages in the building - our docent was quite proud of that fact after the recent US Supreme Court ruling.
We got a kick out of this couple . . . they were both happy but jittery and their photographer was trying to calm then down as 100s of tourists wandered by.
Our guide also told us of a darker moment in the buildings history: In 1978, former city supervisor Dan White assassinated Mayor Moscone and city supervisor Harvey Milk. A long political history that led up the assassination. Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected official in San Francisco and much has been written about the importance of his election and his death.
Milk knew that his position as a San Francisco Supervisor advocating gay rights placed him in danger. Hate mail began to pour into his office. With chilling foresight Milk made a tape recording on November 18, 1977, with instructions to have it read only if he died by assassination. In it he says, "If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door." On November 27, 1978, Supervisor Milk and Mayor Moscone were assassinated by Dan White, a former police officer who had clashed with Milk over gay issues. After shooting the mayor, White entered Milk's office and shot him five times at his desk.
At the trial, White's attorney used the "Twinkie" defense -- that too much junk food affected White's reasoning abilities. The jury found him guilty of voluntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to seven years, eight months for the two murders. Many San Franciscans were outraged at his light sentence. Demonstrations at City Hall erupted into riots on May 21, 1979 (the eve of what would have been Milk's 49th birthday), which became known as "White Night."
Our guide was great - keeping us engaged for more than an hour. All in all this was a great free things to do in the city.
On Thursday Paul and I decided to explore an exhibit at the DeYoung in Golden Gate Park. Rather than drive or take the bus we decided to walk - figuring it would be a great opportunity to wander the park. We were lucky to come upon the the famous Rose gardens.
With the sun peeking through a cluster of trees lining the road beside the Rose Garden located at Golden Gate Park, an award-winning spread of flowers greeted us. The garden contains unique varieties of roses - many of which were developed just for this garden.
There are more than 60 rose beds planted in the garden. The maintenance of the rose beds is handled by a collection of dedicated locals.
Because of the unique micro-climate in the park some rosebushes have the capacity to bloom two times in a year beyond the normally once-a-year show.
As the San Francisco chapter of the American Rose Society sought a location to establish a testing site for trial varieties of the colorful and infamous bloom associated with love, forgiveness, friendship, and Valentine’s Day, their eyes turned to Golden Gate Park. In 1961, the assistant Superintendent of Parks, Roy Hudson designed the garden that including hybrid tea, floribunda, and grandiflora.
The gardens are considered to be on the the top attractions in the park and the prime spot for wedding photos.
It was amazing how sweet the air was with the scent of the roses filling the space.
When Paul and I were first in San Francisco years ago we made the trek across the Bay to hike in Muir woods. We have wonderfully happy memories of that. A few years ago when I was hear with a colleague we attempted a similar visit but were thwarted by a land slide. On this trip we were determined to make it happen.
The park website warned that parking was a nightmare and people were known to take to parking on the side of the road next to the creek only to experience the horror of their car tumbling into the creek and harming the natural ecosystem (although to be honest the ecosystem would be way down on my list of concerns if my rental were to tumble into a gorge). In order to deal with the onslaught of visitors a shuttle bus has been put in place.
TAKE THE SHUTTLE!!!
We decided to drive and hoped we might find a spot on a Monday morning. HA HA HA HA
I dropped the gang off and ended up parked about two miles away on the side of the road (happily in an area with a huge, wide shoulder).
After I hiked all the way to the park entrance we paid our admission fee and set about exploring.
Walking through Muir Woods, you are beneath a thick canopy of trees, so many trees and leaves in fact that only small rays of sun shine through, giving a mystical feel to this ancient forest.
This is one of the oldest stands of trees in the Bay area (hence the hoards of visitors). The trees' ages range from 400 to 800 years, their height up to 250 feet. It was also one of the first protected parks in the US. Muir Woods National Monument was established on January 9, 1908 when President Roosevelt signed legislation to protect an old-growth coast redwood forest from destruction.
In the light gaps beneath the redwood trees are red alders, California big leaf maples, tanoaks, and Douglas fir. The forest floor is covered in redwood sorrel, ferns, fungi, duff, and debris. Several bridges cross Redwood Creek, which flows through the park year-round. Wildlife residents include the endangered coho salmon fingerlings, Pacific wren, woodpeckers, owls, deer, chipmunks, skunks, river otters, and squirrels to name a few.
Due to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, the forest is regularly shrouded in a coastal marine layer fog, contributing to a wet environment that encourages vigorous plant growth. The fog is also vital for the growth of the redwoods as they use moisture from the fog during droughty seasons, in particular the dry summer.
In the spring of 1945, delegates from 50 countries met in San Francisco to draft and sign the United Nations Charter. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, shortly before he was to have opened the United Nations Conference. On May 19, the delegates held a commemorative ceremony in tribute to his memory in Muir Woods' Cathedral Grove, where a dedication plaque was placed in his honor.
Paul's plan for his special day was that he would wake up and head to the Golden Gate Bridge. He wanted to walk across it to the Marin side and back to the SF side - presumably this was a San Francisco version of me climbing the bell tower in Florence for my 50th last year.
Unfortunately when we woke in the morning the fog horns were blaring more than we had heard so far on the trip. This was not a good sign.
Before we set out the birthday lad admired the decorating job that Nancy and Joanne had done and looked longingly at the gifts . . .
Paul had decided that he wanted to open the gifts after dinner.
On to our adventure. We were not going to allow a birthday challenge go unmet because of some fog. We were still walking!
We wedged into the car (while advertised as a rental car capable of fitting 5 adults they clearly were not thinking of US) and headed off to the parking lot on the SF side of the bridge. John paid for parking and we were off. Joanne, who has a strong fear of heights found this to be a challenging task - even through the fog was so thick at times you couldn't see anything over the side of the bridge. I was unprepared for how the vibrations on the bridge (heck yes, you could feel it move) would make me queasy . . . to the point I thought I was going to have to lean over the side and feed the fish . . . so to speak.
The walk itself wasn't strenuous itself - it was cold and windy for sure - but not an extreme walk giving the nature of walking up ginormous hills in the city. The one thing you had to be careful of was the cyclists. They had the left side of the walkway as 'theirs' and they were not adverse to letting you know if you were edging into 'their' territory.
We waited a bit on the other side - Paul and Joanne had to go to the bathroom - which gave my stomach time to recover. :-)
When we were back on the SF side again we took the obligatory 'we survived crossing the Golden Gate Bridge photo' . . .
We were feeling peckish so when I was finally able to back up around the gauntlet of tour buses which seemed to think the parking lot belonged to them (it did not) we headed out to a diner overlooking the ocean which had been in operation since 1937. Louis San Francisco is the epitome of a 1950's diner - even though it was recently remodeled it still serves wonderful diner food with an amazing view of the ocean and the ruins of the Sutro Baths.
After lunch (which our friend Nancy bought for us - woo hoo ) we headed down into the ruins to explore what was once the largest bathhouse in North America. The Sutro District is the westernmost portion of San Francisco with dramatic views of the Pacific Ocean, Mount Tamalpais, and the Golden Gate Bridge (although those views were a tad limited with the fog). The Sutro Baths were once a massive public swimming facility that offered six saltwater swimming tanks of varying sizes, shapes and water temperatures. For all their glamour and excitement, the Baths were not commercially successful and the property went through a number of changes in ownership and use before a fire in 1966 destroyed most of the remaining facility.
What is left is a stunning space with trails, gorgeous gardens, and a sense of once existed here. We wandered around for an hour, trying to not judge the poor parent skills of the parents allowing their children to play on the cliffs where were barricaded off as very unsafe . . . OK, we judged 'em.
Once we headed back to the car I dropped the gang off at the house. Nancy and I made a short trip to Schubert's bakery . . . where San Franciscans have been getting their birthday cakes since 1911 . . . and picked up the Strawberry Cake Paul wanted for his birthday.
Back at the house we napped and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon.
Dinner was at the Slanted Door - Paul's favourite restaurant in the city. On each visit to San Francisco, I never miss a meal at The Slanted Door so I was really happy when Paul decided that this was where he wanted to go for his birthday meal. This is great and creative food. . . classic Vietnamese food with a modern rethinking by owner and chef Charles Phan. It was also was named the most outstanding restaurant in the US last year by the Beard Foundation.
We ordered two appetizers - the crispy imperial spring rolls and the crispy veggie imperial spring rolls, a papaya salad, shaking beef, claypot chicken, stir fry chicken, caramelized shrimp, spicy corn, and mixed cauliflower . . . everything was as amazing as ever.
As we left the restaurant we noticed that one of the buildings across the Embaracdero was still all lit up for Pride.
Back at the house it was time for some more birthday fun with cake, cookies, and presents!
Our original plan was to stay in the house until the 15th. What that meant however, is that on the 15th we'd need to wake up rather early in Sonoma, pack, leave the house, drive to SFO, fill the cars with gas, drop off the cars, make our way to the terminal, check in, go through security, all in time for our 11:45 flight to TO. The mere thought of it was giving mom palpitations.
To make the transition a bit easier we modified the house rental and ended the week on Tuesday.
This meant a liesurely morning packing, tidying up the house, etc. We left at 10:30.
We drove to San Francisco where we hoped to have a picnic in the Golden Gate Park or at the beach.
The beach was deserted. It was windy and the surf was crashing ashore. No picnic here.
Nonetheless, we wandered around.
Then we drove to Golden Gate Park.
We stopped and looked at the windmills.
Then we drove around until we found a spot to have our picnic. I confess that this drive was longer than necessary, not because we wanted to look at the beauty of the park (although that would have been a perfectly good reason), rather because I was looking for a spot where I would NOT have to parallel park! LOL
Finally we found a secluded spot for our lunch.
Lunch was really just the leftovers from the house - fruit veggies and dip, snacks, and turkey sandwiches. It doesn't sound like much but it was a feast!
When we were back in our cars we headed down to our hotel by the airport. When it came time to book this hotel mom gave me a budget of $ 100 - 150 dollars. I tried to tell her that the going rate for a hotel by the airport was $300. Nonetheless, $ 100 - 150 dollars it was to be. We were able to get rooms at a cheap hotel called the Citigarden for $ 125 a night. This was clearly a popular spot with others not wanting to break their trip budget on hotels. I will also say that it was much better than I expected. The area was perfect for an early morning flight from SFO.All of that aside, we wouldn't stay there again.
Once we were settled in we had to drop Rose's car off at the airport. I also discovered that there was a Sees Chocolates outlet nearby . . . surely I needed more chocolates!
We completed those errands and then just relaxed.
It was a far easier transition than what we had planned originally and I was glad to end the trip this way.
We left the snow behind and headed to California for a long weekend of fun. We shoppedm toured wineries, tasted olive oil, met up with good friends, and ate some wonderful food. I can't wait for slow bowl 2009.