Friday, April 1, 2016

San Francisco

I was, recently, lucky enough to do a road trip from Seattle to Los Angeles with a stop in beautiful San Francisco.  It isn't hard to understand the song, "I Left my Heart in San Francisco", once you have been fortunate enough to spend some time there.

We entered the city by crossing the iconic, Golden Gate Bridge which is actually orange in color.  It gets its name because is crosses the Strait of the Golden Gate from the city to the Marin headlands.  It is 1.7 miles long and first opened in 1937.  At that time, it was taller than any other structure in the city.  There are vistas at both the north and south ends of the bridge with accessible parking lots or you can walk or ride a bike across if you are so inclined.

We chose to stay down on the world famous Fisherman's Wharf.  The wharf just bustles with activity all day into the night.  They are a myriad of restaurants, bars and souvenir shops within an easy walk regardless of where you stay at the wharf.  I really like the Sheraton for its accessibility but like most hotels in great locations, it can be a bit on the pricey side.  I must recommend Pompeii's Grotto for dinner at some time during your stay.  I had a pasta and salmon dish there that I have yet to find anywhere else in the world.  It was just delicious (I think of it often and may just have to return just for that dish!)  Of course, you also have to wander down the wharf to Pier 39 to see the amusing sea lion colony.  Now one knows why, but they started appearing at the pier in October of 1989, shortly after the Loma Prieta earthquake.  By January 1990, these barking and boisterous creatures completely took over Pier 39 to the exasperation of the local marina tenants.  The marina sought advice from all the experts on just how to handle these marine mammals and it was recommended that the sea lions be allowed to remain in their new home.  So the marina gave up trying to chase them away and let them remain.  It is said that there can be as many as 1700 sea lions there at one time, depending on the season.  It is great fun to watch them as they slip and slide and push each other around.  Children especially love this activity.

Of course, when in San Francisco, you just have to take a cable car ride.  It is the world's last manually operated cable car system and is on the National Register of Historic Places.  We took it from the wharf all the way up to Union Square.  The views are just spectacular and watching the sharp incline as you get higher and higher is not for the feint of heart.  Use the cable car to take you up because a walk on these hills would be very taxing unless you were in very good shape.

Once at the top, we went to Chinatown.  It is said that San Francisco's Chinatown has more Chinese residents that any other place in the world outside of China.  (Though I know that Vancouver, Canada, argues this point as they have a significant Chinese population also.)  The residents here continue to practice their own customs, languages and religions that they did in China.  It has become a huge tourist attraction and draws more visitors annually than the Golden Gate Bridge.  And it is no wonder, there is great shopping here and bargains galore.  We poked around all the little shops until lunchtime when we found a great little rooftop restaurant for lunch.  Though the food was just mediocre, the views were great.

The Gate to Chinatown

Just love the traffic lights in Chinatown.

If you are a Baby Boomer (or just someone who is interested in that time), you have to visit the Haight-Ashbury section of the city.  This area was at the center of the 1960s hippie movement.  Youth from all over the country flocked here to experience the counter culture.  It became a concentrated gathering spot for those seeking the drugs, the music, the ideals and the freedom of the 1960s.   It became a haven for rock performers of the time like Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin who all immortalized the area in song.  Today, remnants of that time remain and for us, it was like a stroll down memory lane.  Wonderful consignment shops with vintage clothing brought back so many great memories of a turbulent time in our history.  I found myself humming, "If you are going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair....." , the great song by Scott MacKenzie of the Mamas and the Papas.  So take that stroll if you are of a certain age, it will really take you back.

Of course, if you have the time, take the trip out to Alcatraz, located in San Francisco Bay and little less than 2 miles from San Francisco.  Originally used for a lighthouse and military fortification in 1868, it is better known as the sight of a Federal Prison from 1933 until 1963.  During the 29 years that was used as a prison, some of the most notorious of all convicts were held here.  It housed the likes of Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud (the Birdman of Alcatraz), George "Machine Gun" Kelly, James "Whitey" Bulger and many more.    The penitentiary claimed that no prisoner successfully escaped during its 29 years of operation, though many tried and were either caught, shot or killed during their attempts.  It is an interesting place to visit and is now operated by the National Park Service and is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

So, I too, left a piece of my heart in San Francisco and hope to return one day for another visit.  It is an interesting place with its own personality and charm.  Try it, you won't be disappointed.

Until next time, safe travels!

Quote of the Week:  Travel often; getting lost will help you find yourself.     –Unknown