Tag Archives: San Francisco

Mission District, San Francisco

One of many murals in the Mission district of San Francisco

One of many murals in the Mission district of San Francisco

This was my first real visit to the Mission district and it was quite an eye opener.

We headed to Folsom and 24th Street, which is pretty much the center of the Mission. Parking was really difficult. All of the off street parking was taken by residents but there were a few spaces at parking meters. In the end we parked in one of them but got a happy surprise when we found out that on Sunday you get four hours for free.

We had read that there were a lot of murals in the Mission and indeed there was one right next to our car. The hand painted sign made me smile: ‘Vanilising of murals is not cool’. This is a paraphrase of the actual message but the spelling is correct. (I should have asked Tom to take a photo of it but forgot to ask when we got back to the car.) As we were studying, it a local resident walking by told us that there were some newish murals on Lilac behind MacDonald’s. We thanked him and starting walking west to check them out.

The Mission neighborhood is a mix of many cultures.  Spanish is predominant with a mix of Hispanic and other Central and South American countries. it doesn’t look like the best area in town, with its down at heel appearance and metal grills over most of the businesses. Only the coffee shops seemed to be open and few people were around. As we walked along we paused at many murals; all of which were colorful. Here is another quote from one of them – “Only when the last tree is cut down and the last river has dried up will man realize that you can’t eat money.”

Lilac Street is between Capp Street and Mission Street

Lilac Street is really an alley between Capp Street and Mission Street

Lilac Street is between Capp Street and Mission Street but is more like an alley because it is really narrow and runs between the backs of businesses and apartment blocks with garages onto the street. Nearly every building, door and wall had a mural of some sort on it. We walked the length of the block to 24th Street looking at them all. These murals did not depict rural scenes or recognizable parts of the Mission but I would describe them as modern artistic graffiti.They were eye-catching and vibrant but not quite to our taste.

We walked back down 24th. Slowly the neighborhood was waking up. Behind some of the grills, especially the restaurants, we could see activity. In one a load of pale chicken was beginning to heat up on the grill and in another someone was putting liners in the trash cans.

More murals on Balmy St. This was Margaret's favorite.

More murals on Balmy St. This was Margaret’s favorite.

We found another alley of murals between Treat Avenue and Harrison Street on Balmy Street. These were far more interesting to us as they were not only older but depicted real scenes and understandable  pictures. I could actually look at most of them and understand not only what they represented but what they were saying. I could appreciate the humor that was obvious in a few but had to studied closely to find it in others. Though there was some humor, the main messages that came across were: oppression and revolution. Once again they were all colorful and vibrant but, most of all, original. There were two I particularly liked, both showing scenes in the Mission. One was of a huge robot which looked like apartment buildings and the other with a policeman and wealthy lady in the bottom right corner and a homeless man in the bottom left corner.

One of older murals. A little worn around the edges but still colorful.

One of older murals. A little worn around the edges but still colorful.

We continued walking east on 24th and came to a grocery store with an array of fruit and vegetables displayed outside. Seeing all the fruit reminded me that we needed grapes so we ventured inside. I was amazed at the amount and variety of goods inside, including a whole range of meats. At first I couldn’t see any grapes but after walking around the whole fresh produce section we discovered three types to choose from. Back outside we walked up to Alabama Street before crossing over and walking back down the other side. In one window of a taqueria I spotted a mound of large plastic bags but had no idea what they contained. Tom told me it was pig skin, which doesn’t sound very appetizing at all, but on reflection it must be a variation of crackling, which is really good. Thank goodness the restaurant was not open otherwise I might have been tempted to try it out.

One of the great markets along 24th St. in the Mission District of San Francisco

One of the great markets along 24th St. in the Mission District of San Francisco

On the corner of 24th and Harrison we stepped into Bello Coffee and Tea. Although Tom had coffee with his breakfast it didn’t hit the spot and this place simply appealed to us. Inside it was warm and inviting. Immediately on the left is an electronic roaster – great, fresh coffee. The pastries looked good but the huge breakfast we had consumed three hours before prevented us from feeling hungry enough to try any of them out. Tom ordered a straight black coffee and I asked for a green tea latte. They didn’t have the powder mix that Starbucks use (thank goodness) but offered to make it using a special blend of green tea. We could have sat outside in the sunshine but I needed a table to put my iPad on so I could type so we stayed inside. There were several tables to chose from and the chairs were very comfortable. Tom took a sip of his coffee and immediately his eyes lit up. He had finally found a coffee that equaled Peet’s and Bello’s coffee might even have the edge on Peet’s. He was one happy man. My green tea latte was unusual but very tasty. We spent a happy half hour there. Before we left, Tom bought a pound of their French Roast beans to take home. I told him it was a long way to come to buy his coffee in the future.

As we walked the short distance back to our car, we noticed that most of the grills were down and there were lots of people now on the streets. The Mission was awake and humming. We discussed whether or not to go home. In the end, we decided to at least go and see the actual mission which the neighborhood was named after. The Mission Dolores  is on D0lores and 16th Street so we drove west on 24th, right on Guerrero Street and west again on 16th St. The mission was founded in 1776 and is the oldest building in San Francisco. Next to it is the larger, more impressive basilica which was  completed in 1918. We would have liked to stop and take a look around, especially at the garden of the old mission, but once again parking proved to be a problem. Maybe another day.

The San Francisco skyline from Corona Heights

The San Francisco skyline from Corona Heights

Back on 16th the object was to make our way home but at the junction with Market Street I looked up and saw a strange rock formation on top of a hill. We were stopped at traffic lights so had time to notice that there were people up there. I got the map out and discovered the hill is called Corona Heights. We felt the urge to investigate so we went straight across Market and made our way to Flint Street. As we were on the slopes of the hill, the roads were very steep and a lot of them were dead ends. Once again parking posed a problem but our luck was in when we reached Flint Street where we found the perfect parking spot not far from one of the paths to the top.

It was a lovely day to climb to the top of Corona Heights. We walked passed tennis courts and a large building, which I later discovered is called Randall Museum. The path up hill was very steep but the views were worth it. Just before a flight of steps we stopped at a bench which we took advantage of. The view in front us was amazing. We were looking east  over the bay towards Oakland. Mount Diablo was clearly visible away in the distance. Down below we could see the city to the right and straight in front we looked down on the Mission District with a good view of the old mission and basilica. The flight of steps was long – roughly 180 of them – and very steep. In parts the path ran out and we were walking over rocks. Of course we stopped often to admire the view, heaven forbid that anyone would think we were pausing to take breath! Eventually we make our way right to the rock formations at the top and the view was almost 36o degrees. Only the trees on the ridge to the west prevented us from seeing the ocean. To the south we could see Twin Peaks and the Sutro Tower.

When we had our fill of the view and sitting in the sunshine, we made our way downhill to the car and wended our way home. It was the end of another perfect day.

The Mission District in San Francisco

 

Gallardo’s Mexican Restaurant, Folsom St, San Francisco

Gallardo's Mexican Restaurant

Gallardo’s Mexican Restaurant in the Mission

Here we are in the Mission district in San Francisco and hungry for breakfast. As the Mission has a lot of Mexican restaurants, Tom had a hankering for Mexican food.

From the outside, Gallardo’s does not look that exciting and I was reluctant to give it a try but Tom said the reviews were good so we ventured inside. Granted it was 7.30 on a Sunday morning but there was only one other customer inside. I wasn’t sure there would be anything I would like to eat – remember my preference is for oatmeal – so I asked if I could look at the menu first (there was not one posted outside). The one and only server was very friendly and was happy for me to look at the menu. There were obviously a lot of Mexican dishes, like scrambled eggs and cacti, but, lo and behold, they had oatmeal. That was good enough for me, so we decided to stay and try it out.

The server said we could sit anywhere we liked. It is large restaurant and the tables are large too. We chose a table in the L-shape section. On top of each table is a thick sheet of glass. The chairs at our table were wooden but most of the chairs were metal with padded seats which would have been more comfortable I’m sure.

After a great deal of deliberation Tom chose the Pozole. He could chose between a large or a small bowl; he chose the large ($8) plus a serving of tortillas. My choice, of course, was oatmeal ($3.50).  I could have had bananas to go with it but declined. To drink Tom had coffee ($1.50) and I had fresh orange juice ($3.50).

As it was a Mexican restaurant, you would expect the decor to be Spanish with brightly colored artifacts displayed. Here it is not like that. Instead there are large black and white photographs from Mexican movies of the 40’s and 50’s. Of course we didn’t recognize any of the actors.

We were amazed when the food arrived. Both the Pozole and the oatmeal came in huge round bowls. Tom’s dish came with several side plates – one containing shredded cabbage, chopped radishes and sour cream; another with chopped onions, chopped parsley and quarters of limes; a small bowl of chopped sage and last, but not least, three tortillas. The Pozole consisted of a tomato based broth with big chunks of pork (some still on the bone) and hominy. My oatmeal already had the milk added and it came with toast. The orange juice came in a large glass. I knew it was really fresh because I had just seen our server juicing the oranges.

We got stuck in. Both dishes were hot, filling and delicious but neither of us could finish our meal as there was just too much. We knew lunch could be skipped as we had  had enough food to last us until dinner time. My oatmeal had a flavor to it but I wasn’t quite sure what it was. When the server cleared our dishes I asked her what it was and her answer put me off a bit as she said it came from a packet and the flavor was cinnamon. I’m very much against processed food and certainly would not have had it if I’d known it was instant.

Before we left, I had to visit the restroom of course. At least there were two restrooms here – one for men and one for women. Inside it was your standard multi purpose restroom which was suitable for wheelchairs as well. It was clean and functional with the added touches of a large artificial tree in a pot with very dusty leaves and a carved wooden and painted brightly colored flower.

With our check came two candies – a Tootsie Roll and a mini Crunch bar. We certainly couldn’t eat them there and then but I put them in my pack just in case we did get peckish later.

Our final verdict is that we would only go back if Tom wanted Pozole again as he was very impressed. If I had not known that the oatmeal was instant I would be raving about it too. All in all though I am very glad that we did decide to stay and eat there because on the whole we liked it.

Gallardo’s Mexican Restaurant
1807 Folsom St
(between 15th St & 14th St)
San Francisco, CA 94103

Lands End, San Francisco

The Sutro Baths ruins with the Cliff House in the background

The Sutro Baths ruins with the Cliff House in the background

Our trip today is to Lands End, which is the western edge of San Francisco at the entrance to San Francisco Bay. On our way north we could see a huge band of fog covering San Francisco so we wandered just how much visibility there would be. We stopped at Peet’s on Geary for a hot drink and a morsel to eat.

Click on the photos for larger versions.

Just after 8 we were parked by the new lookout and visitors center at Lands End. We knew it wouldn’t be open at that time so decided to call in after our hike. From the car park there are a number of trails but before setting off to walk the Lands End Trail we investigated the ruins of the Sutro Baths. Built by Adolph Sutro and opened in 1896, the baths were a huge success. There were seven swimming pools – one large freshwater pool and six smaller salt water pools of varying temperatures. The salt water was pumped straight from the ocean. It was a huge construction which could accommodate 10,000 bathers and it also had a viewing area which could seat 3,700. But it was more than just a place for folks to swim. There were a number of other attractions to amuse visitors which included a host of antiques, collections and oddities to look at. Sadly the Sutro Baths were destroyed by a fire in 1966. Several attempts were made to rebuild the baths, but without success.

The Sutro Baths ruins and the Pacific Ocean

The Sutro Baths ruins and the Pacific Ocean

To get to the ruins we walked down a long, very steep, recently built, stairway. As we descended, we could see the extent of the Sutro Baths and they must have been huge. Built mostly of concrete and wood, only a few concrete foundation walls remain and some of them look quite dangerous. Part of the large pool remains but now it is not very deep. Weeds and algae proliferate there. Gulls use it now to bath in. It is hard to imagine what it looked like in its heyday. The baths were right on the edge of the ocean and just beyond them is a small beach where several fishermen, or rather anglers because one of them was a women, were standing knee deep in the water with large fishing rods.

At the end of the pathway, a tunnel through the rock beckoned us. Of course we ventured through although we could see that the path didn’t go anywhere because a rope, strung across the entrance, prevented us going any further. We looked down on a mass of huge boulders which obviously used to be part of the path. Amongst the rubble we could see twisted railroad tracks.

We walked back through the tunnel and started to climb back up. Instead of returning to the steep stairway we turned left onto the Sutro Baths Upper Trail as it seemed the less steep option plus the fact that it hugs the coast and we would have more camera opportunities. On both sides of the trail ferns were growing, which is not unusual, but these not only had lots of bright green new growth but stalks with little buds on them. On some the ferns, the buds had opened up as small white flowers which is something I had never seen before.

The Point Bonita lighthouse across the Golden Gate from Lands End

The Point Bonita lighthouse across the Golden Gate from Lands End

We came to a lookout point where we could see the Point Bonita Lighthouse across the Golden Gate. The water was a bit choppy and we stood and watched the water crash every now and again against the rocks and cascade into what looked like one of the smaller pools of the Sutro Baths. The remains of concrete walls and old rusty water pipes could be seen.

The trail continued higher up a wooden stairway with glimpses down to water and rocks below. The rock here is mudstone and in places parts of it are soft and could be crumbled by hand. It looks very much like shale but, no matter how hard I looked, I could not see any sign of fossils though at one point I could see a couple of broken white lines which could have been part of a fish skeleton.

The trail we were on joined up with the Coastal Trail. We turned left and continued walking along the edge of the bay. There were a lot of information boards on the first part of the trail and I learnt lots of interesting facts, e.g the local Yekuma tribe, which were part of the Ohlone Nation, camped here in the summer months; details of the many shipwrecks just offshore from where we stood and that part of the engines from a couple of the wrecks could be seen at low tide; the railroad track which Adolph Sutro built and the trains he ran from San Francisco to his baths so working class San Franciscans could reach them; the streetcar which replaced the steam train and the fact that part of the Coastal Trail is along the very same route as both the steam train and the streetcar, etc.

The Golden Gate Bridge on a typical summer morning.

The Golden Gate Bridge on a typical summer morning.

We took a rest at a lookout overlooking Mile End rock. Back in the late 19th century a lighthouse had been built on top of the rock. The lighthouse was replaced by an automated light in 1966 and a heliport pad built. Why a helicopter would want to land on such a tiny rock in such an exposed place is a mystery to me. Up to this point, the trail had been fairly level and easy to walk on but then it changed. Instead of a paved surface it became gravel and in places rocky. There were also several flights of steps up and down and some of them were not only steep but long.

Whenever I got ahead of Tom, because he had stopped to take photos, I looked for somewhere to sit, either on a convenient bench or rock, to wait for him. I took those opportunities to get out my iPad and write but the views were distracting. It is always captivating to sit and look at the scenery out over the bay to the Marin Headlands beyond but people watching is also time consuming. At one of these rest points, a flight of stairs opposite led down to a beach. When Tom caught up with me he decided to go down the steps and I set off to join him after about ten minutes. I climbed down about 50 steps and met Tom coming up. He said there were an awful lot of steps and he never got to the end, so neither of us got to see the beach. Next time we will be prepared and will make time to go and have a look.

This trail is very popular and in some places the trail becomes narrow and you can get stuck behind a group of slow moving people who are busy chatting away to each other. It is good though to see so many people out enjoying a pleasant walk, especially the families with young children.

From the trail we could see Baker Beach with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. The upper towers of the bridge were still shrouded in fog but it was a wonderful sight. The Lincoln Park Golf Course was right behind us. The Lands End Trail ended nearby and we found ourselves on El Camino de Mar. We could have turned round and walked back the way we came but decided to go a different way. Instead, we climbed up El Camino de Mar walking alongside part of the golf course. We stopped at a memorial written in different languages. There were a couple of seats so we took another break. I spotted a raccoon some off which was busy snuffling the ground. It stopped and looked at me and then it started trotting towards us. At first I was not too bothered as it was about 30 feet away but it kept coming. I pointed it out to Tom and he thought it prudent to move on. Just as well we did because when I looked back he was at the bench where we had been sitting with his front paws up on the bench and he was still looking at us. I guess he is used to folks feeding him but we are not that stupid.

Another shot of The Golden Gate Bridge from along the Coastal Trail

Another shot of The Golden Gate Bridge from along the Coastal Trail

At the top of the hill we turned onto 34th Avenue and walked passed the Palace of the Legion of Honor. This grand building was a gift to the city by the sugar magnate Adolph Spreckels and his wife Alma. It is a purpose-built museum and the design was copied from the Legion of Honor building in France. For nearly 100 years it has exhibited fine art and now hosts many exhibitions. I have not been been inside but it is on my list of places to visit. The building sits atop the headlands and is a well known landmark. We walked past the museum gazing into the courtyard and carried on down 34th Avenue with the golf course on both sides of the road.

At the junction with Clement Street, we debated whether to carry onto Geary or walk down Clement. We decided on the later because it would be quieter. The Lincoln Golf Couse clubhouse is on the corner and as we walked down Clement we were still aware of the golf course on our right because several times golf balls came flying into the street. It must be hazardous living so close to a golf course.

The housese on Clement were interesting to walk by. Even though it was a quiet Sunday lunchtime lots seemed to be going on. Some people were working on their cars or doing work around their yards. One house was being painted and we watched nervously as a man standing on a scaffold was precariously painting the side of the house. Several folks spoke to us as we walked by and lots more smiled. It seems a friendly neighborhood.

At the end of Clement,we arrived back at the car park and decided it was nearly time to get something to eat. Before we did so though, we went to have a look round the new Lands End Visitor Center. It is a very green building using natural sunshine to heat the building and harnessing the wind to cool it. Outside it has been beautifully landscaped not only with stone sculptures of lions but benches made out of recyled cedar wood and plants that are not only native but actually germinated at the nearby nursery at the Presidio from seeds found onsite. Inside it was filled with visitors either buying a snack, checking out the books etc for sale or perusing information about the area. They had some interesting paddle boards giving lots of information not only of the Sutro Baths but the general area, including the nearby Cliff House,  as well. The highlight though, were the old Edison films being screened showing the glory days of the Sutro baths and Adolph Surto’s steam train.

We rounded off the day by having lunch at the Seal Rock Inn Cafe at the junction of Point Lobus Avenue and 48th Avenue. Afterwards we drove home at the end of another perfect day.

America’s Cup World Series, San Francisco

Both Oracle boats warming up for their match race.

Both Oracle boats warming up for their match race.

Tom and I wanted to see the sixth and  final day of the first round of the America’s Cup World Series in San Francisco, so we set out very early on Sunday morning. We were expecting fog in the city but it was a beautiful, sunny day.

Click on the photos for larger versions.

After our breakfast at Judy’s Cafe on Chestnut, we made our way to Crissy Field where we found a convenient parking place on Old Mason Street. From there we walked to the St Francis Yacht Club. The area surrounding the yacht club had been transformed due to the America’s Cup event. The car park we normally park in had been surrounded by crash barriers and was now reserved parking for VIPs. Huge trailers were parked behind the yatcht club and the pathway to the Wave Organ had been re-routed. We walked past the marina where there were several very large, expensive yachts moored. On the edge of the bay, temporary bleechers had been erected but access to them was only by ticket.

Another view of the the two Oracle boats.

Another view of the the two Oracle boats.

We made our way to the end of the peninsula behind the yacht club. We knew this would be a prime place to get a good view of the racing and that a lot of folks would be coming. At 8.30 there were quite a few people already staking out their chosen spot for a grandstand view of the racing. As we walked toward the end, we met up with a couple from Novato named Sabrina and Dave. Together we walked and chatted until we had nearly reached the point. We then discovered that Dave was a working photographer. They have a company called Davrina International where they produce high quality photography and video, including HD and 3D. He set up his equipment which consisted of three cameras on top of a tripod, which are operated simultaneously for panoramic shots.

Tom and I had brought picnic chairs and we set them up with a view out over the bay. The sun was shining brightly but it was a bit breezy – it was breezy enough to tip the chairs over if we weren’t sitting in them or placed something heavy on them. We were glad we brought our sweatshirts. Just a few steps away was the Wave Organ. This is one of the less known attractions of San Francisco. Even Sabrina, who had always lived in the bay area, had never heard of it so I took her over to see it. It has been built out of salvaged stone from an old cemetery and consists of pipes which have been placed at different levels in the water with an open funnel at the top. There are lots of stone benches to sit on where you can place your ear against a funnel and hear gurgling noises from the pipes. It is at a slightly lower level than the rest of the peninsula and completely protected from the wind so it was the perfect place to sit and what made it even more thrilling was the fact that nine of the catamarans taking part in the racing were moored nearby at the entrance to the marina. They are actually called winged-sailed catamarans because the sails are rigid and looked like vertical airplane wings. This was my first view of the new AC45 racing catamarans.

British boat in the America's cup

Here’s the British boat. I’d be in big trouble with Margaret if I didn’t show this one.

There were just two races that day. The first was the Match Race Final which would be between the two Oracle boats. The second race would be the Fleet Racing Championship in which all eleven boats would  take part. They looked so elegant as they bobbed and rocked on the water, tugging at their moorings almost as if they were eager to get out there and race. Roundabout there was a lot of action. Across on the mainland I could see the team work bases in the ‘Cup Village’ with the flag of each country flying over their booth. Fans were milling around over there and sitting on the edge of the wall to get their ringside seat of the action. I could hear music playing and every so often announcements were being made. Small, official craft were entering and leaving the marina, including VIP taxi boats. One of Larry Ellison’s luxury sailing yachts, Zenji, glided by and another one was moored out on the bay. Helicopters buzzed around overhead.

I went back to join Tom on the windy side and there were many more photographers gathering around us. It was a prime location to see all the action as the finish line is right at the end of the peninsula. Tom went back towards the yacht club to use the restroom but was met by a barricade.  He was told that if he went past the crash barrier he would not be let back in. He was also told that everybody already on the peninsula would be cleared before the racing started and only media would be allowed through. No reason was given to him Tom about this decision. So he came back. We talked about going back and trying to find somewhere to sit before we were asked to leave but then decided to wait and see what happened. Other people came back with slightly different stories. Someone was told the reason why they were not letting anybody through was because a parachutist would be landing on the peninsula after the races. We spoke to some people who did manage to get through the barrier who were not media and they said they just walked though even though someone tried to stop them. They were San Franciscans and said that the area is a public open space and they had every right to be there.

A guy with a water-powered jet pack called a Jetlev

A guy with a water-powered jet pack called a Jetlev

The wind slowly started to pick up and I became really cold. I kept trying to stay out of the wind by standing behind Tom but still I shivered.  Every so often I would go and sit down in the Wave Organ where it was much warmer. I was sitting there when the crews were taken out to the boats and I watched them getting their boats ready for the racing day ahead. Later I saw them, one by one, untether their catamarans and move out to the bay and boy, didn’t they move fast. Now and again, further into the marina, a guy with a water-powered jet pack called a Jetlev was performing for the crowd. At first I had no idea what was causing him to be so high in the air but someone explained what it was and that they cost $100,000. That’s got to be a rich man’s plaything.

And they're off!

And they’re off!

The issue was finally resolved about whether or not they were going to move us, the non media fans, back behind the crash barrier and we were told that we could stay.  Another crash barrier was placed near the wave organ and we all had to stay behind it. We were the lucky ones because a huge crowd had massed behind the crash barriers back at the yacht club. Apparently they wanted to keep the middle section of the peninsula clear because six parachutists were going to land after the racing had ended.

Oracle and Prada screaming towards the finish line. This was thrilling.

Oracle and Prada screaming towards the finish line. This was thrilling.

We watched the catamarans skimming, weaving and tacking out in the bay and were waiting for the first race to begin. At first we were not quite sure what was going to happen but there were plenty of people roundabout to explain things to us. The first race was at 11.45 when the two Oracle boats would be taking part in the Match Race Final. Someone explained the course to us and told us to keep an eye on one of the official boats out by the Golden Gate Bridge as it was at the starting line. Two minutes before the race, I could see a green and an orange light on the boat. One minute before the race there was just a green light and I saw the two Oracle boats moving towards the start line. The green light went out and I saw a puff of smoke and a second or two afterwards heard the sound of a gun and they were off. It was amazing to watch the pair of them maneuver around the markers and at one point they passed really close to where we were watching. Suddenly I didn’t feel so cold any more! The race took about 20 minutes and then they were heading to the finish line. They were not more than twenty feet away from us as Oracle Team Coutts narrowly beat their rival team mates.

One member of the Red Bull skydiving team

One member of the Red Bull skydiving team

There was a short lull before the start of the second and last race of the day – the Fleet Racing Championship – in which all eleven boats took part. Watching them all make their way to the start line, trying hard not to get there before the gun went off, and then the jockeying for position as they made the first turn, was exciting. At times though it was confusing and they all seemed to go off in different directions and it was difficult to tell who was in the lead. We could hear some of the commentary from the mainland but not enough of it to really understand what was going on. I could tell though when the race was coming to an end because suddenly all the boats seemed to be heading towards us at an alarming speed. Tom had moved down to the spit of sand on the other side of the wave organ and I was standing on one of the high points of the wave organ. The Italian boat – Luna Rossa Piranha – was the first over the finish line with Oracle Team USA Spithill a couple of second behind them. Team Korea was third and the second Oracle boat was 5th. The British boat – JP Morgan Bar came in 6h. The overall winner  of the series was the Oracle Team USA Spithill. Sadly the British boat came in 10th.

Everybody of course went wild and the celebrations began. We packed our stuff together and went to stand behind the crash barrier to wait for the parachutists to land. One of the event officials on the other side of the crash barrier was a Brit and he was chatting to us. He turned out to be another Hampshire Hog. Let me explain, anybody born in Hampshire is called a Hampshire Hog and he happened to be born and raised just a few miles from where I was born and raised, albeit forty or so years before him. Just after that someone spotted a little plane overhead and we saw first two parachutists jump, then another two and finally the last two. They twisted and turned with smoke trailing from their feet and came in to land one by one by skimming over our heads. They all landed very close to us – one of them was a girl – and we were able to chat to some of them as they bundled up their parachutes.

Here’s a cool video of the parachutists and the race.

After all that excitement, it was time to go home. We slowly made our way back to Crissy Field and to our car, amidst all the happy chattering crowd.  It had been another perfect day.

 

 

 

Judy’s Cafe, Chestnut St, San Francisco

Judy's Cafe in San Francisco's Marina District

Judy’s Cafe in San Francisco’s Marina District

We were on our way to the Marina in San Francisco to watch the last day of racing in the first round of the America’s Cup World Series but needed breakfast beforehand. We found a nice little place on Chestnut Street in the Marina district called Judy’s Cafe. The cafe is one of several in an old art deco building and the sign on the canopy over the door looked as though it had been there for a long time. Outside there were lots of tables set out but when we arrived no one was sitting there.

Inside it looked tiny with just eight tables; seven tables for two and just one for four people. There were only a couple of tables occupied. We were shown to a table at the back and picked up the menu to check it out. Almost immediately a server came up and asked what we wanted to drink and reeled off a list of different drinks – fresh squeezed orange, grapefruit or carrot juice, tea, coffee, Bloody Mary or Mimosa. Tom ordered coffee and I chose the fresh squeezed orange juice. I just must mention that all the servers looked extremely smart with their white shirts and long green aprons and the two who came to our table were friendly and informative.

I took a quick look at the menu to see what was on offer but could not see oatmeal listed. The drinks were served and the server then told us about the specials, which all sounded good, and we both chose one of the specials.  For Tom it was the capers, smoked salmon and Hollandaise sauce omelette and for me the crabmeat, spinach and Hollandaise sauce omelette. Tom also ordered a blueberry muffin and I chose the pumpkin bread.

Time to check out the interior before our food came. Classical music was playing in the background. The walls were covered with celebrity photos, some of which were signed. We sat right under a photo with two shots of Robin Williams – one as  himself and the other as Mrs Doubtfire. Next to it was a picture of Dame Edna. Nearby I spotted a photo of Tony Bennett and one of Lily Tomlin plus some of people I have never heard of, like Jackie Mason and Bobby Slayton. Thank goodness Tom knew who they were!

The food when it arrived looked amazing. Both omlettes had a little bit of the inside on top so you could tell which was which. Both the muffin and pumpkin bread were warm. It looked like the omlette was placed on top of the filling because there was no bottom to it. There was a lot of filling though and it was very rich. I did find bits of shell in with the crabmeat but I guess it proved it was fresh. Tom remarked that his omlette was a bit salty. Although the presentation was good, neither of us were particularly impressed with the food.

I paid my visit to the restroom, which was upstairs, before we got the bill. As I walked up the stairs I couldn’t help noticing how dirty the carpet was. It was supposed to be brown but the middle of each step was black where so many people had trodden on it. There was more seating upstairs and here there were some bigger tables. Once again the carpet was supposed to be brown but the pathway to the restroom was a ribbon of black.

The restroom itselt was not very big and it struck me as being old fashioned. There was an unusual green plant on top of the cistern. The only decoration in the room was a large poster advertising the Ketia Gallery in New York which was dated 1982.

I met Tom outside where he was taking a photo and he told me how much the bill came to – over $40! His omlette was $14 and mine was $18. We didn’t think to ask the price when the server told us about the specials. Then came the real kicker – they only take cash. Fortunately Tom had the cash but before we went any further we had to find an ATM.

Our verdict – way too expensive and the food wasn’t that good to warrant it. Doubt we will be visiting Judy’s Cafe again.

Judy’s Cafe
2268 Chestnut St.
San Francisco, CA 94123

Vermont Street – the Crookedest Street in San Francisco

Vermont Street, the real crookedest street in San Francisco

Vermont Street, the real crookedest street in San Francisco

After breakfast, before we headed back to Dogpatch, we decided to check out the crookedest street in the world. Most people think that Lombard Street, further to the west in San Francisco, has that title because it has one more turn but Vermont Street is shorter and steeper. It was further up Potrero Hill from where we had eaten breakfast at Plow. Because this section of Vermont Street is not so well known as Lombard Street, there were very few tourists. Like Lombard it is a down hill, one way drive and it was fun to negotiate the very sharp twists and turns. It is no where near as pretty as Lombard Street, with its brick pavement and nicely tended landscaping, but it has a charm all of its own. Once at the bottom we drove around the block and made our way back to the top where we parked the car. We then walked down the steep street on a stairway on the left. There were a few other people walking up and down the stairs but they were all locals walking their dogs. The area would be much quieter though if the 101 were not so close by. The constant noise of the fast moving traffic could be heard but not seen.

Another view of Vermont Street

Another view of Vermont Street

Once at the bottom, I walked across the road and looked down on the 101 and then gazed south at the view of houses and roads spread out in front of me. In the near distance I could see some huge brick buildings and have found out since that they are part of the San Francisco General Hospital. Turning back to look upwards, I discovered another staircase to the left of Vermont St. Being curious, we decided to climb up it to see where it led. It skirted the side of the hill were native plants had been planted. At the top of the staircase, several trails led of in different directions, but we stuck to the one which led up the hill and ended up at the junction of  San Bruno Avenue and 20th St.

Potrero Hill Community Garden

Potrero Hill Community Garden

Off to the right, we spotted a gate with a sign next to it, so went to investigate. The sign informed us that beyond the unlocked gate was the Portrero Hill Community Garden and visitors were welcome.  Of course we ventured inside and were suddenly transported into a different world. We wandered along litttle pathways between tiny fenced off plots where an amazing variety of plants were being cultivated. Every little garden was unique, some with their own little network of walkways between the plants. I can’t begin to list all the flowers, fruits and vegetables that were being grown but will mention a few – plump strawberries; juicy looking raspberries; beautiful dahlias and zinnias; grapes; tomatores; artichokes; herbs; rhubarb. The most amazing sight though was a small chicken run with four hens inside, all with different plummage, scratching around in the ground. This garden was such a wonderful place to find in the heart of San Francisco. I could have spent hours just exploring every little bit of it.

A gorgeous dahlia from the Potrero Hill Community Garden

A gorgeous dahlia from the Potrero Hill Community Garden

We stopped and chatted to a lady gardener who was watering her plot where she grew three differnt types of grapes, tomatoes and potatoes. She was interesting to talk to and told us a little of the history and some of the problems the community garden has. It is in a very exposed position and water is probably the main problem. Some people have a drip system installed which is far more efficient than watering with a hose. I asked about the chickens and she said they had not been there long. Some folks were against the idea, being worried about coyotes, but those guys have always been regular night time visitors to the garden.

Once out of the gardens, we walked through McKinley Park, which is on the corner of 20th and Vermont. There were kids and their parents having fun in the fenced off childrens playground and family groups sitting on the grass having picnics. One family was busy blowing up something but I wasn’t sure whether it was some sort of bouncy castle, a huge kite or a tent. The sun had come out and everybody looked happy. Opposite the park, Tom pointed out a roof patio with a BBQ on the top of one of the houses and I peeped through a gate between two buildings at a beautiful courtyard with a fountain. Suddenly a huge boxer dog came rushing at the gate and slithered to a halt in front of me, spraying gravel everywhere, and barking his head off. He was certainly a good guard dog.

We took the scenic drive back to Dogpatch up and down some of  very steep streets. My heart was in my mouth when we turned into some streets and suddenly the road disappeared for a few moments before the front wheels hit the pavement again and we plummeted down. At the start of some of the roads going uphill I knew what we were in for when I read signs saying ‘Sharp Crest Ahead’.  At one point we saw the tip of the Sutro Tower standing above a fog bank. Tom wanted to stop and take a photo of it but it had disappeared by the time he found a suitable viewpoint where we could stop.

It was time to get our feet back on the ground so we made our way back to Dogpatch.

Vermont Street, the real crookedest street.

Plow, Potrero Hill, San Francisco

Plow in San Francisco

Plow in San Francisco

It didn’t take us very long to drive from Dogpatch to Plow on 18th and Texas. Even though Plow had  been open for less than half an hour, already there were people waiting outside. On the door is a notice saying that due to their modest size customers were asked to wait outside after giving their names. We left our name and a cheery server told us that we would have to wait 30-40 minutes. That was fine by us because we had already looked at the menu and were intrigued and excited by the offering.

Click on the photos for larger versions.

The amazing Noah Riley

The amazing Noah Riley

Outside there were benches to sit on and they were very unusual. They were were just thick planks of polished wood, set into the wall and, because 18th Street is steep, the last bench looks much higher than the first, whereas they are all the same distance above the sidewalk. There were also places to sit around the trees at the edge of the road. Already there, were the couple with their baby we had met outside Just for You, over in Dogpatch, and we chatted while we waited. Their names were Christie and Chad Riley and their 10 month old son, Noah, who really is the best behaved and engaging baby I have ever met. Christie is finishing her residency as a pediatrician and Chad is a wonderful fashion and lifestyle photographer.  Noah and Tom really hit it off when Tom waved at him and Noah immediately responded by waving back. Christie and Chad were amazed because it is the first time Noah had waved. He was already an expert at giving his Dad a high five though. In no time at all it seemed the young family were called in to their table and just a few minutes later it was our turn. Coincidently we were seated right next to Christie and Chad and had the great pleasure of carrying on our conversation with them again.

The inside of Plow is really small with seating for 25 at the most, at modern white formica topped tables and on bright blue steel chairs. At the counter, there is seating for six on steel stools in the same bright blue. On the walls were a couple of big pictures which I think were mounted on perspex (plexiglass in the US). One was of a red barn with a sea of white flowers in the foreground and the other of an under water seascape. On the far wall was a shelf with lots of books and bottles of preserves.

One of the best breakfasts we've had.

One of the best breakfasts we’ve had.

The menu is a joy just to read.  Let me tell you the descriptions of a couple of the items and you can make up your own mind – lemon ricotta pancakes with Vermont maple syrup; Dungeness crab scramble; cider-brined pork chop + eggs; Fatted Calf blood sausage + eggs; fried egg sandwich. It was hard to choose but in the end Tom ordered the soft scrambled egg with oyster mushrooms, lamb quarter, goat cheese and crispy potatoes ($13) with a side of Nueske bacon ($5) and I plumped for the house made organic yogurt + granola, market fruit + Potrero Hill honey ($8.75). I had no idea what lamb quarter was so asked the server and she said it was ‘a sort of spinach’. Of course I looked it up when I got home and though it looks like spinach (and tastes like it too according to Tom), it is in fact a type of goosefoot or pigweed.

The food looked amazing when it was served. The blend of colors were awesome. And when it came to actually eating our breakfast, words fail me. Everything was perfect and I was really impressed with the very fresh raspberries and blueberries on the scrummy yogurt, granola and honey. Tom thought his was one of the best ever. Everything to perfection. Eggs smooth and silky and the potatoes crispy and delicious.

The restroom was situated behind a curtain and, like the rest of the restaurant, it was very pleasant.  Of course there were pictures on the wall, of food this time. Like the pictures outside they were also mounted on perspex but much smaller.

All in all, the Plow is certainly somewhere we definitely plan on visiting again. Can’t wait to sample more of the dishes on the menu.

Plow in San Francisco

1299 18TH Street, San Francisco 94107

 

Dogpatch, San Francisco

Sign saying Dogpatch, San Francisco

You’ve arrived in Dogpatch, San Francisco

Tom and I thought we knew most of the neighborhoods in San Francisco but this week someone mentioned Dogpatch to me. Curious to know about it, I asked Tom. He had heard of it but didn’t quite know where it was situated. We googled the name and discovered it was south of Market and close to the Bay. We had to go and see for ourselves so, at the first opportunity, we set off to check it out.

(Click on the photos for larger versions)

It’s great to be back on the road again after a long spell of traveling back and forth to Fresno most weekends to see family.  Our wandering the highways and byways of Northern California will  be limited for a short while yet. It was a clear day in San Jose when we left but a blanket of fog shrouded San Francisco. We drove 101 to 280 and exited on Cesar Chavez and then turned right towards the Port of San Francisco. At 3rd we took a left and wanted to turn left on 22nd but there no left turn so turned right and did a U turn.

Dogpatch is not in the best part of town but things are changing. In its heyday, it was both an industrial and a residential area.  Shipbuilding and other related industries were at the heart of the activity but the living areas were close by. The area suffered very little damage in the 1906 earthquake and, in fact, some of the oldest buildings in San Francisco can be found there.  After World War II, Dogpatch went into decline but the community spirit survived. Now the area south of Market is being revitalized and Dogpatch is beginning to change too. Slowly new shops and restaurants are opening up, artists are moving in and some of the old houses are being spruced up.

Piccino Cafe on 22nd St in Dogpatch

Piccino Cafe on 22nd St in Dogpatch

We parked under a beautiful Jacaranda tree on Minnesota in the heart of the historic downtown area. It was chilly when we got out of the car and needed something hot to warm us up. The first place we spotted as we turned onto 22nd was the Piccino Cafe, so we made a beeline for it. It has a very small coffee bar, which is open fronted, attached to the Piccino Restaurant.  There were just a couple of tables inside.  Apart from the normal range of coffees, expressos and lattes, they had some amazing pastries –  cinnamon rolls, ham and gruyere brioche, ricotta torte, prune muffins and ginger snaps. Tom had a coffee and one of their ginger scones (which was yummy) and I had a latte which came with a leaf motif crafted onto the foam. We sat at one of the tables and were the only people to stay and drink our coffee. It was an interesting place with a concrete floor but the open front made it a bit chilly. Above the bar was a big, old red and white sign advertising Allright auto parts.

We really wanted breakfast and just across the way was the Just for You Cafe but it didn’t open until 8. To work up an appetite we took a stroll along 22nd St.  On the corner of 22nd and Tennessee is a blue painted, wooden building which houses the Recchiuti Chocolate Lab. According to notices on the window, they will be opening a dessert cafe in September this year. Recchiuti is a delicious locally made chocolate so I can imagine what marvelous dishes they would serve. On the side of the building is a sign which says the building is called the Swan Building and was built in 1886 by Ship Carpenter John Swan.

Hells Angels hangout.

Hells Angels hangout. I was going to knock but thought it might be a bit early.

We turned right onto Tennessee and were immediately on a residential street. The houses were old Victorians which looked a little run down. They were all of different sizes and styles, with small gaps between them and are amazing. Some are three or four stories high and narrow. There is no space wasted with little pathways leading to side doors. There were some concrete steps down to a slightly lower level and a beautiful trumpet vine in full flower framed the steps. The road dead ends in a car park and there we were surprised to see the headquarters of the San Francisco chapter of Hells Angels.

It was time for breakfast so we ambled back to 22nd St. to the Just for You Cafe but there was a problem. A notice on the door said there would be a delay in opening. We decided to hang around for a while and chatted to a few of the people waiting outside. One of the servers came out with coffee to apologize for the late opening and then five minutes later came out to say that unfortunately it would be about two hours before they could open. The exhaust hood was not working and they could not open until it had been fixed as it was a fire hazard. People started to drift away and a young couple with their baby, who we had been chatting with, said that there was a good place for breakfast on Potrero Hill. As it was close by, we took their advice and headed for it on 18th and Texas (we’ll talk about this in the next post).

Lots of old Victorian homes. Some fully restored and others not so much.

Lots of old Victorian homes. Some fully restored and others not so much.

After breakfast and a little side tour, we returned to Dogpatch and parked on Tennessee St. this time and set off to walk the neighborhood. On the corner of Tennessee and 22nd we noticed a lot of chalk writing on the sidewalk.  None of it made sense at all.  There were some small crossword grids but also, I guess, some profound statements but I failed to understand their meaning. Some were normal words but the majority I had never heard of. Being me, I wrote down some of the words and looked them up when I got home. Here’s what I discovered – ‘Bodhidharma’ was a Buddhist monk from the 5th/6th century; ‘Fick ‘ could be related to Fick’s laws of diffusion and ‘Shree’ could refer to a Hindu language soap opera. After that mind bending experience we turned our attention to the shops and businesses along the way.

Apart from Piccino Cafe (which I understand serves mighty good pizza) and the Just For You Cafe, there are some other interesting places to try.  Fancy Italian? Then try out Marcella’s Lasagneria & Cucino. For a bit of southern cooking visit the Hard Knox Cafe or for home grown Californian cooking, the Serpentine (which doesn’t really look like a restaurant from the outside) serves, I quote, ‘produce & meat from farms & ranches that practice ecologically sound agriculture, whenever possible’.  Glancing at their menu I saw they have a cheese board as a starter and that would be enough to get me to go in if I were ready to eat dinner. For something lighter, the Cup of Blues is a coffee shop not too far from where we had coffee this morning or, for a cool treat, then Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous offer an awesome range of ice cream which is made on the premies. Several people this morning have recommended it but it was just not the right time of the day to eat ice cream.

Beautiful old Victorian in Dogpatch

Beautiful old Victorian in Dogpatch

As Dogpatch has become a haven for artists, we simply had to check out what there was to see. There is Rickshaw Bagworks but bags do not interest either of us but we did venture inside The Workshop Residence. Here we saw on display work by various artists – Aurore Thibout’s slip cast porcelain necklaces, bowls and plates; Lauren DiCioccio’s tote bags that are made out of chiffon with embroidered slogans; Jennifer Morla’s felt rugs, partition screens and cushion covers and Martha Davis’ leather and wooden shoes. Everything I saw was unusual, original and available to be bought on the spot.

All this walking and culture made us thirsty so we rounded off the day with a cool drink at the Dogpatch Saloon. Inside it is your typical saloon with a long bar and several television screens silently showing various sports. There were three people sitting at the bar and a couple at one of the tables. We sat at the bar and ordered our drinks – a pint of Guinness for Tom and a pint of Shandy (which is three quarters draught beer and one quarter 7 Up) for me. One of the guys sitting at the bar was a character and very chatty. The Dogpatch Saloon looks as though it has been in business for ages but it has not been a bar for all that long. In a previous existence it was a cafe and behind the bar the old stove and cooking hood can still be seen.

It was time to wend our way home and it has been a very interesting day.  We have met and chatted with a variety of very interesting people and enjoyed visiting this remote corner of San Francisco and will certainly come back again. Just got to have a meal at the Serpentine and try out some of that ice cream at Mr. and Mrs Miscellaneous.

 

 

 

Crepevine, Irving Street, San Francisco

Inside the Crepevine on Irving Street

Inside the Crepevine on Irving Street in San Francisco

Before heading to Point Bonita Lighthouse in the Marin Headlands, we required breakfast. We parked in a small car park just off Irving Street in San Francisco and set off to walk down Irving Street. The first breakfast place we came across was the Crepevine and it looked really interesting. We have been to the Rain Tree Cafe several times before so it was nice to try somewhere different.

Outside Crepevine there were a few tables and chairs which were full. Inside there were empty tables but they all had reserved signs on them. Orders are taken at the counter. Up on the wall were large blackboards with their many delicious sounding dishes dishes all written up in lots of different colors of chalk. There was a large choice of scrambles, omelets, crepes, pancakes and egg Benedicts. On the counter a nice display of cookies and muffins which smelt divine. At first, I attempted to avoid the temptation but in the end bought a slice of banana bread for later. Amazingly enough, they had oatmeal ($4.95) so I was happy. To go with the oatmeal, I also ordered wheat toast ($1.75). Tom’s choice was a cheese omelet with two cheese (Harvita and Cheddar) ($7.50). Both of us drank water. Once we had paid and been given a number to display on a table, a server  showed us to one of the empty tables and removed the reserved sign.  What a good way of stopping people hogging a table beforehand and the system really worked well.

Crepevine on Irving Street in San Francisco

Crepevine on Irving Street in San Francisco

The Crepevine is not all that large and the seating is just table and chairs but each table had a small vase of fresh flowers. There were large oil pintings on the wall with a diverse selection of style – contemporary, still life, sailing boats, a flamingo, buildings. They were all very colorful. The place was buzzing with chatter going on all around. Every so often I could hear music playing in the background but unable even to hear what sort it was. Clientele consisted mainly of families with the average age of the adults being in their twenties or thirties. We were the oldest people there.

My oatmeal came in a small bowl which was loaded with fruit on top – banana, strawberries and raisins.  A spinkling of cinnamon covered the fruit. A small stainless steel jug contained the milk. Tom’s omelet was not overly plump and it came with house potatoes and an English muffin on the side. I really enjoyed the oatmeal and the toast was thick and tasted almost homemade. As for Tom’s verdict on the omelet, he was really impressed and he really liked the potatoes with fresh rosemary.

Now for my trip to the restroom and that was an adventure in itself as it was at the back near the dishwasher. There were already four people waiting, and there was just a tiny space to wait in. All the while, the  servers were bustling their way around the line with dirty dishes and the poor guy working hard cleaning the dishes had a perpetual audience. While I waited in line, I admired three small African art pictures on the wall and chatted to the others in line.

Although the door to the restroom door was a bit battered with a wonky door handle and inside, as the lock didn’t work, there were two bolts instead, the inside was not too bad at all. Half a dozen pictures on the wall, all of flowers and on a stand were some fresh flowers. It was all a bit cramped but clean and perfectly acceptable.

Tom and I really enjoyed everything about the Crepevine and will certainly go there again.

Crepevine
624 Irving Street, San Francisco,
CA 94121
Ph: (415) 681-5858

Point Bonita Lighthouse

Cozelman Road heading out to Point Bonita

Cozelman Road heading out to Point Bonita. We love this road. It's a cheap thrill.

Point Bonita Lighthouse has sat on a rocky outcrop, safeguarding the entrance to San Francisco Bay, since 1877. The only way to get to it is by walking down a steep path, through a tunnel hewn through rock and across a vertigo inducing, swaying suspension bridge. Tom and I last visited this lighthouse two years ago, just before it closed for two years for the bridge to be replaced.

(Click on the photos for larger versions)

Before we reached the headlands, we headed to Irving Street for breakfast. Afterwards we took a walk on Irving between 7th and 10th Avenue. On those three blocks there is an amazing variety of shops and restaurants. Of course there were the usual scattering of banks, boutique clothes stores and beauty salons plus quite a few coffee shops including the ubiquitous Starbucks. A lot of the shops were several decades out of date – a cobbler, a hardware shop and two, family run grocery stores almost next door to each other with fresh fruit displayed outside. There were at least four bars along the way, lots of restaurants and cafes including four breakfast places. On one block, a Korean, a Japanese and an Italian restaurant were just a couple of doors apart.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge. Just one of the many million dollar views from the Marin Headlands.

After our little walk, we headed to the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands. We drove up Conzelman Road for over four miles, enjoying every twist and turn and some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the city of  San Francisco and the bay.  As it was a beautiful day, lots of boats, ranging in size from tankers to kayaks were out on the water. All the parking bays along the road were full which meant there were lots of tourists around. We were lucky to find an empty parking space where we could look back at the bridge. Cars approaching and driving across the bridge sparkled in the sunlight. After a week of rain, people were making the most of the sunny weather. California poppies and other wild flowers adorned the headlands as they sloped towards the bay. We stood admiring the view for fifteen minutes.

Just below Hawk Hill, Conzelman Road becomes one-way. The road hugs the coast and is like a roller coaster ride. From the top, looking towards the Point Bonita Lighthouse, we could see dozens of bikes whizzing down the hill. After the steep and strenuous drive up, they were enjoying the exhilerating drive downhill. We could see the lighthouse standing sentinel on the point and, across the bay, Lands End with the Palace of the Legion of Honor perching on its hill could be seen.

Now for the white knuckle drive. As we started down the hill, Tom said that he thought there was something wrong with the brakes, then said the steering felt weird. I’m used to his sense of humor by now and let him have his fun. It’s truly one of the most scenic rides in the Bay Area and one not to be missed.

We reached the parking lot for the lighthouse which is now the end of the road. The road used to carry on past Battery Mendell and end at the parking lot overlooking Bird Island. Now the road has been turned into a footpath. Already there were a lot of cars parked in the small parking area for the lighthouse and it was only 11.45. The lighthouse opens at 12.30 but, as this is the first day of opening after two years, people were obviously very keen to see the new suspension bridge. We had to go round the roundabout and find somewhere else to park. There is a large car park a short distance away, which I think is new, but we found a convenient spot on the road instead.

Trail down to the Point Bonita Lighthouse

Trail down to the Point Bonita Lighthouse. A little steep but well worth it.

The path to the lighthouse is not very long, probably no more than half a mile, but it is quite steep. It is an interesting walk and, at this time of the year, there were a few wild flowers along the way. Glancing down towards the water, I could see a small, black, sandy, inaccessible beach with half a dozen harbor seals basking in the sunlight. Also down in the water are the remnants of an old slipway used to launch a lifeboat.

When we reached the tunnel, our way was barred not only by a locked steel door but also by a dozen people already waiting there. There was still half an hour to wait so we joined the end of the line and waited patiently. When we first reached the point, the sun was overhead and it was pleasantly warm, though windy. While we waited though, the sun disappeared over the top of the headland and it began to get chilly. More and more people arrived behind us and it was surprising the number of people who squeezed past us to get closer to the front. We couldn’t help overhearing the conversation of the people behind is. Two older guys had driven down from the Oregon border in order to watch the Giants game that night at AT&T Park and had heard of the lighthouse reopening and decided to stop off to see it.

12.30 approached and no sign of the park ranger who would open the door. Some of the folks waiting expected the door to be opened from the other side but I knew that the park ranger comes down from the Visitors Center and opens the door from this side. From where we stood, we could see some way up the path and there was sign of anyone in uniform. 12.30 came and went and still no one to open the door. Finally, nearly ten minutes after it was due to open, the volunteer arrived and then took a long time trying to find the right key. Eventually the heavy door opened noisily and we entered the tunnel. Inside it was really dark with no lighting at all and it was hard to see where we were going. The rough rock face hemmed us in on both sides and above. It gradually became lighter and soon we were out in bright sunshine. Someone behind us remarked it was just as if we’d been through a time warp and we had just arrived in Hawaii.

The trail becomes just the width of the path several times with the ocean pounding on the rocks on both sides. The wind hit us from the side with a chilling slap. We got our first decent view of the new bridge. It is painted brilliant white. The old one was made of wood but we weren’t sure whether this one would be the same or made out of metal. It certainly looks like an copy of the old one. When we were here the last time, only two people were allowed on the bridge at the same time and a volunteer would be at the bridge to monitor it. Now there seems to be no limit.

Point Bonita Lighthouse and the swaying suspension bridge.

Point Bonita Lighthouse and the swaying suspension bridge.

Tom and I had decided that we would just go to look at the bridge as neither of us had any intention of crossing it. At the last moment though, we looked at each other and went for it anyway. The previous one had swayed a lot and I fully expected that this one wouldn’t. I should have realized that suspension bridges are supposed to sway and, as it was windy day, it certainly did sway. Once it started to sway, we just wanted to get to the other side as soon as possible. It is not a long bridge and really doesn’t take more than two minutes to walk across, but it seems much longer when you’re feeling jittery.

The lighthouse stood there all spruced up for it’s reopening with the sunlight glittering on the glass at the top.  With the hordes of people piling over the bridge, we knew the cramped interior of the lighthouse would be crammed packed.  There are interesting displays inside, including a fascinating map showing of the Golden Gate with the depth of water in places and the size and position of sandbanks. I  like to study that map for ages, always finding something interesting I hadn’t noticed before. Today we stayed outside and lent on the railings, in the sun and out of the wind, contemplating the activity out on the water. There were tour boats sailing under the bridge, then turning round to head back; a flotilla of small boats were off Chrisie Field, a large tanker entering the bay with its attending pilot boat but the most amazing sight was of a lone kayaker paddling out to the ocean. We watched him for some time wandering when he would turn back but he never did. Where was he heading, we pondered.

We geared ourselves up for a return across the bridge. We stood there for a few moments, took and deep breath and boldly walked back across the bridge.  Once safely back on dry land at the other side, we took a little time looking back at the lighthouse and watching folks crossing the bridge. It was rewarding to see that everything is very much as it bad been before on our last visit and we are glad that people have not forgotten this isolated corner and hope that more people will discover it.

Opening time are Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays from 12:30 – 3:30 pm. The best part is that it is all free of charge.

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