Friday, December 19, 2014

California There We Went - Part One

Hello! There's an old song titled "California Here I Come" - well, that's where we went for a short family vacation recently. We were in the San Fransisco area from last Saturday night through the middle of this Wednesday. That's not really a lot of time in an area with so much to see and do, and we were hampered by rain part of Monday and Tuesday. But we still had a good time! 

I'd last been to the San Fransisco area in 1997 (had also visited in 1989), so I looked forward to seeing what I'd remembered from that trip. Our daughter was just two then, so she had no memories of that time. We were hoping she would enjoy the area as much as we had during those prior trips. In a way the trip was for her, since she's been working very hard ever since she began her college career. My husband thought she needed a break from her studies and research job.

I didn't have time to take a lot of photos, but I'll have enough commentary to go along with them, so I'll do two posts. I'll start with our trip to San Francisco last Sunday. 

Traffic was pretty thick as we drove into the city. Our daughter and I looked longingly at the designer boutiques as my husband inched the car forward, block by block. I sadly viewed the closed doors of Britex, a fabric store with a huge selection of buttons and trims.  I had gone there during my two previous visits, mainly for the eye candy offered by all those notions, but it was not to be this time. They're not open on Sundays. 

The dim sum menu from our lunch stop in Chinatown. We hadn't scouted out online reviews in advance, so picked the Grant Place Restaurant at random. It was fine. Dim sum is a lot of fun to order; if you've never had it, you're in for a treat. Larger dim sum restaurants have rolling carts that are continuously wheeled around for the customers to select from, but we were in a smaller eatery, so just pointed to the above menu. 

Chinatown is densely populated with shops as well as people. The climate is mild enough that most of the shops have an open-air feel to them - no doors or windows to block one's view. I suppose that a lot of the wares being peddled are cheaply made (hence the low prices we saw), but it's still fun to look. 

We continued on our way to the waterfront, walking through the Italian-style North Beach area. There looked to be many nice restaurants there too. We ate at one back in 1989, but didn't see it this time. 

Our first stop at the waterfront was Ghirardelli Square - once the home of the chocolate company of the same name, it's now a mini-mall of shops and restaurants. Ghirardelli, who still manufactures its products in the area, has a factory store and ice cream parlor at Ghirardelli Square. The ice cream parlor has rather eye-popping prices, but that didn't stop us from ordering some sundaes anyway. They were good!

Normally I wouldn't even want to eat an ice cream sundae in December, but the climate in the San Francisco is much different than it is back home, of course. Michigan's weather was milder than normal when we left, but there were no sailboats out on the water, no green grass, no leaves left on trees - and no palm trees either. All these were evident during our trip, and the temperatures were in the 50's and low 60's.

From Ghirardelli Square it was a short walk to the waterfront and the Pier 39/Fisherman's Wharf area. This is a very touristy spot, but it was fun to see the different shops, restaurants and street performers. 

Our daughter and I visited a bath-and-body shop. We'd never heard of the chain but learned it was based in Israel and its three US shops are all in the San Fransisco area. We saw two of those three, since they're only about two blocks from each other! 

Since I'm now in possession of a sourdough starter, I popped into Boudin Bakery, whose starter dates from the Gold Rush days. I wanted to check out how their breads were shaped, plus was hoping to see some samples out for tasting. But the place was so crowded I could barely see anything! Well, after all San Fransisco sourdough is supposed to be world-famous. Guess I'll have to settle for mine being famous within my own home!

In the distance, a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. I'm partial to the longer suspension bridge in my home state, the Mackinac Bridge, but of course the Golden Gate Bridge is better known. 

In the holiday spirit: this inflatable Santa is trying to lure waterfront visitors to a boat tour. One such business was advertising "holiday lights" tours on Saturday evenings in December. That sounded quite delightful, I thought. 

Alcatraz Island, home of the notorious former prison. It's open for tours now. 

Another now-famous sight along Pier 39, the sea lions. According to information located on the pier, the sea lions began hanging out at Pier 39 after the 1989 earthquake (the informative sign didn't say why). This is just one small group; there were dozens more napping and/or vocalizing on nearby docks. They're fun to watch, especially since back home we can only see their ilk in zoos!

Ah yes, another famous sight around the city, the iconic cable cars. This is the car we took back to the Chinatown area (we'd left our rental car in a parking garage near there). As it was already painted red and green, it had been decked out for the season with tinsel garlands, bows and a big wreath in front (not shown). There were also cable cars painted brown and tan; they hadn't gotten the holiday treatment. That didn't seem fair to me. 

Cable car rides may seem the ultimate in touristy behavior, but they really are a can't-miss in San Fransisco. They are a blast! Just think of a cable car as a rather slow roller coaster. Yet it's not just for tourists - I saw riders pull out their commuter passes to show the conductor. 

It had been a fun day, even if we'd only been to a small corner of the city. My next post will cover some of the surrounding area.

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