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I Heart San Francisco

If this blog seems a little lonely, I’ve been up north in San Francisco, enjoying Spring Break 2007 with el L, Rosita, Fay and a bunch of hippies. Too old for a good ol’ fashioned Spring Break, you say? Never! Come on, read all about it:

SUNDAY, MARCH 04, 2007

At the break of dawn or at least before noon, el L and I load up the White Bug and trek it north on Interstate 5. The non-scenic route, “the 5” is the quickest way to haul it up California. El L points out muddy cows while I counter with happy cows and we blow through lots of tumbleweeds. There sure is a heap in the middle of CA. We’re on a tight schedule since our first stop is Nike Missile Site SF-88. Although the National Park Service claims the park is open during the week, the guided tours and “for sure” entry is only made available on the first Sunday of every month. Of this we fortuitously take advantage.

Nike Missile Site SF-88We swing over the Bay Bridge, take a quick driving tour of San Francisco, jaunt over the Golden Gate Bridge and traverse the rolling pastoral Marin Headlands to the site. Nike Missile Site SF-88 is a throwback to the Cold War Days and is the only restored Nike Missile site in the entire country. Our docent got up and cozy with the warheads during the Korean War. Mucho creepy! I enjoy the platform ride aside the missile down into the basement where the other missiles are stored. Unfortunately, there are some rowdy toddlers in our group so I near miss the story about a soldier getting shot for lighting a cigarette whilst astride a Nike.

Missile NotesA young girl and her father (?) are also in our group. The young girl makes ardent notes about the missile in her composition book with a hot pink gel pen. Teddy supervises.

After looking around the missile museum and feasting on Girl Scout cookies (don’t ask me why they were so nicely set on a table by the warhead display) we hop in the White Bug and pass Marin mountain-cyclists. We’re on our way past beautiful wetlands to Vallejo to meet Fay, Butch’s fiancee. Fay lives in a very stealthy condo. We eat Mexican food and Fay gives us the lowdown on the engagement and Butch’s gemology tools. Apparently he wants to get out of the power-plant business and become a professional jewel grader. His electronic diamond verifier amuses me. Fay feeds us treats of boiled peanuts and candies and Coronitas and citrus green teas and we watch movies about San Francisco.

MONDAY, MARCH 05, 2007

El L and I make sandwiches and raid Fay’s fridge before heading on our way. The Bug is making strange noises in conjunction with its wacky oil gauge so I look for a good auto shop but everything’s too expensive. I pick up some old school oil in the local WalMart and fix the dang problem myself. I also buy Easter candies – jelly beans, gum and candy-coated chocolates – which results in a “clean up in aisle 9” when my particular jelly bean bag comes with a complimentary hole. I resist fighting the locals.

We coast into San Francisco between the Marina and Cow Hollow area and check into our abode. Hotels.com promised that our place has a view of the Golden Gate Bridge but, alas, that is simply not true. The staff is friendly and our room smells strongly of bleach so I assume that the place is clean to boot. We get a corner room “Sleepy Bear Den” which is nice and big and comes with a fridge and microwave so I think it’s a pretty good deal for $30 a person. Nevermind the sleepy bear curtains and greasy hand print on the wall.

We coordinate meeting Rosita and after much discussion and an observation of the Marina green, we walk over to Chestnut Street to caucus at Jamba Juice. We read funny passages in our guidebook of choice. As it turns out we’re somewhere in the “Herpes Triangle” – the area between three bars owned by Mayor Gavin Newsom. We grab a snack with Rosita at one of the many, many creperies in the city and discuss the supreme benefits of dessert crepes. We top it off with a stroll along the Marina.

We try to reconvene with the rest of Rosita’s pals at Land’s End but due to a strung-out cabbie, we end up wandering in the falling darkness around the buffalo fields and the Dutch windmill at Golden Gate Park instead. Eventually, the locals pick us up and after a swing by the ancient baths at Land’s End, off ’tis to the locals pad where nearly everyone recreates ‘cept for the old groupie mom and I. But apparently I was pegged for a stoner. Kids.

We hitch a ride to the hideaway where some hippies drink home brew and jam to Pink Floyd and the Beatles and their own music with un-annunciated lyrics. Old groupie mom takes a lot of pictures. Somehow up becomes up again, Rosita grabs her gear and we crash at the Sleepy Bear Den. We watch avant garde movies on the local cable channel late into the night. DICKET/DOCKET is my favorite.

TUESDAY, MARCH 06, 2007

Sleepy Bear Den has, hands down, the worst continental breakfast imaginable: vinegar coffee, suspicious Cinnamon Toast Crunch and a truly horrendously stale “Berry Horn”, an ultra-glazed plastic-packed raspberry pastry. Ick. Rosita heads over to the hospital for a tour of their lush facilities and el L and I amble around the city.

We tackle the crazy Divisadero hill and I understand why certain parts of the city lack bus routes. In these parts the apex meets the sky. I make it to the top very sweaty but alive. We lolly-gag around the Pacific Heights mansions and take it easy at Alta Plaza Park. El L is amazed at the well-behaved pooches running, unleashed in every directions. Seriously, a professional dog walker unleashes 10 big dogs and they just follow him around, calmly, without an attack inclination in the world. El L took secret pictures of this strange canine behavior.

Full House HousesSan Francisco is perfect and sunny and easy so we don’t mind walking a little more to meet Rosita at Alamo Park, famous for being overly photographed with its Victorian houses featured in the opening credits of FULL HOUSE. Yes, we take pictures too.

We meander over to the Haight and Ashbury “Hippie Mecca” district with its strange psychedelic art and clothing stores and babies in head shops. Rosita photographs el L and I in front of the former Hell’s Angels HQ and we photograph Rosita just a few steps over in front of the Grateful Dead House. Twang. Someone gets hungry so we grab some lunch at another cafe-type place which, naturally, has quite delicious veggie sandwiches.

ChinatownBecause we’re experts, we take the Muni bus to Chinatown (the largest outside of Asia!) in search for the Fortune Cookie Factory but never find it. My guidebook doesn’t think it’s important, I suppose. As I try to figure out this conundrum, we get sucked into a tea tasting place run by chatty Koreans. It’s touristy, I know, but fun and I like the hangover tea the best. White Monkey isn’t too bad, either. But I am not too fond of the teas that taste like perfumes. The Koreans give us tips on good local hangouts and I can’t help but imagining that this could be the start to HOSTEL II. Tourists drink strange beverages brewed by locals and end up in torture chamber. But all proves perfectly benign. Unless, as I’m writing this, it’s all a dream.

We head over to the Cable Car Museum because it’s free and the kids want to ride the cars. So we do, exactly .5 miles up a big hill to Lombard Street. Pricey but novel for $5. We walk down the twisty curves and the sun sets on the San Francisco Bay. We open the map to plan our next move when lo and behold, the jam session Hippies pull up in a minivan and kidnap us to Ghiradelli Square where we all eat ice cream.

Ghiradelli

I wonder where Ghiradelli keeps all the Oompa Loompas but apparently the chocolate factory has been replaced by a plaza choc-full of candy shoppes. I drink a chocolate malt made with heavy doses of chocolate and feel a bit woozy afterwards. We bid the Hippies goodbye and hop on the bus back to the Sleepy Bear Den.

Walking a zillion miles makes me tired and I can only garner enough strength to heckle AMERICAN IDOL when it flashes on the tube. Rosita riles everyone by voting for Sanjaya, based solely on his “cuteness”. I fall asleep and el L and Rosita hit the bars.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 07, 2007

San Francisco StreetRosita barfs up a Cheese Horn and catches a ferry to Alcatraz Island with el L. I’ve been before so I ride the bus to the Financial District where I have some business but miss my stop and end up downtown. It’s a nice walk, though, and I like wandering through San Francisco photographing this and that. The city seems so relaxed and sublime.

I find the City Lights Bookstore, the nudie district, the Ritz, a bunch of sketchy hotels and the real back alley Chinatown. I mean to take a bus to the wharf to meet the gals’ ferry but keep hoofing it since it’s such a nice day. I walk to the end of the pier next to the shoppy plaza to get a good view of the bay. I snap some shots and create this montage:

San Francisco Bay Montage

(It’s a bit hard to see but Alcatraz Island is in the middle of the photograph with the Golden Gate Bridge behind the ship on the left hand side of the picture)

I watch the barking blobby seals for a while, eat an over-baked pretzel and wait for the el L’s ship to come in. She staggers off the ferry, Rosita in tow, nearly dying of famine. Although I’m not a fan in any sense of the word of Pier 39, it’s the closest food locale so we sit down for lunch at an Italian restaurant overlooking the bay. El L takes a small bite of her hamburger, gets miraculously cured and packs the rest away for later. We resist the waiter’s suggestions to buy everything on the menu and slip out to watch the seals. They bark and fight for territory on the floaties and do whatever other lazy activities seals do. We return to Cow Hollow.

The ZodiacSince we’re in San Francisco, I want to see ZODIAC. So we do. Unfortunately the local theater is having some sort of audio problems or maybe I’m just deteriorating but I can’t hear Mark Ruffalo’s dialogue all that well. But what I can hear of the movie I really like. ZODIAC has an excellent script, acting and cinematography. The film overall, however, is way too long. Granted the subject matter is tricky and although the transitions are clever, I wish the pacing was smoother and the director would have just cut to the chase already. Overall ZODIAC is more informative than creepy with performances and ambiance trumping storytelling.

Worn out from such a long film, we retire to the Den to soak in more AMERICAN IDOL and TLC’s “I Eat 33,000 Calories a Day”… far more disturbing than the day’s cinema.

THURSDAY, MARCH 08, 2007

Land's EndThis is California and we chow down on some good ol’ American fare at Mel’s Diner before checking out of the Den. And because this is our last day in San Francisco, we have to make it good. We all squish into the Bug and head for Land’s End, coming full circle from Day 1. This time, guided by a map and my amazing street-finding skills, we arrive at the northern part of the cliff walk.

The cliff walk in its amazingness is one of my favorite spots thus far in San Francisco. With another gorgeous day unfolding before our eyes, the views of the Golden Gate Bridge are spectacular.

Golden Gate Bridge

Ocean Front Homes in Land's EndHow long before I’ll be living in an ocean front home without a care in the world? Well I suppose there are earthquakes to consider but, hey, I’m used to it by now. Such beauty renders me nearly delirious. Our lovely walk takes us, we estimate, halfway to the ancient baths before we have to turn back on account that Rosita has a plane to catch.

And thus we re-squish into the Bug and swing by San Francisco Airport which is easy and quiet and almost empty. El L and I head for the PCH (The Pacific Coast Highway, Route 1) to pick up the second part of our trek.

Pescadero State BeachDriving down the California Coast is slow and gorgeous and thoughts of, how many miles have we gone? Turn to, wow, look at that! Our bunks for the night don’t open for a few hours so we take advantage of the beaches and bridges and small towns along the way. We pull into Pescadero State Beach which is really a lovely expanse of tide-pools and dunes and blue, blue ocean. We stretch our legs and take pictures. (I’m especially fond of taking pictures of taking pictures.)

Piegon Point LighthouseWe scope out our digs for the night, the cool Pigeon Point Lighthouse and check in with the bohemian at the desk. While awesomely nifty with unbeatable Pacific views, our bunk house has an odd smell emanating from the kitchen. I open a few windows and hope for the best. Apparently the lighthouse also has a hot tub but I am wary of the notion. We toss our gear on our bunks and head out to find some grub.

We meander into the small agrarian town of Pescadero which is a smattering of down-trodden stores, the tavern/restaurant Duarte’s and two nice-looking (and competing?) grocery stores. El L orders the final sandwich for the day at the deli and I pick up a grilled cheese at Duarte’s. Both prove quite tasty.

Pebble BeachI try to find Bean Hollow Beach on the way back to the lighthouse but get sidetracked with Pebble Beach instead. But there’s no harm, Pebble Beach is an interesting place, covered in blanket of small jasper, agate, serpentine and carnelian pebbles from an offshore reef. I like walking around Pebble Beach in my socks. We watch the sunset.

Returning to the lighthouse we settle into our dorm which we’re sharing with two old ladies. El L is convinced their names are “Rosanne” and “Darlene”. They’re friendly enough and I get a good 10 hours sleep, accounting for the time when one of the old ladies was quite loudly snoring.

FRIDAY, MARCH 09, 2007

Big Sur CaliforniaEl L wants to order the local delicacy, Olallieberry Pie, so we pop by Duarte’s Tavern for breakfast. (Fun fact: Duarte’s is not only tasty but also the former stomping ground of Jerry Garcia who oft played in the tavern.) El L wimps out, doesn’t order the pie and opts for french toast instead. I order short stack which turns out to be quite huge. Fortuitously, our waitress brings us olallieberry syrup for our breakfasts. It’s way good, yo. Like smooth and sweet and tart blackberry-cherries. I wish I could finish my flapjacks but I tap out one and a half down.

Redwood ForestWe head south on the PCH, winding past Half Moon Bay, Monterey and Carmel. I buy a rather suspicious sandwich at a ritzy Safeway while el L sleeps in the passenger seat. I wake her up for the next stretch of road – Big Sur. Such a marvel. We snake down steep ocean bluffs and cut through coastal redwood forests. If you look really hard you’ll see the occasional mailbox at the head of a steep driveway, surely hiding a mansion at its base. We look for a good afternoon excursion. El L wants to try Coastal Drive but with its unpaved conditions, challenging switchbacks and my low undercarriage, for now it will have to wait.

Waterfall OverlookWe swing over to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park instead. Well developed but nonetheless stunning, JPB State Park is a perfect meeting of two worlds. An easy path leads to an overlook displaying an 80-foot waterfall spilling into the ocean in cinematic form. Another path makes a cool and quiet walk along a river through a redwood grove. Unfortunately, by a picnic table, there is a big bag of trash that needs to be collected and I am scared of grizzlies. And with the sun starting to dip closer to the horizon, we must carry on.

Winding and turning and twisting and snaking, Route 1 joins up with the 101 in San Luis Obispo. I had planned on taking the PCH all the way to Los Angeles but I’m getting tired and the fast cars on the freeway are too tempting. I merge. Madonna Inn BathroomBut not before we make one more quick stop: Madonna Inn. The Madonna Inn thrives on ultra kitch, from themed rooms to all around explosions of excess in the lobby, coffee shop, bar, restaurant, wine cellar, gift shots, et cetera. MF once said that Madonna Inn was the only reason he’d ever go to California. (Nice pal, huh?) To the right is a picture of the bathroom where I took a wiz. Pretty hilarious, all things considered. If I have to say one thing about the Madonna Inn it’s this: once inside its knick-knacky clutches, it far exceeded my expectations in every possible way.

And on that wave, I flip up the Bug’s headlights, press the pedal to the medal and coast into Los Angeles with the firm resolve to quite immediately do a 180.

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