San Francisco, CA
Today was a big tour, but fortunately we still had time for Jan at the Inn to cook us breakfast, he sure does a mean scrambled egg. Delicious. We choose another one of SF’s many transport options today to get to the start of our tour – we took the train. Much quicker than the streetcar, but without all the cool retro goings-on. The tour started by passing through the ‘tenderloin’ district – so named, would you believe, for the way policemen were paid their ‘hush money’ to forget about the bars that were serving alcohol during prohibition. It’s a bit of a rundown area with many homeless people about, mostly due to a large shelter and soup kitchen nearby. However gentrification is setting in and apparently the face of the tenderloin district is changing pretty rapidly. Our guide knew where the best vantage points in town were – alas he didn’t know how to control the weather and get rid of the fog, but that’s ok. I guess it’s an upside for a city that has such dramatic hills – it’s not hard to find high-up parts that have a great outlook. I was glad we visited the Haight-Ashbury district, the centre of the hippy movement back in the day. I guess times have moved on and there’s not so much evidence of it now, but it was still interesting to see where Jimi Hendrix had lived, and Janis Joplin. We also learnt about the painted ladies. No, it’s not a case of too much makeup, but basically an Edwardian or Victorian era house that has been painted with more than three colours. I guess that makes this here Inn on Castro a painted lady too. (As a side note it was interesting that the Americans describe their architecture in terms of English monarchs!). Once again it was amazing to see so many cute little houses in one city – walking or driving the streets just shows beautiful house after beautiful house after beautiful house… It really is a wonderful looking city, both up close, and from a distance. Thankfully we stopped at Alamo Square, the park that offers that great picture postcard shot of a row of houses on a gentle hill, seen many a time on TV and in the movies. And for once, it really is as pretty in real life as it is on the telly. (Take that, LA!) While passing through Pacific Heights, also known as millionaire’s row, we saw homes of the rich and famous, like Larry Ellison of Apple, and Sir Jony Ive of Apple. Lovely grand big old homes, but still with some killer sets if steps to get to them, like many of the houses in a city as hilly as this one. The weather was quite Melbourne-like, i.e. four seasons in one day. We stopped in a park renowned for its great views of the Golden Gate Bridge… Though when we visited we could barely even see the bottom of a short pier through the thick thick fog. Within fifteen minutes when were driving along the bridge itself (we got to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge! Yay!), the sunshine pouring in the bus windows was making things quite warm. Again our driver came good on his knowledge of quality vantage points. After crossing the bridge, and deftly wielding the tour bus up a series of steep and bendy roads, we had the chance to see nearly all the bridge, watching the fog ebb and flow to obscure and reveal the southern pylon – which happened surprisingly quickly. One minute it wold be there and literally the next minute the fog would envelop it again. We could also clearly hear the fog horns bellowing out their warning to anyone crazy enough to be trying to sail through all that. It was a breathtaking view of a bridge still standing proudly for 76 years. For a change of pace we then headed to Muir Woods – a national park that was lucky to get created. Fortunately a very rich Mr Muir had the foresight to buy the land when he saw just how much of the local redwood forests had been lost to logging. Legal wrangling from a water company, that wanted to flood the valley containing the trees, very nearly succeeded. The only way it was saved was for Mr Muir to donate the whole parcel of land to the federal government so it could immediately be declared a national monument. This is of course what happened and as a result these ancient redwoods are still there for us to enjoy. Considering all this action took place in 1905, John Muir was certainly way ahead of his time when it comes to the conservation movement in general. Thank goodness he succeeded – it was a such a beautiful and quiet place, hard to believe there is a major city so close by. Plenty of incredibly tall redwood trees, and an almost-rainforest feel as they almost completely block out the sunlight with the canopy they form. We didn’t spot any wildlife at all, except when we were done and back the visitor centre and cafe, out pop a couple of cheeky chipmunks to clean up the crumbs dropped by visitors. I must say, chipmunks and nearly as cute as New York squirrels – much more fidgety and difficult to photograph though! Also, much to my surprise, they don’t wear jumpers with their initial on them, and they didn’t sing a single song. Back over the bridge again into San Francisco proper, and the tour was over. But should you ever visit, I can heartily recommend taking a tour from”Dylan’s Tours”. For dinner we stayed local to the Castro and dined at “Little Orphan Andy’s” – a diner-style place serving ginormous meals for very little money. Epic meatloaf!! It’s a shame this is our last day in San Francisco – there’s so much more to see and do, I think we’ve barely scratched the surface. But, plans are plans, and move on we must. But we’ll definitely, absolutely be back again some time for a longer visit. I haven’t quite left my heart in San Francisco, but certainly leave with a great fondness for such a beautiful, liveable, relaxed and friendly place. Next… We’ll be up at 5am. Dammit!