Part One: San Francisco
This is the first part in a five-part series of a road trip taking us into Northern California from San Diego County. We visited San Francisco, Sausalito, Fairfield, Benicia, Suisan City, Suisan Bay, Napa, and the Delta. We went to Pier 39 in San Francisco, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge twice, saw the hundreds of houseboats in Sausalito, toured the Jelly Belly factory, fished on the delta, rode on two ferry boats, crossed over four large bridges, and many small draw bridges, saw autumn colors, saw the last of our naval ghost fleet, and viewed the gorgeous vineyards in Napa… all in five and a half days.
Heading up North
Thanksgiving means a lot to people for different reasons. One reason is the chance to spend time with family and friends. Second is the chance to eat all the wonderful fixings of turkey, stuffing, ham, mashed potatoes, yams, or whatever food tradition you have. Lastly, in most cases it is a chance to have the day off from work.
In my case it was four days off (including the weekend) which means only one thing…road trip!!!!!!! Actually, I stretched it to five and a half days by taking Monday off and half day Weds.
So mid-morning on the day before Thanksgiving we braved the Southern California holiday traffic and headed north to our first stop, San Francisco.
In reality, our first stop was San Jose but that was only a driving break to stay overnight and freshen up for the next day. All we saw of San Jose was the freeway and the off-ramp leading to our wonderful and comfy beds at the hotel.
The sizable breakfast at the hotel was awesome and even more so because it was free! It filled our bellies enough so that we were ready for the hour or so drive to San Francisco.
I have been to San Francisco many times and have always opted to do the touristy things that this wonderful city has to offer. On that note, I highly suggest the Alcatraz tour and a harbor boat excursion that takes you around the bay and under the Golden Gate Bridge.
Off the Beaten Path
This time we wanted to see something new so we headed in the general direction of Golden Gate Bridge to check out that area. While on the way we saw the Lombard street sign and decided to pull off and take a look. Even though I have driven down this infamous street before, I still wanted to see if I could get a few nice photos. There were at least fifty people hanging around vying to do the same thing. We watched as a few cars began the steep decline into the narrow hairpin turns that make this street one of the most popular attractions in San Francisco. It is a must see when coming into the city. If you can’t drive down this hill, don’t worry, there are plenty of steep hills in the city. On some of them, I was glad that I wasn’t driving a stick shift.
As we walked to our car, another local icon glided by, a cable car. This historic mode of transportation is used by locals but is mostly ridden by tourists. This one was taking its happy passengers down an enormously steep hill on its way to the water’s edge. I put my car in drive and headed in the opposite direction.
As mentioned, we wanted to see some new sights so we headed over to the coast to Ocean Beach. I know that Ocean Beach is a very popular spot for surfers and bodyboarders but this day the waves were huge and breaking way off shore. I couldn’t imagine paddling out that far and riding those monsters that were making the ocean look like a wild washing machine.
Nearby, perched on a cliff sits the appropriately named Cliff House Restaurant which also looks over the Sutro Baths. The Sutro baths were once a public saltwater swimming pool built in 1896 but have sat in ruins ever since a 1966 fire burned it down. Also close by is Seal Rocks which are a group of rocks just offshore that are a home to hundreds of seals. All of these landmarks make for a very scenic and interesting drive.
Heading south we run into the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. We pull into the crowded parking lot but easily found a spot. It was time to stretch the legs and see what this park was all about.
The park was filled with people either hiking, strolling, or walking their dog, all to the backdrop of the beautiful Pacific Ocean on one side and a short hike to the bay side. The bay side provided a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge with its familiar red color. A giant cargo ship entering the bay with containers stacked high was cruising under the bridge giving you a perspective on just how tall the structure is.
Sailboats and other pleasure craft were also enjoying this semi-warm, November day.
Coming out of our coma of sensory overload, we decided to head over to another popular spot, Pier 39.
We were now getting hungry and ready for some clam chowder and sourdough bread, both of which are San Francisco favorites. Sometimes I am in the mood for touristy areas and sometimes I would rather just stay away. This time, I loved Pier 39. It was filed with people, activity, and was festive with its lights and holiday decorations.
Pier 39 is a 45-acre waterfront complex with restaurants, shops, attractions, views of the bay, Alcatraz, and the bridges. There is live music, performers, and plenty of food with a variety of restaurants.
Most of the boats that take you out to Alcatraz Island can be found here as well as other types of tours.
Pier 39 is only a block away from the other tourist points of Fisherman’s Wharf and the Embarcadero, so that general area has a lot to see. We did get our clam chowder and sourdough although not much of a Thanksgiving fare. Not to worry, we got the Thanksgiving fixings before we left on vacation. So my roast beef sandwich on sourdough tasted just fine, and I am told the clam chowder was just as good.
After dinner we drove around and checked out the areas nearby including the aforementioned Fisherman’s Wharf.
Story and Photos: Debbie Colwell