San Francisco and Marin CountyAuthor: soliteyah (More Trip Reviews by soliteyah)
Date of Trip: July 2009
We wound up at the famous City Lights bookstore, which I loved: three floors of nothing but books, including one just for poetry! There was a great mix of topics in the basement, where apparently folks like Kerouac and Ginsburg used to hang out. The stairs up to the poetry floor had a number of framed and signed poems on the walls, which I seriously considered buying as a souvenir. (Instead I bought a whole book of poetry.) The sun was going down by that point, so we walked back to our hotel and collapsed with sore feet!
Day Two: Muir Woods and Point Reyes National Seashore
Today was our day to get out of town, so we walked up Bush Street to the National/Alamo office in the morning to rent a car. We hadn't made arrangements ahead of time (since we wanted to pick a day with good weather), but we had no problem getting a vehicle. It cost $40 with taxes, plus the ridiculous cost of gas. They gave us the car with only an eighth of a tank, which I thought was obnoxious; that meant the first thing we had to do was stop at a gas station, and almost guaranteed that we'd fill the car with more gas than we actually used. Ah, well.
After filling up ($34, ouch!), we proceeded without incident over the Golden Gate Bridge and then took the Mill Valley/Stinson Beach exit to get to Muir Woods. Once off the highway, this was a lovely drive with lots of steep switchbacks and forest views. Muir Woods itself was wonderfully quiet and serene -- it was amazing to see these tall redwoods and rushing streams less than half an hour outside of San Francisco. Admission was $5 for adults and free for kids, and the park includes a number of loop trails so you can spend as much or as little time as you want (we did the longest loop, about two miles). There are several longer side trails where you can do some hiking, but unfortunately we were pressed for time.
We headed back out onto Route 1 North, which would take us to Point Reyes National Seashore. The road wound its way up the coast for a bit -- quite scenic, especially at the stunning Muir Beach overlook, which offered panoramic views of the sea, the rocky coastline and the colorful wildflowers in bloom. It was another sunny day and we could see for miles and miles. Gorgeous.
We popped into a local market in the nearby town of Stinson Beach to pick up lunch: a baguette, hummus, cheese and apples. We ate once we got to the main visitor center at Point Reyes (there are several). Point Reyes was actually a lot bigger than I thought it was: from the visitor center to the historic lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula was a 45-minute drive. I do highly recommend stopping at the visitor center; the park ranger there was very helpful in mapping out an itinerary for our afternoon/evening.
Another thing I wasn't expecting about Point Reyes: cows! But indeed, there are a number of historic ranches within the park, many of which appeared to be dairy farms. We saw dozens of cows milling about, apparently quite freely. The rolling hills of the farms and the fields of yellow lupines made for a really beautiful drive. As we approached the lighthouse, we started getting glimpses of the sea on both sides too.
The lighthouse is a short walk from the parking lot and then a precipitous climb down 300 stairs. The lighthouse is all automated now, but there are some historic foghorns and other equipment inside the current building. Down in the sea below the lighthouse was a large rock where hundreds of birds -- common murres and pelicans, I believe -- were congregating.
We headed back up the 300 steps, which was a really good climb (cute trick: the steps are labeled with descending numbers -- 300, 290, 280 -- so you can see how many you have to go), and hopped back in the car to visit the Chimney Rock trailhead. Just 0.2 miles away was an elephant seal viewing point (though it was more like a hearing point -- the seals were a pretty good distance away, but they were making a heck of a racket!).
The Chimney Rock trail is a little longer, though still less than a mile each way, and it was the highlight of Point Reyes for me. A narrow dirt path took us through a grassy field and then headed uphill to a fork: to the left was a promontory with a dizzying view over the sea, and to the right were amazing views of the cliffs, rocks and beaches along the coast (including some sea lions lolling on a beach below). In a day full of stunning views, these may have been the best ones.
Our final stop was Drakes Beach, a lovely stretch of sand fringed by pale rocky cliffs. We walked a little way down the beach, but it grew windy and chilly as the sun started to go down. Mom dared to bare her feet and dip them in the Pacific -- looked like it was awfully cold! Huddled in my multiple layers, I decided that sticking a toe in the Pacific wasn't worth it.
We ate dinner at Priscilla's in the little town of Inverness, which I believe is located inside Point Reyes. The meal was okay -- we ordered clam chowder and salad, and Mom decided after one bite of the chowder that she couldn't eat it. The waitress was clearly unhappy when Mom asked for something else, but she brought out some lentil soup and didn't charge us for the chowder.
We took a faster way back to San Francisco -- the Francis Drake Boulevard to 101 rather than Route 1 South -- and discovered that we still had a ton of gas left in the car. So we headed back to Sausalito for a nighttime walk along the waterfront. Nothing much was open, but we did get a nice view of the glittering San Francisco skyline. Then we headed back over the GG Bridge and made a stop at the Palace of Fine Arts, a Greek-style rotunda thing in the Presidio. It looked lovely all lit up at night. And our final stop of the day was a drive down the crooked street. It wasn't all that exciting, to be honest, but at least we could say we did it!
Day Three: Mission, Castro, Haight and Golden Gate Park
We returned our rental car first thing in the morning and then took BART to the 16th Street Mission stop. We'd heard that the Mission neighborhood had some amazing murals, which Mom wanted to see, but we started with a visit to Mission Delores, the city's oldest building. It's next to a more modern (and more ornate) basilica, and the tour of the place includes both.
The self-guided tour ($5) took us through a quiet cemetery laden with flowers, then into a small museum with artifacts from the mission and the city. We popped into the basilica briefly, but a mass was starting so we moved on to the chapel in the old mission. It was dim and simply decorated, with a wooden altar and ceiling (the latter was painted in traditional Native American colors and patterns).
We left the mission and walked to Clarion Alley to see a few murals. The area was a bit grittier than some of the other places we'd visited, but the murals were definitely worth seeing, stretching down both sides of the alley. Even better, though, was the Women's Building, a local community center that was painted from top to bottom with amazing, vibrant, multicultural images of women and girls. What an inspiring place!
From the Mission, we followed 18th Street west over to the Castro neighborhood, which seemed a bit more upscale and was festooned with rainbow flags. (This is San Francisco's famously gay neighborhood.) We didn't spend as much time there as I would have liked, but we did check out Harvey Milk "plaza" -- which seemed to be just a small corner near the Castro muni station.
It was a nice tribute though, with a few black and white photos of Milk and a plaque about his life and the difference he made here in San Francisco. Flying above was a giant rainbow flag. Also nearby was the Pink Triangle Memorial, a small, triangle-shaped median at a busy intersection set up to remember the lives of gays and lesbians murdered in the Holocaust.
From there we continued on foot to the Haight neighborhood, which was great fun -- lots of funky stores and hippie hangouts. Mom grabbed some joe at the Red Vic, a cafe/inn offering fair-trade coffee and T-shirts with lefty slogans. We had our best meal of the trip at Squat and Gobble, where we ate omelets in a sun-dappled courtyard. (Called the "Upper Haight," the omelet had cheese, zucchini, peppers, sprouts and mushrooms, topped with low-fat plain yogurt. It was divine.)
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