Day 7, Exploring San Francisco:
Beth and I had to get up rather early to go sightseeing with her aunt Elaine. Beth’s Uncle, Mr. Lou was up hours before us to go to work. He’s a contractor so that’s not completely out of the norm. The three of us set out to Beth’s other aunt, Debbie’s, to meet up. Her husband, Jack, greeted us but we were out the door rather quickly. He would have accompanied us but he doesn’t like the city that much and he was kind of hosting a wedding that weekend. His youngest son was getting married the next day. Debbie drove us into San Francisco from her house because she has a bigger car than Elaine. I sat shotgun so I could take pictures, of course. The Friday morning traffic was abysmal. Welcome to the Bay Area! We slowly crept toward downtown on 80/580 and then crossed the Bay Bridge. The bridge was replaced recently to make it more earthquake-safe but parts of the original structure were still standing off to the left. It was sunny out but we could see fog in the distance over the Golden Gate Bridge. Alcatraz was easier to see in the bay. Traffic eased a little after the bridge, thankfully. We drove through the Financial District and Debbie and Elaine narrated stuff as we went. It’s always nice to have a local show you around whenever possible. As we arrived in the Presidio, I was amazed to smell the eucalyptus trees within the car (even with the windows closed). Our first destination for the day was the Walt Disney Family Museum.
Elaine had suggested this museum when I sought her interest in sightseeing with us during the planning phase. Even better, and nicer, she paid for our admission! Thanks again Elaine! The museum was hosting a temporary exhibit called “Disney and Dalí: Architects of the Imagination”. The ticket person recommended we visit it first so we headed to another building a block away. This other building, the Diane Disney Miller Exhibition Hall, was quite close to the water and the Golden Gate Bridge. It was nearly perfect, only a couple palm trees blocked the view. The fog was burning off and Elaine predicted it would gone by the time we left. Inside, the exhibit showed dual chronological paths for Walt Disney and Salvador Dalí. We learned about each of the visionaries’ childhoods, careers, and their brief cooperative project, an animated movie called Destino. “Although the film was not completed during their lifetimes, the friendship between these two great men nevertheless endured.” There was a lot to read in the exhibit but there were also videos, art, and images. Debbie and Beth skimmed the information a lot quicker and ended up ahead of Elaine and me. I wanted to read as much as I could, both to learn and to take full advantage of the expensive admission for which Elaine paid. It’s a cool museum, of course, but it is a little expensive.
We thought it would take us two hours to see the entire museum and the extra Dalí exhibit took an hour alone. We hoofed it back to the main museum where we learned a lot about Walt Disney. The first room told us about his childhood, the second about his first failed company. There were a couple of sections about the creation of Disney Studios and Mickey Mouse. It would be difficult to mention everything the museum covered but here are a few: animation, technicolor, photography, story writing, character creation (including backstories for Donald, Minnie, Pluto and many more), music, Disney during WWII, a production strike, and the founding of Disney Land/World and Epcot (there were cool models). It was a lot of information to process and eventually even I started to skim signs. There’s no possible way this entire museum can be seen in two hours. I would need at least four hours to do it justice. The good news was, Elaine was right. The amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge from one hall in the museum proved that the fog had indeed disappeared. That was our next stop.
Debbie and Beth finished first and were waiting on a bench in the lobby when I joined them. We bought cookies from the gift shop (because I was starving) and waited patiently for Elaine. She was more thorough in her exploration of the displays. If she hadn’t arrived when she did we may have had her paged. On to the Golden Gate!
Beth and I had visited the most famous bridge in the world on our previous trip to San Francisco in 2011 but it was foggy on that occasion. The weather on this day was absolutely perfect. Elaine even said it was the best weather she had ever seen in the city. Being that close to the ocean it can actually get very cold in San Francisco. There can be large temperature differences even a few miles inland. Not on this day! It was beautiful everywhere. It was hard to find parking with so many people taking advantage of the sunshine. The tourists were looking at the bridge while the locals were working out. Actually, some of the tourists were renting bikes so they, too, were working out. It was so busy with people and we were behind schedule so the four of us only walked onto the bridge a little ways. We wanted to get some lunch next (thankfully) but first we had to drop off Debbie at the Pier. As I said before, Jack’s son (her step-son) was getting married the next day and the rehearsal dinner was that evening. We kept her car for the rest of the day but had to race across town to get Debbie to her boat on time.
After our tasty meal, the three of us started out on an adventure to the next sightseeing stop on my itinerary, Coit Tower. It was roughly a 0.75 mile walk up Telegraph Hill. We didn’t know which way to go exactly but I saw a stairwell ahead of us and thought it would be a good way to start making some vertical progress. Beth used her phone to give us walking directions the rest of the way. A real estate fan, I enjoyed seeing all the homes on the hill and pointed out how much I thought they were worth based on their exterior appearance and views. The top floors in some of these buildings could fetch five million dollars! Elaine didn’t enjoy the steep walk as much as I did. We went up 250 feet in that short distance. She said her legs were rubber and continued to tell us they were useless the rest of our visit.
At the top of Telegraph sits Coit Tower, a 210 foot tall structure on the list of National Register of Historic Places. When we arrived, Elaine wanted to take a break and Beth stayed to keep her company. I got in line and paid the $8 to go to the top. It took half an hour for my turn to take the elevator up but the main floor was filled with beautiful murals. Each painting depicted part of the Northern Californian culture such as agriculture, cattle ranching, wine production, business, shipping, etc. When I finally got to ride the elevator to the top I found out only eight people could ride at a time, one of which being the elevator attendant. He asked where everyone was from during the one minute trip (one lady was from Australia). We got off on the 11th floor where there were 37 stairs to the 13th floor observation level (those with the inability to walk up stairs can still enjoy views from the 11th floor). I was surprised that the observation area was open-air. There was no ceiling. Thankfully, it was gorgeous outside. Every third window was open as well with the rest covered in plexiglass. There were about 25 people up there with me so I had to take the nearest available window and move around as the different angles opened. Three of the people were a couple and their little boy. The mom was taking pictures of the other two with a nice camera. The dad was holding his son right at window level and was standing right in front of the open windows. I’m sure he had a good hold on his kid but why take the risk?!
The tower provides 360 degree views and I truly was drawn in all directions. The Golden Gate Bridge was to the Northwest and Alcatraz was to the North. I’ve seen The Rock at least ten times and have the movie poster on the wall in our basement so I’m a big Alcatraz fan. I saw the Bay Bridge to the Southeast and the beautiful bay itself (and corresponding piers) wraps around the Northwest to the Southeast. The beautiful city stretched out to the South and West. The Financial District was especially beautiful with skyscrapers like the Transamerica Pyramid. Even looking straight down from the tower was interesting. I saw Beth and Elaine sitting on a bench below. There were tennis courts on top of some of the buildings. I’d rather have a rooftop terrace, myself, but maybe they use it for that too. I spent perhaps twenty minutes up there taking pictures and then got in a much shorter line to return to the main floor. Beth and Elaine were rested and ready for the walk back to the car. We decided to take a different route back so we could see more stuff. Elaine wasn’t ready for what we were about to encounter.
We headed South from Pioneer Park down a set of steps known as the Filbert Street Steps. Filbert Street doesn’t continue down the East side of Telegraph Hill because it’s too steep. Instead, there is a long series of steep stairs. Elaine had heard of these steps because of their beauty but wasn’t yet aware how physically demanding they would be to descend for her already tired knees. Along the steps there are pretty gardens and patios enclosed by decorative fences. Trees, flowers, and bushes surrounded us as we walked slowly down. I couldn’t tell you what any of the flowers were called but every color was represented. Elaine really liked a particular purple, bell-shaped flower that she recognized. There were vines of it all over a couple of the houses. There were only a few other people there with us and we let them pass so Elaine didn’t feel rushed. I was happy for the slow walk so I could take pictures of everything. Right in the middle there were a dozen or more wild parrots in the trees. We were really close to them before we even noticed they were there. The stairs went right underneath them and luckily we were not pooped upon. Apparently a documentary was made about this wild flock a few years ago per Elaine.
Because there is no street where the Filbert Steps are, the houses do not have road access. There were fire hydrants along the steps just in case but I can’t imagine a fire department would have it too easy if there was fire nearby. I saw a man leave his house dressed in a nice suit. Can you imagine having to walk up and down those steps every day just to get to work? Residents there must have fantastic leg muscles by now. The last series of steps towards Greenwich Street below were especially long and high up. There are nets along the tall cliffs at the bottom to help prevent rock slides. We were all happy to be back on level ground but I sure am glad we got to experience a unique public walkway like the Filbert Street Steps.
After returning to Debbie’s car, Elaine asked where we wanted to go next. My itinerary mostly included the Golden Gate and Coit Tower (we toured Alcatraz last time) so I left it up to the group. Elaine suggested Ghirardelli Square and away we went! Parking there was hard to find but even harder to do. The spot was tight and Elaine wasn’t used to Debbie’s larger sedan (she had a mini or something). Once inside it was clear this was very much a tourist trap. It was quite crowded and the staff was mostly teenagers (with horrendous customer service). Elaine and Beth both bought some chocolate and shared a bag because San Francisco has a five cent bag policy (to reduce the amount of plastic bags being used). This building was Ghirardelli’s first factory but they don’t produce their products there anymore. They do have some chocolate-making equipment in one corner but it’s just for show. Now it’s simply a chocolate store and ice cream shoppe. I ordered a sundae to split with everyone but Elaine ended up declining. Beth helped a bit but I had to eat more of it than I planned. It was tasty but I regretted buying it afterwards. I was still full enough from lunch.
From Ghirardelli, Elaine asked if there was anything else we wanted to see. I suggested the house from Full House and she took us to Alamo Square. While not the house where the Tanners live with Uncles Jesse and Joey, it is the home of the “Painted Ladies”, a series of decorative Victorian homes seen in the opening theme song of the show. This group of houses, built in the 1890s, has been in a number of television shows and movies. Beth stayed in the car but Elaine walked around Alamo Square with me. It was a beautiful place to see sunset. Alamo Square is a large park on top of a hill causing decent views over the buildings in many directions. Downtown was visible behind the Painted Ladies and to the Northeast. The tall, ancient trees throughout the park were cool to see. The wind had picked up a lot and as it was getting dark, we didn’t stay long. I saw a couple of shady characters that I believe were buying and selling drugs but there was also a group of dog owners hanging out and a nine piece jazz band trying to film a music video. Every inch of San Francisco truly is interesting.
Traffic was a little bit better leaving the city at night but it still took us a while to get back to Debbie’s (to switch back to Elaine’s car). We didn’t eat dinner in the city, as I had hoped we might with so many delicious options, but based on timing we decided to go out to Mann’s instead. Mann’s is a small Chinese restaurant near Elaine and Lou’s where Beth’s uncle Nick bartends a couple nights a week. We had been there on our previous trip to California and it’s a chill place to relax and catch up with Nick. He can be hard to track down if you don’t do it at Mann’s. The kitchen was about to close but Nick got our orders put in anyway. Debbie had mentioned her favorite soup at Mann’s that morning so Elaine got us some to try. I don’t remember what it was called but it was good. I also ordered some Orange Chicken to nibble on. I ended up saving two thirds of it for breakfast the next day. Maybe I’m weird but I like eating Chinese food for any meal, including breakfast. It’s like leftover pizza to me, I’ll eat either anytime. Lou went with us too and while we were there a couple regulars that know Beth’s aunts and uncles by name popped in to say hi. A few of them even knew we were from Minnesota based only on “We’re in town visiting from…”. Either Elaine doesn’t have visitors from anywhere but Minnesota or word travels fast around Concord. End of day seven.