This trip took place from June 30th to July 15th of 2018. The Knutson family numbered three as James was joining Beth and myself on his first major vacation!
Day 7; San Francisco: I actually set an alarm to wake James up nice an early so we could try and time his nap. He didn’t finish his waffle because he was more interested in jumping on the couch cushions and running around. He’s a cute kid, even when he’s high on toddler adrenaline. Our seventh day in California was going to be a big one. We were headed back into the big city (San Francisco) for more sightseeing and adventure. Beth’s aunt, Elaine, was coming with us this time and I had a big list of places to visit!
Our plan actually worked because James was tired a couple hours earlier than his usual naptime and slept during our hour trip downtown. To maximize his nap we went through a drive-thru for coffee and then I plotted our first address of the day. I watch a lot of HGTV so I knew a mini-series had just aired featuring the Property Brothers, Drew and Jonathan Scott, where they renovated two homes in the Bay Area. The houses were shown extensively on TV and I found the exact addresses online through a bit of sleuthing. One article led me to the real estate listings for when they were for sale (both sold by then, of course) while I had to go to Zillow and enter the sale price to find the second.
So I navigated to Drew’s house first and took pictures from the street like a creeper. The interior looked great on television but I am not a fan of the exterior (bad paint color and way too close to the neighbors). Jonathan’s house was fifteen minutes closer to the city and was on a worse street despite being on a nice hill. Both streets were not as good as the recently renovated houses deserved. Elaine said it was surprising they were able to sell each for almost a million dollars considering the neighborhoods they were in. The guest bedroom at the second house has massive windows facing the street and they were covered with cardboard. The driveway was normal length so we could easily see inside without it. The neighboring house had like an alpaca or llama farm in their backyard. Probably not the view I’d want for a million dollars! At least the interiors looked nice on television.
It sprinkled a bit and it was windy but it was slowly turning into a nice, partly cloudy day. James woke up when we arrived at our next destination 45 minutes later, Fort Point National Historic Site under the Golden Gate Bridge. The masonry fort was built between 1853 and 1861. It was nearly attacked by the Confederate Army in 1865 but Robert E. Lee surrendered first. After a quick diaper change we went inside. For some reason I was picturing a building with a full roof but inside there is an open-air courtyard. I was imagining that the 19th century soldiers wouldn’t want enemy fire falling on top of them with zero protection but I guess cannon balls don’t stop at roofs anyway. The old fort doesn’t have an elevator so Beth and Elaine stayed on the ground level with James. He demanded freedom from the stroller so they spent the entire time running after him as he explored.
I headed upstairs to do my own exploring. Much of the fort is bare but there are a couple exhibits spread throughout. One room had mannequins wearing Civil War era military uniforms and a set up tent campsite. I guess without a roof the soldiers were basically camping. The few interior rooms the fort does have were saved for officers quarters, officers mess, the infirmary, and, on the lower level, black powder and other supplies. The fort’s main weapon/defence was cannons back when it was in use so the windows were open to the outside. Some of the windows have glass in them now but I was able to get good pictures of the various views. I saw a container ship approaching the inner bay and watched it for nearly ten minutes as it got closer and closer. I got a series of photos of it passing below the bridge framed by the forts square windows. I’m far from a professional photographer with my 16 megapixel handheld but I do enjoy it.
The fort consists of three floors and the roof, where I headed next. On the East side you can see downtown San Francisco while the North and West face the underside of the Golden Gate Bridge. The fort was built as close to the water as possible so the Bay can be seen on all sides. The walls up on top were relatively tall. It was easiest to see over by standing atop the cement thingys the cannons used to sit on. I find many things interesting that the average person doesn’t, especially when influenced by the magic of vacation, but I enjoyed seeing the underside of the Golden Gate. It is one of the most iconic structures in the world, after all, even the belly.
I went back down to the main level to rejoin the others. There are different types of cannons on display down there and large cannonballs stacked in pyramids. One room houses racks of black powder (I’m assuming they were empty). We ran out of items to see after about an hour but the trip was well worth the free admission. I’d say it’s one of the best sites to visit in the Bay Area for history buffs and photographers. Before getting back in the car Beth and James posed in front of the bridge and I took the picture that would eventually grace the front of Beth’s debit card and my computer mousepad. He’s so cute!
Next, we traveled to Lands End Lookout Beth decided to stay in the car with James but Elaine came with me. There’s a small gift shop there and an overlook of the Pacific Ocean and the Sutro Baths. The Baths opened in 1896 as the world’s largest indoor pool. It’s just a foundation/ruin now but from pictures in the gift shop I know it once was an impressive structure. There were seven pools, six saltwater and one freshwater, that totalled 250 feet wide by 500 feet long. When the tide rolled in it would actually refresh the water in the saltwater pools quite quickly and with very little technology. It was in the process of being torn down in the 1960s when it was allegedly burned down for the insurance money. A short distance from Lands End we parked at Ocean Beach for a few minutes. Nobody else wanted to get out of the car so I didn’t venture too far. The water looked cold anyway.
From the beach we drove a couple blocks to Golden Gate Park. At half a mile wide by three miles long, it’s 20% larger than Central Park in New York City. The two windmills at the West end are well known. There are museums and a conservatory in the middle of the park that stand out for their architecture and landscaping. There was a bunch of traffic too, actually. We weren’t the only ones out for a leisurely drive, I suppose. We saw a sign for the carousel and knew James would love it. The minuscule parking lot was full so we had to drive down the street a ways. Elaine had prepared sandwiches for everyone in the group, because she’s awesome, so I had mine really fast before walking.
It was fully sunny by then and a lot warmer. Elaine bought us popsicles, again, because she’s great, and James and I went on the carousel. He sat on a camel (I let him choose) and had a wonderful time! His favorite part was each revolution when we saw mommy and Great-Aunt Elaine taking pictures. We meandered over to the nearby playground after but James was still too young to really appreciate the playground equipment. There was a large sandy area that called out to him, though. Another baby his age was playing with beach toys and the mom let James have a couple cups to play with. The little dude tried walking off with them so we had to keep picking him up and plopping him back down next to the other kid.
After the sand (and forcing James to give up the cups) Beth pushed him on the swing for a bit and then we split because it was getting really hot out. If we had wanted to we could have found more to do in Golden Gate Park for the next three days but obviously I had a big list of attractions to visit elsewhere in town. The next list item was Grandview Park, which I had learned about through TripAdvisor. If you haven’t used it to help you plan a trip you’re really missing out, by the way. Anyway, I used their rankings of San Francisco attractions prior to the trip and one of the free sights was this park not too far South of Golden Gate Park (also free). It is on top of a hill and surrounded by narrow streets. There was basically no legal street parking but I parked illegally for a second to hop out and take pictures. How anybody lives in this neighborhood with annoying, tiny, one-way streets is beyond me but I’m sure the beautiful views of the ocean (on the West side) help them manage.
There was actually another free attraction from TripAdvisor, the 16th Avenue Tiled Mosaic Steps. I went back and told the others I was going to descend the colorful steps quickly (yes, yes, still questionably parked). The steps aren’t especially steep but there are 163 of them and it’s a long walk down. I took pictures the whole way. There was a slim view off in the distance of the Golden Gate Bridge towers but mostly my eye was drawn to the Pacific and the sprawling streets of fancy houses below. I reached the bottom and turned to marvel at the art piece behind me. The stairs are just a boring concrete when viewed from above but from below they are fronted by tiled mosaics (spoiled that info above, didn’t I?). I guess the locals completed this installation as a community-building project between 2003 and 2005. The walk back up had me huffing and puffing a little but the views and art were worth the exercise! On the East side of the hilltop park we could see Sutro Tower on a neighboring hill. The houses on both hills sell in the millions (the ability to see for a great distance should never be underestimated!).
The next two stops were almost four miles away and both appeared on television/movies. The first was the house that was filmed as the front of the Tanner family home on Full House (and Fuller House). There is no street parking in front so I parked illegally again to hop out quickly. There were a half dozen other small groups doing the same and there were cheap laminated signs hung on their front shed indicating that video surveillance was in use and please keep the volume down because real people, not a pretend family, live in the house. Can you imagine having tons of tourists visit your street each day just to take a picture of your front door and windows? The second famous house was the one used for exterior shots in Mrs. Doubtfire featuring Robin Williams. The street was quite sloped so I had to say a silent prayer while parking our rental car before taking a couple pictures. No other gawkers were around this time. That house was significantly more stately and the street was lined with very expensive and luxurious homes and condo buildings.
The next attraction on my list, which was extensive, by the way, so I knew we’d never get through everything, was San Francisco City Hall. It’s a impressive building with a high dome and marble columns. There is a little plaza out front and all the buildings surrounding it were nice. Twitter and Uber both have their headquarters a block away too. It would be fun to look around the area more but after a minute I hopped back in the car and Elaine drove us to Chinatown where the group was going to be dropping me off.
Prior to the trip I had mentioned to Beth’s uncle Thom that it would be nice to catch a baseball game while in town so he and his son, Justin, got the three of us tickets to that evening’s Giants game! Elaine, Beth, and James were going to go back to Debbie’s instead because James normally goes to bed during gametime (but also because Beth hates baseball). We parked somewhere for a minute so I could grab my stuff and then I walked two blocks to Chinatown.
Ideally I would have had an hour or more to explore Chinatown but by the time we ended up there I only had ten minutes. Thom was picking me up outside Dragon’s Gate, the main entrance to the area, and I didn’t want to get too far inside and risk making him wait. As a result I just hung out near Dragon’s Gate. It was kind of lame but I did get to see the gate and a couple shops filled with ornate (and hideous, if I’m being honest) chandeliers and figurines. That’s right! More than one store near the front sold chandeliers and figurines.
Thom picked me up and we drove towards AT&T park. Traffic was heavy in the evening (I’m told it’s often heavy) so I got a close look at Union Square as we passed by slowly. I also saw a place that was renting out yellow, three-wheeled cycles to tourists. I think they have GPS in them that takes people on sightseeing routes. Those ugly yellow things were all over San Francisco. We had been seeing them at several of the places we visited that week, including the Full House House, so they must be popular. I saw a dude having problems putting his cycle in reverse so he had to get out to push it to the bemusement of his female companion (and me).
Thom had purchased a parking pass along with the tickets so he pulled into a garage fairly close to the stadium. They had valet service but I guess we were the last spot to be filled so we parked it ourselves right near the little booth the guy sits in. Thom filled me in on the Giants and the history of the stadium on the walk. It was a beautiful evening, 73 degrees and mostly sunny. There were a lot of people trying to get into the stadium. I tried to take a picture of the Willie Mays statue but an older lady was standing in front of it and she didn’t cotton to tourists like me. Our gate was next to McCovey Cove, one of the best known features of AT&T Park along with the large Coca-Cola bottle in the left field. There were two kayakers waiting out there already even though only 107 home runs have been hit into the cove since the team started playing there in 2000 (and Barry Bonds hit 35 of them).
Thom and I got through the gate after a slight delay due to zero phone service for our digital tickets and proceeded up the ramp when an employee motioned us into a side room. Apparently the team had just re-opened it’s team museum on the lower level of the stadium. They had memorabilia and lots of pictures. A timeline of the team went all the way back to when the team was in New York. We then joined Justin who was already in his seat having drove separately. First pitch happened roughly ninety seconds after we sat down (just in time); Giants versus St. Louis Cardinals. We were sitting along the right-field line under the cover of the second level overhang. I don’t remember much about the game but we went for food a couple innings in. A couple more kayaks and some sailboats had joined the wait in McCovey Cove. They have a cable car on the centerfield concourse. Justin took my picture standing on the end while Thom pretended to push it.
There are several food options, like any stadium, but since I hadn’t been there before I wanted to find something interesting. I didn’t feel super inspired by anything but I eventually settled on a barbecue tri-tip sandwich. It was tasty but messy; many napkins were necessary. We passed under the big coke bottle (and the adjacent big baseball glove), saw a display with all three of The Giants championship trophies, and then went back to our seats.
A couple of innings later I wanted to try the garlic fries from the stand behind our section (I like to get the french fries in a helmet back home at Target Field). The garlic fries were not served in a helmet and they weren’t exactly like I was expecting. I was picturing like a garlic sauce drizzled on top but I was incorrect (very incorrect). The cardboard container was about 50% fries and 50% minced garlic. I ate most of the fries, sharing with the guys, of course, but stopped once I had to start digging through the garlic to find evidence of potato. Justin told me they don’t mess around with the garlic in San Francisco and I firmly agree. My breath smelled for two days despite brushing my teeth several times.
The sun set and pink clouds covered the sky. It was a really nice night. The Giants even came from behind to beat the Cardinals 3-2. Thom drove me back to Debbie’s and, believe it or not, there was a decent amount of traffic trying to leave the city even at 10pm (and not just because of the baseball game). I had a fantastic evening and day in the city. Another thanks to everyone that helped make it possible including Beth, Elaine, Thom, and Justin. End of day seven.