California road trip, July 2017 - Part 3

August 21, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

This is part 3 of our California trip. Part 2 is here. Also, here is the full collection of photos from the trip.

Day 8

Sequoia National Park

The sun is up and the heat is on. We quickly check out and drive towards Sequoia National Park. Our intent is to visit both Sequoia and Kings Canyon, since some of the large trees, such as General Grant, are, technically, located in Kings Canyon. Judging by the map, however, it seems to be just a one large park (a correct assumption as it turned out) and we intend to go through it by the Route 198. 

Moro Rock is a popular attraction in Sequoia and it's the first from the entrance we used. Signs say that Moro Rock parking lot is "full/closed/not available/whatever" and we can only access it via shuttle. Parking lots that are close to the shuttle stop are also full. We're advised by a ranger to "park somewhere and walk". Somewhere it is - parked off the asphalt on the edge of a picturesque slope full of sequoias and pines. Lot's of people around, partly because it's Sunday... The wait for the shuttle is long because I think it's about lunch time now. Finally a shuttle and an opportunity to have a steep walk uphill in the sun. Ladies choose not to... their loss because the view from Moro Rock is absolutely awesome.

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Now our acquaintance with the sequoia trees can start, and turns out they are a very interesting kind indeed, virtually indestructible by parasites and even forest fires, which in fact helps them to proliferate! Many of the trees have traces of forest fire... it's hard to believe that's good for them!

The sight of sequoias is very grand indeed

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Two tiny mammals hiding in a tree. No, wait, it's Anne and Toma! These trees are really large...

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General Sherman, the largest (most voluminous) tree in the world. It is really thick, that's for sure. Some of the surrounding pines are actually taller.

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A "linner" at the local restaurant, the sun is slanting towards the west...

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We continue our drive, stopping periodically to admire the trees and an occasional vista.

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Near a parking lot two Mule deer are looking for food. They are ok with me taking photos from about 10ft distance.

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It is evening by the time we get to General Grant, the 2nd largest (by volume) tree in the world.

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Nearby is on old half-trunk which can be walked through, which we do...

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Bi the time we drive out of the park (I guess at this point we are, technically, on the territory of Kings Canyon) the sun is already down, which, of course, makes a beautiful mountainscape.

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Today we spend a night in Fresno, which is a large city of half a million residents (5th largest in California, after LA and the big Sans: Diego, Jose and Francisco) and a county seat of Fresno County, the number one county in the US by agricultural production (we knew that thanks to the library book about California that Anne read before the trip). We arrive at about 9:40PM, temperature - 96F. I don't know how so many people live in this climate...

The logical thing to do the next day is going to Yosemite. There is, however, a concern about Detwiler fires that have been raging near the south-west edge of Yosemite and was the cause of evacuation of the whole city of Mariposa as well as a long term closure for a part of Yosemite National Park. The news from yesterday also mention a lot of haze and smoke from the fire getting to Yosemite making the views, well, let's just say, quite unusual and not at all as spacious. The quality of air and potential road closure might be a concern as well. Of course, the only reasonable solution is to wait until the morning and see.

Day 9

Yosemite National Park

No major news about Detwiler fires. They are still there although most of the roads are open and the fire is not projected to cause damage in Yosemite. At the breakfast in the hotel we see about a dozen of firefighters. Looks like they are about to go north to help out with the fires.

Since we arrived in the dark and get right to the highway in the morning, we have not seen any of Fresno at all... oh well...

Temperature in Yosemite today is projected to be 87F. Approaching the mountains, it's already 100F outside...

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We have not been early risers on this trip, figured we have enough time to do everything. Directions to Yosemite list it as about 1 hour away but it turns out you need another hour and a half to get to the first interesting point from the park entrance. The road is winding and slow and we are stuck behind a 10mph pink car from Ohio...

Entering the park from the south, we decide to visit Glacier Point first. Neither of us have been here before. Again, the signs say "Glacier Point parking lot full", we have to (predictably) take a shuttle, turns out it's actually a pretty long, about half-hour, shuttle drive. The driver turns out to be quite an entertainer and the ride is not boring. It is also almost definitely faster than it would have been in a car, as this road is not for fast drivers!

I'm not a big hiker or even traveller by any means, so it doesn't say much, but Yosemite's Glacier Point is, probably, the best landscape vista I've visited in my life, including Grand Canyon. Maybe Bryce competes...

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Clearly (pun intended), no visible traces of smoke from Detwiler fire.

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Beautiful views open from two sides of the Point, featuring Half Dome between them and two waterfalls to the sides. Trying to make a panorama to combine both sides...

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You can't help spending a lot of time at Glacier Point - it is breathtaking. We must have spent at least an hour just looking and snapping pictures. Then, after getting some snacks, looking at a large bird (Steller's Jay), looking some more and experimenting with infra-red photography (not worth displaying), we get back to the shuttle.

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The weather is very pleasant indeed, but we are rather high up. The elevation difference between Glacier Point and Yosemite Valley is about 3200ft, good for about 10F temperature difference between here and the valley. Time to drive down there.

We stop at Tunnel View stop for the classic view...

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and proceed further. Down here every stop is crowded. The fact that it is Monday and there is a forest fire somewhere pretty close - no matter. Actually, the fire may have made it worse by stopping people from going here on the weekend.

We stop near Bridalveil falls and walk close to it. The fall is very fine and it actually gets carried by the wind so much it almost falls sideways.

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We drive around the valley. It is quite a bit warmer down here and we don't do any long walks, just enjoy the views, there are lots of them.

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We entered through the southern part of Yosemite and exit through the northern. There is an odd brownish streak across the sky looking west. This is too early for a sunset, this must be the smoke from the forest fires, still burning south-west from here. We see some of the heavy firefighting equipment parked a bit downhill from the road.

_7240661_7240661Yosemite National Park, the smoke from Detwiler fire

Groveland

Groveland is a town right by the mountains, on the Route 120 that leads to Yosemite. A Gold Rush town, there are a couple of old buildings both Anne and Tamara really like.

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A nest of swallows right under the roof of another house, and a lot of swallows flying back and forth.

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A feeble suggestion to stop for the night in this charming place gets a strong objection, after all we have a night and a day tomorrow planned in one of the Gold Rush towns preserved as a state park.

Columbia

This is not something we planned back in NY, it was rather born from an idea by Tamara to visit Marshall Gold Discovery State Park, a place north-east of Sacramento created around Sutter's Mill, where Gold Rush started. A bit of a google search, however, discovered Columbia State Park, located pretty close to the way from Yosemite to San Francisco, dedicated to a Gold Rush town. Columbia, in fact, used to be one of the largest city in California at the time, I believe the 3rd largest, all because of gold. After the gold ran out the town population ran out too :) Columbia, however, hasn't become a ghost town as there were someone living here at all times, but most of the buildings here in the park are more than 150 years old...

One of them is City Hotel, where we now check in.

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It's as old on the inside as on the outside, with ancient (and antique) furniture in both common room and bedrooms.

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The bathroom is fine, though doesn't include a shower (the shower is common). Central AC works well though. It's been a hot day but the room does not feel stuffy.

By 8:55PM there is only one restaurant open nearby, a Mexican, and it's closing soon. We don't want to drive even 15min elsewhere. The park has long been closed, the only outsiders around are pretty much people who are staying for the night. Sitting outside, it is very quiet, with an older couple as the only other customers, and occasional sound from a rooster that lives here at the restaurant. Oh-oh, we think, that might be an early wakeup call!

Day 10

Columbia

I guess the windows in our room are good too since have not heard any roosters, but woke up on our own accord. Morning is upon us and in search for breakfast we walk to Columbia Kate's Bakery, just a couple of small blocks away. It turns out to be a rather unimpressive building hosting a what looks to be a small family business making absolutely delicious treats. We enjoy them with tea, coffee and hot chocolate outside. A bird (looks like California Scrub-Jay) is here expecting a treat, it gets some...

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On the way back we see a tall plant that I recognize as the biggest tallest dill plant that I have ever encountered...

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By the time we check out from the hotel there are already people in the park. We walk around the 160 year old town, visiting old shops and buildings...

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including a ride in a stagecoach.

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Every place in California, it seems, offers sunny weather. Every place not located on the coast or above 6000ft elevation offers considerable heat. Columbia is located a bit more than 2000ft above sea level, which means it gets 92F high in the shade. The town is rather small and flat and we are not exhausted or anything but we do wish for a little cool... this will sound a little funnier in the future...

We learned a little about Gold Rush (I honestly knew very little about it). The town was right near the digging site and after the gold had ran out some houses were demolished to look for gold underneath... A lot of ground was washed out by the mining and there are large stones revealed that used to be underground. History says there were about 87 million dollars worth of gold mined in Columbia. And that's in 1860 money!

San Francisco

Amazingly, our longest drive on this trip was not from San Diego to LA, or from the coast to the mountains (maybe because we stopped on the way), but what can be described as "from a place east of San Francisco to San Francisco". It's going to be more than 3 hours with traffic. Now that we decide that our next stop is San Francisco it's time to find a hotel and go there. We decide to skip lunch and have another "linner" in the city.

You remember our hotel conundrum in LA? It is similar in San Francisco except there are fewer neighborhoods (and fewer concerns about them) and the prices are 50% higher. Alas, this is the price of flexibility! We expanded our search to the outskirts of the city and ended up getting a glorified motel for a price of fancy hotel not in the city but near San Francisco airport :((( But we have a car we are not afraid to use it! Also, while it is entirely possible to spend time in San Francisco without a car those streets are fun to drive on, I've done it before...

One of the signs of, well, let's say, an imperfect hotel is a significant time you need to check in even if you have a reservation. By the time we're checked in and on the road it is evening and we are really hungry. We obviously don't have a lot of time today, thus we pick a destination that shouldn't require it, Sutro Baths, ruins of a salt water pool complex from a century ago. Maybe we'll see a Golden Gate Bridge from the outlook nearby. There is also Cliff House, a fancy restaurant, where we could have our linner.

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The restaurant doesn't disappoint, very nice view and food. The outlook at Point Lobos, however, does not offer a view at Golden Gate Bridge. We walk about the baths and the outlook.

Oh, by the way, remember our wishing for a cooler weather? San Francisco hails us... no, not with hail... but with 65F cloudy weather, and a strong cold wind!!! We put on the warmest clothes and shoes (which is not saying much because all we have is summer outfits plus light jackets).

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The sun has set and, since we are here in the western part of town I suggest we get to Twin Peaks, something I have wanted to do but never done, and see the night city from there! We drive up, there is a parking space (it's good we got here kind of early, before the darkness, it turned out), and take a peek (yes, pun intended). Absolutely awesome! How is this place not overcrowded?

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While it was cold on the coast, here on the top of the hill with the sun down it is... considerably colder... After posing for some photos Toma and Anne get into the car while I continue finding shots.

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Golden Gate Bridge is visible from here, with the top touching the fog, but it is barely distinguishable in the dusk.

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A small raccoon climbs into a garbage can and comes out with a dinner.

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Now that the night is closing in the parking lot is full, so it's good we came here a bit early. It's getting darker, though still not completely dark, and we finally decide it's time to go

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Day 11

San Francisco

Since our 7-star motel doesn't include breakfast (gotta have a more expensive rate for that) we decide to go with twice-a-day rations: have a brunch (we wake up and gather long enough for that) in the city, wherever we happen to be first, and a dinner, well, also in the city.

Driving north we see hills smothered in a white fog, it is lying there on the hills like a white blanket or a layer of down. Unfortunately the highway is busy and there is no place to stop and make pictures...

We stroll on Embarkadero towards a cafe for a nice brunch. San Francisco has a lot of cafes featuring healthy fresh ingredients. The orange juice in this place was excellent.

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Today the plan is to visit a science museum called Exploratorium and the area, and Financial District. By the time we get there and have a brunch I start suspecting it's going to be either/or, plus Exploratorium seems to me rather a place for small kids with a pricey entrance ticket. Anne still really wants to visit it, and we decide to make a compromise: I will walk around the area and Anne with Toma will go around the museum. 

To summarize, I was right and wrong. I was entirely wrong in my assessment of Exploratorium as it turned out to be a great science museum and very interesting for Anne, and, some of it, Tamara. I was right in that visiting it takes a very long time even if one doesn't do everything... 

In the meantime I walked around the museum area with a view on Coit Tower...

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looked around Ferry building a little, here is Vaillancourt Fountain on Justin Herman Plaza...

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walked to Financial District to see some trolleybuses and tramways (olden day Gomel and Kazan nostalgia?)...

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walked several blocks there...

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and found a walkway above street level, which, I think, is called Commercial Street, very quiet, at least when I was there, with modern sculptures...

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and some flowers too.

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The passageway leads me right back to Justin Herman Plaza.

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Tamara and Anne are finally done with the museum. Before we proceed, a shot with a one of the historic trams.

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After that - a drive through Financial District to Chinatown. Toma really wanted to visit a fortune cookie shop, I think it's officially named Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. It is a tiny place, with very friendly staff (surprisingly friendly, in my opinion, since there is a bunch of tourists loitering in a small shop, certainly not helping people work...)

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We finally find EastWest Bank building largely because it changed hands several times and was referred to by different names. This is something Tamara really wanted to see.

The small pagoda is surrounded by brick walls, but still standing. 

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Walking to North Beach, a view at Transamerica Pyramid.

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Today's dinner is going to be in a restaurant called "Stinking Rose". I ate there when I was in San Francisco about 17 years ago, and apparently it's still in business. The interesting thing about it is that every dish is made with garlic, and a sauce bottle on a table contained not ketchup or Tabasco, but an olive oil with green garlic mixture. I remembered it being just an Italian cafe in North Beach, but turns out it is not only in business but got, I think, three times larger, with bright red interior and themed menus. Seems a bit flashy and maybe even touristy... but the garlic sauce is here on the table and the menu features the hilarious motto: "we season our garlic with food". It was a good restaurant back then and it is a good restaurant still, although too much garlic can be too much. We declined the desserts and did not try garlic ice-cream.

A bit of a fog sets in after dinner for a nice view along Columbus Avenue.

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There is still some time to get to Lombard Street to show off the signature San Francisco hills. I maintain that it is done best in a car, especially driving it. Anne is impressed, though she was not the one driving :) We park on Lombard Street right after the curves (the parking is nose towards the sidewalk, no parallel parking), which means if you exiting from the right you need to be careful not to go down the slope and have to force the door up to close it, and exiting from the left the door becomes very heavy :)

Day 12

San Francisco

Today we are going to Fisherman's Wharf, a top tier tourist destination in San Francisco. To me, frankly, Fisherman's Wharf and Union Square, which both listed as top points in all the booklets, are puzzles. I never understood what it is that a tourist supposed to do on a street near the piers (Fisherman's Wharf) or in a shopping area (Union Square). Obviously, booklets are designed to help local businesses, not tourists...

Today we (especially some of us) are taking our time gathering, so we're ready pretty late (by tourist standard) and that made me angry a bit because I would like to see Golden Gate Bridge with a morning fog, a view I've seen often in photos. This idea will also seem funny later on...

Only when driving I realize that with all the rigmarole (I was also answering some emails from work) I forgot the camera in the hotel! That has never happened before! I'll have to use my phone for photography, like a normal person :(((

We park near Ghirardelli Square and have a brunch in Eight AM, an awesome place for brunch, and go to the shore. The bridge is covered in a beautiful thick fog... Of course it is too far for a phone lens...

Toma found things to do on Fisherman's Wharf - we go to Maritime museum and visit Hyde Street Pier where several old ships are united in San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. Amazingly, it is a National Park, which means our new annual pass purchased in Sequoia works.

This is Eureka, a ferry boat that used to transport drivers (and passengers) from San Francisco to Sausalito and back.

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After exploring the boats we decide to get to another "must do" in San Francisco - the cable car! The line doesn't seem to be that bad and we get in. Pricey but we'll do it once and get back.

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Turns out the line takes about 45min and the car is jammed so we don't see that much. Even worse, the line for the return trip is about 5 times longer :( The truth is you can get in at the intermediate stops and the drivers actually save some extra room for it. Too much extra room if you ask me... We walk towards the next stop, which also has a sizable line and wait there. Frankly, waiting for a cable car on a busy sidewalk with no shade is not many people's idea of vacation. On the way back we actually see a little more, and I have a chance to hang on the side of the car, but it is not enough to change my assessment of San Francisco cable cars as a waste of time and money...

Today we walk more and have a better opportunity to feel the San-Franciscan weather. It's a mixed bag: when it's quiet it's rather pleasant, with the bright sun it is even a bit hot, but cold strong wind frequently dissolves this illusion and we need to have jackets on, just in case, most of the time. Unfortunately, my favorite hat does not have enough traction for this kind of wind and I'm forced to walk without it :(

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We walk along Fisherman's Wharf down to Pier 39, where the sea lions are, which is pretty cool, with an impressive crowd of people observing them. The crowd and an intensive smell of caramel popcorn makes our stay there short. It would have been an impressive sight have we not visited La Jolla Cove a week before, but as a sea lion nature reserve Fisherman's Wharf pales in this comparison.

For the next stop we're going to visit Painted Ladies and Alamo Square Park, which allows again to showcase San Francisco hill driving, we can't get enough of it...

Approaching the park we start seeing many picturesque buildings and stop a couple of blocks short to look at the houses on the way.

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The hill going towards the park is pretty steep, steeper than the one in this picture...

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Finally there, Alamo Square Park tuns out to be on another steep hill, with a nice view at Painted Ladies. It's a nice vista, though many of the houses we saw on the way are painted in a much more interesting way...

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The park has a kids playground that Anne makes a use of. 

Today we drive back a little earlier than yesterday and see the fog seemingly slither down the hills just south of San Francisco...

Day 13

San Francisco

Today our plan is to have a brunch and go to Muir Woods, a park with very tall Redwoods trees a bit north of San Francisco. We choose a route away from north-east of the city with its tourists and Financial District to aim straight to Golden Gate Bridge. But first, we'll stop near Grandview Park to see some tiled steps about which I learned, of all places, on google maps :)

The area we stopped in (I think it's called "Outer Sunset") must be elevated a bit because everything is covered in fog. The air is cold and very moist, seems like we can get wet without rain. The cafe we found (also on google maps) is full and we walk a couple of blocks to see our options, and find a Chinese bakery. We seem to be in a predominantly Chinese neighborhood. The bakery is small but it has 4 or 5 little tables. Customers and employees speak Chinese and the writings are in hieroglyphs, but one lady speaks English and we pick some pastries (the price for most of them is $1) and have them with tea. This will do nicely.

After the brunch we get to "16th Avenue Tiled Steps". Really beautiful steps!

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And now on to Golden Gate and Muir Woods. The bridge is still covered in thick fog, just as it was yesterday.

The drive to Muir Woods is not that long although the construction causes significant delays. However, upon arrival we have an unpleasant surprise: all parking lots are full, and from what we can see that includes not only parking spaces but also the areas between them, which are filled with cars driving around waiting for someone to leave. The sides of the road are filled with parked cars. The only choice seems to be to drive several miles further until finding a spot at the shoulder and walk uphill to have an opportunity to walk in a park and back... Thinking of how crowded the park must be makes us simply turn around, and head to the nearby Sausalito.

Lot's of fog on the hills near Muir Woods

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Sausalito

Sausalito is a town pretty much across Golden Gates from San Francisco, it's a pleasant place with a nice view across the bay, though quite hazy on a sunny day like this.

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Muir Woods and the town of Sausalito are not the only reasons to get across Golden Gate Bridge. There are two observation points just west of the highway that are absolutely awesome! This is the further one. As you can see, my wish to see Golden Gate Bridge's top covered with fog not only has been granted but pretty much spread out to the bottom of the bridge as well...

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The wind of course is very strong and cold, and Toma and Anne have to persevere a short photo session.

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Not only it's a gorgeous view of the bridge, but also of the coast

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After pondering our options we choose to go to Golden Gate Park, curiously located inland, away from Golden Gates. This is a younger brother of New York's Central Park, in fact a bigger brother - the park is quite large! Speaking of NY, there are also many streets in San Francisco Tamara noticed with names that mirror New York street names.

Just like in Central Park, there are some museums here but they look rather crowded and we decide instead to walk to the Rose Garden and Japanese Garden. 

Rose Garden is beautiful and the fragrances fill the air while we walk around the flower beds.

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It borders with a nice looking forest.

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We really like this area of the park - there is not a lot of people and it is very relaxing, with beautiful plants...

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and, sometimes, roots.

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Japanese Garden is also beautiful, but very crowded, and that's with paid entrance! Really, it's amazing how tourists (or maybe not just them) are drawn to several known spots...

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There are other interesting things in Golden Gate Park, like several bison that have their own area to dwell, and thanks to Zenfolio spell checker I now know that "bison" is an unchanging noun, like deer, sheep or fish, so its plural form is also "bison". Frankly, I've seen happier looking bison...

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Time for dinner and today it's a treat for Anne - sushi in Japantown!!! Tamara is really not a fan of raw fish but she is convinced by a prospect of seeing a sushi bar where the dishes are moving about in boats on the water! The place is Isobune, it's small and there are very few people inside, maybe because it's a bit early. Anne loves the place, makes videos of the boats, and we have to stop her attacking salmon too much, it is raw after all...

A bit of walk through Japantown, which is just a themed mall, brightened by a conversation with a very nice Japanese lady with a very nice big dog. This lady was the first person who mentioned to us an expression "the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco", a quote usually attributed to Mark Twain, albeit falsely. We also do a little souvenir shopping and buy some pastries, time to go to the hotel.

Day 14

San Francisco

Last day, and an incomplete one at that since we are flying tonight. What is it that we didn't see but should have? One can think of Muir Woods of course, but we are not going there on Saturday :( We also haven't seen Golden Gate Bridge from Presidio...

We stop on the way to have a brunch, only to be refused sitting in a cafe where it is better to have empty tables than to add a third chair to one of them. OK, we stop at a grocery to buy some cheese, crackers and drinks, and drive on towards the bridge.

At Golden Gate we are met by a somewhat familiar chilly wind and the bridge covered in fog... I don't think Golden Gate Bridge's top has seen the light of day since we arrived here. You gotta give this place high marks for consistency!

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The girls are huddling to get warmer while I'm trying to capture the views...

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A short drive, and a walk around Palace of Fine Arts Theater.

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Curious birds in the pond go out closer to people, there's someone sharing some crumbs, pity that we don't have any with us...

Looks like a pair of Black-crowned Night Herons

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San Francisco

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San Francisco

Another thing we haven't been to is Coit Tower. I have been there last time I visited San Francisco and remember a great view on Lombard Street. Of course now, with the summer sun shining from south-west, a good view is iffy, but still it's a great observation point.

It's a nice chance to select a hilliest route instead of the fastest one.

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It's a good thing Coit Tower was kind of a last thing on our list, since it took us more than an hour to get to the top because of the long line. It's a miracle we found a parking near the tower!

The view is hazy but nice...

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Lombard Street in haze... I did the best I could in post processing...

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Tamara also wanted to see James C. Flood Mansion, the only one of the glorious mansions of Nob Hill that survived 1906 earthquake. This is now Pacific-Union Club and we won't go inside, just look from the street.

We also walk around Grace Cathedral nearby.

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For an early dinner we pick Cheesecake Factory at Union Square. Crowds here are staggering though. What are you people all doing here? Go to Golden Gate Park! They say waiting the dinner will be about an hour, but we see how many people are here - this will be at least 1.5 hour of standing in this loud chaos... We get out and have a nice meal in a nearby cafe. Their fresh-squeezed juice is as tasty as it was in the first one we visited.

This trip is over. We head "back" to the airport. It's a pity we haven't captured the view of the fog sliding down the hills in the evening... But there is still a chance to do it while riding on the airport monorail. No, it is not a big cloud - you can see the hill peeking out through the fog...

_7291134_7291134San Francisco

Well, it's been fun while it lasted. Kind of a relaxed trip, without early mornings or exhausting hikes, but we covered a lot of ground nevertheless... There are plenty of pictures, about 700 not including some shots inside the museums and most of the photos from mobile phone cameras.

And we should still be back someday for the views of Monterey and Pacific Coast Highway and, maybe, some Redwood trees in the north... so it's more of a "see you later" than "goodbye", or, to quote a former Californian official, "I'll be back".


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