5 July 2008

Linda dropped us off at the Nashville airport for our 7:10 a.m. Southwestern flight.  After a brief stop in Kansas City, we arrived in Oakland at 11:40 a.m. local time.  There was a delay getting the checked baggage, but after a shuttle ride to the Fisherman’s Wharf area of San Francisco, we arrived at the Argonaut Hotel around 1:30 p.m.  The shuttle driver, typical of locals, said he drops people off from all over the world in the Fisherman’s Wharf area, but he had no idea what was along those piers they go to.  Anyway, the hotel was able to check us in early, so we dropped our gear in the room, grabbed jackets, and headed out.

We walked along the Fisherman’s Wharf area.  We stopped for a few street performers.  There was an especially good elderly magician, but he had a thing about having his picture taken.  We stopped at one of the sidewalk restaurants around 2:00 p.m. for a late lunch.  Richard had clam chowder in a sourdough bowl and Teagan had a crabcake sandwhich.  There were both good.

After lunch, we continued along the piers.  We stopped to see some sea lions next to Pier 39.  The crowd on that pier was amazing.  There were people everywhere speaking all sorts of languages.  After we had seen enough of the wharf area, we turned on Kearny Street and headed south.  We cut over to Grant Street, because Kearny deadends into a hill.  Along Grant, we saw a road to Coit Tower, so we decided to do it.  There was a long line waiting to go up, but it moved along well.  The views from the top were worth the wait.

After we got down, we continued along Grant Street to Chinatown.  We stopped in several shops looking at the trinkets.  Around 6:30 p.m., we went into Dick Lee’s Dim Sum and Barbecue.  It was an all-you-can-eat restaurant for $5.99.  It was probably worth the price, but not more.  The food was just ok.  Afterward, we continued along Grant until we came to the end of Chinatown where the famous gate is.  We took some pictures there, then headed up to Powell Street to catch a cable car back to the hotel area.

As were walking back to the hotel from the cable car stop, we stopped at a tourist info place for some more information.  We arrived back at the hotel around 8:30 p.m.

6 July 2008

We took a cab from the hotel over to Golden Gate Park around 9:30 a.m.  This saved us about 40 minutes over using the public transportation.

We first visited the Conservatory of Flowers.  There were five rooms in the beautiful and historic building with displays.  The main room is dedicated to lowland tropic plants.  The east wing has rooms with highland tropic plants and aquatic plants.  The orchids in all the rooms were fascinating.  The displays were both educational and visually stunning.

The west wing had a room of potted plants that contained many colorful displays and many rare plants.  There were a lot of hanging urns there also.

The last room contained The Butterfly Zone, a special exhibit on display through November.  The displays there were more geared to the younger crowd, but they were very well-done.

We spend about one and a half hours in the conservatory.  We easily could have stayed longer, but we had more we wanted to do.

After we left, we picked up some lunch from one of the street vendors in the park.  We split a BLT and two tomales.  Afterward, we headed to the deYoung Museum.

We didn’t know what to expect there, but there were huge lines of people buying tickets, so we thought we thought there must be something there to see.  It turned out that most were there to see the special exhibit Chihuly at the de Young.  Dale Chihuly is a glass artist from the Seattle area.  We were able to get tickets to the 1:30 p.m. entry, which left us with about 30 minutes to see a little of the permanent collection.  After looking at the ancient art of the Americas for a few minutes, we headed to the special exhibit.

This special exhibit included eleven galleries of his work each of which was stunning in its beauty and originality.  After about 90 minutes of having our minds bent by blown glass in forms we previously couldn’t have imagined, we headed to the Japanese Tea Garden.

We walked around the gardens from about 30 minutes, then stopped for some tea and snacks at the tea restaurant there.   The gardens were very pretty with lots of bonsai style plants, bridges, and a pagoda.

After about 45 minutes there, we headed to the Botanical Garden.  This is a huge area, about 55 acres if I remember correctly.  You can only enter and exit in certain areas – the rest is fenced in.  There are many different areas dedicated to plants from different regions.  We knew we couldn’t see it all, so we just walked around as desired.  Around 5:30 p.m., we decided we had seen enough, so we looked for an exit.  We ended up hopping over a fenced area that had been damaged by a falled tree since we couldn’t find an official exit.  After a few minutes of trying to figure out where we were, we were able to plan a path to a Muni bus stop on Lincoln Way that borders the southern edge of the park.

We picked up the number 71 bus and headed to the Union Square area at 4th Street.  We exhited the bus there and headed north along Stockton St.  Our plan was to make it to the North Beach area and pick a restaurant along Columbus Ave. for supper.  We walked to ended up walking the entire way.

We picked de Lucchi restaurant for our meal.  We split an appetizer called risotto funghi, which, as the name suggests, consists of risotto cakes in a mushroom sauce.  Teagan ate a lamb ragu for her entree, and Richard had shrimp on angel hair pasta with a light white wine sauce.  The food there was excellant.  It was the Italian food we should have had when we went to Italy (but instead go stuck with the lousy food at restaurants selected by the travel company).

After supper, we picked up some gelatti and headed back to the hotel.  We froze eating gelatti in the cold wind, but it was good nonetheless.

We had full day, so it was nice to be back in the hotel room.

7 July 2008

We left the hotel at 8:45 a.m. to head to Pier 33 for our Angel Island/Alcatraz trip.  We decided to walk there rather than use public transportation.  We got there at 9:10 a.m. and we waited in line for until boarding the boat at 9:30.

The boat went to Angel Island first.  We arrived at about 10:30.  A tram ride around the island is included in the ticket price, so we decided to take it.  The GPS activated narration wasn’t working reliably, so the tram docent would stop the tram periodically and tell us the information we were missing from the automated narration.

The views of the bay area around the island were great.  The tram docent said that yesterday on his tours, it was too foggy to see much of anything, so we were getting much better views that yesterday.  Even though it was hazy, we could see pretty well. The tram ride lasted about an hour, which left time for a lunch at the cafe on the island.

After lunch, there were just a few minutes to explore before the ferry returned to take us to Alcatraz.  We boarded the ferry at 12:35 p.m. and headed for Alcatraz.

After our group received basic information from a park ranger at Alcatraz, we watched the introductory video in the theater.  Then we headed to the cell house for the audio tour.  The audio tour was narrated by a former guard and it was very informative and entertaining.  We were led around the entire cell house by the narration.

Once we finished the audio tour, we explored the other areas.  Many were closed off because of the nesting season of the night herons and western gulls.  The entire parade ground was taken over by the gulls and their young.

The wind on the island was truly incredible.  When we were in the prison recreation area, we could hardly stand up.

After we explored what we could, we returned to the dock to catch the 4:55 p.m. ferry back to San Francisco.  When we got back to the city, we returned to the hotel to plan our evening.

Based on information from the concierge, we decided to try a Spanish tapa bar in the Russian Hill area, so we headed south from the hotel.

We stopped at Lombard Street to experience “the curviest street.”  We took lots of pictures of the street and the amazing flowers all along it.  When we were finished there, we continued south along Hyde Street to the tapa restaurant.

Unfortunately, when we got there we learned it was closed on Mondays.  So we continued along Hyde to see what else the Russian Hill area offered in the way of restaurants.

We found a Japanese, French, and seafood restaurant that we liked among the many others we saw.  We eventually settled on the Japanese, the Sushi Groove.

Once inside, we were seated at the bar since all the tables were taken or reserved.  It was fun at the bar,  because we could watch the three chefs assemble the dishes.

We started with a mussel shooter.  It was served on a mussel shell, and you just turn it up and let everything slide right in.  It was fishy, crunchy, spicey, and eggy (thanks to the quail egg at the end).  Quite and appetizer!

We followed that with maguro (ahi tuna), hamachi (yellowtail), spicy hotate (scallop), and a dish called red dragon (a shrimp tempura, avacado, and other goodies).  The meal was very interesting for our non-sushi palates.

To re-Americanize our taste buds, we stopped at Mitchell Ice Cream in the Cannery close to our hotel for dessert.

We returned to the hotel around 9:00 p.m. after another full day.

8 July 2008

We left the hotel around 9:30 a.m. and headed to Ghirardelli Square.  The large buildings are under renovation, but there were other smaller shops and restaurants around the square that were open.  We stopped in one of the chocolate shops and picked up some Ghirardelli squares.

We returned to the hotel to drop off our purchases, then we headed to the F-line train stop to go to the Ferry Building (Pier 1).  In front of the building there is a farmer’s market.  Many of the kiosks offered samples of their food, so we got to try several different fruits and some chocolate peanut butter brittle.  The fruit was great.  We bought some plums, peaches, and plum/apricot hybrids.

We walked through the Ferry Building to see the shops inside.  We stopped at a cheese shop to see the different cheeses.  Of all the cheese they had there, we only recognized a few.  Most seemed to be from small farms that made specialty cheeses.  There was quite a variety.

We went out the back to watch a ferry leaving.  Then we returned to the F-line stop to continue on to Union Square.

After we walked around Union Square, we went to Macy’s stop across the street.  It had seven levels, so we just looked at a few.  We picked up a to-go lunch at the Boudin Sourdough Bakery in the basement of Macy’s and took it back across the street to eat on Union Square.

The temperature was unusually warm for San Francisco.  It was actually a little hot sitting in the sun on the square.

Next, we headed to the Westfield Center, which is a new mall on Market Street.  It has nine floors and over 400 stores.  The Nordstrom area has curved escalators in a seven-story atrium.  We looked around the mall for about an hour, checking out various stores.  Then we headed back to the Macy’s area.

We used a free ticket we got from Expedia to ride an open double-decker bus back to Fisherman’s Wharf.  Then we returned to the hotel to drop off the fruit and plan our next outing.

We decided to check out the Maritime Park across the street on the Hyde St. Pier.  There are several ships anchored there in various states of refurbishment.  We walked to the end of the pier and looked at the ships, but didn’t board them.

After the pier, we headed west along the bay, through Fort Mason, and on to Crissy Field.  There was a really strong wind from the west impeding our progress.  We watched sail boarders and wind surfers off Crissy Field for a few minutes.  Then we headed to the Palace of Fine Arts.

The rotunda was shrouded with scaffolding and was blocked off to pedestrains, so we couldn’t see much of the Palace.  Only the peripheral structures viewable.  We walked through as much as we could, then went to the lake and viewed the construction from there.

Then we headed to a bus stop to go toward Russian Hill.  We ate at Zarzuela, a Spanish topa restaurant.  We ordered five different topas: pisto manchego (vegetable stew), rollitos de berenjena (grilled eggplant with goat cheese), scallops, fried potatoes, and ham and chicken croquettes.  Teagan got rice pudding for dessert.  The food was excellent.  So our first topa experience turned out quite well.

We walked back to the hotel from the restaurant around 7:30 p.m.  The cool breeze from the bay caused us to put our jackets on for the first time today.

9 July 2008

We left the hotel and picked up the rental car from Avis just a couple of blocks from the hotel.  Then we headed across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County.  Our plan was to visit Muir Woods first.

We arrived at Muir Woods around 10:30 a.m.  Parking is always iffy there, but we managed to get a spot very close to the entrance by circling the lot a few times.  Admission was $5 apiece.

We decided to do a 3-mile hike with an 800-foot climb.  That would leave plenty of time to do more exploring in Marin County.  We took the Ocean View Trail up to the Lost Trail, then to Fern Creek Trail.  That brought us back to the main trail.  As we climbed up in elevation, the trees changed from redwoods to Douglas firs, and then back to redwoods on the way down.  The varied lighting on the redwoods brought out different colors which looked interesting.  The trees really have to be experienced in person to have any idea what they are like.  Pictures alone really don’t convey their majesty.  Being amongst the redwoods is a really unique experience.

We ate lunch in the cafe next to the gift shop.  Teagan bought a shot glass in the gift shop after we took pictures of each other standing next to a wood carving of John Muir.

We left Muir Woods and headed to Highway 1 to follow it to Stinson Beach.  Once the highway reached the ocean, we stopped at several turnouts to take pictures.  The neatest stop we made was Muir Beach Overlook.

We continued until we got to Stinson Beach where we stopped at the park.  It was an unusually warm day, so the beach was packed.  We walked out to the water to check it out.  There was a large group of surfers at the south end, but the others in the water were just wading or boogie boarding.  Most were just hanging out on the beach.

After we left Stinson Beach, we headed to Sausalito.  We stopped at a market/deli to pick up some sandwiches to take up to the Marin Headlands.

After we crossed under Highway 101, we followed Conzelman Rd. which has the pullouts that give good views of the Golden Gate Bridge with San Francisco in the background.  The usual summer haze was in the air, but we still could see the city pretty well.  We couldn’t make out much of the Bay Bridge or the East Bay from there, though.  Some fog started rolling in by the time we got to the third pullout.  We ate our sandwiches there and enjoyed the view.

We continued all the way to Bonita Lighthouse and to the end of the road.  We returned along an inland road since Conzelman Rd. is one-way.  We saw a covey of California Quail.  It was around 6:30 p.m., so they were becoming more active.  We saw two more coveys along the road on the way out.  We also saw a cayote on the same road earlier.

We crossed over the Golden Gate Bridge ($5, thank you) back to San Francisco and drove around for a while.  Then we headed to the hotel to drop the car off.  We unloaded some things in the room and headed out to walk around the Fisherman’s Wharf area.

Teagan found a shot glass she like in one of the shops.  We listened to some street music and looked in a few more stores before we headed back to the hotel.

10 July 2008

We left the hotel to rent two bikes at Blazing Saddles.  Teagan had difficulty changing gears and got frustrated, so we returned the bikes.  Teagan wanted to chill in the hotel for a while, so Richard headed to the WWII submarine at the Marine Park that gives tours.  It was very interesting to be in a WWII sub and see how the men lived.

When Richard returned to the hotel, we both headed to get some quick lunch on Fisherman’s Wharf.  Teagan got a bowl of chowder and Richard got a shrimp sandwich.

After lunch, we headed to the Presidio in the rental car.  The fog had rolled in to the point where we couldn’t even see the GGB from the Fort Point viewpoint right next to it.  We could see part of the ramp leading up to the bridge, and we could see the base of the south tower, but that was about it.

After we left there, we headed to Baker Beach.  It was so cold and windy, we didn’t even see any nudists.  But there were still lots of people:  some playing in the water, one in a bikini lying on a towel as if she were sun-bathing (is there such a thing as fog-bathing?), and a few tourists like us just looking around.

We followed Lincoln  Blvd. around to Lincoln Park where the Legion of Honor is.  There were a lot of people there – some at the beach, but most in the Legion building.  We didn’t stop there, we just picked up Highway 1 and follwed it south to see if we could escape the fog.

We went as far as the town of Pacifica, but the fog was still obscuring the views, so we just headed back.  We left the car at the hotel and took a cable car to Chinatown to look for souvenirs.  After walking around for some time checking out the shops and getting souvenirs, we grabbed a cable car back toward Hyde St. in the Russian Hill area to give the Hyde Street Bistro a try.

We decided to split an appetizer of salmon tartare.  It was very good, and not overly filling.  Teagan ordered a chicken and mashed potatoes in mushroom sauce, and Richard ordered medaillons de porc en surprise a la moutarde d’estragon (Pan Roasted Pork Tenderloin Stuffed With A Pork And Shitake Marmelade Served With Sautéed Potatoes Taragon Dijon Mustard Sauce) .  Both entrees were also very good.  Teagan got a chocolate mousse with english creme for dessert.

After supper, we headed back to the hotel for the evening.

11 July 2008

We packed and checked out of the hotel around 9:30 a.m.   We headed back to Fort Point to see if we could get better pictures of the GGB than yesterday.

When we got there, there was a little fog surrounding the north tower, but everything else was visible.  So we spent some time there photographing.

Then we headed to the REI store in San Francisco to buy a few more items for camping.  Then off to the mountains.

We stopped in Mercado at a restaurant called El Pollo Loco.  The food there was pretty good.  We both got burritos.

Then we headed east along Highway 120.  Unfortunately, the highway was blocked off at ????? and we had to detour.  The traffic on the detour was more like a parking lot.  It took over an hour to go 3 miles.  We weren’t sure what the detour was for.

Eventually, we got back on 120 and continued east.  We split off on Highway 108 to go through the Sonora pass rather than the Tioga Pass.  As we climbed the Sierra Nevadas, there was more and more smoke in the air.  The mountains looked smokier than the Smoky Mountains.  The potentially magnificent views were rendered boring by the thick smoke cover.

We took a few pictures along the way.  We got out at the pass and went for a short walk.  There were lots of wildflowers on the path, but all the views were shrouded in smoke.  We thought the smoke must be from the various wildfires burning in central California.

We arrived in Lee Vining around 6:00 p.m. and checked in to Murphey’s Motel.  Then we headed out to Bodie Mike’s Bar-B-Q.  The food there was pretty good and reasonably priced (a refreshing experience after San Francisco).

After supper we headed to Mono Lake to look at the south tufas in the twilight.  We took several pictures there and headed back to the motel for the night.

12 July 2008

We left the motel room around 9:30 a.m. to head to Bodie State Historic Park north of Lee Vining.  Bodie is a ghost town that was started in conjunction with the gold rush in the Bodie Hills and abandoned around 1940.

Richard missed a turn along the way, so the GPS unit was employed to aid in finding Bodie.  The TomTom took us on a wild ride through the Bodie Hills where only 4WD vehicles are meant to roam.  Finally, we arrived at a creek that traversed the road, so we abandoned the GPS route and headed back to the main highway.  We then found the turn that Richard earlier missed, and we were back on our way.

We arrived at Bodie around 11:30 a.m.  There were dozens of old houses, churches, a school, a mill, and various other gold rush town necessities.  We toured the town for about an hour, then we headed back to Lee Vining for some lunch.

We ate at Nicely’s Restaurant.  Teagan got the pork roast special and Richard got a chef salad.  Teagan got blueberry pie with ice cream for dessert. We went back to the hotel briefly.

Then we went to the commitee to see a video there about mono lake but we didnt see one there. Richard asked the lady for some things to do and she suggested doing the Lee Vining Creek Trail, which starts at the visitors center so we headed there.

At the visitors center, Richard got some information about Yosemite. We watched a 25 minute film on Mono Lake and learned a few things. Then we started on the Lee Vining Creek Trail.  There was a lot of stuff in bloom on the trail. We got to see the creek. Everything was very pretty in a desolite sort of way.

We headed to the South Tufa area of Mono Lake for a ranger-led tour of the area at 6:00 p.m.  There was a threat of rain, but it never really got there.  The leader did good job explaing the unique ecology of Mono Lake.  She also gave an explanation of the tufas.

Afterward, we headed to an ice cream and burger shop across the street from our motel for supper.  Teagan got a guacamole burger and Richard got a burrito with chili.  Both were pretty good.  Just as Teagan was getting up from the picnic table to order an ice cream, the shop turned its lights out and put up their CLOSED sign.  But they were kind enough to serve up a few ice creams for the momentarily disappointed few who were finishing up their suppers.

Teagan went back to the motel while Richard went to the Lee Vining Market for a few last minute supplies for tomorrow.

13 July 2008

Richard went on a bird walk at 8:00 a.m. led by a California State Park ranger.  Richard left the walk early, around 9:20, to head back to the motel to pack up and head to Tuolemne Meadows.

We left the motel around 9:40 and headed up to the Tioga Pass.  We checked in at the campground and got a site.  Tuolemne Meadows campground usually does not fill up until the 15th when the reservations begin.

We decided to go on a hike before we set up the tent.  We went on the Lembert Dome Trail which was close to the campground.  It was supposed to be about 3 miles roundtrip and 850 feet gain in elevation.

The trail was very steep in parts, but was overall an easy hike.  The view from the top provided a 360 degree panoramic view of the high sierra.

We ate snacks at the top.  Then we headed west on the dome to get a good view of the meadow below.

The granite dome has no trail markings on it.  When we went on the return hike, Richard choose a path that descended too quickly and missed the trail.  So we ended up hiking back up the granite dome to find the trail.  This was a bit tiresome because the path back up was about a 30 degree slope.

We got back to the parking lot after 2.5 hours.  We spent 55 minutes getting to the top, 35 minutes at the top, and 50 minutes returning (thanks to the false start returning).

We came back to camp to set up the tent.  Just as we had everything laid out, a hail storm set in.  So we rather quickly finished the tent and dried out the inside.  It rained for over an hour.  Once the rain let up, we fixed some Kung Pao Chicken from a backpacker’s meal kit and ate around 6:30 p.m.

After supper, we went to the ranger program at 8:00 p.m.  It was on cayotes.  The ranger, Joanna Cooke, did a good job presenting information that was interesting to a wide span of ages.  She used the roadrunner cartoons as a unifying theme for the presentation.

We returned to the tent afterward and got ready for bed.

14 July 2008

We left the campsite around 9:30 a.m. and headed for the Cathedral Lakes Trail.  It was a little difficult going uphill on the John Muir part of the trail.  Maybe it was the elevation that was getting to us.  We stopped a few times for breaks.

After an initial uphill part, the trail leveled off for a period, then headed uphill again.  We turned off the John Muir Trail at the Cathedral Lakes cutoff with about 0.5 miles to go.

The side trail to the lake was mostly downhill and level.  With the recent rain, the meadow around the lake was very muddy.  There were a few small streams to jump across.  At one of these, Richard jumped and landed with one foot deep in some mud.  As his momentum carried him forward, his shoe remained behind embedded in the mud.  It must have been amusing to watch him hopping back to the shoe on one foot to retrieve it.

Once at the lake, we ate a few snacks.  We were entertained by some high school summer workers in the park who were learning a dance to Crank That (Souldja Boy).  It was pretty funny.

As we returned to camp, a thunderstorm came on.  We stayed in the car for a while waiting for the rain to stop.  When the rain persisted, we went to the grill back on Tioga Rd. for some food.  Teagan got a cheeseburger and Richard got some chili.

There had been an landslide on the main road, and the traffic was backed up for as far as we could see, so we couldn’t get back to camp.  So we hung out in the store and bumped into our camping neighbors and chatted with them for a long while as we waited for the road to reopen.

Once the road was cleared, we returned to the campsite and walked around the campground.