Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A San Francisco Get Away

ES and I spent a long weekend over President's Day in San Francisco.  We'd both visited SF in the past (I about 12 years ago and ES over 30), but never together.  The weather varied from cold (heavy cold kind of bone chilling cold) to sunny and warmish.  I hesitate to use the word warm when it comes to a fall afternoon in San Francisco.  Open unexpected event during our trip - the Chinese New Year Parade.  I'm glad I ended up buying tickets for the bleachers.  This at least got us out of the cold puddles on the road...

Day 1 - A Rainy Bone Chilling Saturday
We'd actually flown in late the night before and got up bright and early only to find...rain.  Not unexpected, but a bit chagrinned given the parade was in the evening.  We used our Muni passes (part of our City Passes - highly recommended and available for lots of larger metro areas like DC, Philly, SF, etc) and hopped on the "cable car."  Sadly, the California line was down and we ended up on a bus.  I'd read a lot of good reviews about the amazing farmers market and food stalls available at the Ferry Building down at the Embarcadero.  We decided to head down and see what we could find for breakfast.  While we made an attempt to see the outside vendors, we ultimately took shelter inside and found a bounty of wonderful places to choose from.

We ended up eating at Salted Tasty Pork Products.  Nothing like cider aged ham and smoked gouda in the morning.  Wished we could have brought home some of the cheese from the Cowgirl Creamery.  Samples were yummy!

We hopped on the street car (so vintage!) and headed down to Fisherman's wharf.  It was a rather cold day, so we headed inside to the Aquarium by the Bay.   It's one of the smaller aquariums we've been too, but we had tickets as part of our CityPass, so off we went.  We must have caught it as just the right time, as when we got to the end and headed out the door, the line was huge.  The best part was the "tunnel" of fish - lots of sharks and the jelly fish.  Love jelly fish.  I think it's because they're exceptionally photogenic.

We walked along the Wharf, stopping to see the bread animals at Boudin's Bakery and eyeing (but deciding against) Ripley's Believe it Or solely because it was raining and we were looking for things to head inside to see.  

We headed up to Chinatown in the afternoon.  It was the day of the annual Chinese New Year Parade.  Needless to say, there were a lot festivities and people despite the cool weather.  At one point, it looked liked a sea of umbrellas.  We found a yummy place for lunch (and a place to re-charge our camera battery - opps both batteries died in the AM).

We found our seats along the bleachers and hunkered down for the parade.  Amazingly, the rain stopped just minutes into the parade.  Down went the umbrellas and out came the camera!

We finished up the night having dinner at Herb Keller's Burger Bar in Union Square.  Amazing end to our first day in the city!

Day 2 - Museums and Golden Gate Park
We woke to an amazingly sunny morning.  The view from our room was equally as amazing.  Coit Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge, and if you craned your neck really hard to the left you could see the TransAmerica Building.

We decided to head to Golden Gate Park for the day.  As part of our City Pass, we had tickets to the De Young Museum (art and antiquities) and the California Science Center.  We stopped at Alamo Square on our way, home of the "Painted Ladies."  These are Victorian houses often pictured/characterized for San Francisco. 

We then headed museums, seeing a really interesting special exhibit at the de Young on the Olmec.  The Science Center was cute and more geared to kids.  Given the day was so lovely, we took a stroll around the Japanese Tea Gardens and the Botanical Gardens.  

We headed back downtown for dinner.  The muni/public transportation was great.  Easy to navigate and our passes worked on the cable cars, busses, streetcars, and light rail trains.  

We ate at a little slip of a place in North Beach called L'Osteria del Forna.  We had Speck (arugula, parm reggiano, and white beans) and a basil, proscuitto and parm pizza.  Quite yummy.  

Day 3 - Muir Woods, Muir Beach, Marin Headlands, and dinner with an old friend
We got up bright and early and headed to pick up a rental car for the day.  ES has always wanted to see the California Redwoods.  Although Redwoods National Park was several hours north, Muir Woods National Monument was only ~30 minutes away.  We got there so early, that we were one of a few cars in the parking lot and had moments on the trail when it was just the two of us.   While it was a bit overcast, the rain never materialized and it ended up being a nice morning.  Its hard to get an appreciation of just how big these trees were.  Feet and feet in diameter.

We stopped by Muir Beach before heading to the Marin Headlands (National Park area directly across from SF).  We got some pretty great views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

We headed back to the City and dropped off the car.  We had a little bit of time before we needed to meet up with an old classmate of mine so we stopped by the Cable Car Museum (free!).

We ended the day with dinner with an old school chum from Casper.  Amazing how the years can be transcended by a mutual appreciation of food, wine, and travel.  Nice to hear how others are doing and always neat to meet old friends as adult, having only known them before as children.

Day 4 - Tuesday - Breakfast at Buena Vista Cafe, Coit Tower, and a Boat Ride in the Bay
Another amazing weather day.  We decided to have breakfast at the world famous (translation - caters to tourists) Buena Vista Cafe.  Home of the Irish Coffee.  Good, bad a tad overrated.  We strolled around the Maritime National Park down on Hyde St. Pier and see the ships that were a bit too rainy to see earlier in the week.  

We hopped the bus and rode up the windy road to Coit Tower.  Gorgeous day for a view!  The Diego Rivera inspired WPA murals along the ground floor of the tower were quite interesting as well.

We headed back to the water to catch the afternoon boat ride in the Bay (another of our CityPass tickets).  The water, with the exception of a few moments, was relatively calm and we got an underbelly viewing of the bridge.

We wrapped up the day at the Yerba Buena Gardens and the SF Museum of Modern Art.  Most of the galleries were closed (2nd-4th floors), so we strolled through the "How Wine Became Modern" exhibit as well as a photography exhibit.  My favorite part of the wine exhibit was the "sniff" test area.  Glass beakers with a long neck and a bulb attached to them were meant for "sniffing" to see if you could determine the primary flavor of the wine.  The most interesting ones - petrol and green peppers.  The really amazing part - you could smell those flavors.  May not have hurt however, that I inadvertently looked before I tried to determine the smell....

We ended the day at Rue St. Jacques.  A small French Bistro in North Beach (and right along the cable car line).  Given it was a weeknight, there were only a few tables.  It was dimly lit and quiet.  The fixed prix menu was phenomenal.  1st course:  Me;  charcuterie plate, ES:  tomato salad.  2nd course:  Me: diver scallops with butternut squash voulette, ES:  fillet with roasted baby potatoes.  3rd:  Me:  Napoleon with creme Anglais; ES:  Cognac-infused chocolate mousse.  Bon appetite!

Day 5:  Golden Gate Park and Palace of the Legion of Honor

We spent our last part of the day (flew out later that day) seeing  the Conservatory of Flowers.  Amazing orchids and water plants.  The building itself was from the 20's and had a lot of interesting architectural features.  The special exhibit detailed how flowers had played a role in the California train system.  The mock up in the exhibit recycled everyday objects (used type writer keys for the TranAmerica Buidling) to construct SF landmarks interwoven with the flowers.  

We headed next to the Palace of the Legion of Honor.  In addition to the over 4,000 pieces in their permanent collection, we also saw the "Pulp Fiction" exhibit.  An artist had faithfully recreated costumes from over the last several centuries out of paper - including shoes, scarves, and head dressings.  The artist had designed the exhibit so that you can walk up pretty closely to the dresses and through a tented area (again all made of paper).  ES and I thought that it seemed a little bit of a bad idea, given what looked to be really fragile paper.  I even asked one of the docents about this, and she said the artist wanted it this way. In fact, she'd made 2 of everything (there were 50+ costumes on display) in case something happened.  Sadly, I couldn't take photos in the exhibit.  Although I'm not sure they'd do justice to the works.

All in all - a great trip!