May 26, 2012 – Today is our day to explore San Francisco. We started off by driving to Muir’s Woods. Muir’s Woods is absolutely beautiful, but gets very crowded. We got there around 9:15am and had no problem parking in the overflow lot (yes, the main lot was filled up). If you get there anytime after 11am, take a shuttle. There really is no parking, and the shuttle is relatively convenient and pretty inexpensive. You can only see Muir’s Woods by taking a walk, either up the dirt trails or alone a mostly flat, wide path that follows a little stream. The weather was perfect, slightly cool and sunny, and the trees were (as always) beautiful. We got a bonus when we came upon a group of people quietly watching a barred owl, who was watching them in return.
Next up was the Golden Gate Bridge. The observation parking lots were very crowded (not unexpected, since it was almost noon on a nice albeit cool late spring Saturday), but this worked in our favor since Tony discovered parking at Fort Baker. The fort reminded us of the Mammoth Hot Springs area in Yellowstone National Park, with wooden buildings circling a parade ground. There’s still a tiny but active Coast Guard station there as well. We spotted a violet-green swallow and a playful harbor seal who was stealing the bait from fishermen. The fishing pier provided nice views of the bridge and Alcatraz, though you had to be careful not to step in any remains from old catches. ‘
By this time lunch was sounding good, so we headed to Fish. There’s always a line at Fish, but it moves quickly and the food is worth the wait. Everything is sustainable, natural, and (when possible) local. We started with some white (New England) clam chowder. The chowder was good, with a thinner (but not watery) broth, bacon, some potatoes and lots of clams. It came with a big hunk of sourdough bread. For the entree we split the fish fry with thick-cut french fries. You get four pieces of crispy, golden fish (with tartar sauce, please) over a heaping plate of thick cut steak fries. The food was excellent, and we washed it down with a local ale (served in a pint-sized Mason jar). As always, the food was fantastic.
After lunch we drove across the bridge over to the Presidio. The Presidio used to be a military base, but now the officers’ homes are private homes and there’s a ton of free parking. Provided you’re willing to walk, of course. Bunkers are scattered around the hills leading down to the Bay; if you climb on top of them you’ll probably get a nice view of the Bridge (provided the fog has rolled out, of course). We walked down the sidewalk to the water, and then through a little nature preserve protecting a beach and tiny marsh. Along the way we noticed a battleship slowly sailing towards the ocean, but didn’t really think much of it. The crowds watching it should have been our first clue, but one of us was feeling a bit jaded regarding big floating grey metal objects. Regardless, this ship, the USS Iowa, was the one that took FDR over to Europe for a WWII pow-wow with Churchill and Stalin. She’d been refurbished and was sailing to Southern California to become a museum.
Along the way we stumbled across an interesting outdoor modern day ruins that was designed to look quite old. There were little ponds and lots of flowers. We cut through on the way over to Lucas Studios, which includes buildings with lots of big windows (almost like refurbished factory buildings that have a nice coat of pale yellow paint). The landscaping was nice, with more little ponds and flowers, but we had another goal in mind. Not Starbucks (though we did get that afterwards), but the Yoda statue.
After that tasty afternoon stop we continued downtown. There are some nice streets a few blocks off the water, with lots of little local shops. One of them sells olive oils, and happened to have a tasting this afternoon. Of course we stopped in, and tried a plain, basil, and lemon olive oil. The oils aren’t infused with the flavors, they’re actually pressed at the same time as the olives. Tony really liked both the plain and basil oils, while Louisa preferred the lemon. (Yes, you could drink it straight, but they also provided little pieces of bread, which was our preferred tasting method). If you’re a local, you can buy the oils in bulk, bringing in your clean container to get it filled or refilled.
Continuing on and up the hills, we eventually came to Lombard Street. A long line of cars snaked down the hill, waiting for their turn to drive down the crooked street. A police officer was directing traffic, so you know it’s a popular stop. We were quite happy walking up and then down the street, which at times had close to a 40 degree slope. The other side of the hill actually had stairs in the sidewalk – it was steep! The surprise of the afternoon was hearing birds who sounded like squeaky toys… there were wild parakeets flying throughout the city. We saw at least half a dozen of them, and heard even more sitting in the trees.
The hike through the city and across the peninsula continued, and we reached Telegraph Hill around 4pm. The lighting wasn’t great across the city, and it was rather hazy. But it was the perfect spot to enjoy some sprinkle-covered sugar cookies that we picked up from a corner store when we stopped to get more batteries for the camera. Then the trek back across the city began. We were looking for dinner and decided on Dim Sum. The “interesting” Chinatown location should have been a tipoff (by some wafting marijuana smoke). The fact they were closing should have been the second. But some things, including that we don’t like shark-fin filled dumplings or lukewarm pork rolls, have to be learned the hard way.
Fortunately, after a few more hill climbs, we found a great place called Pacific Catch (back over near the olive oil shop). We had some good coconut shrimp with spicy fries, and a nice salmon sandwich with sweet potato fries, and were much happier. We ended off with the fried dulce de leche spring roll, which was chalk full of fried ice cream goodness. The shop was little, but didn’t have any problems getting a seat by the bar. Sitting there was kind of fun, since we could watch the cooks prepping the food. On our (windy, increasingly chilly) trek back to the car, we also spotted an Anna’s Hummingbird. We were surprised to find the Presidio almost deserted at 9pm, so just something to be aware of if you park there. It doesn’t feel unsafe, though (particularly if you walk quickly like we do).