Sunday, April 12, 2009

The San Francisco Treat

As a teacher, I only get so many days off throughout the year (yes, I know I have the summers off, but at this point, it seems far away), so it's important to take advantage of every opportunity to get out of town. So, when Spring Break rolled around, Jon took a couple of days of leave, and off to San Francisco we went. After our Amtrak adventure (see previous post), we arrived in the city fairly early on Sunday morning. I'd never been to San Francisco, and Jon hadn't been there since he was in high school, so we definitely were the kind of tourists who tromped around with our guidebook in tow. The basis of most of my knowledge of "San Fran" comes from growing up with the girls of Full House and Rice-a-Roni commercials, so I was up for anything. We had planned on doing mostly touristy things that first day, but these plans were stymied by the fact that Alcatraz was sold out (how a prison can be sold out is beyond me, but whatever). Being fairly easy-going people, we quickly adapted and turned Sunday into "outdoors day." We walked around essentially all day, first taking the light rail out to Mission Dolores, one of the original missions in California. We then stopped by Alamo Square Park (which involved scaling some serious hills to get there) with the dozens of other people basking in the sunlight. It was great to actually experience springtime after wading through Washington's rain. While there, we saw some quintessential San Francisco row houses that reminded me of the opening credits of Full House (because yes, we looked it up on youTube to confirm). Our next outdoor destination was Golden Gate Park. This park stretched on and on for miles, and I'm pretty sure we only covered the tiniest of portions. Again, there were tons of people outside enjoying the fabulous weather, and I began to wonder why they call this place the "Fog City." We literally did not see a single cloud the whole time we were there. We did experience a tremendous amount of wind, however, which dampened our venture to the Pacific Ocean. When you grow up in the Midwest surrounded by land, land, and more land, the ocean is always fascinating. Unfortunately, the wind was so strong that we couldn't enjoy it, settling only to touch the surf and retreat inland. Even though we had been advised by a former San Francisco resident (see the post about our train trip) to avoid the Powell and Market Street cable car in favor of the less touristy College Street car, we crowded on with every other tourist and made our way toward Chinatown. As we strolled, I stumbled upon Jack Kerouac Alley, which led me directly to City Lights Books. When I was in college, I took a class about the Beat Generation (think Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, William Burroughs...beatniks), and this particular bookstore was their mecca. In general, it's cool to actually see a place you've only read about, so needless to say, I was pretty excited. To appease Jon, we immediately went to a brewery. Flying by the seat of our pants all day, our next destination was the Coit Tower. Like most large cities, San Francisco also has a tall structure that you can sightsee from (similar to the Space Needle, the Liberty Memorial, the Sears Tower, etc.). We had the terrific fortune of arriving at the top just as the sun was setting, which resulted in some pretty incredible pictures. Satisfied with our day, we stopped at an Italian restaurant in North Beach for dinner. On Day 2, we rented a car and headed north toward wine country. As this will be recounted in a subsequent post, let it suffice to say that on the way we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, taking obligatory photos all the way. Our final full day in the city ended up being the touristy day we had anticipated at the outset. We started our day by hopping on a streetcar that took us to the waterfront where we were whisked to Alcatraz Island on the official Alcatraz Cruise Ship (all rights reserved). As I'm not really a big fan of research, I didn't know a whole lot about the penitentiary before we arrived, but the informational video and audio tour quickly solved that. After the trip someone asked me if it was creepy or sad to be there, like visiting a concentration camp. I had to answer with a resounding "no." The victims of concentration camp were just that: innocent victims. The inmates of Alcatraz were there of their own accord. However, as someone else pointed out, the creepy thing was that the place was nearly silent as everyone was on the audio tour. Groups of people walked around the cellhouse in hoardes, stopping when the tour told them to. Even a group of kids visiting with the Big Brothers, Big Sisters (or maybe YMCA) program were quietly following along. If only my Prime Time kids had been like that. If only my high school juniors were like that... When we returned to the mainland, we braved Fisherman's Wharf. As expected, it was incredibly touristy. Not really being shoppers, we stopped for some sourdough bread and kept moving. Next on our list was Ghirardelli Square, which honestly was a bit disappointing. I was expecting a chocolate factory, a la Willy Wonka, not an upscale shopping area. I guess a lot has changed in the 10 years since Jon last visited the city. We tried the cable car again, finally taking that sage advice. It was a much nicer trip when we weren't wedged in between a bunch of sweaty people with cameras around their necks. We even got to see where the cables travel under the street at the Cable Car Museum, which admittedly had a very peculiar odor. We're very interested in experiencing all the unique things different locations have to offer and so hanker after any and all recommedations. When I mentioned our trip to one of my dance teachers, she immediately suggested a Dim Sum restaurant that she and her husband frequent on all their trips to the Bay Area. I had no idea what Dim Sum was, but I gamely took the advice. It turns out that Dim Sum is similar to tapas (sort of like appetizers), Chinese-style. It also turns out that Dim Sum is quite tasty. Knowing that we only had a couple of hours before our respective flights left, we spent our last morning in San Francisco going for a run. I'm going to publicly declare here and now that we are training for a marathon...there's no going back now that I've put it in writing. At any rate, we needed to go running, and it was Jon's bright idea to really experience a San Francisco run by taking on some of the infamous hills. Definitely one of those seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time moments. Surely, there was plenty we missed, but I feel pretty satisfied with our San Francisco adventure. If only we'd had some Rice-a-Roni.

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