June 02, 2006

24 Hours in San Fran

From an "East Coast" perspective, having your internal body clock still set on Atlanta time is great. No matter how long you "sleep in", it's still way early in the day...by West Coast standards...when you get up and get going. Our day in San Francisco started by taking our SUV rental downtown on a beautiful, sunny 65° day. We exited off the "101" onto Fourth Street and took this to The Embarcadero. A left onto The Embarcadero took us right by "Pac Bell Park" (or is it "SBC Park"? or is it "AT&T Park"?) on our way to Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf.
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Fisherman's Wharf is to San Fran what Times Square is to New York City. It is THE tourist trap of the city. From here, you can catch a ferry to Alcatraz Island as well as watch Sea Lions "honk and squabble" over dock space at Pier 39. Plus, it's a pretty nice place to eat some good seafood with a killer view of the San Fracisco Bay. Our lunch choice here was "Crab House at Pier 39"...a seafood bar & restaurant with a view.
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The San Fran area is the "home" for Dungeness Crab, so EVERYTHING revolves around this particular species of crab. After a quick lunch of "Dungeness Crab Chowder and Dungeness Crab Cakes", we strolled around the pier, taking in the myriad of souvenir stands and the innumerable "Kodak Picture Point" markers all about the pier. We found of all things a "currency exchange" booth at the pier. So we decided to change over some United States $$$ into Australian $$$ so that we had some "mad money" once landing upon Australian shores. As it turned out, they had better "rates" than when we exchanged some more currency at San Fran's airport later on!
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From Pier 39, we followed the signs for "Scenic Driving Tour 49", which took us to the San Francisco Marina. By the marina is a small park that sits right on The Bay. Sit on a park bench and look across the San Francisco Bay into Marin County. Look over your shoulder and have a picture-perfect postcard scene of Pacific Heights and Nob Hill with a huge grassy area inbetween full of people playing hackey-sack, throwing a frisbee, laying out and enjoying the day or folks playing with their dogs. Continuing onward on "Scenic Driving Tour 49", you'll eventually come to a fork in the road. The left fork takes you on the "onramp" towards the Golden Gate Bridge. The right fork takes you onto Mason Street. Take Mason Street and the turn right into the first "beach access" road you come across. Here you'll find a public beach with a stunning view of the Golden Gate Bridge that is also a "dog friendly" beach as well.
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We entertained ourselves watching Golden Retrievers and Black Labs dive madly into the 58° salt water to get their precious ball that their owner had chucked into The Bay. Here we also found the "ying and the yang" of living in San Fran. On this beach, there were two women with their children out on the beach enjoying the day. One was wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt, sweat pants and a down vest. The other woman was wearing just a bikini in this sunny but windy 65° day.
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Afterwards, we got on the "onramp" and headed across the Golden Gate Bridge. There was a layer of fog (locals call this the "marine layer") that hindered us getting a view of the entire span. We went from sun to fog to sunshine all during our drive on the span.
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Just after crossing the span (on the Marin County side) there is a "Vista Point" rest area. From here, you can park your car and walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, or just look and marvel at what you've just drove across. Due to the "marine layer", we didn't get the stunning view of San Fran from the northern shores of The Bay, but we did at least get stunning views of this fog enveloping the bridge.
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Also at this rest area is a "Lone Sailor Monument". It is a bronze statue of a single sailor with his duffel bag looking back at the city of San Francisco. If you have served in the U.S. Navy, odds are good that you have been on a ship that has passed under the Golden Gate Bridge at least once if not many times. This monument is dedicated to all of those from all branches of the military service who have passed through this point to serve and defend our country.
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From here we travelled onwards to the Muir Woods, which is about a 20 minute drive north of the bridge on the Pacific Coast Highway...also known as California State Route 1. Just follow Route 1 off of US 101 and you'll see the signs guiding you to the woods. WARNING! Route 1 (as well as the county road leading to Muir Woods) redefines the term "narrow, switchback mountainous road". If you're driving a Mazda Miata...great! If you're driving a large car or an SUV...be forewarned!
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After making the turn off of CA 1 onto the county roads leading to the park, look for a local on the side of the road that is selling macadamia nuts and cherries. Pull over here not to buy cherries, but to look off to your right at the stunning view of the San Francisco Bay that you get from being at this pull-off place on the side of the road...absolutely breath taking!
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The Muir Woods is the most southern of the remaining "virgin" redwood forests...containing mainly Coastal Redwoods and Sequoias...and is only a mere 13 miles from downtown SF. Fortunately, we latched on to the end of a Park Ranger giving a free guided tour, so we tagged along absorbing the knowledge that he offered up about the forest. Interestingly, the man who "owned" Muir Woods was a budding (no pun intended!) conservationist and was about to have the land forcibly taken from him. As luck would have it, he was "well connected" and was able to get then-president Teddy Roosevelt through a "presidential decree" to declare the woods a "National Monument", forever preserving it from development of its resources by man. Imagine how corporate America would react if some president decreed that the "Alaska Wildlife Reserve" is now a "National Monument"?
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After our walk through the Muir Woods, it was time for us to head back towards the airport and begin the journey to Australia!
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