We left Yosemite and headed west toward Manteca. Our next stop was Muir Woods National Monument, and we were armed with parking reservations and a 30-minute window. We crossed the bay via the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, which goes right by San Quentin prison. After winding through town and down through some canyon roads, we reached Muir Woods.
On this trip we have seen the largest living things in the world (giant sequoias), the oldest living things in the world (ancient bristlecones), and, at Muir Woods, the tallest living things in the world (coastal redwoods). Of course, all these living things are trees. Growing up in Kentucky, one’s experience with trees does not include standing next to a 330-foot tall tree, walking around a tree with a 40-foot diameter, or touching a tree that began growing almost 4,000 years ago. It is a surreal experience. Muir Woods was the last of these tree showcases we visited, but the experience was no less extraordinary.
Walking through the groves of coastal redwoods was very different than experiencing a forest of giant sequoias. The redwood forest was shadier, lusher, greener. The floor of Muir Woods is blanketed with ferns and a type of sorrel. The sunlight is filtered through a canopy, giving the whole place a stained-glass-church kind of feel. We walked through the woods for about two hours. It is a tree lover’s paradise.
We left Muir Woods and headed to Point Reyes National Seashore. I had never seen the Pacific Ocean, and in a couple of hours we were standing by the Point Reyes lighthouse, looking out over a big and wild ocean. The wind was fierce, so we didn’t stay at the Point for long but headed to South Beach to more intimately see the sea and sand. The drive out and back to Point Reyes is so interesting for someone used to east coast beaches. The land at Point Reyes is filled with dairy farms, deer, and tall grasses. The surf at South Beach was tremendous and intimidating. Signs everywhere warn visitors not to go in the water—great white sharks, and more dangerously, rip currents and “sneaker” waves. We snapped a few photos, felt the weird west coast sand and the cold water of the Pacific between our toes. Our next stop was Berkeley.
From above the lighthouse.
We arrived at Berkeley an hour and a half later. We were graciously hosted by some wonderful, loving people (Ashley & Guy and Ivy & Alex & Ben) who made our stay comfortable, gave us suggestions for visiting San Francisco, and made us feel at home. Berkeley is a cool town where pedestrians have the right of way, good tacos are plentiful, public transportation is accessible, and you can fall asleep to the sounds of a mariachi band at a party down the street. My kind of town in many ways.
After some much-needed showers and laundry, we headed to San Francisco for our Saturday. We took the BART from Berkeley to San Francisco (a 25-minute train ride) and walked around the Ferry Building where a farmers’ market is held on Saturdays. The inside of the Ferry Building is also filled with fishmongers, cheesemongers, and other assorted mongers who sold doughnuts, coffee, beer, wine, meat, pastries, ice cream, etc. It was like a mall, but instead of stores that sell clothes no one can eat, it was filled with delicious gourmet food you most certainly should eat. Brunch was a Dungeness crabcake sandwich and a small beer.
We then moved on toward Fisherman’s Wharf to visit the Musée Mécanique, but before we got 300 yards from the Ferry Building, we’d already stopped for more food. This time we stopped at a place called Seaside where we spent just $40 and were given black mussels with basil puree, an amazing bowl of chowder made with littleneck clams, two mimosas, and a bloody mary. And they say San Francisco is expensive! After our second meal of the day, we made it over to the Musée Mécanique, which is a super weird collection of old arcade games, coin-operated automata, player pianos, zoetrope, mechanical fortune tellers, and more. It is free to enter, but you have to supply your own money for the machines. You can also just post up by the change machine, wait until a dad comes by with a $20 bill, and follow his family around. That way, the whole enterprise is free.
From the Musee: Laughing Sal. For 50-cents, she’d laugh and amuse or terrify you.
The Wharf. It’s a bit too much.
Another “exhibit” at the Musee.
We also ate more chowder at the Wharf.
Next stop was Chinatown. We walked about 30-minutes to Chinatown and found a little dim sum house in an alley. You know a place is going to be good when it is in a basement and on the way to the front door you passed at least two rooms that looked like illegal gambling operations. It was good. Really good. Pot stickers, dumplings, egg and spring rolls, some insanely delicious chicken, a scallion pancake, sesame balls, and steamed pork buns. We ate it all and went back out to the alley. We walked to the Dragon’s Gate, saw a dragon dance, and then walked to Telegraph Hill in North Beach. The views from the hill were obscured by fog and smoke from a brush fire, but it was still beautiful—especially the views of the city. Unfortunately, there wasn’t food here.
The alley, Pagoda Place.
On the way to Telegraph Hill.
View from Telegraph Hill.
San Francisco is easily the most unique big city I’ve ever visited. It is quirky and funky and weird. Way quirkier, funkier, and weirder than any place I can think of. I regret that we did not have more time to spend there, but I plan to return. The city itself has such interesting features—the bay, the hills, the layout of the streets, the architecture—and the people of the city are so incredibly diverse.
We got back to Berkeley a couple of hours later and played darts and drank beer with Ivy and Alex at this cool and funky joint called The Albatross Pub. Then we headed to Casa Latina for more food—tacos, namely. A perfect way to end our time here. It’s almost time for us to start heading back east. Thanks for following.
Next stop: Monterey – Carmel Valley, California