San Francisco (Part I of III)

January 3, 2008

With one of the worst winter storms in recent years as a companion, an old dream of visiting San Francisco finally became a reality.

Unfortunately my other companion, Clara didn't have enough free days so we have to do the most for the short period of time we were intending to spend in San Francisco, otherwise I will recommend to stay at least 6 days to truly enjoy the city and stay away from generic tour companies.

I don't like be part of the flock but due to time constraints we took the Deluxe City Tour with Gray Line Sightseeing company for the entire day.

After driving some perilous roads where the driver gained his tip for being able to handle a bus on such conditions, we did our first stop, Muir Woods National Monument. This is a forested area populated by Coast Redwood, one of the last remaining stands in the immediate San Francisco Bay Area.

Muir Woods National Monument

On January 9, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt declared the land a national monument, the first to be created from land donated by a private individual. The original suggested name of the Monument was the Kent monument but Kent insisted the Monument be named after naturalist John Muir, whose environmental campaigns helped to establish the national park system.

The Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) are relatives of the Giant Sequoia. While redwoods can grow to nearly 380 feet (115 m), the tallest tree in the Muir Woods is 258 feet (79 m). The average age of the redwoods in the Monument are between 500 and 800 years old with the oldest being at least 1,100 years old.

Samples of Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens)

The tour to Muir is self-guided, the tour will be better if you have the option of learning from a guide.

Our next stop was Sausalito. Located at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge, this city receives a steady stream of visitors via the bridge and a ferry service from San Francisco.

Views of Treasure Island, Bay Bridge and San Francisco downtown

In 1838 during the Mexican era, an Englishman by the name of William A. Richardson, who became a Mexican citizen and married the daughter of the Commandant of the Presidio of San Francisco, established a large ranch from which the later town acquired its name, the "Rancho Del Sausalito". Sausalito is Spanish for "little willow grove."

During World War II, a major shipyard of the Bechtel Corporation called Marinship was sited along the shoreline of Sausalito. The thousands of laborers who worked here were largely housed in a nearby community constructed for them called Marin City.

In 1965, the City of Sausalito sued the County of Marin and a private developer for illegally zoning 2,000 acres (8 km²) of land to build a city named Marincello right next to Sausalito. The city won the lawsuit in 1970, and the land was transferred as open space to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Fountain near the Sausalito Inn

Our next stop was a scenic drive on a hill with views of the Golden Gate Bridge. The Golden Gate Bridge had the longest suspension bridge span in the world when it was completed in 1937 and has become an internationally recognized symbol of San Francisco and California. Since its completion, the span length has been surpassed by eight other bridges.

Golden Gate Bridge

Our morning tour ended on Fisherman's Wharf. It is best known for being the location of Pier 39, San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, the Cannery Shopping Center, Ghirardelli Square, a Ripley's Believe it or Not museum, the Musée Mécanique, the Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf, Forbes Island and restaurants and stands that serve fresh seafood, most notably dungeness crab and clam chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl.

Fisherman's Wharf

Some of the restaurants, like Pompeii's and Alioto's #8, go back for three generations of the same family ownership

Following the driver suggestions, we had lunch at Nick's Lighthouse. The food is good but not great, this is one of those places where it is better to pay with cash instead of risking your credit card.

If you are "picky" you better try another restaurant. This restaurant is relatively small, very crowded, and very noisy. The booths, paneling and decor are from a previous generation and not showing age well. The booths especially were uncomfortable and crammed so close together we had to bend our legs in different directions in order to fit under the table .

Nick's Lighthouse

Time for the afternoon tour. With the storm approaching we weren't able to take good pictures. I am still wondering why we were taken to Twin Peaks with such bad weather.

One of the stops included the Mission San Francisco de Asís, also known as Mission Dolores. This is the oldest surviving structure in San Francisco and the sixth religious settlement established as part of the California chain of missions. The Mission was founded on June 29, 1776 by Lieutenant José Joaquin Moraga and Father Francisco Palóu.

Mission Dolores

During the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the adjacent brick church was destroyed. By contrast, the original adobe Mission, though damaged, remained in relatively good condition.

In 1913, construction began on a new church (now known as the Mission Dolores Basilica) adjacent to the Mission, which was completed in 1918.

In 1952, Pope Pius XII elevated Mission Dolores to the status of a Minor Basilica. This was the first designation of a basilica west of the Mississippi and the fifth basilica named in the United States. Today, the larger, newer church is called "Mission Dolores Basilica" while the original adobe structure retains the name of Mission Dolores.

Our last stop was M.H. de Young Memorial Museum. We arrived 10 minutes before the museum was closed and the driver told us if we were lucky we may have the chance to go to the observation tower to have views of the California Academy of Sciences. We didn't have the chance to either go to the tower or enjoy the place.

The building was completed in October 2005. It stands near the San Andreas fault, where the original De Young had been severely damaged in 1989 by the Loma Prieta earthquake. To address the problem of the fault, the building can move up to three feet (91 centimeters) due to a unique system of ball-bearing sliding plates and viscous fluid dampers that absorb kinetic energy and convert it to heat.

The tour ended with a visit to Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge is widely considered one of the most beautiful examples of bridge engineering, both as a structural design challenge and for its aesthetic appeal. It was declared one of the modern Wonders of the World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The Golden Gate Bridge is a frequent site for suicide. The deck is approximately 260 feet (79 m) above the water. After a fall of approximately four seconds jumpers hit the water at some 88 miles per hour (142 km/h), which is nearly always fatal. Most of those who survive the impact die in the frigid water.

As of 2006, only 26 people are known to have survived the jump, and only one person doing the jump without serious injury: in 1985 a 16-year old wrestler, after reaching ashore his first words were "I can't do anything right".

Part I - Part II - Part III

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