hacker emblem
jaegerfesting
Search | Tags | Photos | Flights | Gas Mileage | Log in

San Francisco

Started: 2014-01-05 12:27:31

Submitted: 2014-01-05 17:07:58

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator visits San Francisco and wonders if he's coming home

After spending Christmas with my parents in Walla Walla, Kiesa and I took Calvin to San Francisco for a few days before driving to Sacramento to see my grandparents.

We caught a direct flight from Pasco to San Francisco, branded as a United Express flight on a Canadair regional jet. As we drove to the airport on the morning of Boxing Day, a low fog hung over the road, limiting visibility to less than 100 meters. The clouds cleared somewhat by the time we got to Pasco, but not enough for our aircraft to land. Our flight ended up delayed by more than two hours, while I tracked it using both United's app and FlightAware. (I was briefly worried when I saw the plane jog somewhere over southern Oregon but it ended up pointing in the right direction and made it to the airport.) Once the plane was supposed to land, I noticed the gate agent looking out the window expectantly, and then called out, "Hey Shannon, have you seen the United aircraft anywhere?" The plane pulled up to the gate and we were presently on our way to San Francisco.

Our approach into SFO path took us outside the Golden Gate, giving everyone on the left side of the plane -- including Calvin and I -- a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Calvin exclaimed loudly when he saw the bridge; I heard him from two rows back. (We ended up traveling on separate reservations on the same flight, because I flew to Walla Walla four days later, so we didn't end up with seats together.)

We landed without further incident at SFO. I paid special attention to the glide slope indicators and the sea wall at the end of the runway, remembering the Asiana 777 that crashed into the sea wall while landing at SFO in July. Once we disembarked we tried to find baggage claim, only to discover that we were in Terminal 1 and we had to take the inter-terminal people mover to Terminal 3 to find our bags.

Once we were reunited with our bags we caught a taxi to our hotel, the Hilton occupying an entire city block near Union Square, right in the heart of the city. (We could have taken BART right there from the airport, but that would have involved dragging our luggage on the train and down the street, which seemed ill-advised.) We checked in, unpacked, and headed out into the city. We walked around Union Square, past the Christmas tree and ice skating rink, a scene I vaguely remembered from my own childhood, when my father worked in San Francisco and would take us to visit him around Christmas.

Kiesa and Calvin with the Macys Christmas tree in Union Square
Kiesa and Calvin with the Macys Christmas tree in Union Square

It was getting late in the day, so it was about time to find supper. Kiesa spotted local franchises of Loving Hut on the map and suggested we eat there, since we'd also eaten there in Taipei. Instead of visiting the nearest franchise, right across Market Street in a mall's food court, we took the N line MUNI metro outbound to the Inner Sunset neighborhood (just south of Golden Gate Park) to eat at the slightly-better-reviewed franchise there. We paid for our ticket using the stored-value Clipper card, which now works for all of the transit agencies in San Francisco. I bought mine in advance and had it mailed to me and bought a card for Kiesa in the metro station. Calvin was free.

On Friday, we ate breakfast at the hotel (where I noticed they had congee, though I'd already served myself oatmeal) and headed out into the city to play tourist. (I looked at visiting Alcatraz but the ferry trips to the island were booked solid for the entire week.) We walked a few blocks to the end of the Powell-Hyde cable car line and joined the throng of tourists waiting to catch a ride. The cable car was still operated as it had been a century ago, with the only machine power coming from the cable running below the street: two MUNI workers in bright yellow high-visibility jackets spun the cable car around on the turn-table by hand, then pushed it onto the loading area where it could grab the cable.

Cable cars wait for passengers
Cable cars wait for passengers

At length we advanced to the front of the queue and rode the cable car up and over the city. My view was somewhat limited by being in the fully-enclosed space in the back of the cable car (where Calvin couldn't do anything untoward while we were moving) but Calvin seemed to enjoy the ride up and down the hills.

Calvin and Kiesa ride the cable car
Calvin and Kiesa ride the cable car
Calvin and Kiesa with a cable car
Calvin and Kiesa with a cable car

At the Hyde Street end of the cable car, we visited the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park visitor's center, where Calvin looked at the models of ships and some of the artifacts on display. (I'm never quite sure what he gets out of the things I show him but that doesn't stop me from trying.)

Calvin looks out from a row boat
Calvin looks out from a row boat
Calvin at the Maritime Museum
Calvin at the Maritime Museum

We headed across the street to the Hyde Street Pier, where we boarded the historic ships moored there, including the schooner C. A. Thayer (currently being restored; I visited Thayer on an overnight school trip as a fourth-grader), the large, metal-hulled square-rigger Balclutha, the open-ocean tug Hercules (which worried Calvin when I mentioned it was a hundred years old, complete with a historically-accurate CFL bulb in one of the fixtures), and the ferry Eureka.

Calvin and Kiesa walk down Hyde St. Pier
Calvin and Kiesa walk down Hyde St. Pier
Calvin and Kiesa look off the deck of Eureka
Calvin and Kiesa look off the deck of Eureka

By that point it was time for lunch. Kiesa suggested The Plant, located relatively nearby in the Marina District. (My memory of that neighborhood is indelibly linked with watching it burn on TV after the Loma Prieda earthquake in 1989.) The food was good -- I had fried tempeh -- but I was a little confused by the available cookies. (I have no particular objection to eating vegan or gluten-free but I don't think it's appropriate to substitute -- especially in a dessert. I ended up with a gluten-free macaroon, which seemed safe since they're naturally gluten-free.)

After spending some time consulting the maps to figure out where we were and what to do next -- we weren't really near anything -- we headed back the way we came (catching a trolley bus that ran on electric power from overhead cables), past Joseph Conrad Square, and caught the F streetcar line down The Embarcadero. The rolling stock on this line is restored from now-removed lines elsewhere in the country, so one sees streetcars from Baltimore and Cleveland and Los Angeles rolling along the restored waterfront.

We disembarked at the Ferry Building, took a look at the shops inside, and went out to look at the waterfront at sunset. Calvin wanted to take a ferry, but I hadn't planned for that and didn't know where we could go. I found a statue of Gandhi overlooking the western suspension span of the Bay Bridge, placed somewhat inconspicuously in the middle of a parking lot in front of what looked like a closed Japanese restaurant. But if I framed my shot right I could crop out everything but the statue and the bridge (and the cranes at the container docks across the bay around Gandhi's toes).

Gandhi statue and the Bay Bridge
Gandhi statue and the Bay Bridge

The suspension cables were illuminated by lights that looked not unlike falling icicle lights.

Western span of the Bay Bridge at dusk
Western span of the Bay Bridge at dusk

Kiesa spent most of the day carrying Calvin. Calvin was more alert than this but he tends to close his eyes during photos, especially with a flash.

Kiesa and Calvin look out at the western span of the Bay Bridge at dusk
Kiesa and Calvin look out at the western span of the Bay Bridge at dusk

We left the ferry dock after sunset and dropped by the lobby of the Hyatt Grand Recency across the street to look at the spacious, twenty-story-high lobby lit with Christmas lights draped from the ceiling. Calvin liked the mechanized Christmas displays placed around the large modern art sculpture in the middle of the lobby. The lobby triggered some vague memories from my childhood; I suspect I've been there before.

Our lunch was big enough (and late enough) to become our main meal for the day, so after taking MUNI back down Market Street to our hotel, we headed to The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on Market Street for a snack.

For more photos on Friday, see Photos on 2013-12-27.

On Saturday, after breakfast at the hotel, we walked into Chinatown for the obligatory photo op at the gate.

Jaeger at Chinatown gate
Jaeger at Chinatown gate

We headed up Grant Avenue into Chinatown, past shops promoting kitsch to tourists, and took a detour to see 555 California, formerly known as the Bank of America Building, the tallest building in the city. I was impressed by the bay windows running up the length of the building, which may have been an homage to San Francisco's Victorian houses, and by the large black granite sculpture on the plaza in front, which goes by the nickname "Banker's Heart". Kiesa was impressed by the attention to detail in the decoration of the evergreen tree on the plaza; each branch had been individually wrapped with lights.

Bank of America building
Bank of America building
The Banker's Heart
The Banker's Heart

We dropped by a nearby playground (which Kiesa reviewed in detail) and I saw a statue memorializing Sun Yat-Sen. Calvin played while I headed to Vital Tea Leaf, one of the numerous tea shops on the street, which my guidebook recommended. I ended up buying two loose-leaf teas: Iron Goddess, an oolong that tasted like the tea I bought in Taipei and liked; and a lychee-flavored black tea that I suspect Kiesa might like.

We continued our walk through Chinatown and I was amused by the Chinese characters on the Bank of America branch -- with the Chinese words for "America" (美國) and "Bank" (行). At times we were the only white people (白人) on the street, and then I'd catch a glimpse of other tourists like us, sticking out by ambling through the flow of people on the sidewalk.

We stopped for a snack of bubble tea (it was around lunchtime but we wanted to keep our lunch lighter today than yesterday), then dropped by a fortune cookie factory in an alley, where tourists jostled for position to watch the handful of workers pull hot slabs of dough off a machine and fold them into the stereotypical fortune cookie shape. I bought some sesame cookies and got a handful of round fortune cookie blanks which had been allowed to cool flat rather than folded into a fortune cookie.

We left Chinatown on a side street, out of the overtly-tourist strip into the streets lined with grocery stores where the locals shopped. (I saw more Chinese grocery stores in one block than exist in all of Colorado, and immediately considered moving to the city as a warm-up for Taipei.) The markets reminded me immediately of Hong Kong: live seafood crammed into tiny tanks, fish in various stages of dismemberment on ice, vegetables I didn't recognize in overflowing bins on the sidewalk.

Our next official tourist stop was the Cable Car Museum, built around the facility that powers the cables for all three lines. The centerpiece of the building is the four runs of cable zipping through the wheels that power them. I'm not quite sure how much Calvin got out of the experience but he did seem to enjoy the mechanical spectacle.

We headed down the hill in the general direction of the Ferry Building to catch the mid-afternoon ferry to Oakland, having been inspired by Calvin's request yesterday. We stopped first at City Lights Bookstore (which was small and crowded but a worthwhile cultural experience, though I was a bit disturbed that they shelved all of their Asian history by author's name, so India and China were carelessly intermingled), then picked up doughnuts for another snack, and finally reached the Ferry Building with plenty of time to catch our ferry. (The Ferry Building was built in the last years of the nineteenth century as the main ferry terminal connecting San Francisco with the rest of the bay, but passenger ferry service closed after the Bay Bridge opened in the 1930s. Ferry service started up again after the Loma Prieda earthquake in 1989, when the Bay Bridge was damaged and BART's Trans-Bay Tube needed to be inspected in detail, and has been going strong ever since -- especially when BART decides to strike.)

Calvin looks at the Bay Bridge from the ferry
Calvin looks at the Bay Bridge from the ferry

Our ferry arrived and we ended up on the very back of the top deck. We departed presently and sailed under the Bay Bridge, giving me the opportunity to shoot the picture that is in the running for my favorite picture of the year:

San Francisco and the Bay Bridge
San Francisco and the Bay Bridge

We crossed the bay quickly, with a passable view of the eastern spans of the Bay Bridge, and entered the channel between Oakland and the island of Alameda. Calvin was enthralled by the cranes at the container dock.

Port of Oakland container dock
Port of Oakland container dock

We docked in Alameda, then continued on to Oakland, where we disembarked at Jack London Square. We saw the cabin that Jack London allegedly lived in while living in Alaska, which had been moved down here for some reason that escaped me.

By this point the sun was beginning to go down, and the next ferry wouldn't be back for a while, so we walked a few blocks through a not-entirely-savory stretch of Oakland to the Lake Merrit BART station, then took BART back across the bay (through the Trans-Bay Tube buried in the mud at the bottom of the water) to our hotel. We ate supper at Z Pizza, a few blocks away on Mission Street, then headed back to the hotel for one last night.

For more photos on Saturday, see Photos on 2013-12-28.

On Sunday, our ultimate goal was to check out of the hotel and drive to Sacramento to spend a few days with my grandparents. To do this we needed a rental car, and the best way to get a car seemed to be to go back to the airport. (I did notice an array of rental car agencies across the street from the hotel, but none of them seemed to have cars available or be open on Sunday when I looked online.) After breakfast (where I ate congee) I left Kiesa to finish packing and took BART to the airport, where I picked up a rental car and drove back to downtown San Francisco to pick her, Calvin, and all of our luggage up.

We headed west to Golden Gate Park and visited the Koret Children's Quarter Playground, which is allegedly the oldest public playground in the US, though it was extensively revamped recently. The playground included a large concrete slide built into the adjacent hillside, but after climbing all the way up to the top, Calvin decided it was a bit too big for him, so he climbed all the way back down.

After playing for a while, Kiesa took Calvin on the carousel, then we headed out in search of lunch. We took MUNI metro one last time (which probably didn't actually save us any time, but it was amusing) and ended up at Underdog, a hole-in-the-wall hot dog joint with two tables serving organic meat hot dogs and an extensive list of vegan hot dogs. I had an excellent chipotle pepper hot dog, but the experience was marred by Calvin's urgent need to visit the restroom.

Calvin climbs down the concrete slide at Koret Children's Quarter Playground
Calvin climbs down the concrete slide at Koret Children's Quarter Playground

We walked back into Golden Gate Park, walked past Stow Lake (which I think I remember from my childhood) and saw the Chinese Pavilion (given to San Francisco by the city of Taipei) and visited the Japanese Tea Garden. The garden was mobbed by tourists (complained the tourist) but I did enjoy the garden.

Kiesa and Calvin at the moon bridge at the Japanese Tea Garden
Kiesa and Calvin at the moon bridge at the Japanese Tea Garden
Zen garden at the Japanese Tea Garden
Zen garden at the Japanese Tea Garden

We drove to the ocean and eventually found a place to park. We had a snack of satsumas and sesame cookies on the beach, then Calvin played in the sand for a couple of minutes before I decided it was time to go to our next stop: the Golden Gate Bridge.

Seeing the bridge, though, proved easier said than done. Traffic was heavy on the Park Presidio Boulevard, and the small overlook parking on the south side of the bridge was completely full. I settled for driving into the parking lot, pointing at the bridge out the window, then drove across the bridge. Traffic was heavy, but after we crossed the bridge it was obvious that all of the traffic were tourists who turned off at the first exit to turn around. We continued northbound, through Marin County, and turned east through the sloughs at the northern end of the bay to reach I-80 to reach my grandparents' house in Sacramento. We arrived in time for supper, then settled in for two nights in Sacramento.

Well, this was a family outing. Ya know, one of
those occasions where four people try to get
together for an evening, and it's considered a
success if no one has been murdered by the time
it's over.
- Bitscape