If You’re Going to San Francisco…Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair

One of my favourite songs!  I tried to get some flowers to wear in my hair as we drove from Santa Rosa down to San Francisco on Interstate 5 but we had driven through Napa and Sonoma valleys and the only green plants around were vine leaves – everything else was pale yellow and burnt from the sun.

We were at the end of our adventure in Canada, the end of our road trip in the US, and we both felt emotional as we drove past the famous San Quentin prison and over the Richmond – San Rafael Bridge towards Berkeley and Kensington where our family live.  We had packed up our bags and the car for the last time.  The airbed was packed and the seats were up – it was the end of our minivan adventure.

It was absolutely wonderful to catch up with the American family – I hadn’t seen them for 15 years and Himself had never met them.  My fantastically energetic cousin had a jam-packed itinerary for us and had arranged some great trips!

Angel Island

Angel Island is close to Alcatraz and was used as an Chinese immigration station from 1910 – 1940 and processed around 1,000,000 Asian immigrants.  However, due to the Chinese Exclusion Act (prohibiting all Chinese labourers), many immigrants spent years on the island.  We walked through some of the immigration buildings and I felt the eery atmosphere quite chilling.

Walking round the entire island, which was made a state park in 1955, we enjoyed the stunning views of the bay and Alcatraz – what we could see of it through the famous Californian coastal mist!  Such a sunny day though and inevitably we got very sunburnt!

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The Angel Island State Park

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The fancy Bellevedere neighbourhood

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The mist just starting to lift above the Golden Gate Bridge

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Alcatraz with San Francisco in the background

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Alcatraz with San Francisco in the background

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Alcatraz with San Francisco in the background

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On the ferry to Angel Island with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background

Sonoma Valley

Californian wine country!  Us Europeans can be very scathing about Californian wine…Irish comedian, Dylan Moran, is famous for saying: “Californian wine can be used for cleaning submarines”.  However, my American family are very keen on Californian wine (connoisseurs, not alcoholics) and so insisted they take us for a wine tasting and a day in Sonoma Valley.  I think most people have heard of Napa Valley as being the wino place in California but, in fact, that is the most commercial but not necessarily producing the best wine.  Sonoma Valley is relatively close to Napa and produces excellent wine so we took a trip there for the day.

We wandered around Sonoma and went to the fabulous Sonoma Cheese Factory to get lunch for a picnic in the gardens before visiting a pet shop like I’d never seen before!  A whole bakery section just for pets!

We then spent the afternoon at Cornerstone Sonoma which is a centre that has shops full of beautiful expensive scarves, house sized water features, old and broken (AKA vintage) signs for sale…as well as recycled newspaper bags at 5 bucks each.  Despite my cynicism, it was a beautiful setting and we had a lovely time wandering around the gardens – there are 9 spaces where international (and national) architects have designed conceptual gardens.  My favourite was the wishing tree garden where you could write your wish and then go to a “tree” made from long slithers of silver film which you stick your wish to.  It was great to read some of the wishes….several included rather ugly death wishes for Donald Trump!

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A bald eagle carved out of wood

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The wishing tree

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A wish for everyone to “say no to Donald Trump”

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I had to make a wish too…could it be related to surprise immigration status to Canada??

We did a small wine tasting out of the sweltering heat accompanied by an ageing golden retriever…I’m afraid to say I only like two of the five red wines – is that lack of taste or classily fussy?  I’m hoping the latter!

A Day in San Francisco

One morning we caught The BART from El Cerrito, under the bay, and into central San Francisco for a look around, some shopping (me), and a walk into Chinatown.  San Francisco is such a beautiful city – the trams flying by, their bells ringing; sitting in Union Square watching the world go by; the crazy feel of Chinatown (the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest Chinese community out of Asia).  The day flew by in a whirlwind of walking up steep streets (very unused to these!), Chinese lanterns and visiting Macy’s (I don’t see what the fuss is about but I’m not a big shopper…).

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The classic San Francisco cable car

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Union Square….it was much smaller than we imagined…

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By the gate into China Town looking down and out to the Oakland Bay Bridge

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Maiden Lane – our favourite street in San Francisco! Gated, it is very quiet with tables and chairs for anyone to sit at. A little bit of peace from the city for us country bumpkins!

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The gate into China Town

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Amazing China Town!

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As spotted on the side of a wall in a shop window display in China Town. It was almost completely out of view but it caught my eye as we walked past and made me smile.

The Golden Gate Bridge

We spent the first four days of our stay in San Francisco assessing the mist, “San Francisco’s natural air conditioning”, and trying to forecast the best day to go to the Golden Gate Bridge.  Most of the time, the bridge is almost invisible due to the heavy mist each morning which didn’t shift during the day when we visited.  My aunt’s house has a fantastic view of the bridge (when you can see it) so over breakfast each morning we would predict whether it would be a good day to go.  Finally, the day arrived when we could see the road of the bridge and so we made our way through the Robin Williams tunnel and to the Sausalito side of the bridge.  It was fantastic to walk across the bridge and see the huge steel cables which form the suspension and vibrate continuously.  We watched helicopter tours fly under the bridge but I think we definitely had the best view.  Seeing the whirlpools underneath the bridge looked deadly and straight out of Krashbandicoot!

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The Marine Mammal Centre

After the Golden Gate Bridge walk, we went for a picnic lunch at Rodeo Beach to watch the surfers….it was on my to-do list to see surfers on the Pacific but we didn’t really see many so I was pleased to see some here.

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Surfer at Rodeo Beach

Next on the list was a trip to the fantastic Marine Mammal Centre which was up the hill behind Rodeo Beach.  This is a full time hospital for marine mammals – particularly seals, sea lions and elephant seals.  It is possible to view the individual patients’ pools from a balcony but people have to keep silent so as to not disturb the patients.  We were told that there has been a great increase in young sea lion patients recently.  Traditionally, sea lions are born and the mother stays with them on a rock for the first month and then leaves them and goes back out to sea.  The sea lions then spend a few months teaching themselves to swim and catch fish before going to live further out at sea.  However, due to global warming, there are a much smaller number of fish in the shallower waters and therefore when the young sea lions have learnt to swim and then need to learn to catch fish, there are no fish for them to eat.  Therefore there are a great number of sea lions being admitted as patients to the Marine Mammal Centre due to malnutrition.  The Centre take great efforts to ensure the patients do not form any emotional attachment to humans and remain entirely wild.  When we were watching the patients, any humans that entered the pool areas would keep their face hidden or not make any contact with the patient to ensure no bond is formed.  Once the patients have been rehabilitated, they are released back into the wild.  Right in front of us were three Californian sea lions which we had great fun watching!  What the Marine Mammal Centre do is absolutely brilliant – check out their website to see all the great work they do.

What a fabulous and busy time we had around San Francisco!  We saw so much and could only include a snippet of it here.  It was amazing to catch up with family and see such an amazing place in one hit.   We will definitely make it back some day (notice my Americanism?!)….

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Delicious Vietnamese food on the last night of our travels

The feature image for this post is from the super (another Americanism) cool Pexels website….it totally captures the permanent mist which surrounds San Francisco!

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