The Retirees Visit San Francisco – the highs and lows of living in the city

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After some very hot weather in Southern California, we were looking forward to the cooler climbs of San Francisco. Carly had arrived in Irvine the preceding day so our role as Guardians of the Grandchildren was completed without injury to anyone. Vincent drove us to the airport on his way to work and with hugs all round our time in Irvine concluded.

We were flying domestically so we were able to use John Wayne Airport (alias Marion Mitchell Morrison – his given names) named after the rootin’ tootin’ cowboy himself but referred to as Orange County Airport or Santa Anna Airport with the code SNA – strange but true. So when you are looking for your flight to wherever don’t expect to see John Wayne Airport on your arrivals and departures board.

It is a short flight to San Francisco. Probably the busiest airport I have seen with planes flying beside you landing and taking off around you – they must have changed the rules about proximity to other aircraft as we had another plane on each wing and another plane landing beside us albeit on a different runway.

We made our way to the BART, the local name for a train servicing the airport to the city. Our son Ben met us at the airport terminal and showed us the ropes providing us with travel cards permitting us entry and use to all the transport in San Francisco but due to a hiccup Kerry was stranded at the end of our journey with insufficient funds on the card to allow her to exit. Always resourceful and independent she worked out how to top up the card and we were soon on our way to Powell St cable car station outside the BART station.

Now we still had our luggage (two pieces each) so we thought the cable car would be the go to get to our hotel which is just off Powell St in Bush St but bloody tourists were queued for the cable car (trams really) and we were in for a long wait or a walk. Ben insisted the walk was doable so walk we did. Now Bush St is past Union Sq (two blocks from the cable car terminus) then the hill really starts to climb for another two blocks before we reached Bush St. San Francisco is known for its hills and we soon learnt the reputation was deserved. Dragging our suitcases made it even more difficult. Meanwhile Ben strode on not thinking about his parents’ health or hearts one bit.

Of course, we made it, but it was a rude shock the first time we did it. We were to repeat the walk many times (without suitcases of course). Our hotel Cornell Hotel De France was 15 metres from the corner with Powell St and looked unassuming from the entrance but on entry I felt I was either in rural France or a museum of Joan of Arc memorabilia. It turned out the owners were from Orleans and had decided to create their own corner of Orleans in San Francisco.

There was a distinct French accent in the air and all of the staff laboured with a French accent to speak in an American English. We were given a ground floor (in the US 1st floor) room which suited us nicely. The bathroom although pleasant was not entirely functional – a deep claw foot bath with a shower curtain encircling it – was uncomfortable as the shower curtain stuck to you as you showered and the step out of the bath for us oldies was a bit hairy.

Anyway, the room was comfortable, and the hotel proved to be central. In a town where accommodation is expensive we were happy with our little French hotel and its price.

San Francisco, Spanish for Saint Francis, is the cultural, commercial, and financial centre of Northern California. San Francisco was founded on June 29, 1776, when colonists from Spain established Presidio of San Francisco at the Golden Gate and Mission San Francisco de Asís a few miles away, all named for St. Francis of Assisi. The mission building remains and can be seen in the Mission a suburb of the city.

The California Gold Rush of 1849 brought rapid growth, making it the largest city on the West Coast at the time. Three-quarters of the city was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and fire. In World War II, San Francisco was a major port of embarkation for service members shipping out to the Pacific Theatre. It then became the birthplace of the United Nations in 1945. After the war, the confluence of returning servicemen, massive immigration, liberalizing attitudes, along with the rise of the “hippie” counterculture, the Sexual Revolution, the Peace Movement growing from opposition to United States involvement in the Vietnam War, and other factors led to the Summer of Love and the gay rights movement, cementing San Francisco as a centre of liberal activism in the United States.

San Francisco is known for its cool summers, fog, steep rolling hills, eclectic mix of architecture, and landmarks, including the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, the former Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, Fisherman’s Wharf, and its Chinatown district. It is home to number of educational and cultural institutions, such as the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), the De Young Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the California Academy of Sciences.

That evening we ventured out on a Segway tour around San Francisco. Although not the best tour we have been on we did get to see many of the sights of the city. Below a mural from China town, San Francisco’s highest building, and the harbour bridge at night

The next morning we walked back to the Wharf area to get on the Hop on – Hop off bus and see the whole of the city. Only problem was the sea mist had rolled in and it was so thick we could not see the Golden Gate Bridge. On the way we walked passed the zigzag street seen in many movies, Fay Park Garden, the backyard of a past resident of San Francisco. Ben and Jee joined us at the bus stop and we boarded the bus with a chilling wind and mist over the water. The bus firstly went to the Bridge but with nothing to see but mist we moved on to the gardens with gale force winds and single digit temperatures. Past the gardens we arrived in Haight Astbury, the place of the Love in the 60’s. From there we went to Union Sq and the heart of San Francisco and down to the Wharves where we hopped off at pier 39 and its famous sea lions. Lunch at the pier and we joined the bus to finish the circuit back to the beginning where we wandered to Fisherman’s Wharf. That night we had dinner at Lolita in the Mission.

The following day were learned to use the bus system and traveled to Alamo Park and the Painted Ladies – a series of different coloured 19th century San Francisco houses. In the park we found this mobile coffee shop.

We then picked up the bus again to go to the Mission and our food tour. The Mission is one of the oldest districts in San Francisco and has one of the oldest Spanish mission buildings in California. Our tour was started in front of the Pirate Supply Store 826 Valencia St Mission. Our first stop was Craftsman and Wolves pastry store where we enjoyed a sort of scotch egg. At my feet the grates exhibited a Spanish myth regarding Halloween then we went past a women’s refuge emblazoned with murals and outed some of the shops and houses in the community ending up at Taqueria la Cumbria.

The next day we walked down to the wharves once more this time to catch the ferry to Alcatraz. We went through China Town and then the Transamerica  Redwood Park before arriving at the Ferry.

San Francisco is also famous for Alcatraz, Alcatraz Island is located in San Francisco Bay 1.25 miles (2.01 km) offshore from the city wharves. The small island was developed with facilities for a lighthouse, a military fortification, a military prison (1868), and a federal prison from 1934 until 1963. In 1972, Alcatraz became part of a national recreation area and received designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1986.

Today, the island’s facilities are managed by the National Park, and  it is open to tours. Alcatraz Island is home to the abandoned prison, the site of the oldest operating lighthouse on the west coast of the US, early military fortification, and natural features such as rock pools and a sea bird colony.

On our way home we decided to catch the cable car up California St. The tourist cable car runs up Powell St so this was a different experience where we got to see the operation of the cable car close up.

Our second last day we chose to visit a redwood forest – Muir wood. For this we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge on a clear day and caught a further bus to the wood. This is not the giant sequoia but a relative that grows tall rather than thick. The forest was beautifully restful and a lovely day out.

Our last day and we headed back to Haight Astbury and the De Young Museum.

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