San Francisco: Highlights

SFO's runway by the Bay

SFO's runway by the Bay

San Francisco. Where do I start? Perhaps with the moment my 13 year-old son, who’s sitting beside the window, leans across with a shit-eating grin and says, “Mama, I don’t think you should look out of the window right now.” So of course, I just have to. And immediately wish I hadn’t. It looks like we’re about to land on water. The rational part of my mind – at the moment shrunk to an insignificant two percent of total brain mass – knows that this is not going to happen, that it just seems that way, that of course, the runway at this airport runs alongside the bay. The other part of my mind, all 98 percent of it, is screaming with all its might, forcing my impeccably manicured nails to rake their way unwillingly down my son’s left arm until the plane comes to a gentle and uneventful halt. It’s over. We’re here. I can breathe now. So can my indignant son.

We’re staying at the home of an old friend, in Los Altos, on some of the highest-priced real-estate in the Bay Area. She has a gorgeous home, and dishes out simple yet delicious meals to her three children (and now my two) every day, three times a day. Of course, she has the best piece of kitchen equipment a gal could ask for: a husband who can cook, and who seems to like it. We’re treated to all manner of soups, pastas, sandwiches (I can still taste those tomatoes!) and wraps. Are they all made from scratch? Hell, no! My friend has a life. Do they all taste super good? Hell yeah! The answer? A mix of fresh ingredients always on hand – and Trader Joe’s, a quintessentially Californian “alternative grocery store” concept. If you’re in the US, make the effort to visit a Trader Joe’s store… far more character than the average cookie-cutter American grocery store. Trader Joe’s now operates stores in several states across the country.

The Boys and I at the Golden Gate Bridge

At the Golden Gate Bridge, Apr '08

Fast forward to the sights. The Golden Gate Bridge has no gate and isn’t golden. It’s red. The “Golden Gate” refers to the narrow and hard-to-negotiate mouth of the SF Bay that opens out into the Pacific Ocean. The Bridge, of course, spans this narrow opening. The day we visited, it was covered by the rolling fog so typical of the area. Seeing no reason to tour a prison – past or current – we skipped Alcatraz and drove higher up for some spectacular views, and a quiet half hour or so chilling atop Hawk Hill.

Lombard Street

Lombard Street

Lombard Street, better known as Crooked Street, can, in my opinion, be described in one word: pointless. Why in the world would anyone choose to make a steep, downhill street such a pain in the ass to negotiate – for one block – just so that tourists could take photographs? Apparently, I’m told, the idea was originally implemented in the 1920s as a way to reduce the hill’s steep gradient to some extent. Go figure!

Coit Tower, atop Telegraph Hill, is worth a visit for the view, but I’d happily skip it in favor of a picnic at Hawk Hill – quieter and less crowded. For some reason, many tourists seem to want a photograph of themselves in front of the statue of Columbus – even if it means getting mowed down by a car in the effort.

The redwoods at Muir Woods provide a majestic counterpoint to San Francisco’s architectural achievements. You can almost hear the Gods of nature glancing across at the Golden Gate Bridge and roaring, “What of that? We’ve been doing this much longer and much better than you have, and with much less effort, too.” Indeed, some of the trees look tall enough to span a river. A wide one.

Amidst the redwoods at Muir Woods. See me?

Amidst the redwoods at Muir Woods. See me?

The silence is broken only by birdcalls, the gurgle of water, and joyous cries of discovery from the young and the young at heart. Every now and then, along the twisty trails, we see artists, writers, and poets drawing inspiration from the trees. “The tree trunks look brown,” says one lady, “but if you look closely, they’re actually lots of colors – blue, grey, red, orange…” Mesmerized by the ancient forest, I am loathe to leave. I have been granted a fleeting glimpse, a vague sense of knowing what the world might have been like had we not messed it up: beautiful, soaring, and wild. Oh, and big. Very big.

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