This summer, Anthony and I were able to take a three week vacation out to California. We began our trip in San Francisco, and spent several days in the city before heading farther north. We of course visited National Park Sites – 14 in all! We unfortunately could not visit Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial because it was closed to visitors. On an active base, visitors must receive permission from the Army for a tour. Even though I contacted them several months prior to our visit, we were not able to gain access.
Our first morning after flying into SFO, we walked from our hotel to San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. It was only a couple of blocks, and so we spent a while meandering through the extensive museum, checking out the exhibits. There are several ships to be toured along the pier. The site is located right next to Fisherman’s Wharf, so many tourists were perusing the area and examining the ships along with us. San Francisco has a rich maritime history, and this museum and pier detail the power held within her bay. I found several penny smashing machines too! Along we passport stamps, we also collect Pressed Pennies. I even have an app on my phone that finds the machines for me. Since there are so many tourists in Fisherman’s Wharf, there were over 50 machines! I did not get to every one, but did manage to hit up several during the day.
After a quick lunch at a Thai restaurant we stumbled upon, we took a walk along Crissy Field and the Presidio. Both part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, we walked with the foggy bay as our backdrop towards the Golden Gate Bridge. There were many others walking along and enjoying the area, families flying kites, cyclists pedaling along the paths, and dogs playing frisbee. Also, the America’s Cup was going on while we were there, so we viewed several of the boats sailing through the bay. Once at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, we visited Fort Point National Historic Site. Fort Point was constructed beginning in 1853, and was meant to guard San Francisco during the Civil War. The enemy never showed up. One Confederate ship did plan to attack through the harbor, but on the way there the USS Shenandoah learned that the war had ended. The fort never fired a shot, and though was randomly used for other purposes, it was basically abandoned afterwards. Preservation became important when the Golden Gate Bridge was constructed, and the span of the bridge arches directly over the fort. Existing in the shadow of the bridge, Fort Point now demonstrates an example of the thick masonry characteristic of the period before proven ineffective against rifled artillery.
After Fort Point, we walked a couple of miles to dinner at Golden Era, a vegan Asian restaurant serving a wide variety of Thai, Chinese, and Indian delicacies. My favorite part was the vegan blueberry cheesecake at the end of our meal!
All in all, in one day, we walked about 8 miles through the city!
The following day, we picked up our rental car. As fun as it was to explore the city on foot, we were excited to be able to drive to some other places hard to reach when walking. We drove over the Golden Gate to the Marin Headlands. We stopped by the visitor center for more passport stamps, and lighthouse stamps, before taking a short hike to Point Bonita Lighthouse. The walk to the lighthouse is only open at certain times. Volunteers lead tours through the tunnel in the rock to the precariously balanced lighthouse. There is a short suspension bridge now, but when the lighthouse first opened, keepers used a buoy pulled through the water to transport themselves and supplies across the water! Still an active lighthouse, though automated, Point Bonita is a great little spot.
Heading back into the city, we stopped at Enjoy Vegetarian Restaurant, where we had a fantastic lunch. We then drove south, searching for NPS stamps at the various locations of Golden Gate National Recreation Area. We ended up at The Cliff House and The Sutro Baths, two fascinating historical structures frequented by the wealthy of the past. The Sutro Baths are all ruins now, but the Cliff House built in 1909 still stands – though it is the third such structure by that name on the site.
That evening we drove into Berkeley for dinner at Herbivore. An all vegan establishment, we were delighted with the food. I had a chocolate shake and beef stroganoff. Just looking at the menu now, as I write this later, my mouth is watering! We do love to eat!
The following morning found us on the early morning ferry to Alcatraz Island. Part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Alcatraz has a varied history that does not just encompass the famous prison. I had visited the island when I was young, though mostly I recall my father becoming target practice for a seagull. The ferry ride is quick, and once on the island we were given a briefing by a park ranger, then into the first building for the introductory film. Alcatraz was first built upon with a lighthouse in 1854, and contained the first lighthouse on the Pacific Coast. With threat of war, Alcatraz then housed a fort. Though, with advancements in weaponry, the defenses quickly became obsolete. It was decommissioned in 1907. But Alcatraz had already held its first prisoners. In fact, when the first permanent garrison arrived, 11 soldiers came with them. Deserters, Indian warriors, murderers, and Confederate soldiers were all confined at Alcatraz before it was opened as a Federal Penitentiary in 1934. Only 1,545 men did time there, including Al Capone and George Kelly. They were unruly escape risks, prisoners that were troublesome in other locations. We both found it very interesting that Alcatraz’s prison was considered so secure, that the families of the men stationed there as guards and prison workers rarely locked their doors, and in fact many of the children recall a halcyon youth. In 1963, Alcatraz was closed due to the intense operating costs. Then, in 1969, a band of Native Americans from many different tribes, occupied Alcatraz for 19 months, taking a stand against poor treatment they felt they had received from the government.
Now visitors can tour the cells and barracks, as well as bird watch. When we were there thousands of birds were flying and walking around the island, seemingly unruffled by the thousands of tourists also walking the island. In fact, some of the island is closed to visitors because of breeding habitat and nesting. I was also delighted by the gardens. Inmates, bored by the lack of activity on the island, gained permission to create gardens. These gardens are currently maintained by volunteers interested in restoring them with historical accuracy. The varied history of Alcatraz is fascinating and we happily spent several hours wandering around the island in the gorgeous sunshine.
Lunch was spent at Gracias Madre, a vegan Mexican restaurant in the Mission District. Anthony had the Nopales, while I had tacos. Really yummy, though a little pricey, we were able to sit outside and enjoy the warm weather and entertainment on the streets. If you know us, or have read our blog, you know we love to eat! So after a relaxing afternoon wandering through Haight-Ashbury, where we visited Super7, a store owned by acquaintances, we went to Nature’s Express in Berkeley for dinner. Serving mostly sandwiches and burgers, we both enjoyed a pretty simple, tasty burger dinner.
The following morning we went to not just one, but two vegan bakeries. It was our second wedding anniversary after all! We began at Pepples Donuts. We were both under impressed with the offerings. They were slightly dense, and very, very heavy. I always want to support vegan donuts, because they are the number one thing I miss being vegan, but these were just ok. So we continued to Timeless Coffee Roasters, an all vegan coffee shop with lots of yummy baked goods. In Oakland, we were able to get vegan cake sandwiches (“Twinkies”) and drool over all of the other offerings. Sadly, we could not eat every single one!
We then spent some time with a friend who has an office in the Financial District, right on the edge of Chinatown. Afterwards, we ate at another location of Enjoy Vegetarian Restaurant where one of the owners recognized us from the other day! We tried different dishes and again loved everything we ate. On our way out of the city, we stopped at Lucasfilm, so that Anthony could stand next to the Yoda statue and walk around the lobby. There are guards at the entrance to the parking lot, but Anthony told them we were there to see Yoda and they invited us in.
Our next NPS site was Muir Woods National Monument. A very popular destination for residents and visitors to the Bay Area alike, it took a while to find parking in the busy lot. In 1905, the Kents bought the land in order to preserve the Redwoods. They then donated the land to the government so that it would remain protected. Wishing to name it after John Muir, who was well known for his conservation efforts, Kent had not yet met the man but admired him greatly. We meandered along the two mile loop walk through the trees, craning our necks to see the tops, while fastidiously trying to avoid the children rushing around our legs. Though crowded, Muir Woods still manages to be peaceful. Something about the giant trees inspires reverence.
To be continued…