San Francisco and the Northern Valleys: October 7-21, 2011

Reminders: 1. Posts are in chronological order with most recent on top. 2. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them and then using the back button (not close) to return to the text.

Novato was recommended to us by a couple we met in Coos Bay as a perfect spot from which to visit San Francisco, the Napa and Sonoma valleys, and other attractions. They were right. About 28 miles each from downtown SF and Napa, our campground, with its sculptured hedge, was reasonably priced for urban California and close to everything we needed. In fact, after a couple of days, we stretched our visit from one to two weeks.

We decided that the best way to go into SF was to pick up the high speed ferry at Larkspur, about twenty minutes away. The ferry ride was half an hour to the Old Terminal, and the famous F Line Trolley takes you from there to the heart of the Wharf, about a mile away. This line runs old original cars of two vintages. The “Peter Witt” cars were built in Milan and date back to the early 1900’s. The “PCC” cars (above) went into use in the thirties.

We planned to do 4-5 things on a visit but were able to do only 1 or 2. Dot’s ability to walk any distance is worse than mine, and we don’t leave the pups alone for too long. On our first trip, we spent time on Pier 39, then walked over to the Cannery and Hyde Street cable car turntable. We drove in over the weekend to Golden Gate Park. After that, I hopped the ferry twice more to reune with some old favorite spots, and Dot spent time on alternate days in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys checking out both wine and cheese manufacturers. And we tripped together to several out-of-town attractions, detailed below.

The ferry ride was very pleasant; it included a breakfast-to-cocktail concession, a marvelous view of The G.G. Bridge and Alcatraz, and a waterside look at San Quentin, just half a mile from the northern terminal. My cable car ride was forgettable. The queue was such that three cars went off without me, and the turntable guys are in no hurry. What’s more, the operators no longer do the continuous rhythmic bell-ringing that was half the fun. At the Powell/Market end, the wait for the return trip was well over an hour. Fortunately, the F Line Trolley runs from Market Street along the Embarcadero, passed the ferry dock and down to The Wharf, so I hopped it for the return trip. Lunch favorites were chowder in a sourdough bread bowl and a Ghirardelli hot fudge sundae in the Square — with the street artist below providing the entertainment.

A few highlights in-town:

Pier 39. Beyond its immense variety of stores and eateries and the merry-go-round, the primary attraction is the huge herd of sea lions that loll on the neighboring docks. They’ve lived in the area for many years, but after the pier was renovated, the sea lions began to habituate its docks, to a point where the human tenants were relocated. The size of the colony ebbs and flows; the official maximum population was 1701 in November, 2009. But it thinned to practically none shortly thereafter, and a torrent of available food heading north presumably lured them as far as Oregon. You can see how many were there this October, and there’ll be more in the spring. Incidentally, Pier 46, which was the heart of The Wharf as I knew it, is abandoned except for a mass of re-construction equipment, to be reopened whenever.

The Cannery. It’s as beautiful as ever and still combines elements of its original purpose among the shops and hotel. In the northern corner is the indoor portion of the San Francisco Maritime Museum. It includes nifty displays of small boats that don’t follow the channels and the brave men who rescue them. There’s also an impressive lighthouse history and artifacts collection.

Ghirardelli Square. Still very much there, the “adaptive-reuse project” from the board of the brilliant designer Lawrence Halperin. The sign still dominates the sky. I didn’t remember the sculpture at the top, but it was unveiled just two years before my last visit. It raised controversy, especially with Halperin, who objected to Ruth Asawa’s concept of a nursing mermaid. The work, Andrea’s Fountain, is named for the mermaid model.

On the Waterfront:

On Pier 45, the Musee Mecanique, or Mechanical Museum, features a hundred or more old amusement park games. The public not only gets to view them but bring them alive with one thin quarter each. What a wonderful throwback it was.

Down the Pier are two weapons of war. The first is the submarine U.S.S. Pampanito. Having explored non-nuke submarines a number of times before, I passed it by. But I couldn’t resist capturing the story on the dock, told on a sandwich board, of Ona Hawkins a seaman whose letters from his honey at home were profusely illustrated, mostly with dames. Muriel Mix began by illustrating the envelopes of letters to her brother and cousin. She honored many requests to write to others. But Ona was the luckiest guy; Muriel had met him during his sub training at the University of Minnesota, and 300 letters later, they were married in April, 1948.

Another ship graced this dock. It was the Liberty Ship S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien. She is one of only two Liberty’s still activated (hold that thought). The other is S.S. John W. Brown, docked in Baltimore. The O’Brien has an all-volunteer staff. Those involved in maintenance and preservation, as on this day, were enjoying mess aboard in the old wardroom when I boarded. I explored her from stem to stern, top to bottom, but was even more fascinated with the “rest of the story” behind the creation of the fleet. Approximately 2,700 were built, each in about two months, at 18 shipyards specifically created for their construction – all of the established yards were building war ships. Built specifically to outrun the ability of the U-Boats to sink them, over 90% of them made it through the war. Numerous shipping companies, including Ari Onassis’ venture, were started with war-surplus Liberties. Many others died from mines left behind after the war. Others were modified and lengthened; halves of two that were wrecked were actually spliced together to create a new craft. They carried a crew of 41 able-bodies and about forty weapons specialists to man their scanty armament. They were stacked in convoys, with a leader in the front row; fuel carrying ships in the middle for protection and general cargo on the wings and astern. Escorts usually accompanied them. If you are interested in the subject and can find a copy, C.S. Forrester’s The Good Shepherd (1955) is a spellbinder, tracing one continuous 24 hour period of an escort commander’s journey.

Below decks were a number of exhibits, including a bowling-lane sized depiction of the landing at Normandy Beach. Here are two shots of the extremes.

I found an outdoor café that provided the traditional New England clam chowder in a Boudin Bakery round sourdough loaf that was hollowed out – along with a Bud — for eight bucks. A steal for down there. The Boudin wharf store and plant were a few blocks away, so I watched the manufacture through street-side picture windows and bought take-home. I asked the salesperson if I could get a sourdough starter kit, as I had done in 1970. She said they’d stopped selling them years ago.

Hyde Street Pier held the balance of the San Francisco Maritime Museum. Keystone of the exhibit is the Eureka – nee Ukiah – the largest wooden ferry ever built. It served as both a peacetime and wartime service from 1890, when she was built, until 1957, when she was decommissioned. As automobiles grew in popularity and abundance, her lower deck was converted for vehicles; she could carry 120 vehicles and 2300 passengers. A walking beam engine, first coal and later oil fueled, drove her giant paddlewheel. Other ships and small boats flanked the pier, ranging from the 18 foot Italian fishing falucca, Nuovo Mondo to the 300 foot iron-hulled full-rigged ship, Star of Alaska (nee Balclutha), a cargo vessel built in Cardiff, Wales in 1887. In between, one finds a 1914 oceangoing tug, an 1895 lumber schooner, a 1914 paddlewheel tug, a square-bowed, 1891 scow schooner, and numerous other small fishing and pleasure craft of several nations. You’re invited into the shed where other exhibits are being carefully restored – and where one sailor is teaching others how to splice single braid line. No one with any salt in their veins should miss this.

Driving across the famous red (actually International Safety Orange!) span, we drove to Golden Gate Park for a Sunday outing. We found ourselves in the deYoung Museum near the start of an 8 hour chamber music concert, performed by more than a dozen groups. To name a few: Bridge Chamber Virtuosi (violin/viola/cello), Quintenato Latino (Latin American classical), Real Vocal String Quartette (simultaneous playing and singing), Rootstock (pure percussion trio), Cascada de Flores (flute/guitar/voice), Quartet San Francisco (3 violins/cello), Kora Didgel Danstep (Australian ragas and didjeridu), and VidyA (Indian classical jazz). Of course, we listened a lot while we explored the collections and exhibitions. The deYoung was an outgrowth in 1895 of the 1894 California Midwinter Exposition, organized by Michael deYoung, co-founder of the S.F. Chronicle. The original building expanded wing by wing as collections were acquired. In 1989, the museum received structural damage and was patched together until the current building was dedicated in 2005. It is the fourth most visited art museum in North America and 16th in the world. To my amazement, the museum allowed picture taking in most galleries. To my severe disappointment, I apparently erased the card before transferring them to my computer. Rats! (Oh no, hold that for the moment.) Everything from ancient history to ultramodern sculpture was of very high quality.

After the deYoung, we wandered next door to the Japanese Tea Garden. A Japanese village replication for the 1894 Exposition, a wealthy immigrant landscaper, Makoto Hagiwara, petitioned to retain it. Under his skilled direction, it grew through the years as he planted trees and shrubs and added artifacts. His tea house still serves today, and he is credited with introducing the fortune cookie to the United States. The Drum Bridge is part of the original village, and the 5 story pagoda and Buddha were added later. Hagiwara tended the garden until his death in 1925, and his family until 1942, when they were interned in a concentration camp. During the war, the name became the “Oriental Garden,” but it resumed its original name in 1949. In 1974, Hagiwara was honored with a plaque designed by Ruth Asawa (see Ghirardelli Square above). The pool remains stocked with giant goldfish, and a boat shaped trough with a gentle stream is the proper place to wash your hands before entering the tea room for a sip and pleasant music. Hundreds of people have found peace here.

And a few highlights outside the city:

We were so happy to find Charlie Brown and Snoopy alive and well at the Charles Shultz Museum and Research Center. Sparky retired in December, 2000, critically ill and unable to continue. He died the following February. The museum was opened just 18 months earlier, though it had been underway since 2007. That year, his wife Jean receive the Congressional Medal of Honor on his behalf. The center is two stories of wonder. There are many stories, many accolades and many tributes. In the two story atrium are two murals ; left, below, is a collage made up of individual strips, next is a montage of wooden Snoopys. A Steuben Glass Snoopy adorns the mezzanine rail. A huge montage chronicles the first animation of the family.

A giant sweater-adorned Charlie stands in the rear courtyard. The sweater was created by sculptor Suzanne Morelock. She knitted it, using ten foot long PVC pipes and miles of glittery mylar remnant from a sequin and spangle factory, and it has traveled throughout the world before landing here. A two-panel work by Charles’s granddaughter, Lindsey, depict his spirit in the abstract. The master’s studio is reproduced, and much is made of the influences on his Lil Folks (the strip’s original name) from both others in the trade and by his Minnesota upbringing, upon which he copiously drew. His skating rink is just across the street, still in use, and his honors include induction in the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame.

We were happy to find the Korbel Vineyard not much farther to the northeast. We enjoyed the ambiance of the site but the tasting room even more. While there, we sampled and bought into a reserve issue that was superb – and will be saved for only the most special occasions.

And our sweet teeth were sated by a trip to the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield. Many celebrities like President Reagan (first pic) were featured in portraits made solely from Jelly Bellies. It was certainly one of the happiest places we have ever been, highlit by a tour of the production floor where they produced 22 million of the little gems each day! Watching the flavoring and the polishing were the most fascinating steps of them all. The samples were generous, but there was no way to get out of the store without dropping a few bucks.

With two weeks, we got time to see lots of stuff and kick back too. From here, we were off to Sacramento, to see the sights and visit with family.

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