Saturday, 28 February 2015

San Francisco Treat

I confess, I've been behind schedule on my updates to this blog.  In the rush to publish my last post I left out an interesting stop just up the road from Hearst Castle.  Piedra Biancas is just a few miles north of the castle's driveway.  A colony of elephant seals return here a few times a year for molting, breeding and giving birth at various times of the year.  There is a boardwalk for viewing and to keep people away from the seals as they go about their business.  It is quite the sight when you walk up and see thousands of seals lying on the beach but what you don't expect is just how loud and active some of them are.  The huge males that can reach upwards of 5000lbs and 16 feet long and are very watchful over their females.  You can see the younger males trying to breed but the older and larger,  dominant seals chase them away.  It is almost comical to watch the young guy over there trying his best to be romantic and this old bull comes crawling surprisingly fast across the beach through hoards of females to scare him off.  It must get very tiresome for them because it is a non-stop game of tag.

"The Chase...a love story"
Moving up the coast we headed for San Francisco.  If you want to visit this area in an RV be prepared to spend a little more than you normally do.  All the parks, even including the state parks are on the higher end than we like to spend.  $50/night is where most start and it goes up quickly from there.  We weren't happy about that, but we knew we had to see San Francisco while we were here on the left coast.  We ended up at Coyote Valley RV Resort for the week which is an hour south in San Jose. 
 It was the President's Day long weekend when we headed for down to Fisherman's Wharf at the city's famous waterfront. This is were you catch the ferry over to Alcatraz Island and the notorious prison.  We booked online a couple of days in advance because it always sells out, they can only take a limited amount of people on the ferries at a time.  While cruising over you get a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the city of San Francisco skyline. 
There's PCH 1 again!
Alcatraz, nice place to visit if you're not a criminal.
The view of the city from Alcatraz.
The tour is well organized by U.S. Park Service and your $30 gets you the ferry ride and the very good audio tour.  You can spend as much time as you want on the island once you are there, just be sure to be on the last ferry ride back to the pier. 
Once on the island you have to walk up four hills to get to the start of the tour.  There is a shuttle to take you up if have trouble walking up the fairly steep inclines.  Once you pick-up your headphones you just follow the prompts as you listen to former prisoners and guards as they relate their experiences and how things were done in the day to day running of the prison. 
First stop for prisoners, showers and dress in inmate clothing.

 Aisles named after famous streets.

A typical cell.

Mess hall

Inmates could sit here and see what they were missing across the bay.
 They cover the few escape attempts and the more famous inmates that were imprisoned here like Al Capone, "Machine gun Kelly" and The Birdman of Alcatraz, Robert Stroud (who actually didn't keep birds in Alcatraz).  It is a very good tour and well worth the time and money to learn about one of the most infamous prisons in history.
We walked along the waterfront that was now packed with people on this beautiful sunny Saturday. 
Lots to see and do here.
Pier 39
 We turned away from the water and headed towards town to see what we could find.  Taylor St. took us to Columbus Ave which is lined with restaurants and bars and was full of patrons enjoying the day.  Walking up here we stumbled across San Francisco's Chinatown, where all the streets were closed for a huge street festival full of anything and everything Chinese.  This was so crowded it was incredible, we took in the sights, sounds and smells like it was a different country, walked out the other side back into the U.S.A.
Crush of people for as far as you can see.

Drive back through San Jose we came across, surprise!, a DDD restaurant by the name of Naglee Park Garage, a tiny converted garage that serves delicious meals and desserts.  You walk in and order at the counter before you sit down, we both had the Tri-tip steak sandwich and we shared a bread pudding for dessert.  They have limited seating inside but a large patio outside that was perfect on this warm evening.  The food was very tasty and everything they make looked fantastic as it passed by our table.
People line up before it opens at 5pm. and then it closes at 9:30pm.
One more must see for us while we were in the area were the redwood trees.  There are only certain places where you can see old growth redwoods and Big Basin State Park is one of them. There is camping allowed here but our 5th-wheel is too large, so a day trip was answer.  The route to the park took us over some incredibly winding and narrow roads over the mountains and through dense forest.  There were redwoods but not the old, huge ones we were looking for.  Logging had nearly wiped out the trees around here and it takes hundreds of years to grow to full height.  Some are 1800 years old and in this park close to 300 feet tall (think 30 story building).
They just look like regular trees without perspective...

...that's better

Even the Banana Slugs are big.

Inside a burnt-out tree.
Pictures can't do justice to this forest towering over you, blocking out the sun making it cool and humid as you walk the trails in awe at the sheer size of these, the world's tallest trees.
Santa Cruz sits south of the park and we headed down to it for different loop around back to the trailer.  Turns out this is a very popular spot on a long weekend as the traffic would prove.  Ocean Drive heads appropriately to the ocean and to a DDD restaurant.
The Santa Cruz Diner has a huge menu of many different types of food at good prices.  Detra enjoyed her pot roast which was good for her.  I on the other hand, felt like fish and chips and ordered without much thought.  Well I guess it had to happen at some point in a DDD spot, but I was very disappointed in my meal.  I didn't ask in advance and I know they specialize in different foods but this was pre-frozen fish that wasn't much better than something you'd throw in the oven at home.  In the future I think I'll stick to the house specialties and not have this happen again.  I would give this place another chance as many of the meals looked good, just stay away from the fish.
Dinner over we decided to check out the boardwalk here that has theme park rides and games as well as some beach areas.  This was mistake #2 on the night.  The place is absolutely packed on a long weekend, we didn't even get out of the truck because there wasn't parking anywhere close to the action.  It was getting dark anyhow so we headed for home.  A drive that would normally be about an hour turned into almost 2.5hrs with the holiday stop and go traffic.
Santa Cruz looks like an interesting town with plenty to see and do, just stay away on long weekends because it is a zoo.
 San Francisco Is a place you could leave your heart as Tony Bennett once sang.  This is a vibrant city and seems no matter where you go, people here are enjoying what it has to offer and we were no exception.  Returning to the waterfront on a weekday and it was still a busy happening spot.  We didn't return for the wharf, we were here because this is the end of the line for one of the three cable car lines. 
We bought our tickets and then waited 45mins in line to get on.  This is not the way to do it if you come here for the ride.  The crowd waits here to get on and then the car heads up the hill a quarter mile and makes it's first stop, this stop is were you want to get on so you can avoid the wait with the masses. 
This is the best $6 you'll ever spend.  We took the Powell and Hyde St. cable car from the water up over the huge hill to the middle of downtown San Francisco.  Everyone knows S.F. has hills but just how steep and long they actually are makes you wonder what they were thinking building a city here.  I have a whole new respect for Steve McQueen's car chase in the "Bullitt" movie.  The ride is more fun than some carnival rides I've taken, hang off the side, stopping traffic in the middle of intersections, going up and the more exciting hitting the top and heading down the steep grade, people wave, you've never felt so good on public transportation!  I even high-fived a guy on a car going the other way, nearly broke my arm and I think his shoulder popped, but what fun!
Hill is steeper than it looks and that's Alcatraz in the bay.
End of the line close to Union Square.
Powell St. and Union Square from the top floor of Macy's.
San Francisco came across as an active, lively city with things happening everywhere you go.  It probably has something to do with the tremors that hit he city 20 times a day, not that we noticed any while we were here.  We liked it here very much, but it seems I say that about every city we visit.  We find each place has it's high points but San Francisco has it all, it's like New York without the scary undertones. 
That's as long as you don't worry about the place falling down around you when the big one comes.
Shaken and Stirred,


  1. I found Alcatraz very interesting, the history there is quite unique. Absolutely love the Redwoods. I am in awe every time I see them, just think about their age and what the country has been through during their lives......

  2. Seeing the history and what people had to endure to get to this point in time always amazes me.

    The natural wonders make me think about our part in this world, be it the good or more times than not, the bad.

  3. AWESOME!..words escape me...

  4. The festival you saw in Chinatown was the celebration of the Chinese New Year. Chinese New Year started on Feb 19 this year and they have festivals for a couple of weeks to celebrate.

  5. Thanks Jen. I did see an old Cinese man who looked a lot like Dick Clark...

  6. Thanks for a wonderful tour. We've avoided CA due to the cost but may need to guts it out to experience some of these unique sights.

    1. It is expensive but well worth indulging in for a winter. We are over budget but wouldn't change a thing we did.

  7. The trip looks amazing. San Fran is a place that I would love to visit but I guess we'll have to wait until we start living the RV dream like you guys. Are you still planning on coming up here for the summer? Let me know where and purhaps we can visit you guys again. And Wyatt wants to see Abby again. Let me know if you still have my email so we can chat more.

    1. Yes we'll be back. I'll get in touch when we get settled in at our new park. Good to hear from you!

  8. Fascinating post and beautiful photos. Thank you so much for sharing this tour. Alcatraz has always fascinated me and I saw a documentary on it a couple of months ago and they never found out what happened to the three prisoners who escaped back in the 60's. Fascinating, actually.

  9. Thanks Linda, Alcatraz was very interesting. They do talk about those escapees and the cells have the dummie heads and the holes in the cell walls so you can see how they got out.

  10. Hi – It’s good to read such interesting content. I agree with much of what is written here and I’ll be coming back.
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    1. Thanks, glad you enjoyed the post. S. F. is a great place to spend some time.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Attended an event here sponsored by the company. The reception hour was held in one of the rooms next to the hall at event venues Seattle. I loved their buttery mashed sweet potato.