Week 38: San Franciscan Days
After a sodden weekend in Monterey and Big Sur, we headed further up the California coast to San Francisco and the Bay Area. Neither of us had been to San Francisco before, but we both loved it.
Before we got to visit the city, we had some RVing issues to deal with. The first issue was finding a place to stay: as you might expect, San Francisco is not the easiest city to find close, comfortable, and inexpensive RV parking. We did end up finding a campground that was cheap, comfortable, and close to San Francisco “as the crow flies,” but it turned out that getting there “as the RV drives” required a half-hour detour around a mountain range. D’oh! At least the drive was pretty, as was the campground.
The second issue was an electrical problem in our RV. Every time we plugged our power cord into the brand-new power pedestal* at our campground, the pedestal’s circuit breaker tripped, so we couldn’t get any electricity in our motorhome. A friendly mobile RV service technician came out and, unbuttoned pants barely hanging on his body, diagnosed our problem: an incredibly tiny fault in our electrical ground wire. It was so small that only this brand-new power pedestal could detect it; we have stayed at dozens of other campgrounds without a problem.
The technician wasn’t able to fix the problem on-site, so he just disconnected the ground wire completely – and warned us not to use our toaster in the shower this week. That did the trick, and we had sweet, sweet electricity again. Maybe a little unsafe, but we re-wired everything when we left (and then fixed it for real later on).
Back in action! Time to explore San Francisco.
* A power pedestal is basically a shielded box full of outlets that the campground provides for your parking space.
After months dealing with the endless traffic in California, we were excited to visit a city with public transit. We left our car behind and took the BART train in, spending the entire day walking and bus-hopping in a big loop through San Francisco. It was glorious.
Here’s the details, for the interested. We started out by grabbing some Blue Bottle iced coffee and walking to Union Square, then on through the dragon gate to Chinatown. Quality ethnic restaurants are often in short supply on our trip, so we binged on some dim sum (yum) before working it off with a walk up to the famous Lombard Street.
We admired Lombard’s craziness, then headed down towards the water and Ghirardelli Square. We strolled along San Francisco’s national historical maritime park and the Embarcadero, then stopped for a snack: an adorable, turtle-shaped piece of sourdough from the Boudin bakery. (Check the pictures below.) Despite its cuteness, we savaged its doughy body, and then hopped on a bus for the Golden Gate Bridge.
Then, we hopped off, spent 30 minutes figuring out the bus system, and hopped on the correct bus to the Golden Gate Bridge.
The Golden Gate Bridge is a beautiful landmark, but it doesn’t take long to see if you’re not crossing over it. We took another bus back into the city, south to Golden Gate Park, where we strolled the meandering paths and admired the grounds. It’s a really nice park, although I (Jake) hated the look of the De Young Museum, a deeply ugly monstrosity that does the exact opposite of blending in with its surroundings. Heather was excited to see the museum, since she learned about it in architecture school, and she thought it was beautiful. Just kidding! She really wanted to like it (emphasis hers), but ultimately had to acknowledge it puts the “ug” in fugly.”
At this point, tired of walking, we realized our bus ticket had only been vaguely stamped with the date – not the time – so we reckoned it should be good all day to do whatever we wanted. (Also, nobody ever checked it.) We took another bus down to the Painted Ladies, of Full House fame:
From there, another bus took us to the famous Castro district. We really enjoyed the rainbow crosswalks, as well as the, um, “subtly” dirty shop names.
Finally, we walked to the Mission district and got burritos from La Tacqueria, winner of fivethirtyeight.com’s burrito bracket. We have to say, the restaurant lived up to the hype – these were some amazing burritos! Finally, after 10 miles of walking and eating our way through the city later, we took the train back, and enjoyed not having to drive (for once) while we listened to some Silicon Valley business nerds enthusiastically discuss “six sigma.”
We fulfilled a promise to our pre-roadtrip selves by taking the hour-long trip down to San Jose (quietly America’s 10th largest city) to visit the Winchester Mystery House. The Mystery House is a huge mansion built by Sarah Winchester, widow to an heir to the Winchester gun family fortune, in the late 1800s and early 1900s. She apparently believed she was being haunted by the ghosts of people killed by Winchester rifles, and so she built the house to appease and confuse the spirits.
Yes: “confuse the spirits.” The Winchester Mystery House has doors that open onto brick walls, windows in the middle of rooms, and a staircase that leads directly into a ceiling. We should note that it’s not clear to what extent these were intentional choices, as opposed to mistakes during design and construction. Ms. Winchester designed the house herself, with no training, and built it ever-larger over the course of nearly forty years. The home was under construction 24/7, and no blueprints exist.
The Mystery House may not be the most efficient of structures, but it is beautiful and unique. (We weren’t allowed to take photographs inside the mansion, so the last few pics are from here.)
We planned to visit some bars and restaurants in San Jose after visiting the Mystery House, but as we drove through the city and saw a sea of green t-shirts, we suddenly realized that it was St. Patrick’s Day. Whoops! (We were barely aware it was March.)
In any event, we certainly weren’t going to brave the crowds of drunk-by-3-p.m. revelers just for the sake of it, so we headed back to our campground. We ended up hiking around the park we were staying in, and were treated to some lovely views and what appeared to be a whole flock of endangered condors, right by a lake. (Take that, supposed Pinnacles condor viewing!)
We don’t have pictures, but it was fun to watch them swooping and circling around us overhead. Although to be honest, there were some moments when we thought they looked very curious as to whether we might be food. In any event, we’re grateful for and really enjoy these kinds of random nature experiences. It’s one of those things we always felt was missing in New York City.