The title of this post is inspired by the fact that our visit to San Francisco coincided with the 50th anniversary of what is known as “The Summer of Love”. In the northern summer of 1967, hippies, artists, rock bands and hallucinatory drugs flocked to the city, especially in the area known today as Haight-Ashbury.
During our stay of six days, we saw numerous examples of this anniversary being celebrated – shop window displays; locals and visitors wearing ‘period’ clothing; and an extensive exhibition at the city’s main museum of fine arts.
But more of that anon. Here is something else for which San Francisco is famous – a cable car!
And here is the where we stayed for our six nights – an apartment (second floor, on the right) we rented through Airbnb, an online private accommodation service that was established in San Francisco in late 2007.
We had flown down from Vancouver, reaching the apartment late in the afternoon of Wednesday 5 July. Using the owner’s local list of local businesses and sights, we did some grocery shopping so we could do self-cater for breakfast and some main meals. During this outing, we came upon Fior d’Italia, the “oldest Italian restaurant in North America” and read that there was a jazz band played there every Wednesday evening. So, we booked a table and enjoyed a wonderful mix of Italian food and quality entertainment. (The singer in this band of senior citizens would have been well into her 70s and boy, did she have a velvety voice!)
For the next day, we had booked a tour which would take across the Golden Gate bridge; then to Muir Woods, a famous site of the mighty Sequoia trees; and to some wineries in the more-recently famous Napa and Sonoma valleys.
It is difficult to do justice to the Sequoia wood in a few amateur photos, so you will just have to take my word for it that it was genuinely awe-inspiring. We had arrived soon after the gates opened, so it was quiet and peaceful, with most of the early visitors too awestruck to make any noise. The third pic is of a slice of the trunk of a tree that was ‘born’ in 909AD and lived for more than 1,000 years!
From the cool beauty of Muir Woods, our tour took us inland to the Sonoma Valley, where the temperature was already nudging 30C by 11am. We visited a small and friendly family-operated winery, took a break for a sandwich lunch in the town of Sonoma, followed by visits to two other wineries. One of the latter was very ‘corporatised’, with a large cellar door built in a modern, sterile style and wines which tasted like they’d been made by mean-spirited accountants.
However, any shortcomings of the winery leg of the tour were soon forgotten when our guide/driver took us off the highway to a lookout with spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Look everybody – no late-afternoon fog! (For our six days in San Francisco, the city was largely free of fog – normally, a daily summer event from late afternoon ’til well into the next morning.)
By the next morning, we had enough of a handle on what we wanted to see to venture out and use our time well. We also had a good idea of how we would get ourselves from place to place without climbing too many of the city’s famously-steep hills, having discovered that the local bus system was extensive, cheap and frequent.
First off, we used two bus routes to reach Alta Plaza, a public park with a view down one of those steep streets to the harbour and beyond. We then strolled around the area to the east of the park, viewing some impressive examples of the city’s Victorian-era houses.
Our next bus ride took us to Alamo Square and the most famous example of Victorian architecture – the houses known as ‘the seven painted ladies’.
After a delicious light lunch of Greek food, we caught a bus downtown, to the area known as ‘Civic Center’, given over to a collection of grand public buildings. We stuck our noses into one of these – City Hall – and a young, female security guard encouraged us to go through to the building’s main lobby, explaining that the day’s roster civil weddings had recently concluded and that, owing to the auspicious date – 7/7/17 – the number was especially high! What a hoot!
The final leg of our day’s explorations took us to the Fishermen’s Wharf area.
Now, I must admit that I half-expected to find that it was over-hyped and over-commercialised; to some extent it was. The area was very crowded with thousands of North American summer-holiday-makers and international visitors out in the warm weather to shop for souvenirs, take ‘selfies’ and eat. To my critical eye, the main pier seemed to have the world’s highest concentration of fries, burgers and ice-creams and, the area as a whole, as much heritage virtue as an amusement park. So, call me a Grinch!
However, once we had adjusted to the roiling throng and looked beyond the tinsel, we found elements that which appealed to us, including the group of sea lions that take in the sun on one of the jetties for small craft; a plate of oysters washed down with some Californian white wine in a peaceful wine bar tucked away from the faster-food businesses; and some lovely views across the harbour.
To end this post, here is the view of Alcatraz from Fishermen’s Wharf. This was our destination for the following morning.