Archive for the ‘Travel Resources’ Category

We had been planning a day trip to the Sonoma wine country for our final day in San Francisco, but we just felt we wanted more of San Francisco on this trip, so we decided to stay in town and check out some of the sights. Since two cable car lines, Hyde Powell and Mason Powell came within a block of our condo we decided to take the cable car to Market to start our trip. We walked down to the front of the cable car museum and only had to wait a few minutes before we were able to catch a ride. We were in the enclosed part of a car but I guess are hands and arms were much safer.

Dave and Wendy on the number 14 cable car

During our honeymoon stay a couple of years earlier, my wife had nearly lost a hand pointing at something right when a cable car had passed us. She got a piece of the gripman’s mind for that! It was still a fun ride down the hill to Market Street. Just before Market everyone has to get off the car.

Cable Car we road to the Market Stop

There is always a long line at the ends of the line, so we were glad there was space on a passing cable car near our condo. We decided the first “sight” we would see should be Coit Tower. Of course our cable car ride had actually taken us further from Coit Tower than when we started, but it was still fun. We decided to take a streetcar down Market Street to get closer. I think the street cars are almost as cool as the cable cars, and they are usually much easier to get on to since they are bigger, run more often, and do not seem to be as popular with the tourists. Since we had a 3 day metro pass, it just made sense to take advantage of it.

There are posters in the streetcars that give you information on the style of streetcar and the city the particular paint scheme was used for. If you don’t can’t remember later a quick search with the streetcar’s number will get you all the information you need about its history. The streetcar we rode in was a PCC style Streetcar, painted in a 1946 and later Brooklyn style. The PCC style car was popular and used in many cities. This one had been purchased from Philadelphia.

San Francisco PCC Streetcar 1053 - with Brooklyn 1946 paint

I should really start using paper maps when I’m somewhere new or less familiar. Once we got on the streetcar I tried to get my bearing using Google Maps on my phone. It kept pivoting and wasn’t tracking our current location, so it really wasn’t very helpful. We should have ridden almost all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf, but we got off before we reached the end of Market Street. I was completely turned around! Once I realized my error I decided to just use Google walking/transit directions to get us there. It suggested crossing the street and getting on a city bus. This went much smoother and we got off the bus at Washington Square Park about 4 blocks from Coit Tower. There were lots of people in the park, exercising, stretching, and hanging out. Just to the north of the park is

St Peter and Paul Catholic Church

We went north a block, then headed up Greenwich Street toward Coit Tower. No matter which direction you come from, if you are walking, there are tons of stairs. There are bus lines that go up the hill and you can drive up, but there is very little parking at the top of the hill. I would recommend walking up the stairs!

Climbing the stairs to Coit Tower

There are 360 degree view of the city when you reach the top of Telegraph Hill and walk around Coit Tower.

View toward the Golden Gate Bridge from near Coit Tower

I’m sure they are even better up in the tower, it is impressive.

Coit Tower San Francisco

However, on this day the line was long and there are terrific views from lots of places around this very hilly city, so we skipped the ride to the top. I love the art deco style, inside and out. The city has taken very good care of this landmark.

Coit Tower Plaque

We walked back down along Telegraph Hill Road for part of the way back down the hill, then took some stairs down to the corner of Filbert and Kearney Streets. Rather than heading back toward Washington Square Park, we decided to zigzag toward the northwest. We had seen a nice area with lots of outdoor seating along Columbus Avenue just before we got off the bus, and wanted to walk back toward that area for lunch. We decided on a place called Calzone’s Pizza Cucina. The food and service were very good. We felt recharged after lunch and decided to walk down Columbus Avenue toward Lombard Street. The famous Lombard Street hill was only a few blocks from the intersection with Columbus Avenue. We got the mandatory group picture at the bottom of the hill.

All of us below Lombard Street San Francisco

Then we walked up the hill, for the experience, but also because the cable car stop at the top of the hill is a good place to be able to find a short line to get on the cable car combined with lots of people getting off the cable car. The hill is steep, but it’s not too tough of a climb. Although it has lots of winds, the sidewalks go straight up which is steeper, but shorter. If you get short of breath here are lots of reasons to stop for pictures. One of my favorites is the house with the largest Bougainvillea I’ve ever seen climbing the front of the house.

The largest bougainvillea I've ever seen

The view from near the top back toward Coit Tower is pretty impressive too.

Looking down Lombard street with Coit Tower in the distance

As we had hoped, there was just a short wait for space on a cable car. The location of our condo, just a block from the Cable Car museum really simplified getting back there. All the cable car lines pass fairly close to the museum, which also houses the motors and wheels that move the cables! We took a short break at the condo, then decided to take the car out for a ride to a couple of other sights. We started with a drive down Lombard Street with the top down.

Riding down Lombard Street with the top down

Then we headed to one of our favorite places in San Francisco, the Palace of Fine Arts. If you’ve never been there, you’ve probably seen it in the movies, like Bicentennial Man and The Rock. The one thing that is hard to grasp in both movies and pictures is the scale of the place. The structures are huge, especially the domed rotunda!

Palace of Fine Arts

We strolled around the pond taking the structure in from several angles. Even with us in the picture it is difficult to see the massive size of the structure.

Jenny and Eric Rial at Palace of Fine Arts San Francisco

We took our time and enjoyed the park like feeling around the pond, including this shade.

Jenny in the shade at the Palace of Fine Arts San Francisco

Although I took dozens of pictures, I think this is the only one that lets you see the size. Notice the people walking under the dome. They are dwarfed by the size of this place.

Fountain in the pond in front of the Palace of Fine Arts San Francisco

Although we had ridden our bikes up there yesterday Wendy and Dave had not stopped at the Golden Gate Bridge yet, so we also drove up to the park. It was starting to cool down, so we made it a quick visit. We walked down the hill a ways from the parking lot for a few pictures at a different angle. This shot shows the Golden Gate over Fort Point.

View of the Golden Gate from Battery Park

A little further up the hill I took this picture of Dave and the two ladies.

Wendy Dave and Jenny in front of the Golden Gate Bridge

When we got to the top Jenny and I took another picture in the same spot we had taken pictures when visiting for our honeymoon.

Jenny and Eric Rial at the Gold Gate Bridge 2014

After the Golden Gate we headed down to Fisherman’s Wharf for dinner then back to the condo for the evening. This was our last day in San Francisco. We had a great time and look forward to another visit in the future. There are still lots of things we want to do in and around San Francisco. The next morning we headed to Reno and Tahoe to spend a few days there at a car show in Reno – Hot August Nights, and to spend at least some time enjoying the lake. I’ll do another post for that part of our trip sometime soon.

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Panoramic photo from the northwest side of the Golden Gate Bridge
We woke to bad news on day 3 of our visit to San Francisco. Wendy’s health issue had worsened during the night. She was experiencing significant pain and even though she had some idea what the problem was and had been told it was not life threatening, she was feeling quite a bit of understandable anxiety. There was no way she would be able to enjoy herself until she knew that everything would be OK and could get the pain under control. So we made some tough choices. Dave and Wendy would go to the emergency room of a nearby hospital while Jenny and I went ahead with our planned bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. If all went well we would meet on the other side of the bay for lunch or dinner before taking the ferry back to San Francisco.

We walked down the hill to the bike rental shop. I had pre-purchased the bike rental at half price on Groupon during the final planning for the trip. The deal was for the bike rental company Blazing Saddles. Although I’m no longer a big fan of daily deal sites, I do sign up for deal emails when I’m traveling to a “touristy” place. Although this saved us money, Dave and Wendy were unable to use theirs, so it was a wash overall. That is always the risk when you prepay using a daily deal site. The remaining Groupon will never expire (this is because of a California law), but I’m not sure when we will ever use it.

Blazing Saddles has a very efficient operation. They started with a brief and a video describing the ride we were planning to do. They provided optional Ferry Tickets for the return trip that we could use or return with our bikes. That saved us some time later. The bike issue area was also very efficient, and was well staffed with helpful folks. They helped adjust the bike and helmet to smoothly get us ready to ride. We were out the door very quickly and they reminded us on the way out how to get to the bike trail. We were told to walk our bikes down the hill past the Hyde Street Cable Car turn about, then a left on Jefferson would put us right on the San Francisco Bay Trail. The route is fairly well-marked once you get on it. Although it is mostly flat there are a couple of hills to deal with. The first hill came much sooner than we expected, about a half mile from where we started riding. Although it was a small hill there were several people walking their bikes up it.

Riding up the first small hill on our Golden Gate Bridge bike ride

Since everyone else was stopping at the top we decided to make a short stop to check out the view…

View from the first small hill on our bike ride

There were low clouds covering the top of the bridge. Although this a very frequently the case, I never tire of this view!

One of the good things about this bike ride is that there are very few times that you are actually sharing the road with cars. There are a few stop lights though. I took advantage of one of the stop lights to snap a quick picture of Jenny with the Palace of Fine Arts in the background.

Stopped at a light on our bike ride and snapped a picture of Jenny and the Palace of Fine Arts

We were familiar with much of the rest of the route to the bridge because of our last visit to San Francisco in 2012. Crissy Field has awesome views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. Today we rode most of the way through this area but couldn’t resist stopping for one picture under a small group of trees near the beach.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Crissy Field on our bike ride

We realized when we were planning this ride that the ride across the bridge would be only a small part of the bike ride, so we were open to opportunities to see other things along the way. Before we headed up the hill to cross the bridge we decided to take a small detour to Fort Point, a Civil War era fortress built to defend the Golden Gate bay entrance.

Taking a short detour to Fort Point on our Golden Gate bike ride

The Bridge is actually built right over the top of the fort, preserving a unique and interesting bit of history. We actually didn’t decide to go into the fort right away. Jenny got this picture of me on the rocks just outside the fort. The rocks protect the seawall from erosion by the rough waters near the entrance to the bay.

On the rocks near Fort Point below the Golden Gate Bridge

We got an update from Dave on their progress (slow) and decided we would have time to do a quick walk through of the fort. Fort Point is run by the National Parks Service. It is completely free to enter the fort and all the activities there are free as well. We headed right for stairs to the top-level of the fort for the best views. There is a large courtyard in the center of the fort and several cannon mounting points on the bay side walls. On the back walls there are more mounts that were raised to provide even more firepower.

View of the courtyard and perimeter walls of Fort PointAs we walked around the top of the outer walls there were terrific views in every direction.  A seagull flew overhead just as I took this picture in the direction of Land’s End.

A seagull soring away from Fort Point toward Lands End

We also had a nice view under the bridge toward the Marin Headlands where we had gone the day before.  It looked like the low clouds might be completely covering the highest parts of that area today.

View from Fort Point of the Marin Headlands obsured by low clouds

There was also a unique view of the bottom of the Golden Gate Bridge.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge passing over Fort Point

I had Jenny get up on the most northeastern cannon mount to get the picture.

Jenny standing on a cannon mounting location on top of Fort Point

Even though I already had so many shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, I couldn’t help taking and apparently can’t help sharing this image of the flag over Fort Point with the bridge in the background!

View of the flag pole atop Fort Point and the Golden Gate Bridge

There was also a very nice view of the bay and city to the east.View back toward the city from the top of Fort Point

We headed back down the stairs to the second level and did a quick walk through of some of the rooms.  I snapped this picture of the Hospital Stewards room/exhibit before we made our way out of the building.

Hospital Stewardsroom and exhibit in Fort Point San Francisco

We will definitely return to Fort Point for the views and hope to spend more time there next time learning about the history of the fortress.  For now we had a bike ride to do!

It was short ride back to the longest uphill section of the ride. The hill up to Battery Park is steep, windy, and you share the road with cars.  Near the top we stopped at a clearing for some more views of the bridge before riding across.  The weather was a bit cloudy, but we could see some sun hitting the other side of the bay.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin County from the East Battery Trail

We walked around for quite a while in this area, but eventually headed up toward the visitor’s center. There were tons of people there, so we got off our bikes to walk, but made a beeline toward the gate to the bridge’s east sidewalk. The day before, when we were heading back from the Marin Headlands, bikers had been on the west sidewalk. It would have been a lot less crowded, but the view would not have been what we were hoping for. For a schedule of which sidewalk is open for bikes and pedestrians see this link.

Once we got through the gate, the sidewalk was crowded. There were north and southbound pedestrians, runners, and bikers all sharing a fairly narrow sidewalk.

Crowded at the beginning of our ride across the Golden Gate Bridge

We were able to ride most of the way through this crowded section, but had to get off the bikes once when an emergency cart (half the width of the sidewalk) came along. The views of the city…

View toward the bay and city from the east sidewalk of the Golden Gate Bridge

and of the bridge…

Approaching the south tower on our ride across the Golden Gate Bridge

made the crowds seem less important. Most of the people were very polite and everyone seemed to be willing to share the road (sidewalk). We had to get off our bikes as we approached the south tower because the sidewalk narrows and curves around the towers. There also seemed to be more people congregating here also. The center section of the bridge, between the towers, was much less crowded. It was in this part of the ride that we actually got to experience “riding a bike” across the Golden Gate, not just dodging other people. It is obviously less crowded in this picture near the midpoint of the bridge.

Midpoint of the ride was less crowded

A little past the midpoint we decided to pull over to get pictures “on the bridge”. As I pulled over I finally met one rude guy. I looked over my shoulder before I moved to the right, but as I pulled over a guy behind me yelled, “Hey watch where you’re going.” I didn’t say anything as there was no collision even though he had flown by on my left at a pretty good clip. However, he wasn’t done. He managed to stop about 25 feet further along the bridge. He looked like he had just teleported in from the Tour de France. Expensive road bike and corporate sponsors on his shirt. Obviously he was in the middle of training for his next time trial. I guess I should have been thankful that he was able to take a few minutes out of his training to give me some pointer on watching where I’m going. I’m a pretty polite and calm person, but in this case I decided to exercise the “F*** you” technique. He would yell something about watching out for other people and I would simply yell back those two words. This went back and forth several times. He would lecture me on how to ride my bike and I would exercise the technique! Eventually the technique worked. He went back to training for time trials on a busy little sidewalk, and I got my picture “on the bridge”.

Stopped for one picture on the Golden Gate Bridge bike ride

The least busy part of the bridge was just before the north tower.

Approaching the North tower of the Golden Gate Bridge

Once we passed that tower (we had to walk around again), we started to have more pedestrian traffic from the other view area on the north side of the bridge. The view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the north is different, but no less impressive than the view from the south.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from the north visitors lookout

This viewpoint is a favorite for tourist buses and cars driving along the 101. The first time I stopped here was in the late 1980’s. I remember it vividly, not because of the view, but because my oldest daughter was a baby at the time (almost 2 years old), and we had a little scare with her shortly after we left this view and drove north a few miles. She had a low-grade fever that day, teething maybe, but it was only about 50 degrees that evening so we bundled her up to get out of the car. When we got back in the car we only planned to drive a few miles before stopping for dinner and it had gotten chilly even in the car, so we left her bundled up. We stopped and parked on the east side of the 101 and walked across a pedestrian walkway over the 101 to get to a Sizzler. I checked on Google maps and the walkway is still there, but the Sizzler has been replaced by another restaurant. We left Monica bundled up and I carried her over the bridge to the restaurant. I remember it being cold and windy outside. When we got in to the Sizzler I held her away from me so I could loosen her coat. She was completely limp and unconscious. I set her on the counter to check her out, and could not detect any breathing. As I started CPR, the lady at the counter asked if there were any medical people in the restaurant. After just a few seconds of doing CPR I felt my knees give a little. I was very scared, in fact I’m getting a little emotional writing about it more than 25 years later! Luckily there were two EMT’s who came over to help. They moved her to an open table, removed the coat and other warm clothing we had on her and continued the CPR. She started breathing and regained consciousness very quickly which was a huge relief. We thanked the EMT’s then went up the hill to a nearby hospital to have Monica checked out. The doctor was pretty sure it was a seizure caused by her fever being held in by all the warm clothing, but felt she would be fine and we should not have to worry about this happening again. About 6 months later we were contacted by the local Marin newspaper for pictures. The two people who helped us were getting a civic award and they wanted a picture of Monica for the paper. A lasting memory and a valuable lesson for young parents – be careful about bundling up a baby with even a low fever!

On this visit to the Golden Gate, thankfully we had no scares, just a relaxing bike ride to enjoy. The hill to Sausalito is steep, curvy and is also shared with cars. Most of the way the road is wide enough to comfortably share the road, but it narrows just as you enter town, and so you have to really watch what you are doing on this stretch of the trip. We have been to Sausalito once before, during our honeymoon in 2012. We expected this visit to be much different. That time we had driven to Sausalito fairly late – almost 10 PM, and the town had lived up to its reputation as a sleepy little town! We had trouble finding a place that was even open so we could eat. Riding into town in the middle of the day was completely different. It is a bustling tourist location during the day. People drive here, are delivered by the bus load, take the ferry, and apparently a lot of people ride their bikes here – based solely on the number of bikes in the bike rack we used.

Large number of bikes parked in Sausalito

It reminded me of the bike racks I had seen in Copenhagen when I spent one day there a month earlier. The first thing we did was message Dave and Wendy to see how things were going. We wanted to see if they would be able to make it here for lunch. Unfortunately things were going slow for them. It was likely to be a few hours more. We decided that we should have lunch, check out some of the shops, and then continue our ride to Tiburon. When we returned to pick up our bikes there were already people lining up for the ferry back to San Francisco that would leave an hour later. These lines made continuing to Tiburon seem even more appealing.

Since Biking to Sausalito and taking the ferry from there back to San Francisco is an option, I’ve decided to put the rest of our bike trip in a “Part 2” post. If we had never been to Sausalito, we might have decided to stay for dinner and then ride the last ferry home. On this day the crowds were more than we were looking for, and we had the urge to keep riding! That is one of the things I like most about touring an area on bikes, your plan can be fluid and you can go where your spirit moves you!

Previous post in this series: A Few Days in San Francisco (Day 2 – 27 July 2014 – Pier 39 and Marin Headlands)

Panoramic photo from the Marin Headlands

We started the day enjoying the full kitchen and views from the condo we had rented on VRBO. After enjoying breakfast, processing 4 people through the single bathroom, and visiting for an hour or two… we decided to see if we could catch the cable car down to the Fishermans Wharf area. After waiting just a few minutes we decided to start walking along the cable car line toward our destination. It was mostly downhill and just a little over a mile walk. I love the Victorian style row houses that line the hills on many of the residential streets in this part of San Francisco.

Victorian Row houses climb the hillsides in San Francisco

So many examples of historic and well maintained homes really give San Francisco a unique atmosphere that I haven’t found anywhere else in America. As we got closer to the water, we decided to forget the cable car and take a more direct route to Pier 39. The older part of Fisherman’s Wharf is interesting too, but I like the food options, and general buzz of people on Pier 39.

Pier 39 San Francisco

We did a little shopping in some of the shops and then decided to have lunch at Neptune’s Waterfront Grill & Bar (no longer the same restaurant) at the end of the pier. We got a table with a great view. We could not only see Alcatraz Island…

View toward Alcatraz from our table at Netunes Waterfront Grill and Bar

we could also see the sea lions basking on platforms beside the pier.

View of the sea lions basking from our table at Neptunes Waterfront Grill and Bar

The food was good, the beers refreshing, but this meal was really about the view of the bay!

Lunch on Pier 39

After lunch we decided to head back to the condo to get the car so we could go checkout the Marin Headlands area. To get to this park, take the first exit (Alexander Ave) past the Golden Gate Bridge. Then go left toward 101 South (under the highway). Don’t go back on the highway – take Conzelman Rd instead to get to the Marin Headlands. There are other things to see here and some decent hikes, but we were there to see the spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the bay, and San Francisco. We made a couple stops, the first was about halfway up to the main view area. There were some nice flowers growing here on the side of the road.

Flowers and view of the Golden Gate from the Marin Headlands

But the best views were from the top of the road, just before the tunnel. The only problem we had was that a marine layer of low clouds/fog was continually blowing past us, making it hard to get a clear picture. While it might not have been the best conditions for good pictures, it was very cool to be there under those conditions. With patience I was still able to get some good shots including the panoramic picture at the top of the post, this view of the Golden Gate Bridge…

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Marin Headlands - 27 July 2014

and a similar view with a couple of familiar faces.

Jenny and Eric at the Marin Headlands with the Golden Gate in the background

We drove through the rest of the park, but didn’t make any stops. We would love to do some hikes along the coast in this area next time. As we headed back toward the city, Wendy mentioned that she wasn’t feeling well and would probably stay at the condo rather than going to dinner. We decided to walk to Chinatown for dinner since it was only a few blocks from the condo. The restaurant was just OK, but I enjoyed my first walk through Chinatown in San Francisco.

We took it easy the rest of the evening and planned to get up early the next day to bike across the Golden Gate bridge. I’ll cover that in my next post…

Previous post in this series: A Few Days in San Francisco (Day 1 – 26 July 2014 – Cable Car Museum and Dinner on Nob Hill)

Next post in this series: A Few Days in San Francisco (Day 3 – 28 July 2014 – Part 1 – Biking the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito)

Southern California Beach sunset

My Wife and I have six busy children. Actually they are all adults now and four of them have significant others We also have one very young and unbelievably cute grandson. It seems like we never see enough of them, and only rarely do we get everyone together for more than a few hours at a time. So when we started looking at vacation options that might be able to include most or all of them we decided a staycation would be the best way to include as much of our family as possible. Technically a staycation would include staying in our home, sleeping in our bed, and driving to local attractions/events. However, we want to attract our kids to stay over night. We have a terrific house, with plenty of room (ok – not 7 bedrooms), and it is in a great location with terrific views. However, we want something that will draw our kids in to hopefully stay multiple days. We aren’t planning to “go to attractions”, we’re expecting the beach house/condo to be the attraction.

Although we are planning to spend most of the week on the beach or water, we don’t want to just sit there cooking in beach chairs. At least that isn’t what we want to do all week, but that sounds great for at least one day. I guess not “cooking”, but at least being very lazy, sipping some tropical drinks and watching the sun (hopefully) shimmer on the water. But that leaves us 5 more full days!

Our search for a place to stay covered an area from San Diego to Newport Beach. Our ideal place would have been: not too close to home, not too far from home, on the beach, and large enough for everyone. We didn’t find the ideal place – at least not at a reasonable cost, but we did find a condo with 3 bedrooms that sleeps 8 and is right on a park that is right on the beach. It is also close to restaurants, bars, and other entertainment, so we’ll have access to a reasonable night life. If there is one thing I wish was different, it would be the size. A 5+ bedroom house that could sleep everyone would be better, but also more expensive! Because it is close enough to home, we expect our kids will rotate in and out, but we’re also bringing some comfy air mattresses so we can expand if necessary.

So on to a list of things to do:

1. Swim. Although the water in Southern California is too cold for my taste, I expect we will spend some time in the water.

2. Walk on the beach. Walking anywhere is one of my favorite things to do. Walking on the beach is pretty close to the top of the list.

3. Throw the Frisbees on the beach – one of my favorite beach activities

4. Drive along Highway 1. Put the top down and enjoy the beauty and perfect weather!

5. Bike along Highway 1.

6. Sailing. There is a marina nearby where we can rent a boat. I just need to find my credentials or go by Fiddlers Cove to get a copy of them.

7. Kayaking in a harbor, lagoon, or bay. There are several great places to ocean kayak in Southern California under the right conditions.

9. Horseback riding. There are stables nearby. Although I don’t think we can ride on the beach, riding near the beach sounds like fun.

10. Visit with family and friends. This is what the whole week is about!

Golden Gate Bridge view July 2012

We are planning a long weekend in San Francisco in July. We’re meeting another couple their, friends from way back, so planning will include agreeing on activities we all will enjoy. I have several bucket list things I want to do in San Francisco, but I know some of them are not going to work, but I hope we can check at least one thing off my list.

There are several sources of information when you search Google for things to do in San Francisco. Many of them either sell tours, or offer links to tours. I’m not big on guided tours. There are times when they are useful, especially when visiting historical places, but I don’t generally enjoy being led around places… I would rather do some planning and explore on my own.

We spent a couple of days in San Francisco in July 2012 on our Honeymoon following our wedding and stay in Big Sur. That trip was a road trip and we are planning to drive again, but we are not planning to drive from San Diego to Big Sur again this time. We’re taking a week off, but plan to spend half the time in San Francisco and the other half in Lake Tahoe, so no time for a long coastal drive on this trip.

We’ve arranged for a condo for the four days we’ll be staying in the city through Vacation Rental by Owner (VRBO). We’ve used this website for several trips and have always been very satisfied with where we stay. Be sure to look at the reviews before renting. I avoid places that have no reviews even if the pictures look terrific. It is too easy to make a place look good in pictures even if it has issues. In 2012 we stayed in a Hotel in the Market area, this time we will be a little closer to the center of things in Nob Hill.

We also want to do new things and things we didn’t have time for in 2012. So here’s the list so far:

1. Ride a bike across the Golden Gate Bridge. We had considered taking our bikes with us, but we are taking our car instead of the Jeep, so we will rent bikes if we do this one. There are several places to rent bikes, and we’ll be watching the local living daily email deal sites for bargains. When you are planning a trip it is a good idea to sign up, several months in advance, for emails for the places you are visiting from sites like Groupon, Living Social, and Goldstar. this one activity gives you a chance to visit the Golden Gate Bridge, get unique views as you cross the bridge, visit Sausalito for lunch, and the ferry ride from Sausalito to San Francisco should give us plenty of great views of the city from San Francisco Bay.

2. Visit Alcatraz Island. The site of the famous prison is now a National Park. Anytime I visit a National park I start with a visit to the appropriate National Park website to the Plan Your Visit section. In this case it helped me avoid a lot of tour companies selling this tour in combination with other tours to get more money. The National Park website pointed me to the official tour company so I can get my tickets directly and skip any additional fees.

View of Alcatraz July 2012

3. Wine tasting day trip! We considered spending an overnight in wine country. This would likely be a good idea when sampling wines from multiple vineyards! But this part of the trip is short so we will make it a day trip and someone (likely me) will volunteer to be the DD. There are almost too many choices. I could do an entire post researching and planning even just a good day trip to this area. Since this will be my first visit to this area I think I’ll suggest the easy way out. We can start at Sonoma Plaza (about an hour drive from San Francisco), do some wine tastings there and then visit a couple wineries in the hills nearby. If we take a few bottles (or cases) home I’ll still get to have the full effect, just delayed a couple of hours!

4. Hike in one or more of the National Parks and Recreation areas in and around San Francisco.

  • Muir Woods. This park has a wide variety of trails from paved to challenging. This would be a great place to hang out for a longer visit on a future camping trip!
  • Marin Headlands area of the Golden Gate National Recreation area – In addition to the National Parks site the Golden Gate National Parks ConservancyGolden Gate National Parks Conservancy organization site is a good information resource for this park. This is my top choice for a hike with a huge payoff – views of the Golden Gate bridge and San Francisco.
  • Mount Diablo is on my bucket list, but it is most likely for another less urban focused trip!

5. Take a scenic drive. The closest drive would be the Reyes National Seashore drive, but it is mostly through rolling hills but the first section to Stinson Beach looks amazing. If we do this one it would make sense to do it at the same time as a visit to the Marin Headlands area and to plan to do another couple few short hikes to lookouts like the Muir Beach Lookout and maybe a section of the coastal trail. The much longer drive to Santa Cruz would be gorgeous, but would take us away from San Francisco for too long and this is a visit to San Francisco…

6. See the 16th Avenue Steps. If we get ambitious maybe even walk up them! If we get really ambitious maybe continue up the steps to see the view from Grand View Park! Looks like a nice climb and I’m a sucker for a grand view!

7. Eat some terrific food from Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, and maybe some of my favorite Italian dishes in North Beach. We can also take time to explore these areas before and after we eat!

8. Cable Car Museum. Of course we’ll ride one, but this might be a cool place to check out too.

9. Explore the Nob Hill area on foot. Since we are staying in this area it makes sense to check it out. The area has Grace Cathedral, Union Square, several historic hotels, and lots of high-end shopping…

10. Visit the James Lick Observatory. This is a bit geeky and probably for a future trip, but wanted to capture the thought here, because I would love to check this place out. Might be good in combination with a visit to one of our newest national parks Pinnacles National Park.

View of St Peters and Pauls Church from Lombard Street July 2012

San Francisco is one of the great urban areas in California. It has a unique location, a unique history, and a unique population. We are looking forward to spending time exploring the city and finding even more things we have to do next time.

The more I research things to do, the more I wish we were spending more than 4 days in San Francisco. I’m sure we will be very busy, have a great time, and that we’ll be ready for at least one day of rest and relaxation when we head over to Lake Tahoe for the rest of the trip. However, there will be tons to do there too, not to mention Hot August Nights going on in nearby Reno while we are there!

Posts for the trip:

A Few Days in San Francisco (Day 1 – 26 July 2014 – Cable Car Museum and Dinner on Nob Hill)

Part of our group crossing a bridge on the North Kaibab Trail

I started planning this trip in a post during December 2012. Plan A fell through when I was unable to get through to make Phantom Ranch reservations at the beginning of May 2013 for the last two weeks of May 2014, so I was very concerned that I would not get through again for June. Also the size of our group increased from 4 to 5, then to 7. On June 1st I started dialing a minute or two before the phone lines opened, and got through finally 45 minutes later. I already had North Rim lodge rooms for the first week of June so I had a set of primary days that would allow us to spend 2 nights on the North Rim and then start our hike. By the time I got through to an actual person none of the primary days were available, but luckily a day on each side of that range still had spaces. I jumped on the those rooms, dinner, and bag lunches for the next day. This would have left us with only 1 night in the North Rim with no real time to explore, so I checked right away to see if there were additional rooms available. I was able to get two pioneer cabins for the two nights before we would start the rim to rim hike. The reservations for the South Rim are always easier to get this far in advance.

With all the reservations in place we now just need to do more detailed planning. We have people from 3 different states all coming together to do this trip, so the logistics may become complicated. Some of the seven people have changed to tentative, but we have back-up folks already lining up. On the 2010 trip we camped at the Bright Angel Campground near Phantom Ranch, this time we will be staying at Phantom Ranch. On the last trip the dinner reservations were all gone by the time we started planning, but for this trip we have reservations for dinner at Phantom Ranch. We were also unable to stay at the North Rim lodge last time, which made riding the shuttle to the North Rim impractical. That meant we drove to the trail head in the morning and started the hike. We also had to drive back around the Grand Canyon after the hike to pick up our vehicle. This time we will be able to take the shuttle and we’ll be staying at the North Rim for 2 nights giving us a full day to explore.

View of the black bridge crossing the Colorado

I’m hoping to add one other major change to the hike this time. I’m hoping that a portion of our group will skip the shuttle ride to the North Rim and hike from the South Rim to the North Rim while the rest of the group takes the shuttle. I’m definitely in, but my wife won’t give her blessing unless at least one other person goes with me. Frankly I have no intention of doing it alone. At this point in the planning I have one other person for sure and another maybe, so I’m feeling pretty confident that I will be doing a “somewhat modified” rim to rim to rim hike in June 2014. Instead of doing it in 2 days, it will be hiking 3 days in a 4 day period. What I will love about it is the chance to hike down the South Kaibab trail and across the black bridge. Of course the physical challenge of hiking 23 miles in one day is the main reason for skipping the shuttle ride! Since I’m training to run 26.2 miles in under 5 hours, I’m pretty sure this will be doable. It is just walking after all! This does change our planning a little though. The original plan was to stay close to the South Rim the night before we started, the trans-canyon shuttle doesn’t leave the South Rim until 1:30 PM. However, if 2 or 3 of us plan to hike across the canyon we are going to want to get an early start. It is likely that we will have more than one vehicle, so the three of us could leave early in the morning to drive to the canyon. I really don’t like the idea of an hour or two drive before starting the hike. The optimal plan would be to stay at a South Rim lodge the night before and be ready to step off at sunrise. Plan A will be to stay at the South Rim.

Looking out over Grand Canyon the day before our rim to rim hike in October 2010

We will need to do some final planning for this before the end of 2013. I need to do some research on the Trans-Canyon shuttle reservations and dinner reservations at the North Rim. We’ll need to coordinate travel plans, and figure out if anyone has a something special they would like to do. Even though the main hikes are planned there will be time to fill, especially at the North Rim. We’ll need to come up with a gear list for the hikes, including food and drink mixes. Since we are staying in lodges every night, the list will be shorter, but no less important. Although this is still more than 9 months away, I’m sure we’ll be looking out over the canyon in anticipation of the hike before we know it. For me training for the long hikes will start late this fall, after the Marine Corps Marathon. I expect I will be in pretty good shape even before I start this training!

I’ve posted one last planning post: Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim Hike (June 2014) – Final Planning

List of all my posts for the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim: Grand Canyon Rim to Rim Hike Posts (Oct 2010 and June 2014)

Nice Double Waterfall near Stony Creek Campground Sequoia National Forest
We’re heading up to do some camping in Sequoia National Park again this summer. It’s been a couple of years since our July 2011 Sequoia National Park trip and I’m more than ready for some more camping, hiking, exploring, and family time. We’re camping with my wife’s brothers family, but plan to get there a couple days early, so we’ll have some time to explore. On our one full day I would like to do some hiking and see some new places. I’ve spent less time in Kings Canyon National Park, so I’m focusing my planning on that park. The drive from Stony Creek Campground is long, but should be very scenic. We’ll get an early start. Cedar Grove is my first preference for hiking, we could easily tackle a couple of medium length hikes in one day. Zumwalt Meadow trail appears to be both scenic and easy hike, as does the very short Roaring River Falls trail. I would also like to see the canyon so the Cedar Grove Overlook trail is appealing. However, I love hiking by water though so the Sheep Creek Cascade may replace the Cedar Grove Overlook trail, especially if it is a hot day!

General Grant Tree - Kings Canyon National ParkWe should also have a couple of partial days to explore. It’s about a 6.5 hour drive from San Diego, but we may go at least halfway there on a Friday night so we have more time on Saturday to set up camp and enjoy the park. We have family just north of LA and heading there Friday will be close to half way plus bonus time with family! If we leave Friday we’ll have almost a full day on Saturday. If we’re eager to see some big trees we can go a little out of the way and visit Grant Grove on the way to the campgrounds.

Stony Creek Campgrounds July 2011When we stayed at Stony Creek Campgrounds a couple of years ago we loved it. It’s a beautiful location with a stream running through the camp grounds. We’ll be staying close to the same spot we had last time, but closer to the creek.

Crescent Meadows Trail July 2011There are a couple of hikes I would love to do in Sequoia. I want to take the short trail to Moro Rock, it should be a great view. Last time we visited I notice a sign for a trail from there to the Giant Forest. There are actually a couple of trail options from Crescent Meadows to the Giant Forest. I would prefer hiking back down rather than riding the shuttle, especially if it gives us a chance to see a few more Sequoia. One of the trails, the longer way, takes you past the Washington Tree, which would have definitely been worthwhile before 2005, but it lost half its height between the lighting strike in 2003 and a hard winter in 2005. Still it may be interesting to see a tree that used to be one of the top 10 largest trees in existence that was just recently brought down by natural causes.

Buck Rock Lookout July 2011A favorite from our last visit was Buck Rock. Since my wife has never been there, I would definitely be up for another climb to the top. Based on what I learned on our last visit, I may skip the walk around the decking around the cabin though unless it looks like it has been replaced. If it’s not new, it is somewhere around 2 decades since they replaced it… and it’s a long ways down!

On Monday some family is arriving so we’ll be doing things together, and having a great time at camp I’m sure. I’ll post the details of this trip when we get back.

Until then, if you’d like to see some more info on our last trip to Sequoia see my post: Sequoia National Park (July 2011) – (Part 2 – Buck Rock Lookout and Grants Grove)

Flying East December 2012 like the clouds
I’ve been in (not just the airport) 45 states but still have 5 states I have not visited: Alaska, Maine, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Some were fairly quick drive throughs like Delaware and Connecticut, but that counts for my purposes. Some I’ve driven across too many times, like Nebraska! In addition to having visited 39 states, I’ve lived in 6 states: Iowa (20), North Carolina (2), California (18), Minnesota (3), Hawaii (4), and Maryland (1.5). The years don’t add up to my age because I also lived overseas for a few years. Visiting all 50 states is on my Bucket List and it’s been years since I added a new state to my list (Delaware in 2001), so it’s time to plan a visit to the 4 northeast states I have not been to. I will definitely visit Alaska some day soon, but I today I want to put together the beginnings of a plan for the Northeast states on my “haven’t been there yet” list. I could do a quick drive through these states to “mark them off”, but if I’m flying all the way there I want to really check these states out and do some things that I enjoy. The weather in the Northeast will definitely be best in the early summer. While I’m up there I would love to have a sail, so I’ll try to work that in if we have a sunny day with good wind. I love national parks and hiking, so spending a day or two in Acadia National Park sounds like a perfect thing to do in Maine.

I’m planning to do the Marine Corps Marathon in 2013, so if this happens in 2013 we’ll have to work around that race. Originally I planned to look at an earlier, Golden Ticket race (guaranteed entry to the Marine Corps Marathon), this year that is the Marine Corp 17.75K run on March 23. There were a couple issues with this run for me. I have a run that I always plan to do around that time, the Race for Autism in San Diego. Also, I scheduled two half marathons in San Diego as “training” runs, so another longer run no longer fit into the plan for 2013. Not sure I’ll want to do a road trip right after the Marathon (may be a bit sore), so we’ll see where else it might fit this year, if not it’s a bucket list thing and can happen in 2014 or even later.

Potential Trip Itinerary:

Flying options, having multiple choices and being flexible about the starting point will give us the option to seek out the cheapest flight from the west coast.
1. Fly into New York and spend a day or two in the big city. There is tons to do and I’ve never been there with my wife. It would also add to the road trip feel.
2. Fly into DC and really add to the road trip feel. I’m in DC often and it is one of my favorite places. I’ve never been there with my wife, but this would add a lot of driving time.
3. Fly into a major city in one of the states and just kick it right off.

Drive through and see each of the four northeast states I’ve never been to.

Rhode Island Options.
1. It would be great to spend a couple of nights on Block Island – take a moped or bike around the island and enjoy the day.

Maine Options.

1. Explore the coast line. One of the Marines I worked with in Hawaii was from Maine. One of the things he mentioned was that Maine has more Coastline that California. So there is lots of coast to explore. One of the places on the coast that I will be sure to check out is Acadia National Park. It looks like a terrific place to hike, with tons of scenery. Camping is an option, but it will depend on the season. Summer would be the best time for camping and an extended visit.

New Hampshire Options.

Flume Gorge State Park
White Mountain National Forest. We could spend anywhere from 2.5 hours driving through to 4 days hiking in this forest. This will depend on the season and the focus. The more research I do the more I think one trip may not be enough.
Can’t miss the Flying Yankee, while we are in Lincoln, a restored 1935 train.
A train ride on the Conway Scenic Train would be cool too.

Vermont Options.

Got to stop in Stowe Vermont to worship… I mean tour the Ben and Jerry factory. There are also several hikes along the Long Trail in Vermont near Stowe that would be good (might help burn off the Ben and Jerry’s samples). And if we get nostalgic we can tour the nearby Trapp Family Lodge (yes the family from the Sound of Music).

Any “got to go here” suggestions?

View across Marsh Lake

I love to plan trips, but I also love to go along for the ride when others do the planning. Especially when it leads to some great times with family and friends. My Brother- and Sister-in-Law plan family camping trips every year. In 2011 it was to Sequoia National Park (a long standing traditional summer camping trip for them), but for the summer of 2012 they decided to do something different… condo camping in Mammoth. It was to a large part a family reunion but in a very cool place surrounded by beautiful mountain scenery and all the comforts, actually more than all the comforts, of home. One of my favorite activities, anywhere, anytime, is hiking. They chose a family friendly hike, with tons of scenery.

Rock Creek near the Little Lakes Valley Trailhead

We parked along the road just past Rock Creek Lake. The road travels beside Rock Creek. Having water nearby always adds to my enjoyment on hikes. There is a parking lot at the end of Rock Creek Road, near the trailhead for Little Lakes Valley Trail. There are restrooms and several great views of the creek. We got everyone together and headed up the trail. The mountain to the east of the trail was completely barren and rocky but to the west the mountain had trees at least part way up. Although the trail is surrounded by rugged terrain it is a fairly easy hike to the first lake. We stopped to have lunch on a rocky outcropping above Mack Lake. Plenty of seats for the whole group and a great view in every direction.

Getting ready for lunch above Mack Lake

We had a wide span of ages and hiking fitness, but everyone was convinced to go to at least the next lake. This was good advice. The name is not that appealing, Marsh Lake, but the view across the lake was spectacular! Be sure to hike out toward the lake on the small side trail, this is where you will get the best views. Here’s another picture of Marsh Lake.

Another view across Marsh Lake

The hike back also had some great views of the creek and valley.

Little Lakes Valley Trail

There were many more “things to do” in Mammoth than time to do them. We rented two 3-bedroom condos that had great views of the mountains and the pool/hot tub in the center of The Village complex in Mammoth. They were right next to each other which made spending time and eating together much easier. With a little “remodeling” we had one very large dining table in one of the two condos.

Pool and hot tubs at The Village in Mammoth

There were also several options for food, shopping, and nighttime entertainment very near by. We had a lot of fun “going out” one night… and played pool on one of the worst pool tables I’ve ever played on that was on the patio of the nearby bar. Not level, needed new felt, had a mishmash of balls that had been remarked to try to make a reasonable set of balls to play 8-ball with. Very confusing when there are 3 cue balls and only about 5 striped balls. But we had a great time anyway. Maybe it was the giant drink we all shared to kick off the night?

Sharing a giant drink in Mammoth

We also headed over to the “ski slopes” which in the summer are set up for downhill mountain biking. I would love to try that out some time! We took the gondola to the top of the mountain to check out the views. Of course, for no reason my “fear of heights” kicked in, not on the gondola, but on top of the mountain. This made no sense as their were very few areas with sudden drop offs and I wasn’t anywhere near these, but I had a constant uncomfortable feeling up there. I also managed to accidentally switch my camera to “special effects” mode in my pocket. It was set to “soft focus” mode, which I did not catch by looking at the pictures on my camera screen, but it was obvious later on the computer. I’m not sure why a camera even has this kind of “mode” when you can post process normal photos to have any of these effects. I changed the default “special effect” to be sepia so that if my camera is accidentally switched to the mode it will be obvious and I can switch it back to automatic. Even in “soft focus” mode, the photos show the amazing views from the top of the mountain.

Top of Mammoth Mountain

The gondola ride has an impressive “ground disappearing” moment as it leaves the station at the top of the mountain. This didn’t bother me, but it was a cool effect!

Gondola near top of Mammoth Mountain

On the drive back down the mountain we stopped and walked around the Earthquake Fault marked area just off the road. It is part of Inyo National Forest. It was really hard to capture in pictures, but an impressive tear in the earths surface. I recommend taking this walk if you are driving by the area.

Earthquake Fault Inyo National Forest

We had a great visit with the family in a beautiful place. I’m sure we didn’t even scratch the surface, so I’m sure I’ll go back for another summer visit to Mammoth.

Here are a few more pictures.

This is another view across Marsh Lake, taken through the trees.

A view through the trees at Marsh Lake

Hanging out on top of Mammoth Mountain.

Huddling up against the wind on top of Mammoth Mountain

Here’s a view of Marsh Lake from the main trail. Not that impressive. Be sure to take the small side trail over to this lake!

View of Marsh Lake from the main trail

Sunset on the South Rim - Grand Canyon
It’s been a couple years since the last time I hiked across the Grand Canyon.  I knew when we finished that I would do it again.  In fact it was really just a learning experience although a really challenging and fun one.  Although I’ve added a couple of posts for that trip, I planned it before I was doing my “planning” posts for bigger trips, so I don’t have it all written up, but I do have several emails to review and I’ll understand the information on the park’s website much better than someone who’s never done it before. One of the key lessons learned from my last Grand Canyon Rim to Rim was to plan earlier. Although we started planning for the trip early in 2010 and did not do the hike until October, this was not soon enough. Lodging reservations can be made up to 13 months in advance and because there is high demand during the very short “sweet spot” for hiking rim to rim in the fall, we were unable to get lodging at the North Rim. Because we didn’t have rooms at the North Rim lodge we had to change our plan, taking the shuttle from the South Rim to the North Rim no longer worked, and we ended up driving from the north to the south rim twice. So this time I’m starting planning earlier, so even though we plan to do this in May 2014, I believe it is not too early to plan for this trip. There are only about 4 months left before we need to make reservations.

Near the top of the North Kaibab Trail
Since we did it in the fall last time we’ll shoot for the spring this time. It will be interesting to see how things are different. Other than that, we plan to do it very much the same. One change could be to stay at Phantom Ranch rather than camping at Bright Angel campgrounds. This will allow us to skip setting up duffel service for tents and other camping gear and may make catching the shuttle easier. On the downside it will make the composition of the group less flexible as much of Phantom Ranch lodging is male and female dormitories so we will be locked in to the male/female mix that we come up with in the original plan. However, there are some 4 person cabins, so that would be our first choice at Phantom Ranch.   Also we can make Phantom Ranch reservations 13 months in advance and change to camping reservations as late as 6 months in advance if our group make up changes. We could even do a mix of Phantom Ranch and camping if we get a larger group to join us.

Jenny and Eric hiking in Mission Trails Park North Fortuna Trail.jpg.08
Another change for me will be doing the hike with my wife! She is an avid hiker, although she is not a big desert hiker (me either). I’m positive she will love hiking the Grand Canyon. It is dry and hot. However, at the right time of the year, it is more like hiking in milder desert climate of San Diego county than further inland in the drier deserts of Southern California.  The climate is especially mild at the right time of the year at the North Rim.  The canyon floor always has the potential to surprise you, in 2010 even though we were hiking in late October, the last minute weather forecasts were for 100 degree temperatures on the canyon floor.  Luckily for us on day one we got afternoon showers which lowered the temperature, and on the way out there was morning cloud cover until we had climbed to higher, and cooler elevations.

The hike plan:

  • Drive to the South Rim, arriving in the mid morning, will require staying overnight somewhere nearby.
  • Drop duffels to the Livery Barn.  (The deadline is 4 PM the day before you hike in)
    • If we are staying at Phantom Ranch this may not be necessary (no tents or sleeping bags), or we may only require 1 duffel instead of 2.
  • Catch the shuttle to the North Rim Lodge.  (The shuttle leaves the south rim at 1:30 p.m. and arrives at the north rim at 6:30 p.m.  The fare is at least $85 and reservations are required.)
  • Stay at North Rim Lodge one or two nights.  It would be great to have a day to spend exploring the North Rim.  There are several choices of cabin style or hotel rooms.
  • Take the hikers shuttle from the North Rim to the North Kaibab trailhead.  Departs at 5:30 and 7:00 am.  The early start is preferred.
  • Hike to Phantom Ranch.
  • Stay at Phantom Ranch.  One of the 4 person cabins is preferred, but we could consider the dorm rooms also.  We will also need to consider if we want to spend two nights in order to have a day to explore the Phantom Ranch area.  A camp site will work with the duffel service to take tents/sleeping bags in for us, but I would like to try out Phantom Ranch rather than staying at Bright Angel campgrounds.
  • Hike up Bright Angel trail to the south rim.
  • Stay at the South Rim lodge for one night.
  • Head home…

Picnic and seating area at Phantom Ranch

Reservations for this trip will happen on May 1st 2013, for lodging at North Rim, South Rim, and Phantom Ranch.  I believe the meals at Phantom Ranch can be reserved at the same time.    A backcountry permit is NOT required for people staying in Phantom Ranch dorms or cabins.  If we camp we’ll need to get backcountry permits (this is to ensure there are enough campsites).  If a campsite and backcountry permit is required, the request would be submitted on 1 January 2014.

View of the Bright Angel Trail from near the top of the South Rim

This post started as a plan to hike the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim “again”. Even though I’ve been looking forward to doing this hike again, I always thought of it as just doing the same hike one more time. However, as I did the planning, it didn’t feel like planning to do the same hike again. It will be a different hike, with different experiences, and I’m much more excited about it after doing this initial planning than I was when I started the planning. This will be a great trip!

Update 20 August 2013: We got our reservations and things are coming together for this trip. I’ve posted a follow-up planning post: Grand Canyon Rim to Rim (June 2014 – Intermediate Planning)

List of all my posts for the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim: Grand Canyon Rim to Rim Hike Posts (Oct 2010 and June 2014)