The first place I look...

Saturday, March 23, 2013

San Francisco...My new favorite city

Better late than never...We finally took Brady on his "special 13th trip" about a year late, but he didn't seem to mind.  We promised each of the kids we would take them to any city in the continental US of their choosing around their 13th birthday just to have some one on one time with me and Reggie, to see a bit of the world, and to have a 3-4 day glimpse of what it feels like to be an only child.  Brady chose well in San Francisco, California.  We flew in from DFW to San Francisco and took the BART train from the airport into the city.  The train was very clean and moved really fast--only about a 20 minute ride into the heart of the downtown area.  We came above ground just one block from our hotel...The Hotel Whitcomb.  I chose this hotel because of its architecture, decent ratings, and history.  Formally a city hall building, it had beautiful wooden moldings and grand trim, but my favorite feature was the authentic Tiffany stained glass ceiling above the registration desk.  The check in clerk was full of helpful tips and explained the best modes of transportation for the activities we had planned.  He told us all about the history of the hotel and how the basement still has jail cells were prisoners were kept during its former use as city hall.  Luckily the MUNI bus stopped right in front of the hotel and after 24 hours of getting to know the schedules and layout of the bus routes, we had the transportation system down.  I have to give the City of San Francisco tons of credit because the buses and cable cars were always clean and in good working order (I wish I could say the same for the people riding public transportation with us!) and always right on time.  Our first adventure was the Ferry Building...oh how I wish we had a little more time here.  Not at all what I expected...with 50 (or more) places to stop and eat with an endless array of choices of type and size of foods...I could have easily spent many hours here.  We chose a cute little Mexican place and had tacos while overlooking the bay.  We then browsed around the craft booths around the outside entrance and even watched a brave little boy tap dance and play trumpet awhile.  We walked over to the cable car museum and then onto an actual restored cable car for a ride over to Union Square to start Emperor Norton's Fantastic San Francisco Time Machine Tour.  Emperor Norton was a real life San Francisco is wikipedia's explanation of him:
Joshua Abraham Norton (c. 1819[2] – January 8, 1880), the self-proclaimed Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I, was a celebrated citizen of San Francisco, California, who in 1859 proclaimed himself "Emperor of these United States"[3] and subsequently "Protector of Mexico".[4]
Born in England, Norton spent most of his early life in South Africa. He immigrated to San Francisco in 1849 after receiving a bequest of $40,000 from his father's estate, arriving aboard the steam yacht Hurlothrumbo.[5] Norton initially made a living as a businessman, but he lost his fortune investing in Peruvian rice.[6]
After losing a lawsuit in which he tried to void his rice contract, Norton left San Francisco. He returned a few years later, apparently mentally unbalanced, claiming to be the Emperor of the United States.[7] Although he had no political power, and his influence extended only so far as he was humoured by those around him, he was treated deferentially in San Francisco, and currency issued in his name was honoured in the establishments he frequented.
Though he was considered insane, or at least highly eccentric,[8] the citizens of San Francisco celebrated his regal presence and his proclamations, most famously, his "order" that the United States Congress be dissolved by force and his numerous decrees calling for a bridge crossing and a tunnel to be built under San Francisco Bay (similar structures were built long after his death in the form of the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge and the Transbay Tube).[9] On January 8, 1880, Norton collapsed at a street corner, and died before he could be given medical treatment. The following day, nearly 30,000 people packed the streets of San Francisco to pay homage to Norton.
"Emperor Norton" himself took us all around downtown San Francisco showing us many amazing sites such as: The St. Regis Hotel at Union Square (famous and beautiful),  our own operatic concert on Maiden Lane, historic St. Mary's Catholic Church, Chinatown, Lotta's Fountain, The Palace Hotel, and even underground to one of the hidden tunnels where goods and people were smuggled along the Barbary Coast.  After learning a ton and ready to rest our tired feet, we rode the elevator to the top of Macy's Department Store to the Cheesecake Factory Restaurant.  We had delicious pasta dishes while overlooking the ice skaters in Union Square.  The next day we were up early (it was no pants public transportation day--sanctioned by the great city of San Francisco) and took the first cable car ride up and down the famous San Francisco hills and along Lombard Street to the fisherman's wharf area.  We spent more than an hour watching the sea lions at Pier 39...and the rest of the day eating and sightseeing, and shopping along the wharf. At 4pm we boarded the ferry for our Alcatraz Island tour.  We headed out right at sunset and had the most amazing and beautiful views of the sun setting behind Golden Gate bridge.  Alcatraz was our unanimous favorite in San Francisco as all three of us soaked up the stories and the sites all around the island.  It became dark while we were there and the prison came to life as the cells opened and closed making me jump with every metallic slam.  We visited the hospital ward and placed our hands on the same spot that Robert Stroud, aka Birdman of Alcatraz, once placed his (you can tell by the rubbed off paint on the bars over the window).  Spooky, but so surreal, to see such a beautiful place once home to some of the worst criminals.  Our next day's activities had us waking up really early for the trek to Golden Gate Bridge Park for our much anticipated Segway tour.  After an hour of training and practice on how to ride the segway...we were off and boy is this the way to travel!.  We managed to see all of Golden Gate Park in just a few hours and had a lot of fun doing it.  Our tour guide was fantastic and the segways were a blast to ride (and surprisingly easy to learn considering I am pretty darn clumsy on just my two feet!).  After the tour we had some really great pizza at Park Chow and hopped back on to public transportation to the pinnacle of the whole vacation...Golden Gate Bridge.  There are no words for the feeling you get walking to the center of this man made monster.  You can only get a feeling of wonderment and awe as you stand on the bridge and look up at the beauty of the towers or look down at the San Francisco Bay.  We marveled at the sites until sunset and the cold SF wind drove us back to the hotel to warm up.  We fell in love with the little breakfast place across the street from our hotel, Sam's Diner, and made friends with the cable car city employees who safely (after a near miss from an SUV not looking ahead and running a red light) delivered us back to Market Street.  We saw so much, but only whetted our appetite to return to see some sites all over again and to catch up on the ones we didn't make this trip.  I would recommend a trip to this amazing city to anyone...just be ready for the public transportation!