Saturday, August 4, 2012

San Francisco

Heading up the California coast, our next stop was San Francisco. We camped north of the city, in Napa California and drove about 20 minutes into Vallejo each morning to catch a ferry boat that dropped us directly at Pier 41 near Fisherman's Wharf. The boys loved the ferry ride and it gave us about an hour to sit back, relax, and plan our day.

Since we had a few days to spend here we purchased City Passes at the visitors center. These passes included our admission to 5 area attractions plus unlimited use of the buses, street cars and cable cars. We started with a walk through the Aquarium of the Bay, much smaller than Monterey, but it was nice and had some cool tunnels that you walked through as the fish swam all around.

Next, we tackled the public transportation system and made our way across town to Golden GatePark, a beautiful old fashioned space with tall trees, a playground and beautiful old stone structures. Inside Golden Gate Park we visited the California Academy of Sciences. This building has an aquarium, rain forest, planetarium and natural history museum inside and a living roof, 2.5 acres in size, that you can climb to and visit. We grabbed up some tickets to a planetarium show later in the day, stopped to say hi to Claude, the albino alligator, and headed for the aquarium.

Divided into regions, this aquarium has a Philippine coral reef, Northern California coastal exhibit, Amazon Flooded Rainforest, swamp and a tide pool where kids can touch sea stars and bat rays. It was very well done and informative. The boys loved it!

Next we headed up to the living roof, 2.5 acres of native plants growing over the gently curving structure covering the science center. Composed of square trays filled with soil and plants, the roof is completely sustainable and has 40-50 different types of plants. A habitat for birds and insects, it also serves as an insulator and collects storm water runoff.

We took a walk through the rainforest, a huge dome filled with trees, plants, birds and butterflies. When we finished it was time for the planetarium show, a movie about plate tectonics and earthquakes shown on a huge domed screen. It was very interesting, and the boys said it was great!! Truth be told, the husband and I may have nodded of for part of it...

The day ended with a walk outside to see the baby ostriches and a turn in the earthquake simulator. Simulating both the 1906 and 1989 San Francisco earthquakes, which was pretty interesting.

Before heading back to Napa on the Ferry we grabbed some dinner and took a narrated boat tour of the Bay area. Usually socked in by heavy fog this time of year, we were incredibly lucky to have cool but beautiful clear views of Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge. The Bay was quite windy and rough, and I got tossed around a bit out on the front deck with the middle boy. We got some great pictures though!

The Golden Gate Bridge is beautiful from the water, but we really wanted to drive across it to. Built to withstand winds up to 80 miles per hour, it can sway as much as 21 feet from side to side. Luckily, we drove across on a very calm day!! After crossing the bridge we drove up the side of a mountain and into Muir Woods National Park to see the giant coastal redwood trees. Muir Woods is a very small but beautiful National Park and the trees really are like skyscrapers. We hiked along the trail learning about the history of the park and the trees while the little dude filled out the pages of his junior ranger book. A little fun fact about the California Redwoods, their bark is naturally fire resistant. It will scorch and turn black in places, but the trees will survive a forest fire.

San Francisco's Pier 39 is the touristy, restauranty, shoppy part of the city, and not surprisingly, where all the ferry boats drop off their passengers for the day and pick them back up again at night. We didn't spend a whole ton of time there, but the boys, especially the middle boy, loved walking out on the pier to see the sea lions hauling out on the docks in the bay. They were really fun to watch, sometimes lifting their noses up to sniff the air and barking at one another when they got crowded out by another sea lion trying to steal some space on the dock. It reminded me a bit of how crowded we are from time to time in the motor home and so we briefly instituted a rule where if you had a complaint about a brother, you had to bark it out like a sea lion. That lasted a few days and produced more than a few giggles!

So, San Francisco was a nice change of pace from the rural and rustic beauty of the canyons in the Southwest. The middle dude's favorite part was the sea lions, the teen loved the boat tour and the little dude could have spent hours (and many dollars) in a little kite shop we found in the city. The husband liked Muir Woods and I really enjoyed Golden Gate Park. There was something for everyone, and I even got to spend a little time strolling through downtown Napa, enjoying a few tasting rooms and picking up some samples as I went.  We did and saw a lot, but could still make another trip just to see and do all that we missed!

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