Eating and playing, eating and playing

On our third day in San Francisco, we winged it a bit more. I love food, and Baby J loves to run around and play, so since this is a city full of green grass, fresh air, and is also a foodie’s delight, we spent the day alternating between eating and playing. Then playing and eating. Not too bad for a vacation, am I right?

I’d made a loose list of things we could do, and wanted to do, around the city, and we sort of picked what made sense as we went along. So we started the day by heading to the Mission district, which I’d heard had some funky street art and good food, plus a park with a great view. We wandered for awhile and spotted some cool murals on the street. I’d hoped to find a great bakery to indulge a pastry craving, but no luck, so we went ahead to the Mission Dolores Park.

mission park

mural

There was construction in the front, and then a big green field but there were a ton of off leash dogs running around so we tried to stick to the play area. It was just teeming with kids though, and mostly school aged ones (the age where they’re too young to look out for littler kids but old enough that they run fast and whip around the play structures). We still had a good time and Baby J was able to run around, but the view was obscured by clouds, so we didn’t really get the good, far out look at the city line we were hoping for. The Mission district itself was really fun to walk around and check out though.

mission

shapes mission

old car

mission

Our next stop was the ferry marketplace building. We lucked out with a close spot on the street and headed over to take a look at the farmer’s market that sets up on Saturdays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. We weren’t sure if we wanted food from the stalls so we took a browse around outside, and then inside where there were all kinds of neat food stops. I saw everything from organic vegan donuts to salted pig parts (the name of the shop!). Baby J passed out in his stroller while in typical us fashion, we wandered around the wharf looking for the Hog Island Oyster restaurant, walking and walking and making a full circle to find it back where we started, near the marketplace. We decided to hop into line and have a nice, long lunch, just adults.

ferry marketplace

macaroons

steamer

Tyler got a dozen local oysters (which he loves) plus some pork sliders, and I decided to try the freshly caught half-crab along with a salad. I love crab and always forget until it arrives to the table that I don’t *really* know how to properly crack it open. I figured though, that as long as I was getting the meat into my mouth, the awkward flying shell bits and greasy fingers didn’t really matter. Right? Everything was fantastic, including the bread (we got extra). Great smells, and the rustle and clatter of silverware, plus a view of the bay bridge added up to the perfect ambiance.

bay bridge

Once Baby J woke up, we let him chase the seagulls on the docks for a bit, observing a few of the massive birds picking leftovers off a discarded plate at an outdoor cafe, before getting some ice cream for dessert. Baby J had a hard time waiting in the line, but it was worth the cups of weirdly unique ice cream – all freshly made with local ingredients – I sampled the Salt and Pepper ice cream and it was so good I thought about getting a scoop. I stuck to a safer choice though, the divine Milk Chocolate Passionfruit, while Tyler chose one called Elvis, The Fat Years. Baby J helped himself to spoonfuls of our ice cream, watching the boats off the bay, and giving a self-satisfied nod after a good scoop made it into his mouth.

ice cream

Then we drove to the Golden Gate Park again and this time headed right for the playground – probably the best playground we’ve been to this month. There was a carousel, and we were there just in time to snag tickets for the last ride of the day. All three of us went on together, and after putting J on a horse, he indicated clearly that he’d rather ride on a chicken. So, off we clucked as the music rang out.

playground

carousel

horses

The park itself was great. There were tons of kids but this time a lot of the older ones were preoccupied with sliding down these massively long metal slides while sitting on cardboard. This left a lot of the easy play equipment for the littler kids, and there were a lot of things to do. Holes to peep through, stone creatures to climb on, sand to play with, and a little spinning cup that made him howl with laughter as he got dizzy with spinning.

spinning

bird statue

golden gate park

playing at the park

I liked going to the park. It felt like a low-key, non-touristy thing to do. There were other families there, kids climbing precariously to the top of a weblike structure, moms sitting in comfy pants talking about their kids sleeping habits, pausing to dole out a snack or call out a warning, and J decided his new favourite way to go down the slides was on his tummy (feet first still, thankfully). We stayed til we were played out and tired, and as we walked up the path towards the park exit, J spotted a homeless man on a bench. “Hi, Ho!” he called out (since Christmas, anyone he sees with a white beard is ‘Ho, Ho, Ho’). The guy called back, “Enjoy the journey!” That we are.

Then we headed home for a steaming hot feast of dumplings, green beans, and noodles from our nearby neighbourhood Dumpling King. A wonderful day of eating and playing!

Sights and sounds of San Francisco

After our long and exhausting drive, our first day in San Fransisco wasn’t the best. I’m the first to admit that here on my blog I write about the standout memories, the good things, the moments I’ll want to look back on fondly, and gloss over the moments of exhaustion and the downs. After all, how lucky am I, this month to be on an adventure of a lifetime with my two favourite people, seeing things I’ve never seen before, and enjoying balmy weather too while back home it’s just cold after snow after freezing cold day. Super lucky, and I know it.

When we woke up on our first morning here, it was grey outside and chilly enough that we dressed in all our layers while exploring the overgrown but charming backyard, poking a stick into the goldfish pond and discovering some long forgotten toys collecting dust in the corners. I figured out how to use the bodum (and J bopped happily along to the YouTube video’s opening notes while I learned) and made a few inches of coffee. We were also without milk or much food, so we wandered to a local market that turned out to be more of a corner store, with candy and giant pickles, then decided to keep walking to Golden Gate park to check things out. It was fine – there was a duck pond, lots of things to explore along the pathways, sprinklers, waterfalls, lots of flowers, and a huge prayerbook cross, but I just felt kind of blah and tired out after our long walk.

golden gate park

So we came home, we all napped, did laundry (phew!), and did some research on the area to make a better plan for the next few days. We got groceries at a Safeway, made spaghetti on a small camping stove, and had a big, warm meal. We watched a movie. We had a glass of local wine, J had his milk, and reminded ourselves we are so lucky to be here.

Our second full day here was better and jam packed full of typical activities, fitting in as much as we could to make up for the lackluster day before. Our first stop was Lombard street – also known at the “crookedest” street in America. We found parking, made our way down – Julian running with glee down the many stairs, then back up, and down again. The super steep roads here are scary (for us) and fun (for him) to go racing down and Lombard street literally zigs and zags all the way down.

Lombard Street

Lombard street

We made our way down another steep street or two until we got closer to the Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s a neat area – you can see people making bread in cute shapes like teddy bears, vendors selling souvenirs, and once you get to the wharf itself, lots of space to run around. Birds everywhere, wheeling and squawking, a vision of a tiny Alcatraz in the distance set against the steely water, and boats bobbing nearby gave us lots to look at.

Fisherman's wharf

wharf

birds

Also from the wharf you could see a cluster of seals hanging out on a dock of sorts (we heard them and walked, puzzled, towards the sound) then a busy area of restaurants and shops. We walked around here for awhile, inhaling the sweet ice-cream scent, looking at stuffed animals in the Aquarium shop, and checking out a joke shop. A huge highlight here was the musical stairs – stairs painted like piano keys that made sounds as you ran up and down each step. At the top was a great view of Coit Tower amidst the city buildings.

seals Fisherman's wharf

wharf shops

coit tower san francisco

piano stairs

Although lunch would have been welcome, we realized our two hours of street parking was almost up, so we walked back to the car as fast as we could – nearly impossible to do when you’re walking straight up. These streets were so steep! I have a great photo of Tyler trying to push Julian in his stroller up the street and just letting out a pained whoosh of breath. I probably doubled over after racing ahead to take their picture. San Francisco natives must be in excellent shape just from walking home.

Another thing I discovered on this trip was Yelp! which I used to locate a nearby taco place. I ran in and waited for our tacos to go, and we drove to Alamo Square. Another park with lush green grass and the sun breaking through the gloomy grey morning sky just as we settled down to eat our tacos, picnic style, dripping and messy but delicious. We also spent some time checking out the playground, and the Painted Ladies (the houses in the opening credits from Full House).

Painted Ladies Alamo Square

Alamo park

Alamo Square houses Full House

Because the sky was so blue and beautiful, we decided to head over to walk the Golden Gate bridge. It was fantastic – clear views and a iconic landmark – let’s go!

Golder Gate Bridge

golden gate bridge

golden gate bridge

We just walked to the middle and doubled back again. Maybe if it was earlier in the day we could have figured out taking a ferry back and exploring the other side of the city, but just seeing the huge arches up close was good enough for me.

I had one more stop of the day in mind, as the day stretched out into late afternoon, with Tyler willingly following my navigation and parking the car, and we let J loose while we walked to our destination. Lucasfilms Headquarters! A little Yoda fountain told us we were in the right place. We also went inside the lobby to check things out, like little storm troopers and a huge Darth Vader. Tyler stayed in there a bit longer while I helped J play around in the grass outside.

Yoda

Yoda Fountain

R2D2

Darth vader

lucasfilms outside

It was such a nice day and so, so nice to be able to enjoy the mild weather this time year. We finished off our second day in San Fransisco with a nice Starbucks latte and then relaxed a bit – it was a busy day!

A Day of Fish

Waking up and heading out into the sunshine of Pacific Grove sent me into a full on love affair with the cute little houses lining the streets. Can you imagine living in a tiny yellow house, accented with purple and blue, sitting on your front porch to watch the world go by? Or a bubblegum pink house, towering over the gumdrop shaded homes beside it, the Queen of Candyland. There were lots of these little gems to smile at as we walked to the Monterey Aquarium.

yellow house

houses

The aquarium itself was a bit confusing at first and we just surrendered to wandering around and letting J decide what piqued his interest. Lots of swirling, silver fish swimming round and round above our heads, to start, and a display that had a concave area that he could sit in to observe the puffins scrabbling around on the rocks and swimming into the water.

hello

He really got a kick out of the Splash Zone play areas – one was a tunnel of sorts, too small for adults to walk in, housing clownfish and other brightly coloured fish in blue aquarium windows, and he spent a lot of time in there, gazing from one to the next, and observing the other kids in there. He also liked climbing the little play structure, riding on a rocking horse, and then played for ages at a water station. He wasn’t too interested in the penguins, or the open sea animals, but we took a lingering look at everything – it was pretty neat to watch the sealife glide past.

clownfish

jellies

The jellies were a bit more interesting for him, the brilliant colours and mesmerizing floating action, and we spent some time checking those out. There was a room with aquarium tubes brimming with jellyfish and he enjoying walking around each one, peering inside and trying to spot us on the other side. There was a station with a few fake nautilus that would flit up on down when you pushed a button to make it day or night, and that was probably his favorite thing in the whole place! I liked the jellyfish best, I think, and Tyler liked the sharks in the open sea exhibit.

hello penguins

fishies

After we felt we’d seen as much as we could, we headed up the street to a grocery store – the mural had caught my eye – and grabbed sandwiches, freshly made, at the deli counter. These turned out to be one of my favourite meals of the trip! An amazing loaf of bread filled with avocado, turkey, havarti, and it was too big to finish in one sitting. It was just right to get us going as we started our drive for the day to San Francisco. We walked back along the water and enjoyed the view of stunning rock and water.

nob hill

Monterey

We decided since it was only about 2pm that we’d try a stop in Santa Cruz in the way to San Fran. Why not? We had a good chunk of the afternoon left, and the lure of a fun, surfer town with neat shops and a boardwalk to race along sounded good. Cue 3:30 and we’d circled the heavily congested beach street twice, with the sounds of kids squealing from the Big Dipper roller coaster as it rattled swiftly past on one side. We decided to face reality and get back on the highway, cursing ourselves for wasting time.

On the bright side, we had a snack of the plumpest, juiciest blackberries I’ve ever tasted, we passed Bonny Doon road (a good omen, I think) and had a great time making up songs to sing about Herman and Lionel (Julian’s choices).

And that’ll be the memory I’ll choose to focus on, rather than the multi-hour drive starting in Half Moon Bay and stretching out for hours and hours when it should have taken 45 minutes. Thank goodness we had a charged iPad with a couple episodes of Paw Patrol to keep the boredom at bay while stuck in standstill gridlock. I’m not sure if it was the clouds of fog sweeping thickly across the highway, the end of a long weekend Monday, but the crawling line of cars seemed never-ending and there was no place to stop for a pee or a stretch or even to wait out the crowds.

We eventually made it to our new home for the next 5 days and our host met us to give us a key to the apartment under her house. The best thing about that place at that moment was the shower, and we all took turns washing away the tension of a long drive. Those giant sandwiches came in handy, too, doubling as dinner before we collapsed into bed, dreaming about our days to come exploring San Francisco.