Monday, May 25, 2009

4 of 5: San Francisco - Day Three - Typical Tourists

Thursday started with a delicious breakfast of french toast from thick house made bread and a perfect easy over medium egg with bacon at a tiny cafe called Dotties. The place is so popular that we had to get in line shortly after 7:00 am to get a table when they opened at 7:30 am.

After breakfast, in typical tourist fashion, we caught an already packed Powell/Mason cable car to Fisherman's Wharf. Clinging to poles on the outside running board as the car swiftly climbed hills and navigated corners, we were surrounded by the jabber of travelers and natives speaking a multitude of languages. Upon arrival at the Wharf, we separated from the crowd headed for harbor cruises and city tours to walk the almost deserted docks where fishing boats and historic ships were moored. 

The need for restroom facilities led us to the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park Museum where we were intrigued by an exhibit about the people who manned a light house located 20 miles out from the entrance to San Francisco Bay during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The light house keepers and their families were completely isolated except for visits from supply ships four times a year. 

On our way around the corner to Ghiradelli Square, we couldn't pass up an opportunity for Irish coffee at Buena Vista Cafe even though it was still only 9:30 am. After our drink, we resisted the temptation to consume great quantities of chocolate and instead boarded the Powell/Hyde cable car.

One of the most fascinating experiences of our trip was a visit to the San Francisco Cable Car Museum on our way back to the heart of the city. We entered the dark and noisy building where huge wheels more than 12 feet in diameter power the continuous loop cables for the four cable car routes. We learned that it takes 5 hours to weave a 90 foot precision spice when the cable needs to be replaced. Below the cavernous main room of the power house, there is a viewing area where we could see the large sheaves (wheels) that help direct the cable into slots under the street. After our visit to the museum, I was obsessed with looking for the cable moving at 9 miles per hour each time we crossed a slot in the street.

After a brief walk through Chinatown past the fortune cookie factory, produce stands, and the Chinese Hospital our route brought us down the hill to the Financial District and the antique shops of Jackson Square. One gallery displayed Audubon prints and striking botanicals from the Dr. Robert Thornton "Temple of Flora." The full set was only $450,000.

Somewhere during our walk through the Jackson Square area we came upon one of the few buildings saved during the great earthquake and fire. Apparently the A. P. Hotaling Company whiskey distillery escaped destruction in 1906 due to the efforts of a Navy lieutenant and his crew who ran a mile long hose from their ship at Pier 43 over Telegraph Hill to save the building. A quote on the building goes something like this:

If, as they say, God spanked the town
For being over-frisky,
Why did He burn His churches down
And spare Hotaling's whiskey.

At the corner of Jackson and Montgomery we found the William Stout Architecture Book Store. We both grew up with Powell's City of Books in Portland so it is hard to be impressed by a purveyor of books, but there were more books per inch in this store than I have ever seen anywhere. Not just any books. One whole floor of architecture books and a basement filled with decorative arts, graphic design, fine art, interiors, landscape design and urban planning. The person we spoke to at the counter said they sometimes lose track of volumes and are surprised when they find them on the shelf years later. 

After an overload of books we turned onto Columbus Avenue and found La Boulange French bakery in an area known for Italian restaurants. The lunch of lightly dressed greens, hot open faced turkey/dijon/cheese sandwich, and raspberry/strawberry tart was perhaps the most outstanding meal of our trip. Our table facing the street was also a great place for people watching.

With our stomachs pleasantly full, we made our way up Telegraph Hill stopping at alleys and landscaped stairways on our way to Coit Tower. The famous PWAP murals on the walls inside the tower done in 1933 are still impressive. One 10' x 42' scene of California flower, fruit, nut, and wine growers created by Maxine Albro was our favorite. Because of the light crowd and my anything goes on a vacation mind set, Gary even talked me into taking the elevator to the top of the 180 foot tower for a 360 degree view of the city and surrounds.

On our way back to the hotel for a change of clothes Gary engaged the cable car conductor in a conversation about the conductor's participation in an upcoming bell ringing contest. The conductor told Gary the trick is knowing how to make the bell sing.

A visit to San Francisco would not be complete without a drink at the Top of the Mark located on the 19th floor of the elegant Mark Hopkins Hotel atop Nob Hill. The popular bar offers a 360 degree view of the city from windows that rise out of benches at the perimeter uninterrupted by guard rails. I sat on a stool, at a safe distance from the precipice, enjoying my martini and the view while Gary lounged without a care on the bench next to the window. 

An Asian buffet in the Tonga Room of the Fairmont Hotel complete with south sea decor and a tropical rainstorm was followed by a cable car trip back to our hotel for a welcome night's rest for our tired feet. The end of another memorable day in San Francisco. 

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