#13. Write about your travels.
From the moment we landed at the San Francisco International Airport I was overwhelmed with a feeling of happiness. A feeling of knowing that this was where my heart belonged. Maybe it was because this was the first real vacation that my fiancé (I like calling him this…mainly because he doesn’t like being called it) and I had taken together as a couple, or maybe because I had too many on-board drinks during our red eye flight that made me giddy with excitement. Either way, since our engagement in November of 2014, we had been working opposite schedules, passing like ships in the night, never having time to spend together much longer than the occasional meal or kiss goodnight. In fact, we had not really even had the chance to celebrate our engagement or feel excited about making plans for our future wedding. We had been saving up for the past three months, making sacrifices, and working long hours to afford these four days in sunny California, anticipating the time off with each new day, and every moment closer to the date that we spent apart. We had outlined our four days, trying to make the most of our short visit, highlighting all the sights we wanted to be sure not to miss. Among those must see spots we decided to spend a half day at Muir woods, another full day as beach combers in Fisherman’s Wharf and on Alcatraz Island, another day exploring Golden Gate Park, and one final day within the neighborhood of Height and Ashbury.
In the morning, just as the sun began to rise over the Castro District we climbed the hill behind the house we were renting. From the lookout we could see hundreds of houses nestled into the hillsides clumped tightly together and stacked on top of each other like a village in Italy or the Mediterranean. This panoramic view of the park was breathtaking. In all directions you could see a new perspective of the city. In front of us was the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. To the left was the magnificent city skyline and to the right rolling hills and rocky points. We stayed only for a few moments as we had intended to make another trek up the hill later that evening to watch the sunset, though we never did.
That first day we decided not to venture too far outside of the Castro—wanting to gain a true locals perspective of the area. Walking down to the heart of this neighborhood was only a few blocks, but at a constant upward or downward slope it felt like miles. When we arrived at the neighborhood square we crossed the rainbow-colored street and stumbled into a little diner that boasted a similar rainbow flag on its porch.
For breakfast, we ate bacon, eggs, and toast at Orphan Andy’s; a diner whose theme was a spin-off of the classic radio program little orphan Annie. With a gay architype of a cartoon character man featuring dark, hallow eyes, and frizzy, red hair on the menu we expected to be greeted by a lush drag queen named Miss Hannigan as our waitress, but, were pleasantly surprised to find our quick-tongued waiter to be kind and witty in his hospitality. “Hello honey, what can I getcha?” he said, with a smile and a wink as he poured us a couple glasses of water and flashed a teethe grin. Within two shakes of our waiter’s hips our meal was up and ready for delivery. We ate ravenously as we had not eaten anything for dinner the night before, and only snacked on sandwiches we bought from Starbucks while at the airport.
It was later in that same afternoon when we rode the electric cable car through the city to visit Golden Gate Park and the Japanese Tea Gardens. Twisting and turning on its wheels until it reached its destination the cable car wound through the city like a snake slithering in the grass. Riding on these vintage cable cars made us feel like we were on the set of a real Hollywood movie being shot on the back lots of Paramount Studios. From the moment you stepped onto it, it immediately took off even before you found your tiny bucket seat with an individual window that must be hand cranked to open.
We strolled through Golden Gate Park until we found the Carousel. Paying our $2.00 fare we each found our horse and climbed aboard as the music began to play. You know the same familiar tune you hear at carnivals across the country…bah-da-bah-dah-bah-da-bah-da…bah-da-bah-dah-bah-da-bah-da. When the Carousel stopped we continued walking through the park, eventually colliding with a costume marathon happening on its outskirts. Walking among the crowds we made our way to the far end of the park where we found the Japanese Tea Garden. The gardens were a solace place for people to gather and meditate among the perfectly manicured hedges and stone step pathways. Like other visitors, we said a silent prayer with the Buddha statue and reflected on our morning at the peace lantern before circling the various Koi ponds, and admiring the Japanese botanicals growing nearby. Climbing the giant Arch Bridge to the top we struck a few superhero poses for some warranted Instagram selfies!
Exhausted from our long walk through Golden Gate Park we once again climbed aboard another cable car to head toward the ocean. As we neared Land’s End, the smell of the ocean wafted in the air and the sound of a surge of waves crashing against the rocks echoed through the cavernous terrain. Climbing through the rocks and down the steep path cut out from the hillside, we explored the ruins of the Sutro Baths. Deep pools of water filled the baths separating it from the ocean tide and the sandy beaches. Walking through the catacombs of the once grand Sutro bathhouse one could almost imagine families from the early 1900’s spending summer vacations there. But, it was now just a ghostly reminder of the past.
On our second day in San Francisco, we decided to rent a Zipcar and make our way to Muir Woods National Park where we could once again become one with nature. But first, we walked to the Painted Ladies; the Easter-egg colored houses made famous in the 1990’s with the family show “Full House” and the hunk of an uncle, Jesse Katsopolis played by John Stamos. After a few moments of starring at these downward slanting houses and recalling the Full House theme song (google it if you don’t remember!), we walked around the corner to pick up the Zipcar we had reserved. Fastening our seat belts we sped out of the parking lot toward the Golden Gate Bridge.
Fighting the San Francisco traffic leading to the Gold Gate Bridge we inched closer to it, passing by commuters and tourists alike. It was truly an amazing sight to see, as everyone paused briefly to catch a glimpse of its iconic beauty. The bridge, a statuesque figure made of iron and steel sat nestled between both land and sea, like a red phoenix rising from the fog that billowed at its base. Our car sped along the bridge, racing across the bay and into the hills of Sausalito where we would make a quick pit stop for lunch before finishing the trek to Muir Woods National Park.
Upon reaching our destination, we were bewildered by the majesties of the area. The tree tops grew taller than what our eyes could see. If we hadn’t known better, it would appear that the trees were mythical creatures that came to life once every hundred years only to re-root themselves as the earth slept, wrapping around other trees and growing into each other. With our backpacks in tow, every tree became a landmark of sorts, a stopping place for us and other tourists to quickly snap another photo before moving on to the next. It was as if none of us had ever saw a tree before, and that this moment must be documented for a future generation. We took selfie after selfie, shouting back and forth to each other, “look at the trunk on that one” and “quick, come stand over by this one”—As we nestled ourselves deeper into Muir Woods National Park we could admire nature at its best. We ended up wandering for hours up and down winding paths and trails leading us to an even more beautiful redwood tree than the last. The air was different there. Breathable. Not like the cold air that clings to your lungs during a Chicago winter, nor, the dirty, odorous smelling air one might be forced to inhale in the summertime while riding on the train during rush hour. No, the air was fresh and crisp, and breezy all at the same time. I inhaled it, trying to consume it all, as if there were a shortage of it.
TO BE CONTINUED…