The Golden City – Part I

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Our time at Sequoia at an end we checked out promptly and made our way out of the park, taking our time and stopping frequently on the off chance that we might spot a bear or two. Although we saw more groundhogs, unfortunately this didn’t happen, which meant our visit was bear–less, but that wasn’t too disappointing as it does mean that they continue to live peacefully and undisturbed as also they retain their status as the best hiders in the forest. Perhaps next time we should take honey…

Returning to the freeways the way we had come, we got on Interstate 5 which traverses the state (and indeed the country) from top to bottom (Mexico to Canada). This particular section in California runs for approximately 150 miles along the bottom of the baking hot San Joaquin valley, which is blessed with having some of the most fertile land in the country and is where 60 of the fruit and veg sold in the US is grown. This is despite both the prolonged drought they have had and the intense heat they get – according to the car thermometer it didn’t drop below 32 Celsius while we were there. The reason it is so productive is all thanks to the California aqueduct system which also runs the length of the state and down the valley delivering millions of gallons of water every day to the people who live in the parched south of the state and also to irrigate the 750,000 acres of farmland.

Leaving the valley behind we drove up and over the mountains which form it’s western flank and descended towards the cities which make up the San Francisco metropolitan area. It was a bit unnerving at first having spent much of the previous fortnight in remote locations and on quiet roads to be suddenly in the midst of heavy urban traffic, fortunately I quickly adjusted and soon we found ourselves being swept along with everyone else.

We entered the city via the 5 miles long San Mateo bridge which is roughly halfway down SF Bay and having found out way to the AirBnB apartment in the College Hill area of the city we decided that as it was getting late we should quit while we were ahead and just chill for the evening.

The next morning we were treated to a rare event in San Francisco, namely blues skies, warm sunshine and barely a breath of wind, so there was only one thing for it – a good walk. Our first stop was to look round a set and prop making business in the southern of the city – of which more later – and once done we drove down to the Embarcadero where the harbour was built. There are still 40 or so of the old quays where ships carrying goods from all around the world would dock to load and unload cargo and with the exception of those used by cruise liners and the tourist and commuter ferries none of the quays operate for ships these days as all the merchant shipping docks at the relatively recently built Port of SF. For the rest, many of the buildings have been converted for other commercial uses such as museums, restaurants and car parks – which has got to be better than being torn down.

Strolling on we saw Alcatraz all on its lonesome in the bay, looking stark, gloomy and every inch the grimmest prison in the country it was reputed to be. We watched the sealions at Pier 39 basking in the sun, pushing and shoving each other about and barking noisily at everyone and no-one. They’ve been in residence at this spot since 1989 and prior to that their ‘home base’ was one of the islands underneath the Oakland Bridge, however on the 15th of October of that year they all suddenly left and started arriving at the Pier. Two days later came the major earthquake which caused a section of the Oakland Bridge to collapse, so the legend now has it that if the sealions leave the harbour, an earthquake is potentially on the cards… For those seismically minded, they were still there when we left and according to seal-cam are there today as well.

Walking on we next paused at the Boudin Bakery at Fisherman’s Wharf, which was founded in 1849 by French immigrants and famed for its sourdough bread as it was very popular with gold prospectors because it stayed fresh for longer than regular bread. There we paused for lunch and had their signature dish – fish chowder served inside a huge sourdough roll – and it was very tasty and very filling 😊

Next stop was the Ghiradelli chocolate shop, another SF institution, which although they no longer produce chocolate on site, they do dish out free samples to anyone visiting the store, automatically qualifying it for extra tourist brownie points in my book.

To finish our day, it had to grabbing a ride on a cable car up and over the hilly streets. With my little bit of local knowledge I knew that if we walked up the route of one of the lines for a couple of stops you can ride for free as passengers are only charged if you board at the beginning of the line – I expect this is less to do with giving freeloaders a happy day and more because the driver is rather more concerned with keeping his car on the cable and braking at the appropriate moments. Thus, as it approached, we stepped out, waved to the driver and boarded; riding it all the way to Union Sq, standing on the side runners and hanging on in the breeze – it felt very very cool.