California 2007

August 10th – August 24th, 2007.

San Francisco
Friday August 10th: This long awaited trip kicks-off with a 6 hour direct flight from Montreal to SF. We don’t have our car yet but we’ve reserved the Super Shuttle to take us to our Hotel. This will be my third trip to SF, the fourth to California having been to Los Angeles as a child. It’s about a 20 minute hop from the SFO Airport to the Comfort Inn By the Bay (Van Ness corner of Lombard). Our room won’t be ready until 4 PM, so we leave our bags at the reception and walk to the Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s a beautiful day, cool and crisp but sunny (about 60 F or 15 C).

We stop for a late lunch at the Buena Vista Café (2765 Hyde Street) which is famous for its Irish Coffee. The place is packed with tourists and we end up eating hamburgers sitting somewhat uncomfortably at the bar – not exactly a gourmet meal but it hits the spot, particularly since we haven’t eaten anything since this morning.

The rest of the afternoon is spent at a leisurely pace, stretching our legs and just getting fresh air. First a quick walk around Ghirardelli Square enjoying free samples of milk chocolate with caramel. Next, the Maritime National Historical Park where are docked the USS Pampanito, the Balclutha, World War II Liberty Ship SS Jeremiah O’Brien, and other ships. After that we continue to the famous Pier 39 and watch the noisy sea lions basking in the sun. Along the way, a quick stop at the Musee Mecanique, “one of the world’s largest privately owned collections of mechanically operated musical instruments and antique arcade.” In the evening, it’s dinner at the Café Lombard (Lombard Street), right across from our Hotel (we can see it from our 8th floor window, along with the Golden Gate). The Café looks like a dive, but we’re way too tired to go anywhere else. Surprisingly, this restaurant serves excellent Italian fare, so it turned out that appearances can be deceiving. We would definitely go back.

Saturday August 11th:
We wake up and go down to eat, the elevator stopping at each and every floor. Continental breakfast is included at the Comfort Inn but it ends up being a major disappointment. We decide to pass on breaky and go pick up our car at Enterprise instead. I don’t usually go for the bait and switch bullshit – rental companies invariably substitute a more costly (upgraded) car for the one you actually reserved and can afford – but they offer me a hybrid and I’ve been dying to road test one so I can’t refuse: there goes another $10 per day – some of the extra cost will hopefully be offset by its fuel efficiency?

The Toyota Prius is an interesting vehicle – the only car I’ve ever driven that you power on like a PC and shift into Drive or Park using a joystick! It’s comfortable except for this painfully annoying beeping noise when you dump it into reverse, you just don’t get used to it either. We drive a short distance down the coast, past the Cliff House, and on to the San Francisco Zoo which is a pleasant surprise: some very beautiful, well-cared for animals including Lions, and Tigers, and Bears! Oh, my! The Meerkats, Prairie Dogs, and Western Lowland Gorillas are also very cool.

Unfortunately I did not bring a telephoto, so photographing these babies was quite a challenge – can you say crop? After the Zoo we stop to admire the Pacific near Seal Rock (Ocean Beach) – windy as hell with plenty of beach bums flying their colourful kites. In the evening we vote for Italian food in North Beach (Little Italy). We leave the Prius in the Hotel Garage and take the 30 bus at the corner of Chestnut and Van Ness. This is the beginning of a nightly ritual – a mere $1.50 buys you 3 hours of travel time and no worries about parking. You can get off the Muni bus at the corner of Christopher Columbus and Powell (or Union). For Chinatown get off at Stockton. There are plenty of appealing restaurants to choose from.

Tonight it will be the Michelangelo Caffe (570 Columbus Ave) off Washington Square. From here you can see the Coit Tower, TAP (Transamerica Pyramid), and the Saints Peter and Paul Church. I have the Chicken Milanese – excellent – and for dessert the orange sorbet (presented in a frozen orange shell).