Muir Woods and Sonoma Valley

We made a quick stop at the Zoo in SF so we could get a pic (this really was just so Karen could conclude her ‘dream’ experience). Unfortunately we didn’t have time to ‘do the zoo’ because we wanted to visit Muir Woods on our way to Sonoma Valley.

SF zoo

On our way out of SF we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge, it was bright and sunny today so had we been on a bike I think we would have enjoyed the views very much. We still recommend cycling over – it is the best way to experience the bridge and the views.

odd view of the GG bridgeView over GG bridge

So, Muir Woods – WOW! what an enchanting place. The trees are staggeringly tall and the Monument Park is a joy to walk around. It can be quite serene, although we went on a busy sunday so at times it was a bit noisy.

If you get a chance to visit then do. On the road in it said the parking lots were full and to use the shuttle, however we managed to find parking on the road nearby (people are leaving throughout the day – so it is possible to find a space). For those English drivers – you will get a ticket anywhere in the US if you park facing the wrong way (they say you have gone against the flow of traffic). We saw a ticket being placed on a car for this reason, so the wardens are really tough on it. We weren’t aware of this rule until Josh in SF alerted us (very grateful to Josh).

Karen hugging a very large redwood.
Karen hugging a very large redwood.
Redwood, Muir Woods
Redwood, Muir Woods

Dominic and redwoodsselfie with tree tops

If you look hard you might be able to see two deer grazing.
If you look hard you might be able to see two deer grazing.

From the Muir Woods it is just a quick trip to the Sonoma Valley, although the traffic can get quite heavy as you approach the Napa and Sacramento turn off. Fortunately we were heading left to Sonoma (the less well-known and so therefore less commercial of the two wine valleys). We arrived at Gaige House to a fantastic greeting of a cheese and wine reception – ‘best welcome to a hotel we’ve experienced’, for obvious reasons! The hotel is really nice, picturesque grounds, lots of trees, and a chilled vibe.

Gaige house Sonoma b Gaige House Sonoma

We chatted to some of the other guests over a few glasses of wine and then headed into the village for a meal. We ate a delicious steak frites at the Fig Cafe, and sampled a flight of four reds, our favourite was the 2013 Cline Cellars’ Mourvedre.

Flight of reds

After that, and all the cheese we had already consumed, we realised we needed a lie-down. Looking forward to a full-day of Sonoma tomorrow.

Days 8-10 Karen and Dom’s US road trip. San Francisco.

Friday morning, and we awake to San Francisco shrouded in its perennial fog. What a change from the sweltering temperatures we enjoyed in Southern California!

The city is at its best from a distance, but that means exercise: climbing one of the many hills to view it from above (perhaps from Alamo Square, where the postcard-famous “Painted Ladies” houses are, or perhaps from Lombard Street, the most wiggly street in the city). Or you can view the waterfront skyline of the city from the Bay, from where it looks dynamic and charismatic, or even from the Bridge, which of course is an experience in itself.

A row of houses called the painted ladies. The houses are a bit over-rated, but the view from Alamo square beyond the 'ladies' is pretty impressive.
A row of houses called the painted ladies. The houses are a bit over-rated, but the view from Alamo square beyond the ‘ladies’ is pretty impressive.

We’ve been staying in The Grove Inn and the people here have been really helpful and friendly. We would definitely recommend the hotel. Josh can’t do enough to make sure that we have all the advice we need, and we haven’t felt at all threatened being here, so fortunately our taxi driver on the first evening must have been a bit OTT with his warnings about the area. These ladies are just a stone’s-throw away.

We had to visit Haight-Ashbury, though it’s lost a lot of its flower-power appeal. You can buy plenty of tie-dye shirts in the shops, but the street corner is now dominated by a Ben and Jerry’s. It feels like all the soul that is left here is in its patchouli and nicotine stained fingernails, rather like Camden.

Dom at Haight-Ashbury. Looking for his inner-hippie (he hasn't found it...)
Dom at Haight-Ashbury. Looking for his inner-hippie (he hasn’t found it…)
The most wiggly road...Lombard st.
The most wiggly road…Lombard st.

Down at the tourist packed piers, you can escape the crowds and noisy buskers for an alternative form of entertainment. Musee mecanique is like a Victorian Amusement Arcade. You just need plenty of quarters…

Dom has a look at a Victorian peep show.
Dom has a look at a Victorian peep show. There were only giggles….
The Laughing Sailor. We've seen one of these before at the museum in Portsmouth, U.K.
This Sailor is called Jolly Jack. We’ve seen one of these before at the museum in Portsmouth, U.K.
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Think this young lady is called Laffing Sal. What a picture!
Fishing boat at pier 47. This is where you see the real work. It's not as touristy as pier 39.
Fishing boat at pier 47. This is where you see the real work. It’s not as touristy as pier 39.
We had a good brunch here.
We had a good brunch here.

One of the reasons we decided to come to S.F is because of a dream that Karen had about 18 years ago. Karen’s nanny (Rita Wise) was on her death bed, but one night Karen dreamt that they both flew to S.F, under the Golden Gate Bridge and then visited the zoo. It was a peculiarly uplifting and warm dream. A couple of days later she died, but Karen remembered the jumper that she was wearing in the dream, and has always wanted to come to S.F and bring her nanny’s jumper with her – a sort of revisiting for them both. Flying under the bridge is somewhat impractical, so we decided to bike it instead. You can see Karen in her nanny’s jumper in these pics.

So, we are cycling SF today. Once Dom has struggled with his head gear.
So, we are cycling SF today. Once Dom has struggled with his head gear.
Karen wearing Nanny Rita's jumper on the way to GG bridge.
Karen wearing Nanny Rita’s jumper on the way to GG bridge.

In the rather charming village of Sausalito you can see Bill Dan working with stones to make these incredible sculptures that appear to defy gravity. You can see his stuff on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/user/bebalance . Sausalito is a must-see destination – even if it’s just to look back over the landscape, and as you can see, when SF over the bay is grey and misty, this little village is a beautiful sun-trap. It comes with the large numbers of tourists that also think this place is worth a visit…but if you cycle about you can probably find a quiet spot (interestingly, you can’t just lock your bikes up here…you have to park them with a valet…at the cost of about $2 or $3 – that perhaps shows you how up-market this spot is).

sculptures at Sausalito.
sculptures at Sausalito.
Dominic on GG bridge looking out towards Sausalito.
Dominic on GG bridge looking out towards Sausalito.
View from the ferry from Sausalito to S.F Ferry building. In the background you can see the GG bridge and Alcatraz.
View from the ferry from Sausalito to S.F Ferry building. In the background you can see the GG bridge and Alcatraz.
So this is the less infamous Bay Bridge. Still pretty cool, but doesn't get the attention of it's cousin the Golden Gate. Both built the same year - 1937.
So this is the less infamous Bay Bridge. Still pretty cool, but doesn’t get the attention of it’s cousin the Golden Gate. Both built the same year – 1937.

A quick visit to Union square provided more interesting stories for us as we had a mooch about this classic hotel.

So, this is one of the landmark hotels in Union square. It also happens to be the hotel where Fatty Arbuckle had his infamous wild party, and poor Virginia Rappe lost her life. As it happens we discovered Al Jolson also died here of a heart attack in 1950.
So, this is one of the landmark hotels in Union square. It also happens to be the hotel where Fatty Arbuckle had his infamous wild party, and poor Virginia Rappe lost her life. As it happens we discovered Al Jolson also died here of a heart attack in 1950.
This hotel has several stories...it would seem.
This hotel has several stories…it would seem.

We’ve had some really memorable moments in San Francisco. We caught up with friends in Glen Park (thanks Helen and Leslie for delicious pizza and a delightful evening), we enjoyed our cycle ride, and we were pleased to discover some of SF’s charms.

But even so, we’ll leave San Francisco with reservations about the city. The centre part of the city is a big disappointment. Downtown is dirty, with its aging buildings faded and peeling;  all over the city the traffic is congested, even though the area is well-served by public transport; the Embarcadero down by the seafront is commercialized beyond excess; and most distressing are the hundreds of down-and-outs sleeping rough in the streets or pushing their belongings around in trolleys. Junkies shoot up in City Hall Park just metres away from newly-married couples posing for photos on the steps. Tramps sleep all over the place; the city teems with the mentally ill or dispossessed; and even in the more artistic quarters like Hayes Valley, demoralized twenty-somethings mooch dolefully over their drinks. San Francisco seems like a city that has lost hope. It’s one of the most eye-opening places we’ve seen in many trips to America. Obama, what are you doing? If there is ever a city that should demand an answer to this question, then it is SF. There should be so much hope here, but we struggled to find it, and our thoughts are that the American system is letting these people down, and the government needs to sort that out.

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Day 3: Los Angeles

You can’t visit LA without doing Hollywood, so we had to go up and see the Hollywood sign, of course: finding a sneaky route up through Griffith Park gives you loads of great views. But for us, Hollywood is most resonant because of Fatty Arbuckle the silent comedian, whose career took a nose-dive after a sex scandal in the 1920s. In 2009 we put on a show called “Sweet FA“, which was all about Fatty and the girl who threw herself off the Hollywood sign, Peg Entwistle. So for us, it wasn’t the Hollywood Walk of Fame that called, but instead Fatty’s house on 649 West Adams Boulevard, a mock-tudor mansion that is now an unassuming college home for Bible students (so Dominic’s going in…).

Dominic outside what was Fatty Arbuckle's front door.
Dominic outside what was Fatty Arbuckle’s front door.
Fatty Arbuckle's once-upon home at 649 West Adams Boulevard. Fatty lived here until he had to let it go after his court case in the early 1920s
Fatty Arbuckle’s once-upon home at 649 West Adams Boulevard. Fatty lived here until he had to let it go after his court case in the early 1920s

Hollywood sign

Gotta have a Hollywood selfie!
Gotta have a Hollywood selfie!

We also took a drive out to Venice Beach. Although we were extremely lucky to find some free parking, you could be looking at about 20-35 dollars to park, the beach and the vibe wasn’t really our cup of tea. A bit too much like Skegness at home – although way busier! Some will love the full-on hectic atmosphere, but we were most impressed by this painted house just before you reach the beach.

House near Venice beach
A painted wall near Venice beach.

This is as close as we got to the centre of L.A. Lots of buildings are going up, it’s interesting how they have bunched all the skyscrapers together. Maybe to make the skyline impressive, or something to do with all the hills around L.A (?)

Bit of a building site.
Bit of a building site.

This pic had to go in the blog: great signs in the US!

Yield when flashing
Yield when flashing

Finished up our day with dinner, although we had to leave the Bachi Burger restaurant in Old Pasadena because we didn’t have any I.D with us and they thought Karen was underage (having recently just turned 40!). It would have been flattering if the manager had not been so officious in his manner. So we left. Thankfully, that terrible customer service was balanced by the wonderful reception we found at the California Pizza Kitchen on N. Los Robles Ave. Our hostess Sandi was super, and gave us lots of tips for the rest of our trip. Great food here as well, and really pleasant to be able to dine outside just a stone’s throw from our hotel.