Monday, December 12, 2011

San Francisco: On The Waterfront

Situated on a peninsula, San Francisco is surrounded on three sides by water that has played a large part in the city's history and development. Bounded by the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, water is still important to the people of San Francisco. Fishing and crabbing have been major industries dating back to the early days when Italian immigrants developed the fishing industry at the time of the Gold Rush. It was common, though, for fishermen to receive a portion of the catch as payment. They were then on their own to sell this seafood for cash. Fishing fleets are still an important part of the local economy. A port city, San Francisco has seen war ships head west to battle foreign countries. And huge container ships bring goods in from distant ports. 

Dungeness crabs for sale! I can attest that they are delicious.
Think of all the goods in the containers on this ship. I wondered from what foreign ports they came.
A view of the bay showing lots of sailboats out for a day on the water. In the distance you can see the Golden Gate Bridge.
First I saw this statue of sea lions. What I didn't understand until a bit later is that sea lions bask in the sunshine on platforms in the water.
Here are the live sea lions that bark and frolic in the sun.
Fisherman's Wharf is visited by thousands and thousands of tourists each year.

On Pier 39 you can have a lot of fun.

I watched this performer juggle flaming batons.

Here you can have a cartoon of your face made.

There were so many street performers I lost count. This man wailed the blues and drew a crowd.

Painting for an audience ... that's an interesting way to make money. All the performers had prominent tip containers with signs to please drop in money.

There were lots of street vendors hawking their wares.
This bakery has been in business since the mid 1800s. My guide said that they have kept the sourdough starter alive since the beginning and continue to make bread today.

This man, making sourdough bread, captured my attention. He's making bread in large quantities, not just a few loaves at a time. The bread he makes may be used as soup bowls.
While all things related to being a seacoast town are evident in San Francisco, today Fisherman’s wharf has also become a major tourist attraction. Pier 39 is part of this area and contains a rabbit’s warren of shops, restaurants, and other attractions. A meal of fresh seafood is a few steps in any direction. Popular treats that can be seen eaten on the streets are sourdough bread bowls filled with steaming clam chowder and Dungeness crab.

On this pier you can  buy a ticket for a ferry ride around the bay.
I didn't buy a ferry ticket but I enjoyed watching the ferry as it zoomed across the water.

A free museum! What could be better?

Ancient arcade machines were on display in the museum. The museum was free but the machines were not.

I saw about 100 machines, but was drawn to this old fellow.
From the pier you can see Alcatraz Island. It used to house a maximum security prison that was escape-proof because even though it looks like a short swim to the mainland, the water is too cold and treacherous.

This World War II submarine was on display. Large signs told about the sailors who lived on board while fighting for their country.

I saw this sign and wondered how many people sign up to sleep on the old submarine. Would you?
Guess who built this World War II ship. Women did! So many men were off fighting the war that women took over factory work. This was the first time that women, en masse, worked outside the home.
Now on land, this "ark" was once a houseboat that was docked on the water.
At one time the only way across the bay was by ferry.
Efforts are underway to preserve boats. This man is working on a restoration project.

An amazing story accompanied this vessel. In 2009, two men rowed this boat from Japan to San Francisco, a trip of 5,000 miles. It took 189 days. They had to take turns rowing around the clock and almost ran out of food.
The weather was quite cool, so I was surprised to see so many people out swimming.The bay water is frigid.

As I walked along taking in the sights, a man frightened me. It turns out I’m not alone as he has been doing this for 30 years and has become famous because of it! He is a street performer called The World Famous Bushman. He sits crouched on the sidewalk hidden behind some evergreen branches. As an innocent victim walks by, he jumps out from behind the branches while making a menacing sound. I let out a little shriek when he startled me, and he laughed raucously.

All in all, my time in San Francisco was far too short. But I greatly enjoyed every minute of my stay. I highly recommend it as a historical and picturesque place to visit. No matter what your interests are, you can find pleasant diversions in this lovely city by the sea.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

San Francisco: The City By The Bay

Carefully consider the three photos above. What do they tell you about San Francisco? Did you guess that the city is built on hills with steep streets? What you can’t tell from the photos is the number of people who reside here. A congested city with over 18,000 people per square mile, San Francisco is home to 800,000 residents. Because of this, houses are crowded together and many people live in apartment buildings. In the mid 1800s, though, only 500 people populated the city. The Gold Rush of 1849 drew throngs of people west and in one year, the total population soared to more than 25,000. San Francisco continues to grow and expand as people are drawn to the area. Tourists, too, flock to the City by the Bay, as it is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world.

When you have so many people in a relatively small area, mass transportation becomes a must. Even in the late 1800s, San Francisco had cable cars, but early ones were pulled by horses. In addition to cable cars there are buses and trains. BART—Bay Area Rapid Transit—has trains that speed people to where they need to go.
BART train
San Francisco is famous for its cable cars.
This unusual structure is the Trans America Pyramid. Built in 1972, for a time it was the tallest building in the west. If you see the Trans America building stretching high above the city, you know you are in San Francisco.
For many reasons, 1967 was called the Summer of Love. More than 100,000 young people descended into the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. Several famous musicians lived in the area, too. Because of the Summer of Love, mainstream America became aware of the Hippie movement, which espoused peace and love and demanded an end to the Vietnam War.

For a time, this was the happening place to be.
 Early residents of San Francisco included both Domingo Ghirardelli, a chocolate maker and Levi Strauss who came west to make tents. Strauss quickly realized that there was more money to be made manufacturing sturdy pants for miners to wear out of his denim tent fabric. Then he strengthened the pants by adding rivets at the pockets so that the pockets wouldn’t tear. Both products are still popular all these years later. It is likely you have eaten Ghirardelli chocolate or have worn a pair of Levis.
This pair of early Levi jeans is about 100 years old. Do they still look like this today?
These pretty old Victorian homes are built very close to each other because land is at a premium. They are called the Painted Ladies and are famous in San Francisco. Even a relatively small, simple house can cost half a million dollars or more. These larger houses are much more expensive.
San Francisco's City Hall, one of the most attractive in the nation.
Outside of Asia, San Francisco has the largest Chinatown and the oldest in North America. Sometimes called a city within a city, the residents of Chinatown retain their language, culture and customs.
If you get tired of walking, you ca always hire a rickshaw to take you where you want to go.
As I walked around San Francisco, I began to see Santa Clauses everywhere. At first, I figured it was seasonal workers on the way to their jobs. Then I saw hordes of them and then a city park filled with hundreds of Santas. Finally, it was explained to me that one day every year thousands of San Francisco's residents dress up like Santa for a day and then parade around town. I couldn't believe how many Santas I saw, and I wondered what little children must think.  
This is one example of a building decorated with art work. I saw many.
In the heart of the city sits Union Square, a lovely gathering place. But it also is often the site of protests and there happened to be one going on when I visited the park, which was also decked out for the holidays. The next four photos show Union Square as it was on the day I visited it. In the center was a large holiday tree decorated and lit. The palms trees were festooned with white lights and when the breeze blew the palm fronds swayed back and forth. And there were the crowds of demonstrators. Why are people protesting across America this fall? What are the issues that are being debated? What does the Constitution say about our right to assemble? Look at the last two photographs and see if you can figure out what the issues are that are being brought to the city's attention.
In 1906 San Francisco was destroyed by a powerful earthquake. As buildings fell, gas lines were ruptured creating massive fires that burned for days. About 75% of the city was in ruin and half of the residents left homeless. Tent cities quickly sprang up. But the people of San Francisco were not defeated, and the city was rapidly rebuilt. Earthquakes are still a threat to the area. The last major one occurred in 1989. Now buildings are constructed so that they have a better chance of surviving an earthquake, and the Golden Gate Bridge has been upgraded to make it more resilient in the event of a quake.

Friday, December 9, 2011

California’s San Francisco

A view from the Pacific Coast Highway. The ocean you see is, of course, the Pacific.
If you drive north from Los Angeles to San Francisco, you can take the Pacific Coast Highway, one of the most scenic byways in our country. The road winds along the western border of California hugging the coast providing lovely scenic vistas. At one point I stopped to see the elephant seals basking in the warm winter sun. I was surprised by how many of these behemoths were beached by the Pacific Ocean. Huge animals, males can weigh 5,000 pounds. Torpedo shaped to better glide through the water, they are covered with thick blubber that insulates them from icy waters. Their faces have sensitive whiskers, which help them locate prey. The elephant seals' birthing and breeding season stretches from December to March. This explains why they were beached rather than swimming in the ocean.
The sun sets over the Pacific Ocean.
Elephant seals basking in the sun on a Pacific beach.
This gal may way as much as 1,500 pounds.
The opening of San Francisco Bay into the Pacific Ocean is called the Golden Gate. At one time the only way across the bay was by ferry, but in 1935 construction began on a bridge that would span the bay making the trip from San Francisco to the other side much easier. When the Golden Gate Bridge opened two years later it quickly became one of the most famous and easily recognized bridges in the world. Some think it is the prettiest. Do you?
The Golden Gate Bridge connects San Francisco with Marin County.
A view of San Francisco from the Marin County side.
John Muir said this about the John Muir National Monument: "The best tree-lovers monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world." 
Set among hills and often blanketed by fog, San Francisco is a feast for the eyes. Just north of the city across the Golden Gate Bridge is Muir Woods, named for conservationist John Muir, who worked tirelessly to save the redwood trees. In 1908 President Theodore Roosevelt signed legislation creating Muir Woods National Monument one day before axes were coming to cut down the majestic redwoods. These tallest living things can live for 1000 years and reach enormous heights. Some coastal redwoods are almost as tall as a football field is long and have a circumference of 45 feet. Only their cousins, the giant redwoods, grow taller. Surprisingly, the roots of the trees are only 10-12 feet deep. So, why don’t the trees fall over? Because the roots extend up to 100 feet in all directions and form an intertwined web. My car can hold 16 gallons of gas, but one coastal redwood tree can hold up to 15,000 gallons of water taking in 300-600 gallons each day. It takes 24 hours for water to travel from the roots to the top of the tree. Each coastal redwood grows about 2-3 feet per year in height. The tree bark is quite thick ensuring that the giant trees can survive forest fires. They are impervious to insects because of the tannic acid stored in the trunks making the trees too bitter for most insects to like. It is estimated that some of the trees in the Muir Woods are about 1000 years old. In the event that a coastal redwood falls over, it will take 800 years for it to rot. Because of this, the wood is prized for building material. But the trees in Muir Woods are protected. No one can come and cut them down. Instead they remain for all of us to marvel at and treasure. 
A majestic coastal redwood. The tree is too tall to photograph in entirety.
Coastal redwoods grow in groups. This stand of trees is hundreds and hundreds of years old.
Another stand of redwood trees
Coastal redwood trees have thick bark that protect them from fire.
This cross section is from a tree that was 900 years old. You can click on it to make it larger and read the various events noted in the tree rings.