USA/Japan diary, day 7

Friday, 19 February, 2016. 16:45

We set no alarm this morning, which resulted in us sleeping in until about 8:30. M. showered and then I went down to get some milk and yoghurt for breakfast. We took it easy preparing for the day, and didn’t leave the room until just after 10:00. While getting the breakfast things, I stopped at the concierge desk to ask if Coit Tower had reopened after the renovations it was undergoing a couple of years ago. He said yes, and when I said I’d been to San Francisco several times but never gone to Coit Tower, he said, “Oh, you have to!” He scribbled on a tourist map the best way to walk up Telegraph Hill, via the relatively gently slope of Lombard Street, and then to go down the hill via the Filbert Street steps, which he said went through some beautiful gardens.

Mara's Italian Pastry
Mara’s Italian Pastry.

So we left to walk there, via North Beach to pop into Mara’s Italian Bakery again for a morning pastry and a coffee for M. She chose an almond biscotto and a cappuccino, while I noticed that they had something very much like a vanilla slice in the display cabinet, so I got one of those. The man behind the counter called it a Napolitana when M. asked for one, and it was pretty good. (I have a detailed review here on my vanilla slice review blog.)

After this relaxing start to the day, we headed towards Lombard Street, but soon spotted a hat shop called Goorin Brothers, which enticed us in to look and try on some hats. They seem to specialise in soft felt hats, with dozens of varieties and colours. I liked a brass father hat pin which was on one lady’s hat, but the hat itself didn’t suit M. Instead she gravitated towards a rounded blue one, and wanted to buy it. Then I noticed that there was a display of hat pins and you could buy the brass feather separately! So I suggested getting it to add to the hat. The friendly guy assisting us also suggested adding a real feather from the wide selection of shapes and colours they had available, and put the combination together professionally to make a good overall effect. So M. bought the hat, which will do nicely as a winter fashion hat to keep the sun off a bit.

Goorin Bros.
Goorin Brothers Hats.

From there we walked over to Lombard Street and up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower. The hill wasn’t too bad, with a few steps leading up a path to the top of the tree covered hill. As we climbed we saw a sign saying that coyotes had been seen in the area. This seemed rather amazing, as this tiny hill is a remote island of parkland surrounded on all sides by block after block of urban buildings. How a population of coyotes got here is quite beyond me.

The concierge at the hotel had said that we could climb the stairs inside Coit Tower for free. We saw a queue of people waiting to buy tickets to go up in the lift, but we searched for the stairs instead. Not finding any in the fairly small ground floor lobby area, I asked the man selling tickets, and he said that the only way up was in the lift. So we bought tickets for $8 each and waited in a queue to enter the lift. While waiting we admired some of the murals of Californian historical scenes painted on the inside walls.

Orange picking
Coit Tower mural.

Eventually the lift arrived and we got in with about six other people and the operator, who chatted to us as she took us up the slow ride to the top. When we got out, we climbed two flights of spiral stairs to the viewing platform, which was a single round room about six or seven metres across, with windows looking out over the city in all directions. Most of the windows had the glass panes locked closed, but a few were open to allow unobstructed photography. The wind was fairly strong and cold, so it was good that only a few windows were open. About twenty tourists milled around, with plenty of room for everyone. A very friendly and enthusiastic older lady was staff, and offered to take photos of anyone who had a camera on them. She seemed to know a good deal about photography, as she got people to pose in carefully selected positions and poses, with good lighting and scenery, and even directed them like fashion models as she shot. I gave her my Canon 5D Mark II with the fixed 50mm lens, and she said, “Oh, this is what we call manual zoom,” as she took a few steps backwards to frame a shot of me and M.

Golden Gate and Marin headland
View from top of Coit Tower towards Golden Gate Bridge.

After maybe fifteen minutes enjoying the views, we went back down the spiral stairs to wait for the next lift down. At the bottom we did a full circuit of the lobby to check all of the murals, before leaving to see the view from the car park area outside. Then we headed to the Filbert Street steps that the concierge had recommended. These were indeed marvellous, descending first on concrete steps, and then on wooden boardwalk steps, through a beautiful series of gardens which cascaded down the eastern side of Telegraph Hill. Houses lined the sides of the steps, and each had a yard facing the steps, planted with all manner of trees, shrubs, flowers, fruit, and perhaps some vegetables. It was gorgeous, and descended a long way down the steep hill, depositing us finally on the flat ground at the back of Levi’s Plaza.

Filbert Street steps
Descending the Filbert Street steps.

Levi’s Plaza is so named presumably because it is home to the corporate headquarters of Levi Strauss, the jeans manufacturer which was founded in San Francisco. We stopped by the modern office building of about eight storeys rising in stepped back levels to sit for a minute and have the apples we’d bought yesterday. Inside the foyer of the Levi’s building was an historical display of the company and its products over the years, as well as a small retail store. M. went in first to have a look while I ate my apple outside, then I went in for a look while she ate hers.

After our snacks, we walked across to the Embarcadero turned right to head down to the Ferry Building, where M. said she’d grab a coffee. We stopped briefly at the Exploratorium to browse in the gift shop there, amid the cool and fun science toys and other stuff they have. As we walked from there to the Ferry Building, it began raining, first a very slight drizzle that was barely noticeable, but building up ever so slightly heavier as we progressed. By the time we got to the Ferry Building we were glad to get in out of the now moderately heavy drizzle, though it was still not really fully fledged rain.

Burrata, bread, wine
Wine, bread, burrata in the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant wine bar.

In the Ferry Building we decided to sit and rest for a while and sample some local Californian wines at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant wine bar. We went in and got a small table with bar stool seats. M. chose to sample two taster glasses of a Sauvignon blanc and a pinot noir, while I chose a single full sized glass of Riesling. To go with it, we considered the range of cheese platters on the menu, but they all seemed quite large and expensive. But we saw a blackboard offering “burrata and bread” for $10, so chose that. The burrata was a creamy, slightly lumpy mass on a plate, drizzled with olive oil and a touch of salt, and the bread a fairly plain white batard broken into two pieces. With the burrata spread on it, it was delicious, and all of the wines we declared very good too. So this was a nice relaxing way to spend some time sheltering from the rain, enjoying some local produce.

After the wine and cheese it was about 15:30, and we wanted to get back to the hotel so M. could prepare to leave for the airport. M. grabbed a coffee from Blue Bottle in the Ferry Building, but when we checked outside the rain had gotten heavier, and we didn’t have any protection from it. We decided to dash across the street to the trolley car stop and catch the F line trolley car back to Powell Street. But we needed change for the tickets. Fortunately there was a tourist information desk near the Ferry Building main entrance, and the lady there was happy to give us change for a $5 note.

We dashed out in the rain, just missing one trolley, but the next one arrived within a couple of minutes. This was fortunate because even though the trolley stop was covered, the rain was swirling around in the wind and the roof above us was basically offering very little protection from it. The trolley ride was good though, taking us to Fifth Street, where we walked the short way back to the hotel, mostly under the cover of an office building with a colonnade around two sides.

Egg rolls
King of Thai Noodle House egg rolls.

M. had a final shower before packing her luggage for the flight home. We had a bit of spare time to just relax before heading out for an early dinner. We went to the King of Thai Noodle House behind Macy’s, where we’ve eaten before last time we were in San Francisco. There wasn’t a plain vegetable stir fry on the menu, so M. asked if they could make one, and the waitress was a bit confused about what M. wanted with the vegetables, until she asked “mixed vegetables?” and M. said yes. I tried the crab fried rice, and we also got a serve of three egg rolls, which arrived well after the main meals, but that was okay. The food was all delicious.

We went back to the hotel room for final packing and then we went to travel to the airport on the train. We got there about 19:45, and M. checked in at the self service counter, since she had a prebooked premium economy seat back to Sydney. Then we wandered up and down the terminal a bit before she left through security, and I trekked back to the hotel for my last night here in the city.

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