DM's USA and Japan 2016 Diary

Day 2 - Muir Woods, Sausalito

Sunday, 14 February, 2016

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We are sitting on a tour bus in Muir Woods, waiting for the last stragglers to return to our guided tour. We decided to book this tour for today, to get out of the city a bit and see some new things.

We got up with the alarm at 07:00, dressed quickly and went for breakfast. Before we left, I phoned the tour operator to confirm our pickup time from the hotel. The website said they were open from 07:00 on Sunday, but there was nobody there and I had to leave a message.

We went for breakfast to Cafe Bellini on Powell Street. This was a very shiny and red place, with all the surfaces either mirrors or dark red. I ordered a breakfast bagel, which had ham, egg, provolone cheese, cream cheese, and tomato. It came with crispy fried chunks of potato on the side. M. had a bowl of muesli with yoghurt and fruit. This, plus M.'s coffee, added up to nearly $30!

Breakfast bagel
Breakfast bagel at Cafe Bellini.


After breakfast we popped into Walgreens quickly to get a small bottle of water to carry with us through the day, then returned to the hotel to hopefully pick up our bus tour pickup. We arrived back at 08:15, and I decided to see the concierge to let them know we were expecting a pickup, and to hold the bus for us if it arrived. The lady there rang the company for us and confirmed they had our name and booking, and said the bus would arrive outside on Taylor Street at 8:15. I said, "That's now!" and she said, "Yes."

M. raced up to the room to use the loo before we left, while I stayed downstairs to hold the bus in case it arrived. But after M. left, I realised that the e-voucher for our tickets was on my iPad, which was in the room. So I raced up as fast as I could to get my iPad. By the time we came down again it was 8:25, and we dashed outside. We saw a bus waiting at the far corner of the street and ran down towards it, only to have the driver call from behind us, asking if we were the ones expecting a pickup. He asked our name and their was some confusion as he didn't get the name and we didn't seem to be on his list, but he said just get on and he'll take us to the tour office and they'll sort it out.

We got to the tour office about 8:50, and it was the same one which operated the Napa Valley wine tour we did two years ago. In fact, while were waiting in the rather long queue to have our voucher turned into tour tickets, we spotted Gordy, our driver from that tour! However, when we got to the front of the queue, and gave our name and showed our voucher to the lady at the counter, she said we couldn't get on the Muir Woods tour as it was full! She briefly tried to get us to go on the 2pm tour, but we said that we couldn't because we had an appointment in the afternoon, but then another staff member said that the 2pm tour was also sold out anyway. So she just said sorry, we couldn't go on a tour today! I said we'd booked and paid online for it, and she said the booking agency should have checked to see if it was sold out, and that we'd have to contact them to ask for a refund.

We went outside to try to decide what to do. After discussing for a minute, we agreed that they should at least call the booking company for us and get our money refunded for us, so we went back inside the tour office. Nearly all the people queued behind us had been processed by this time, so we went straight up to a man there. I started explaining what had happened, but he looked at our voucher and said, "Yeah, you're on the tour," and gave us our tickets! The woman at the other counter must have read our name wrong! So it's lucky we went back in.

We were almost the last ones on our bus, giving our tickets to a man with white Einstein-like hair and a Russian accent. He asked us where we were from and when we said Sydney, he said, "Ah, the second most beautiful city in the world!" We took seats just one row from the back on the left side, while we waited for the last one or two people, and then we were off.

Marin view south
View from Marin headland towards San Francisco.

The driver kept up a non-stop patter of information about San Francisco as we drove through the streets and towards the Golden Gate Bridge, but I missed half of what he was saying as the PA speakers were a bit muffled. The weather was brilliant and sunny, with no fog around the bridge at all, which our driver assured us was incredible. Once over the bridge, he took a short detour up the winding road that goes up the hills immediately to the north and east of the bridge, to give us an amazing view back over the bridge towards the city. This wasn't supposed to be part of the tour, but he said the weather was too good to miss the opportunity.

Then we drove to Muir Woods, through the town of Mill Valley. The woods are in a small valley of the hilly Marin headland, and the road down into the valley was narrow and winding. Near the top we passed a deer by the side of the road. We also passed several cars coming back the other way, and the road was in places barely wide enough to allow us to pass. We reached the woods just before 10:40, and the driver said to be back at the bus by 11:40 for departure.

Sun behind redwoods, Muir Woods.

M. and I raced to the entrance and had our Muir Woods tickets ripped so we could go in. We also got guide and map leaflets, and M. asked for one in Italian, saying I could read it as practice. There was a boardwalk trail leading into the forest, upriver along the right bank of a small, clear stream which ran over a bed of large pebbles. At various distances there were bridges across the stream, leading to a return loop trail on the other side. By choosing a bridge you could customise your walking distance and time. Our driver said to cross at either bridge 3 or 4.

Muir stream
Stream in Muir Woods.

We took our time a little, stopping to admire the huge redwood trees at various places along the path, so by the time we reached bridge 3 we determined that we didn't have enough time to continue all the way to bridge 4 and back. So we crossed at 3 did the loop back to bridge 2, where a different return path from bridge 4 rejoined. This path rose up into the hillside above the stream, so we walked along it for a couple of hundred metres or so to get a different view from the stream level paths. After a while we backtracked and took the remainder of the return loop to the entrance.

The forest was beautiful, with several clumps of towering redwoods, amongst some other varieties of trees, ferns, mosses, and ground covering wood sorrel plants. The redwoods weren't as tall and broad as the truly giant ones we'd seen further north on our trip in 2004, but it was still good to get out into the fresh air of nature, away from the city for a bit.

Giants in the Earth
Giant redwoods.

There were quite a lot of people there, and once we rejoined the bus and started driving out, we were amazed at how many cars were around, jostling for parking. They lined the side of the road for several kilometres, squeezed into every available spot on the grass, between trees, and on slopes that tipped precariously down into the adjacent stream. Eventually we rejoined a main road and continued our tour into Sausalito.

Again we were supposed to have an hour stop to allow us to get some lunch, before returning to the bus for a return to San Francisco by 2pm, this being only a half-day tour. But the driver told us we could catch the ferry back instead if we wanted, as long as we let him know we weren't going to rejoin the bus. We opted to do this, to give ourselves a more leisurely time in Sausalito.

This was fortunate, because we found an Italian cafe called Taste of Rome, and by the time our order arrived it was almost time for the bus to go! The cafe was very busy and had a huge backlog of orders. M. got a toasted bagel with cream cheese while I chose the "Margherita" panini, which had mushrooms, tomato, fresh mozzarella, and some grilled capsicum on it. It came with either fries or a salad, so I chose the salad. M. also got a latte to drink. The food was okay, but nothing special.

We'd bought ferry tickets as soon as we got off the bus, for $11:50 each, and checked the ferry times. Our options were 14:10 or 15:50, to give us time to make our dinner booking at 18:30 at Velvet Cantina. After eating, it was getting close to 14:00 already, so we decided to wait for the 15:50 ferry, to give ourselves time to look around a bit. We walked to the jewellery shop where M. had bought a custom made bracelet off the lady who makes them two years ago, but her shop was closed for Sunday. Next we went to Lappert's ice cream shop, where there was a small queue of people waiting to buy ice cream. I got a cup of "date casablanca" flavour, which had date pieces and caramel swirls in it. It was really good.

Sea lions and rocks
Sea lions and balancing rocks, Sausalito.

We wandered slowly down the street to the vicinity of the ferry terminal. A man there was balancing rocks by the side of the road, making impressive looking sculpted towers, and selling photos of his creations. There were a few sea lions flopping lazily in the water nearby. Eventually we went to the ferry wharf, where there was a queue of at least 100 people, maybe 150 or more, waiting already, plus another huge queue of people with bicycles in a separate line. The ferry arrived and after letting passengers off it began loading the bicycle passengers first. This took quite some time, and people in the queue around us were talking nervously about the possibility of not getting on because the ferry would be full. But eventually the foot passenger queue began moving and we climbed aboard after all the others ahead of us. The ferry was a bit crowded, but there was still space to walk around between clumps of standing people.

It took us back to the Ferry Building in San Francisco, where we got off. We first went out and across the road to see the remains of the Sunday market, which was just beginning to pack up. After looking at a few things here we returned to the Ferry Building to look at the various gourmet shops in there until they started closing around 17:00. M. bought a couple of large salted caramel chocolate toffees for a snack, and they were very nice.

Mission Street evening
Mission Street evening, corner of 21st Street.

We walked to the Embarcadero BART station and hopped on a train to 24th Street and Mission. The sun was setting as we walked up Mission Street for a bit, absorbing the sights of the neighbourhood and taking photos. We checked out a western shop, which had cowboy style clothing and boots, which was pretty fun. A bit after 18:00 we arrived at Velvet Cantina, where we had our dinner booking.

A man led us to a tiny table in the second room behind the bar. This table was a bit disappointing, so we asked if we could move to a booth when another couple left the one they had been occupying. The waiter said that was actually ideal, as he needed the little table to add to another one to make a bigger table, so we moved and spread out into the much more comfortable booth. We ordered house margaritas each, then M. chose the "naked relleno" which was a vege dish, while I had fish tacos. M. had black beans with hers while I had pinto beans; there was also refried beans as a third option. The food was all good. M. tried a Velvet margarita for a second drink, while I had a Negra Modelo beer, which was a nice dark style.

Fish tacos
Fish tacos, Velvet Cantina.

After eating, we caught the train back to Powell Street to return to our hotel for the night.

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