On our second day waking up in San Francisco, we still stuck with our Chicago time zone. We went down to the kitchen in the hostel for the complimentary breakfast, which consisted of assorted bagels, cream cheese, fruit, coffee and tea and juice. The kitchen and dining room were big and bright and welcoming. I really enjoyed the hostel, and would definitely stay at a HI Hostel again. We checked out early to rent a car and drive out to Muir Woods. Conveniently, there was a bevy of rental car companies right across the street from the hostel. We had to take the historic Highway 101 across the Golden Gate Bridge and towards Sausalito.
We drove up the twisty turny roads through the mountains to get to Muir. I was gripping the passenger side handle so tightly, with my other hand half covering my eyes. Despite the terrifying drive, we made it. After parking at the visitor center, we paid our $7 a piece entry fee and entered the park. We didn’t have a set plan in mind, so we started down the boardwalk path admiring the regal trees.
Everyone around us was perfectly silent, as if we were in a church, and I suppose we were, in a way. The age and size of these magnificent trees is awe-inspiring and the park is so beautifully maintained that it’s easy to see why people would be stunned into silence upon entering the park. We walked along, crossing over the creek that runs through the trees. Eventually we walked to a fork in the path, one side was the path that we were on and the other was the Fern Path, which circled up through the mountains and back to the visitor center.
It boasted a canopy view of the pines, which sounded promising, so we took it. It turned out to be a 2.5 mile hike total, mostly up hill. I’m not sure we will ever learn the lesson that Chucks are not good shoes to hike in. But as we moved up into the tops of the trees, the view trumped our aching feet and all we could do was stare. It took us two hours to complete the hike, taking breaks here and there for water or to take in the beautiful scenery.
We passed a few other people, but mostly it seemed like we had that particular corner of the forest to ourselves. Once we reached the end of the path, we stopped in the gift shop/café for a snack. I’ve said it before, and I’m positive I’ll say it again, but I’m a sucker for a good gift shop. I never buy anything but I appreciate a gift shop with more than t-shirts and it was fun to browse here.
Once we got our fill, we left the gorgeous park and headed towards Stinson Beach. The drive there was just as treacherous as before, but just so pretty. We made a pit stop at the Muir Beach Overlook and it was like stepping onto a movie set. It was too perfect. We were in the clouds, on a cliff, with the ocean below us and mountains and beaches all around us.
There’s a Jack Kerouac quote that kept going through my head while we were up there – “We were on the roof of America and all we could do was yell, I guess…” That’s how it felt. It was so completely gorgeous that we had to stand there for quite some time before we could leave.
We got back on the road and drove along the cliff and the down the motion sickness-inducing curves to Stinson Beach. There were multiple times we had to pull into the pullouts to let people pass us because we were moving too slowly for the more practiced cliff drivers. We parked at the beach, and walked out into the sand. The beach was a long stretch of pastel, with mountains on three sides of it.
The waves were large and loud and beautiful. There was a cute looking café at one end of the beach, called The Siren Café that we attempted to visit for lunch. Unfortunately, it seemed that it was closed for the season. So we ended up at Parkside Café, which turned out to be pretty cute too. I had the Clam Chowder and Mike had the Cod Club Sandwich, both of which were delicious.
We got a bit lost on the way home, going the wrong way twice before realizing we had to go back up into the mountains to get back to San Francisco. Once we got on the right track, I ogled the view as Mike navigated us through the hills. We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge again and I checked us into our next hotel, Hotel Vertigo, while Mike returned the car. Hotel Vertigo is a Hitchcock inspired boutique hotel with orange accents and a dizzying spiral staircase. Our room was a petit queen and had an amazingly huge shower.
We freshened up and headed back out to tie up our exploration loose ends on our last night in SF. We walked around Union Square a bit before going to dinner at Hops & Hominy, a delightful soul restaurant with a modern twist. We chose to sit outside, seeing it as a last opportunity to do so before enduring the Chicago winter that was waiting for us back home. We had cornbread, the cheese plate (always a good choice, in my eyes) and the chicken wings. The cheese was good and came with delicious accoutrements: glazed walnuts, fig cakes, pears, bread and the best grainy mustard ever made. We enjoyed the dinner and the drinks and made plans for the evening.
After dinner, we walked through Chinatown to see the lanterns lit up at night. Our main destination was City Lights Bookstore again to get the books we were eyeing the first time we were there. I got Allen Ginsberg’s “The Indian Journals” and Mike got “Darkness Spoken” by Ingeborg Bachman. We crossed the alley and entered Vesuvio Café for a drink.
It was such a fun and unique place to have a drink; the walls were cluttered with posters and art, and we sat upstairs where there were booths and mosaic tables. It was there that I decided that we needed to do a Beat Generation tour immediately. We had already hit two influential spots (City Lights and Vesuvio) so we planned it out while we drank, mostly just googling where the Beat writers hung out. After our drinks, we went to The Beat Generation Museum, which was kitty corner from Vesuvio.
The store was on point, and interesting to browse through, but we did not cough up the $8 entrance fee to go into the museum because it was very small and you could virtually see the whole thing from the store. We moved on to Caffe Trieste, in the North Beach neighborhood, which was just a short walk away. Allen Ginsberg was rumored to sit in this café and write. I got a hot chocolate there and tried to soak up all the good creative vibes.
The neighborhood it was in was chock full of unique shops and hip bars, with strings of lights twinkling, crisscrossing over the street. All of shops were already closed for the evening, which did not stop us from walking along and window-shopping. I’m really bummed we discovered this area until late our last night. But, at least we know it’s there for next time. We turned back to walked towards Chinatown, and were hit with the best pizza smell my nose has ever smelled: Golden Boy Pizza.
We were not hungry, but we had to try it. So we got one of their beautiful, rectangular slices with everything on it to share. It was so delicious, well-seasoned and had the perfect amount of crisp. We walked through the eerily quiet city, eating our Pizza and self-navigating back to Union Square. We stopped for one last drink at The White Horse Bar. It was in the Hotel Beresford, right near the Academy of Arts University, so it was mostly populated with college students. But there was shuffleboard and the drinks were cheap so we were content. We stopped one last time before getting to the hotel to get a bottle of wine to celebrate another successful trip. In the morning, we packed up and went to Lori’s Diner for breakfast. The atmosphere was classic 50’s diner, with a Cadillac in the center and pictures of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis on the walls.
The food was just OK, nothing super special. When we were finishing up, a deafening fire alarm went off and continued to go off for ten minutes or so. Apparently it was a drill, but it still left a literal and figurative bad taste in our mouths. We took the BART back to the airport and got through security surprisingly fast. When we got to our gate, I opened “On The Road” and continued reading with a new understanding and appreciation of Mr. Kerouac’s draw to San Francisco.