Farewell, San Francisco

Ah, San Francisco - I wouldn't quite say I lost my heart there as the song goes, but I now have a lot of affection for this wonderfully varied and extremely liveable (and yes, incredibly hilly!) city.

I thought I'd be bored by month two in San Francisco. I thought I'd be more than ready to move south, with the late afternoon fog and just-too-cool ocean breeze finally becoming a nuisance by the time we got into October. Truth be told, when we planned this whole trip I didn't expect to like San Francisco anywhere near as much as I did - after all, I'm a southern California girl at heart, with my first introduction to the golden state being San Diego (which is pretty much as far south as you can go), right? I'd visited San Francisco a few times before, and after Alcatraz and the sea lions at Pier 39 (oh yes, and a couple of interesting bridges), I thought I'd be pretty much over the place. But I was blissfully wrong. When the time came to leave I waved farewell to a city where I could see myself living quite happily, marking a glorious turnaround from that first week when I felt so uneasy (remember that?).

So how did we spend this second month? Well, for our final three weeks in San Francisco we had the magical gift of grandparents - hurrah! Mr H's folks came and stayed with us which gave the kiddies plenty of people to play with / be waited on by, and most excitingly, allowed me and Mr H to go out on our own to do things we simply couldn't do with the littlies in tow. I think it was as early as our visitors' second night that we nipped out to go to some local bars, which was lots of fun. The area we were living in (Pacific Heights) is a really vibrant suburb, with plenty of people in their twenties and thirties out in the various bars in the evenings, so it was great to be able to see that side of San Francisco - as well as simply enjoying chatting without being interrupted every three minutes for some crisis resolution such as locating a missing dinosaur toy or meeting a desperate need for a glass of apple juice.

Having taken advantage of the grandparents' babysitting services for a couple of nights we thought it was just about acceptable to ask for some daytime childminding the following weekend, during which we immersed ourselves in full American culture and went to a couple of (American) football games. The first one was Cal, the university team at Berkeley. (Spot the cap and sunnies from when we visited the campus a few weeks back!)

cal-game

I was astounded at the level of support the students give their team - not only was there a student marching band playing in the uni grounds beforehand, but the WHOLE BAND sat in the stadium and struck up songs in between quarters! The clarinettists even danced as they played! And the stadium was super impressive - it's the same one we looked round when we visited the campus for the day, only this time there were just a few more people there...

cal-game


Having seen a university team play (or a "college football" game as they say here), Mr H told me I should also see a professional NFL team at work, so we went to a San Francisco 49ers game the very next day and this time the stadium was even more impressive:

49ers-stadium


49ers-game


Obviously I had to become a proper fan, so I bought a 49ers visor (I'm not sure if it's appropriate to cross-reference one's college team at an NFL game but hey, they're my only sunnies since my normal ones broke the week before!):

49ers-visor

This time there was no band in the stadium, and I must say the cheerleaders' routines were nowhere near as acrobatic as the college ones were, but hey, Cal didn't have a military plane fly over just before the game commenced. The level of importance sport gets here is unbelievable. But you do get caught up in it, and the atmosphere is kind and fun. American fans don't huff and puff when you ask to walk past to get to your seat (I actually found myself getting frustrated with a lady in front of me who was taking a while to sit down but then I realised I was being a rather ungracious Brit. I've been reading a book about seeing failure as a learning opportunity rather than something to be ashamed of and cower from, so I'm trying hard to be more humble and accept when I'm in the wrong rather than stubbornly seek to justify my position. Anyway, as usual I digress).

So, apart from drinking and watching football, have I anything else to report from our final time in SF? A couple of things. While a lot of the time was spent repeating some of our favourite trips with the grandparents this time (beaches, parks, the zoo etc.), we did keep a few things back so we could do them all together when they were here. For one, we went to the California Academy of Sciences, a sort of a smallish natural history museum but with a great aquarium inside too. (There is a planetarium there as well but we skipped that). By far the best part for us was the special "flying dinosaurs" exhibit - young Master H has recently developed an interest in dinosaurs, and there was a super virtual reality experience where you stood and flapped your arms and it made the dinosaur fly through the VR world on the screen in front of you.

calacademy


The other attraction we'd been saving for a day out all together was the cute little mini theme park called Train Town which is up in the Sonoma Valley. There are lots of little engines on display which sadly the kids can't actually touch, but there is a super wee ride which goes through the well-landscaped grounds, stopping in a miniature town for a few minutes where the kids can run into a few small buildings (a pretend school, saloon etc.) and also pat a few animals.

traintown-train

There are also some traditional rides like a ferris wheel and a carousel, and then there is this excellent plane ride which young Master H went on twice. The kids even have a joystick inside each plane which lifts it up higher - our little pilot was in his element!

traintown-plane


Sonoma town itself is a very pretty little place. Some of the area has been devastated recently by the fires, so the locals have lovely posters up everywhere thanking the first responders, and seem peacefully strong in the wake of such a disaster. We visited the town square which, to litte Miss H's delight, has a duck pond:

sonoma-pond

sonoma-plaza

sonoma-plaza


Beyond Sonoma is a town called Healdsburg, and we were very generously invited to stay up there at our SF hosts' holiday/rental home for a few nights one week when they had no bookings and weren't using it themselves. The place is gorgeous - not only is the house grand and spacious, but it has a fabulous view, some quirky features such as a real cable car bell hanging on one of the walls, and did I mention the swimming pool?! Needless to say we didn't visit half as many wineries as we thought we might as we simply enjoyed being away in a lovely big country house for a few days - a real treat, especially when our visitors were over and so got a chance to properly experience more of north California than they might otherwise have seen.

healdsburg-house

healdsburg-house


And so our adventures in San Francisco drew to a close, having spent a very enjoyable two months there. In our final week our hosts (who lived in the house above our apartment) asked us up to dinner; by the time we left I'd had two visits with my new favourite hairdresser; and the girl in the coffee shop wished me well with our onward travels so I felt like, without really trying, I'd even got to know some proper San Franciscans. And they are every bit as likeable, multi-faceted (if that makes sense- it does to me?) and welcoming as the city they inhabit. Farewell, San Francisco. You've been fab.


Coming up... this is LA.

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