Central California 2001

The Whitingtons Invade The West Coast Once Again!

Come back to California with us - you can see what all we did, where we stayed, and just how beautiful this part of the country is. We'll also include some California travel information, and some tricks and tips along the way. Enjoy!


Day 1 - Dallas to Millbrae

Afternoon Flight to San Francisco

To lock in the flights and schedule that we wanted for the trip, we booked an afternoon flight to San Francisco. The flight was better than we could have asked for: no delays, perfect weather, and smooth sailing.

Four of us were on the trip: Mitchel & Tami, and Mitchel's parents Leonard & Betty, who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary on the trip.

In-Flight Scenery

We were treated to spectacular views from the airplane's windows, including lots of snow-capped mountains. This was the first time that we'd been on a 767-300 aircraft, and we used some American Advantage miles to bump up to business class. Having never flown business class, we felt like royalty with all the room and luxury. It greatly enhanced the trip. One of these days we're going to have to find some way to fly first class!

Comfort Inn, Millbrae, CA

If you've read any of our other travel pages, then you know that our general rule-of-thumb is not to stay in any chain hotels or eat at any chain restaurants, but for convenience we used the Millbrae Comfort Inn as a staging area. It's right beside the airport, has free shuttle transportation, and the first-floor rooms look more like apartments than hotel rooms.

Day 2 - San Jose to Cambria

The Winchester Mystery House

We picked up the car when we landed the night before, so on Day 2 we got up and headed straight down to San Jose for a stop at the Winchester Mystery House. The mansion was built by Sarah Winchester, the wife of the heir to the Winchester Repeating Rifle fortune. She felt like the spirits of all the people killed by the rifles were out to get her, so she constructed this house with all sorts of ways to fool them: stairways that go only up to the ceiling, doors and cabinets that open up only to walls, other doors that open to 2 and 3 story drops, etc. The guided tour of the house is very interesting, and we highly recommend it. Click here for more photos from the mansion.

The Flames Restaurant

One of the people at the Winchester House recommended this place for lunch. It is right across the street, so the access was handy, and the food was delicious. When you first walk in the door, there is a display of cakes that look tempting beyond belief. We were stuffed after eating lunch, though, and were more than a little disappointed that we didn't get to try one!

The Garlic Capitol of the World

We continued south on Hwy 101, and drove through Gilroy, CA - the self-proclaimed "Garlic Capitol of the World". Although it is most famous for its garlic festival every year, there are several garlic stores in town where you can find everything garlic that you can imagine - even garlic wine and garlic ice cream.

San Miguel Mission

On our drive down to Cambria, we took a detour in San Miguel to visit the mission founded in 1797 and named for Saint Michael the Arcangel. The 16th mission founded in the 21 mission chain in Alta California, it has been outwardly restored, but the inside of the mission has never been repainted. The pictures and the colors are the originals that were created and painted by Indian artisans. It was a nice little detour to get to stretch our legs, and soak up a little history.

First Glimpse of the Ocean

We left Hwy 101 for Cambria, and after a mountainous drive we were treated to our first sight of the Pacific Ocean. In this photo, it's just over the ridge of near mountains, and before the mountains in the distance. We knew that we were going to be seeing a lot more of it, but that first glimpse was exciting.

Moonstone Inn

Our lodging at Cambria was the Moonstone Inn, where every room has a view of the ocean. It is located only 200 feet from the Pacific on Moonstone Beach. The ocean was right across the street, in fact, although it did entail a small hike down a moderately steep path to get there. Click here for more photos from the Moonstone Inn.

Standing in the Pacific

We climbed down to the beach to spend a little time wading in the surf, but we were shocked at the temperature of the water. We could only stand in it for a minute before our feet started aching from the cold! Tami endured it long enough for this photo - we didn't remember it being so chilly on past trips to the coast. The shoreline was beautiful, though.

Watchin' the Waves

We spent some time sitting out on the shore, just enjoying the sights and sounds of the ocean. Beats the heck out of television! We finally resigned ourselves that we had to eat dinner, though, so we went back to the inn to assess our options.

The Sow's Ear

The innkeeper recommended a restaurant in downtown Cambria called, "The Sow's Ear". It looked like reservations would have been in order, but they were able to seat us in only a few minutes. Great food and atmosphere (the flower pot bread was exceptional), and when the staff found out that we were celebrating Betty & Leonard's 50th wedding anniversary, they treated us to desert. It was getting late as we left the restaurant, so we didn't get a chance to explore all the shops in Cambria - it looked like an interesting place, though, so it will definitely be on our list to do in the future.

Sunset in Cambria

One of the most beautiful sights in the world is the sun setting over the ocean, and it was doing so right about the time that we got back to the Moonstone Inn. The sky was full of beautiful colors, and the roar of the ocean made it perfect.

Day 3 - Hurst Castle and on to Carmel

Early Morning Ocean

Being so close to the ocean, the first thing that we did when we got up was to open up the drapes and take in its beauty in the early morning light. This was the view from our window.

The Top of the Hill

We didn't go back down the hill, but we did walk across the road to get a better look up and down the shoreline. It was a quiet beach, and the weather was clear enough to see far down the shore. We were especially happy about the weather, since we were scheduled to go to Hearst Castle later in the morning.

Moonstone Inn Breakfast

At check-in, you select your breakfast from several choices and specify what time you'd like to be served. They bring it to the room, where you can enjoy it and the ocean view through the window. Ours had coffee and juices, fresh fruit, and flavored bread that was nutty and warm. It was a great start to the day!

Hearst Castle

A short drive from Cambria is Hearst Castle, the huge estate built by William Randolph Hearst, the publishing giant. There are four different tours to choose from, and we selected tour number 1, which is what they recommend for first-time visitors. The visit took a few hours, and we really enjoyed it. By ordering the tickets ahead of time, we walked right up to the will-call window and headed for the bus up the hill. For a brief tour of the mansion, click here.

Ragged Point Restaurant

We found this place on the web, and it looked like the location would coincide with lunchtime perfectly - turns out that it did. We pulled in and had a wonderful meal on the patio, with the ocean roaring below us. Ragged Point was originally part of the huge Hearst Ranch property, but has been privately owned for thirty years by a family who has worked hard to make the place a beautiful stop for travelers.

Ragged Point

Just down from the restaurant, a short trail took us to a breathtaking view of the Pacific. After the lunch that we'd had, it felt good to get out and walk some before climbing back in the car.

A View From Highway 1

As we drove up the coast, we found some incredible views of the Pacific.

Another View From Highway 1

Not much to say other than, "Wow!"

Yet Another View from Highway 1

I can't tell you how many photos we took - every view was a postcard!

Okay, Just One More Photo

Really, there were just so many to choose from!

The View from Nepenthe

Nepenthe restaurant is located in Big Sur, a bit south of Carmel. It is perched on the cliffs high above the ocean, and has been a hang-out for artists, poets and travellers for fifty years. Even if you aren't hungry as you pass, we'd recommend stopping in for a cup of coffee or glass of wine. This was our view from the table where we were sitting.

And a Final One for the Day

One more ocean view, and we'll get on with things.

Vagabond's House Inn

The Vagabond's House Inn is probably one of our favorite places to stay in all the world. It is a collection of rooms all grouped around a massive tree in a serene courtyard.

Late Night Snacks at Hogs Breath Inn

Mitchel spoke to a Carmel writer's group this evening, and afterward we were famished. Since the Hog's Breath Inn is just around the corner from Vagabond's House, we walked there for a plate of quesadillas. The dining room was packed, so we ate out in the courtyard in the light of the fireplaces.

The Courtyard at Night

The Vagabond's House Inn has a courtyard of plants and ferns all centered around a large tree. In the back is a fountain, which you can hear bubbling twenty-four hours a day. Night time is one of the most relaxing chances you'll have to enjoy the fountain, though, because everything else is so still. You can see its lights in this photo, but you really have to be there one evening to appreciate how beautiful the courtyard really is.

Day 4 - Tor House and a Carmel Beach Sunset

Breakfast at Vagabond's House Inn

Every morning you call downstairs when you're ready for breakfast, and it is delivered to you with all the amenities on a tray. Fresh fruit, a house granola mixture, fresh coffee, and more made it a delicious start to the day.

Carmel Beach In The Morning

Our reservations for the tour of Tor House weren't for an hour, so we took the opportunity to drive down to the beach at Carmel. Be advised that although it's relatively easy to walk down to the beach, the climb back up to town is several blocks and can be a little steep. The car is the way to go, although finding a parking place can sometimes be tricky. During the early morning hours, there was no problem, though, and we got to enjoy sitting and watching the ocean with an almost empty beach.

Robinson Jeffers' Tor House

In 1914, American poet Robinson Jeffers and his wife Una fell in love with the unspoiled beauty of Carmel and purchased a point of land overlooking the ocean. Their small, stone house was completed in 1917, and Jeffers then began construction on a tower for his wife - she had always admired the stone towers that were so popular in Ireland. Both are open to docent-led tours, and we highly recommend this stop on your visit to Carmel.

The Thunderbird Bookstore

The Thunderbird Bookstore, located in the Barnyard (more on that later), is kind enough to sponsor the local writer's group. Mitchel spoke to them last night, and they were very warm and friendly. The bookstore itself is independently owned, and the selection and variety of books made it worth going back to! While we were there, we had lunch at their cafe.

The Barnyard at Carmel

On the east side of Highway 1, just south of the Ocean Ave. traffic light is the Barnyard. It is a multi-level collection of shops, ranging from art galleries to clothes stores, and even had a festive Christmas shop.

Cafe Cardinale

This coffee shop in Carmel is located just off of Ocean Avenue between San Carlos & Dolores. They have a 1920's Mediterranean-style courtyard that is perfect for sitting back and enjoying a cup of their coffee that is roasted on-site. The courtyard is dog-friendly, so you may even get to make a couple of canine friends while you're there.

Carmel Shopping

One thing that you'll notice in Carmel is that shopping is a major activity for visitors. You will find designer clothes, fine art in the many galleries around town, good food, and no visit is complete without stepping into the Carmel Drugstore. Parking can be a problem, though, so go early, or walk from your inn if at all possible.

Dinner at Hog's Breath Inn

On the previous night, we'd made reservations in the dining room at the Hog's Breath. Clint Eastwood used to own the restaurant, so there are movie posters and photos from his career on a few of the walls. A few of the entrees are even named after his movies, but no matter what you call them, the steaks here are the absolute best that you'll find on the west coast.

A 50th Anniversary Gift

It was Mitchel's parent's 50th Wedding Anniversary, and when the Vagabond's House Inn found out they sent a bottle of sparkling cider with balloons up to their room. It was an unexpected surprise, and extremely nice of the Inn to do. Thanks, Vagabond's House!

Standing in the Surf

We all went down to the beach to walk along the shore, but one thing was apparent VERY fast: the water was way too cold to stay in for more than a few seconds. By the time we had this photo snapped, our feet were physically aching from the cold, and after running back up onto the beach it took us a few minutes to get them back to normal. BRRRRRRRR!

Relaxing on the Beach

This is Mitchel and his parents taking it easy on an impromptu bench that we found. It was a great place to sit down and dig your feet in the sand after they'd been in that icy cold water!

Beautiful Carmel Beach

It's hard to beat the beach at Carmel for sheer beauty. The sand is white and clean, the people there are laid-back and friendly, and since it is a dog-friendly beach, you'll also get to see a few dogs frolicking in the surf.

Sunset in Carmel

When the sun goes down over the ocean here, there are few words to describe it. Locals and visitors all gather on the beach to watch the event.

Day 5 - Monterery Bay and Cannery Row

Breakfast at Vagabond's House Inn

Another scrumptious breakfast delivered to our door, right on time. Each room has a coffee pot as well, so before breakfast you can open up the windows and have a cup as the scent of the flowers and the morning birdsong drifts in. Sound a little syrup-y? Stay at the Vagabond's House Inn, and you'll understand what we're talking about.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

If you've never been to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, then you are missing out on one of the greatest oceanic experiences that you will ever have. From Sea Lions to the most delicate of Jellyfish, this place has wonders that you can't imagine. It is located on Cannery Row in Sausalito, and we visited early in the morning to avoid the crowds. Click here for more photos from the aquarium.

Lunch at the Fish Hopper Restaurant

We'd eaten at the Fish Hopper before, and so we entertained the idea about going somewhere else. Once we passed by, though, we knew that we had to have lunch. The food is good, but the best thing about it is that the restaurant juts out above the ocean, and there's one rock that always seems to have a Sea Lion or Seal sunning on it. If you eat here, be sure to ask for a table out by the windows.

The Sea Lions Of Cannery Row

These are the Sea Lions that were visible from the Fishhopper Restaurant. There are actually two or three on the rock, but the most visible one is just above the center of the photograph. You'll also see several Gulls around the base of the rock. This is the best reason to eat at the Fishhopper - we could have watched these guys all day.

The Remains Of Old Cannery Row

Looking at the back of the Cannery Row buildings, facing out at the ocean, there are several old foundations from the sardine canneries that used to line the coast here. Most of them have been torn down or renovated. The Fishhopper Restaurant, with its arm protruding out above the ocean, was named for a certain kind of building that used to be located here. From the "fish hoppers", a conveyer built would be snaked out to the sardine boats to quickly move their catch into the cannery so that the boat could go back out.

Present Day Cannery Row

Today, Cannery Row is packed with stores and restaurants that can keep a visitor busy for literally hours. There are also several historical sites nearby, such as the Robert Louis Stevenson house (unfortunately, it was closed for remodeling while we were in town). We did enjoy walking through the Cannery Row shops, though, and even stopping by the Ghirardelli shop for some chocolate.

Pacific Grove Park

Between Monterey and Carmel is the town of Pacific Grove. We'd never been there, so we took the scenic drive down from Monterey and through Pacific Grove. This park looked like it was calling us to stop, so we found a parking place and walked around for a while. It was green and lush, and very clean. The view wasn't bad either, which we'll show you in the next photo.

The View From Pacific Grove Park

Huge rock formations at the shore and deep blue water make the vantage point from this park a sight to behold. One thing about the trip that we enjoyed was that there were so many postcard quality views like this. It must be wonderful to live there and see something like this every day.

The Pacific Grove Beach

Just down from the park is a public beach. As cold as the water was, there were actually people swimming there! There were also many families who just seemed to be picnicing and enjoying the day.

The World-Famous 17 Mile Drive

In 1880, the elegant Hotel Del Monte opened its doors to the public. Among the many diversions available to guests was a horse-drawn carriage ride on a scenic, 17-mile gravel road - a road that ribboned its way around the Monterey Peninsula and through the Del Monte Forest. Today, 17-Mile Drive remains one of the most enchanting and famous stretches of road in the country, with much of its most dramatic surroundings remarkably unchanged from those first, historic tours. It is one of only nine private toll roads in the country, and the only one west of the Mississippi. To take the drive with us, click here.

Check Out These Gas Prices

This vacation was during June of 2001, and these gasoline prices will definitely be relative to when you're reading this and where you live. We were used to $1.40 back in Texas, though, so these were a shocker.

Update: Looking back at this 2001 page, all the prices seem ridiculously low in comparison to today!

Carmel Mission

The Carmel Mission, or the Basilica of Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo was founded in 1771 by Padre Junipero Serra. We found it easily, and took the self-guided walking tour. It is a beautiful old mission, and is historically interesting. The founder, Junipero Serra, was declared venerable in 1985 and in 1988 he was beatified in recognition of his life and virtues, including the founding of Carmel Mission and work there. Pope John Paul II visited the mission in 1987 as part of his tour of the United States, and the mission has a display of items associated with his visit.

Dinner At Mission Ranch Restaurant

Mission Ranch is kind of a resort bed & breakfast, encompassing twenty-two acres next to the ocean. Its restaurant is a favorite of Carmel locals, and has wonderful views from its dining room, patio or piano bar. We'd never been before, and so we made dinner reservations that coincided with our stop at Carmel Mission. Since the ranch is located directly behind the mission, it was just a block or two and we spent the evening with a wonderful meal while we watched the Pacific.

The View From Mission Ranch

The actual ranch originally consisted of 160 acres owned by a former teacher and Alcalde of the Carmel Mission, and from its spectacular view of the meadows and ocean in the distance you can see why someone would stake a claim here. It has passed hands through seventeen different owners, including Clint Eastwood, and before becoming a resort destination it also served as a dairy, potato farm, and officers' club during World War II.

Day 6 - On To Sausalito

A Final Vagabond Breakfast

On our last morning, our hosts brought the breakfast tray to our room and we ate it with a melancholy feeling. We had enjoyed the Vagabond's House Inn, and were looking forward to the remainder of the trip, but there was a sadness in leaving Carmel.

Getting Lost in Santa Cruz

While passing through Santa Cruz, we decided to drive down to the beach and grab a mid-morning cola. The beach in Santa Criz is called "America's Best Sport and Activity Beach" by the Travel Channel, and it is beautiful. We stopped in at the Beach Street Cafe for refreshments. We stopped in Santa Cruz on a previous trip, and got lost on our way back to Highway 1. It happened again on this trip - maybe next time we'll stop and buy a map of the city.

Meandering along Highway 1

We continued north of Santa Cruz, and the scenery was simply beautiful. We didn't get rained on, but there was a cloud that settled on the coast that made everything overcast.

Another Look From Highway 1

Another view that we simply had to stop and take a photo of. You wouldn't believe how impressive the coastline is - we had to pull off on every turn-off or so to look around and take a picture!

Lunch at Moss Beach Distillery

We stopped in Moss Beach, along Highway 1, at the Moss Beach Distillery restaurant for lunch. It dates back to the 1920's, and has a past that includes a stint as an actual distillery at one point. The restaurant is also supposedly haunted by the spirit of the "Blue Lady", who sometimes makes an appearance there.

Casa Madrona - The House Of Tomorrow

We can't describe it any more than their web page does: "Nestled in the hills above Sausalito, Casa Madrona is an unforgettable haven of retreat and romance. The property, a casual, elegant blend of a 19th century Victorian Hotel and a New England style inn, has operated as a lodging facility since 1905. In 1976, the 1885 Victorian Mansion was restored and the hillside retreat was created by adding rooms that cascade down and around the mansion, offering enchanting views of the yacht harbor and the bay." Click here for more photos from our visit to Casa Madrona.

The Marina From Our Balcony

When we walked out onto the balcony, put up our feet and gazed across the bay, this was our view. It was even better when the sun started to set, and the lights of the sailboats going in and out were even more visible. We had a ball watching the activity!

The Elephants

Why in the world does downtown Sausalito have two elephants? Well, we saw them on our first trip through, but had no idea why. On this trip we found out, but if you really want to know the answer, then you need to visit this park in the center of town. That's all we're saying. :)

Sausalito Shops

There is one main drag in Sausalito, and it is lined with shopping and dining. The best plan is to park your car and take a casual stroll through town. No matter where you are when you get hungry, there will be a fantastic restaurant nearby. It doesn't even matter whether or not you're staying in town - a ferry goes across the bay on the half-hours between San Francisco and Sausalito.

Sausalito Marina

We just had to take a walk through the marina. It is very interesting to look at the different kind of boats (mostly varieties of sailboats or houseboats) and their names. If the wind is blowing, you can hear it whistling through all the masts. If you take this walk, though, remember that every boat is private property and respect the owner's rights.

The Taj Mahal

We'd seen this houseboat on a previous trip while out wandering the marina, and it was still there. None of the locals knew anything about it when we asked, other than it has been docked here for as long as anyone can remember and no one seems to use it. It is a beautiful replica of the Taj Mahal, though.

Dinner at the "Cat and Fiddle"

The Cat and Fiddle is a wonderful restaurant right on the marina, but be sure to call for reservations and request a table by the windows with a view. Everything on the menu is tasty, but there is one spectacular item to consider - the Filet Mignon. It is dry-aged, which is rare to find in today's world, since the process is so difficult to perfect (but is so rewarding). Their dry-aged filet mignon served with onion rings and fries is the premier item to consider.

The Sun Sets From Our Balcony

One of our favorite things about Casa Madrona when we stayed here before was the balcony, because it always offered such beautiful views of the sunset and sunrise. This photo shows the view that we had to the left side of the balcony as the sun went down that evening.

Day 7 - Muir Woods and into San Francisco

The Sun Rising From Our Balcony

When you roll out of bed, unlatch the door and walk out onto the balcony to a visual like this, it is genuinely hard to remember any of the difficulties or problems in your life. At least, that's what we found. There was a peaceful serenity to every morning, and this one was no exception.

Breakfast at Mikayla

Named after the Goddess of the Isle of May, Mikayla is the restaurant at the top of Casa Madrona. You can see that its walls are giant picture windows, and the view of the bay is incredible. Breakfast was served buffet-style, with a little bit of everything that you can imagine.

Muir Woods National Monument

We drove just out of Sausalito to Muir Woods, where an ancient coast redwood forest offers solitude and beauty to its visitors. The pathway is an easy stroll through 1000 year old giant trees, towering over 250 feet high. The forest was declared a National Monument due in large to the work of naturalist John Muir who called the forest, "...the best tree-lovers monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world." Take our advice, and get there at 8 AM before the tour busses start showing up! To walk through Muir Woods, click here.

Muir Beach

Down the mountain from Muir Woods is a beach named for the same man, John Muir. It's an intimate little beach, and looked like the perfect place to spend a little time and listen to the ocean roaring.

The Pelican Inn

The Pelican Inn is built in the style of a 16th century English country inn, and isn't all that far from Muir Beach. We'd been hiking Muir woods all morning, so we stopped here for a cold cola and a little rest.

The Marine Mammal Rescue Center

The center's motto is "Rescue, Rehabilitate, Release", and that's exactly what they do. Their organization rescues and treats ill, injured and orphaned marine mammals, then returns them to the wild as healthy animals. We visited the center in the Marin Headlands, and enjoyed seeing the current patients.

The Golden Gate from Marin Headlands

Marin Headlands is an area included in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. These hills, easily seen on the west side of Highway 101 across the bridge from the city, are home not only to ruined battlements, but also to the best view of the Golden Gate Bridge that you'll find.

Construction 129

We noticed this thick, concrete tunnel through the mountain, and couldn't help but go exploring. We found out that it was a United States defense project that was simply called, "Construction 129". That was only a project number, of course, since it would have to be activated for a permanent name to be assigned. Still not knowing what it was, we ventured inside...

The Gun Turret

Despite its imposing appearance, Construction 129 was never used - or even completed. It was to have been armed with 2 guns having massive, 16" diameter barrels. Each weapon weighed almost 1,000,000 pounds and could accurately fire a 2,100 pound shell a distance of 27 miles. You can see the turret in this photo. This fortification was to have been the highest artillery battery in the Bay Area. However, all work on it was stopped in the mid-1940's, shortly after its guns arrived for mounting. The army had found that weapons like those at Construction 129 and similar batteries wouldn't be effective against attack by enemy planes. As a result, the fortification was abandoned.

The Other Side of the Bay

After walking through two of the thick concrete tunnels, we found ourselves with a spectacular view the other side of the bay. We weren't sure what was over here, or exactly what we were looking at, but it was certainly beautiful!

Coit Tower

Coit Tower is visible from all over San Francisco, standing up on top of Telegraph Hill. We'd heard that you could go up inside, so we endured a short wait (for a parking space, not to go up) and bought our tickets for the elevator ride. A bourbon-drinking, cigar-smoking, card-playing heiress left the money for the tower to be built to, "honor fire fighters and improve the beauty of the city." You really do get a good view from up top, as you can see from clicking here.

Lunch at the Stinking Rose

This garlic restaurant at 325 Columbus Ave in San Francisco is one of our favorite restaurants in the world. Almost all the foods are prepared with garlic, including their desert of garlic ice cream. We love the 20-clove garlic chicken, and you have to start out your meal with Bagna Calda, which is oven-roasted garlic in olive oil and butter, served in a small skillet - it is tender and ready to spread on their home-baked bread.

Walking Out On The Golden Gate

It isn't enough to simply drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. To really experience it, you have to walk out on it: fell the sharp, cold wind, feel the bridge swaying ever so slightly, and listen to the roar of the traffic as it zips by. We parked at the Sausalito end of the bridge, where there is a scenic turnoff, and walked about one-third way out onto the Golden Gate.

A Callbox On The Bridge

This callbox with its sign, "Emergency Phone and Crisis Counseling", is very interesting. You have to keep in mind that there have been more than 1,200 suicides documented since the bridge was completed, though many believe the toll could be twice that. This phone must be there for people who are actually considering ending their life here. With the incredible view of the hills of Marin Headlands and San Franciso Bay, it's hard to believe that such a thought could be contemplated here.

The Submarine Surprises Us

As we were standing out on the bridge, we saw something very unusual - a submarine was sailing through the bay and out toward the ocean! Although we'd seen subs in shipyards and such, we'd never seen one cruising along, going about its business!

Day 8 - Alcatraz and the Ghost Hunt

Sunrise from our Balcony

On our final full day, we were treated to another beautiful sunrise from our balcony at Casa Madrona. Just like yesterday, we made a pot of coffee and enjoyed watching the sun come up.

Breakfast at Casa Madrona

Breakfast was another wonderful spread at Mikayla, the restaurant at the top of the hotel. We again had pastries, cereal, eggs, bacon and sausage - all while soaking in the breathtaking view of San Francisco Bay.

Sea Lions at Pier 39

The Sea Lions originally showed up at Pier 39's K-dock right after the 1989 earthquake. Their barking grew louder, as the animals seemed to arrive in droves. The population grew to 300 withing a matter of months due to the plentiful herring supply, available dock space and protected environment. The local merchants were apprehensive at first, but now embrace these local celebrities. We could literally watch the Sea Lions for hours!

Shopping at Pier 39

Pier 39 is a collection of eclectic shops, a far cry from the many souvenirs stands down the Wharf a bit. There is also an aquarium and several other places to have fun, along with a few interesting restaurants.

Alcatraz - "The Rock"

This was our second time to visit Alcatraz, which has been converted from the prison to a very interesting National Park. This is a view of the cellhouse interior, looking down the asile that the prisoners called "Broadway". If you go to San Francisco, you have to include Alcatraz in your plans. Be sure to purchase your tickets in advance, though, because the tours fill up quickly! For a few more photos from The Rock, click here.

Lunch at Bodine Bakery

Bodine Bakery is right on the Wharf, and they're famous for clam chowder, vegetable soup or chili served in bowls made of sourdough bread. Delicious!

Fisherman's Wharf

The Wharf is always an interesting place to look around, although it is one of the most tourist-y places that you'll ever find. There are also solicitors who try to give you "smile cards" or fake "jaywalking tickets" for a handout - just smile and keep walking. It's a fun place to walk through, though, and you'll be hard pressed not to come out with a San Francisco trinket or two.

The Painted Ladies

We'd seen these old Victorians on everything from postcards to coffee mugs, but were never able to find them. Finally, we were able to track them down! They're called "painted ladies" because the houses are painted in bright colors, instead of the toned-down neutrals of their original era. If you want to see these, affectionately called "post card row", go to Alamo Square at Steiner and Hayes just across from the 700 block of Steiner Street.

The Haas-Lilienthal House

This historic old Queen Anne Victorian home was built in 1886 by William Haas, and typifies the lifestyle of a successful upper-middle-class mercantile family in turn-of-the-century San Francisco. The house is now owned by the San Francisco Architectural Heritage and is open for docent-led tours. We found it in the Pacific Heights section of town, on Franklin Street between Washington and Jackson, and signed up for the tour. It was a mixture of history, architecture, and family lifestyle from that era, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. We have a few more photos here.

San Francisco Ghost Hunt

Our last official activity for the vacation was the "San Francisco Ghost Hunt" led by Jim Fassbender. It's a two-hour walk through some of San Francisco's most haunted places (covering about a mile), and our guide stopped often for ghost stories along the way. The tour departs from the magnificent Queen Anne Hotel on the corner of Sutter and Octavia several evenings a week. We didn't dress quite as warmly as we should have, but had a wonderful time. Jim is extremely entertaining!

Back to the Comfort Inn in Millbrae

With the trip over, we spent a final night back at the Comfort Inn to get ready for an early-morning departure back to Dallas. We snapped this, the final photo of the trip, just before the airport shuttle picked us up, in fact. There's no way to describe what a wonderful vacation we had in California. There are so many other places to visit, but I know that at some point, we'll be back!
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