Happy Birthday (to me)

I normally don’t do that much to celebrate my birthday each year, mostly happy to note the date positively as a milestone of another year “…above the grass” (as they say).  This time, for no particular reason I can remember, I was moved to suggest to my wife that we spend a couple of nights in San Francisco. This is not a huge or difficult travel destination for me, since we live within 40 miles of that city of my birth and formative years.

I did only a minimum of planning — a couple of dinner reservations, a national park  reservation, and a lunch with friends. The weather forecast was for rain on our first evening and for the next day (my birthday) and for clouds and sunshine on our departure day. That planning plus a large dose of serendipity played a key role in making this a terrific couple of days for both of us.

First day

We headed up to San Francisco and, of course, ran into (the expected) significant early commute traffic. Still, we got to the hotel in reasonable time. I had decided to upscale the stay and so had reservations at the Ritz Carlton. Gotta say, they do a fantastic job of making you feel welcome and special. I could get used to that sort of treatment, assuming I could afford it. We got ourselves settled and then changed for dinner.

My wife had suggested that we go to a very old (first opened in 1886) Italian restaurant that we’d not been to in many years – Fior D’Italia. I told her that it had closed over a decade ago after a fire but looked it up anyway and found that it had reopened in a nearby North Beach location. What I didn’t realize was that it also had added live music (Wednesdays and Sundays); when we entered a small jazz band and singer were going strong. Not only did we have a wonderful meal but we enjoyed excellent music until the band quit for the night.

Second Day

Once we were up and ready for breakfast we headed across Market Street and down to Mission and 3rd for breakfast at a very funky and very San Francisco restaurant called The Grove. We both enjoyed our meals and then headed back to the hotel to get our car and my camera gear.

We had not been to Muir Woods National Monument (in Marin County just to the north, across the Golden Gate Bridge) for many years so I had made a (required) parking reservation for late morning. Even though it was raining (on and off) it only took us about an hour to reach the park. We were very lucky in that the rain decided to take a rest just before we arrived.  We checked in at the park visitor center and started walking. Because of the uncertain weather we decided to stay on the main boardwalk and paved trails and save hiking some of the dirt trails for another visit. We started up the Redwood Creek Trail and I started using my camera. The image at the top of this post is of the trail as it approaches Bridge 2. You can see that we actually are getting a bit of sunshine at this point. However, it didn’t take long for that to change.

The grandeur of Muir Woods,
Just a few minutes after taking the photo of the trail, the rain started again. Here you can begin to see the grandeur of Muir Woods, even in the rain.

From that point on, it mostly rained. I did try catching some other images but also trying to keep my equipment dry made it a bit difficult. Here’s another photo taken during a brief lull in the rain as we were returning to the park entrance on the Bohemian Grove Trail (on the other side of Redwood Creek). 180125-0250

As were heading across the parking lot I spotted a large puddle that was reflecting many of the nearby trees. 180125-0298 I pulled my camera out again thinking it might be an interesting composition but just as I setup to shoot, the rain started again. So, instead I got a shot of raindrops in a puddle in the street.

We decided to take a slightly different route on our return out of the park and so headed down toward a place called Muir Beach (not a part of the park). 180125-0301 Given the weather, the beach wasn’t that much to see but I did notice this array of mailboxes which it amused me to think of as the Muir Beach post office.

As we were approaching the Golden Gate Bridge on our way back to San Francisco and our hotel, I noticed that although it was still very cloudy, the weather had cleared somewhat. I pulled off onto Conzelman Road which heads west back into the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and provides some excellent view points of the bridge and San Francisco. Here are two images I captured from places along that road.

180125-0349
I took several different views of the Golden Gate Bridge, this one from a Vista Point along the Conzelman Road. It was quite windy at this location and the weather was continuing to move and change. But at this moment, it was not raining and you can see one lone sailboat that felt the wind deserved to be used even if it meant getting wet (getting wet while sailing is something that happens quite frequently to sail-boaters, even during cloudless days, on San Francisco Bay!).
Horseshoe Bay & Needles
This overlook, at the old gun emplacement called Battery Spencer, provides an incredible view of much of San Francisco Bay including the bridge, San Francisco and much of the East Bay. In this image, directly below is the northern end of the bridge and Horseshoe Bay (which used to be part of an Army base but now houses the Bay Area Discovery Museum, the Presidio Yacht Club, and a Coast Guard station. Beyond that you can see Angel Island (once an immigration center similar to Ellis Island in New York and now a state park), a couple of additional intrepid rainy-day sail-boaters, and some East Bay cities. You can also see that it is still raining at the far left.

For dinner that evening we went to Fringale, a wonderful little French-Basque restaurant in the South of Market area. No entertainment – just great food and service.

Last Day

We were up fairly early and got most of our gear packed before heading back to The Grove for breakfast. We were also scheduled for a lunch at the historic Cliff House with friends who live in The City and wanted to be sure to leave enough time for us to get from downtown to Ocean Beach.

180126-0427

Once we were back at the hotel, we checked out and headed west across town. As it turned out, we had more than enough time to get there so we stopped off along the way at Baker Beach (a beach on the northern edge of the city just inside the entrance to the old Presidio); it is another location for some iconic GG Bridge shots. The surf was up and roaring much more than usual when we got there (see the image at the right and in the photo below). I headed down the beach looking for an angle on the bridge and finally ended up with the image below.

Golden Gate Bridge
The rainy weather is gone and the only thing left behind is the slowly dissipating marine layer and a few high clouds. The area where the left-most bridge cable intersects with the ground in Marin County across the bay, is roughly one of my shooting locations from the day before.

We got to the Cliff House at the same time as our friends and had an excellent lunch and visit with them. Eventually we all said our goodbyes and we headed home where I could start working on some of the photos from this trip.

I have to say, for a guy who doesn’t often do much to celebrate his birthday, this one turned out to be really great. I may have to re-think this birthday celebration business.

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