June 28, 2009

San Francisco is THIS big today

The city of St. Francis has a birthday this weekend. San Francisco was founded on June 29, 1776, well before California became a state in 1850. The city is still just as pretty after more than 200 years. Come visit and see how she keeps her looks, and if you need help with your trip check out Uptake, a great travel site that I contribute every week to - they have loads of information.

This weekend there are lots of activities to celebrate the Presidio and its part in San Francisco's history and present. This morning we saw a parade. The city of San Francisco every weekend has lots to share with you, including the new King Tut exhibit at the De Young Museum. It was 30 years ago when it last came to town.

It is a glorious weekend ahead of the 4th of July with perfect weather for visitors. No sweltering and melting, just sunshine and cool layers of fog to keep you air conditioned.

June 25, 2009

Summer Fort Point is Foggy

Summer in San Francisco can be very foggy. Here is just a moment in time, the week before the 4th of July. In most parts of the US and lots of the world, the temperature should be in the 70s or 80s Fahrenheit not 50s.

My favorite aspect of summer in San Francisco are the fog horns that start going at the Golden Gate Bridge on any given day at anytime. Did you know that:
Fog horns are required at the Golden Gate Bridge for the safe travel of vessels under the span. The foghorn signals are set by United States Coast Guard.

There are two fog horns mounted on the south tower pier, about 20 feet or so up from the water.

There are three fog horns at mid-span that are located below the roadway level.

The Golden Gate Bridge has an influence in directing fog as it pushes up and pours down around the Bridge. "Advection fog" forms when humid air from the Pacific Ocean swoops over the chilly California current flowing parallel to the coast. The fog hugs the ground and then the warm, moist air condenses as it moves across the bay or land. This is common near any coastline. Sometimes, high pressure squashes it close to the ground. By the way, the color of the Bridge is International Orange and was chosen in part because of its visibility in the fog.
If you come visit the city, don't worry about the weather. Pack light and pack layers. Bring a scarf! You can always buy an Alcatraz sweatshirt to take home with you.

The fog horns remind me of the Dashiell Hammett novels like The Maltese Falcon and film noir movies like The Thin Man. Now where is my trench coat and my fedora?

June 19, 2009

Mysterious Destination or Weird Vacation: Winchester Mystery House

Don't you think that there is a time during everyone's childhood where much of your time is spent thinking about ghosts and ice cream, and loving both equally? Long ago when we were young, in the summer when my brothers and I wanted ice cream, my father would toss us into an open pick up truck and take us north to fruit stands that sold California Bing cherries, apricots and peaches by the crate load. Along the way, he would stop for a soft serve vanilla cone for us to eat along the way. Boy you knew you were growing up when you got to move from a single to a double scoop!

In those days, you could get away with having small children rolling around in the back of an open truck on a speeding highway. Children never seem to worry about that stuff and we enjoyed the thrill of being outside heading towards a pit stop for ice cream then crates of cherries - which meant contests of who could spit their cherry pit the farthest without it flying back into their face!

While driving to those fruit stands back then, we inescapably would have to pass one of the scariest places ever for a child, the
Winchester Mystery House. This place had all the ingredients that my 10 year old brain and emotional development craved -- Victorian melodrama, possible early demise of young woman and ghostly sightings! BOOO

This was a real Victorian mansion, designed and built by the Winchester Rifle heiress, Sarah. She came from a family that was responsible for creating "The Gun that Won the West". The 1800s is a savage part of American history especially with regards to the Wild West. The Winchester rifle - think Kevin Costner in Dances With Wolves - played a significant part in the move out west for settlers. One can only imagine how that sad and turbulent period affected Sarah Winchester emotionally.

The construction of the mansion began in 1884 and continued 38 non-stop years until September 5, 1992. Before the San Francisco Great Earthquake of 1906, the mansion had seven stories now it only has four. In the past, Sarah Winchester had a total of
161,919 acres of land - think along the lines of the Ponderosa in Bonanza or The Big Valley television shows.

Fast forward and today the property stands at four acres.
Is this a mysterious destination or just a weird vacation idea for summer? Who knows, but there are some interesting ideas for the casual observer when you visit. The oddities of the construction like the stairs that go nowhere, why would anyone build these?

Today this area still has a robust set of fruit stands only now they have safer roads, rules to protect what is in the back of your truck and a huge Garlic Festival that brings famous chefs from television.

And to give you a greater incentive for travel, consider timing your visit to go along their special 65 minute Flashlight Tour on Friday the 13th and Halloween every year.

June 16, 2009

Green Office Space in San Francisco

One of the most beautiful office buildings in San Francisco has to be the Letterman Digital Art Center in the Presidio. It is the new home of Industrial Light & Magic, the people who brought you the special effects in most of the blockbuster movies coming out of Hollywood. Going for a walk in the Presidio of San Francisco not only gets you out into the fresh air, but it will bring you to this incredible office complex as these photos show.

Sit on a park bench and imagine working here. We walked by windows that showed the office workers have access to a full work out floor. It is impressive what George Lucas and Lucasfilm accomplished just a few years ago. Converting the old Letterman Hospital into this amazing work environment within the public space of the Presidio is a big deal.

Interesting facts about what is going on behind these beautiful walls:
  • 15,000 square foot daycare center
  • 300 seat employee dining commons
  • 298-seat, state-of-the-art, THX-certified screening room equipped for digital projection
  • a massive data center housing a Render farm, file servers and storage systems, allowing computers to process data 24 hours a day, seven days a week to create astounding visual images for movies and games.

June 13, 2009

Best National Park Views: Fort Mason in San Francisco

What a glorious day in San Francisco at one of those beautiful urban settings that many tourists miss during their visit to the city. Fort Mason is a historic location and facility as well as ideal spot for the photographer in the family.

Fort Mason, also known as San Francisco Port of Embarkation, US Army, in San Francisco, California is a former United States Army post located in the northern Marina District, alongside San Francisco Bay. Fort Mason served as an Army post for more than 100 years, initially as a coastal defense site and subsequently as a military port facility. During World War II, it handled most of the cargo for the Pacific campaign.

Today it is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the site of several cultural facilities. It is a National Historic Landmark District with over 49 buildings of historic significance, spread over 1,200 acres.

For those of you who come to visit, a great lodging alternative is this little known hostel that is situated at Upper Fort Mason with its killer view of the bay. Starting at $26 a night this is a fabulous spot that is perfect for families or anyone wanting to feel the old maritime perspective of San Francisco's history, in a great location!

My family has been a part of this city a very long time. Upper Fort Mason has always been the "go to" place for any citywide emergency such as an earthquake because of it location on bedrock and its lack of overhead electrical wires.

Also you will find this beautiful open space that is wonderful for picnics, watching the sailboats on the bay or use it for a meeting place. You have distinctive landmarks that helps too. This location was ideal for meeting people during the infamous 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.

The piers and sheds of Lower Fort Mason were originally built from 1912 to warehouse army supplies and provide docking space for army transport ships. By this time, the US Army began to build new bases in Hawaii, the Philippines, and various other Pacific islands. Most of the material for those bases was shipped through San Francisco. By 1915, the three piers together with their associated warehouse had been a completed, and a railroad tunnel driven under Upper Fort Mason to connect with the railroad network along the Embarcadero.

With these new facilities, Fort Mason was transformed from a harbor defense post into a logistical and transport hub for American military operations in the Pacific.

During World War II, Fort Mason became the headquarters of the San Francisco Port of Embarkation, controlling a network of shipping facilities that spread across the Bay Area. Over the years of the war, 1,647,174 passengers and 23,589,472 measured tons moved from the port into the Pacific. This total represents two-thirds of all troops sent into the Pacific and more than one-half of all Army cargo moved through West Coast ports. The highest passenger count was logged in August 1945 when 93,986 outbound passengers were loaded.

My great aunt was notorious for her work during World War II and her driving troops from the Presidio to Fort Mason, and sometimes giving them a kiss goodbye. With the warmth of California and San Francisco hospitality, you may not get a kiss goodbye or hello, you will get help with directions or how to get a taxi or find a nice place to eat - just ask.

June 8, 2009

Monterey, California is Where the Best Dad Lives

The best father lives here in Monterey, California and is now officially retired. He can show you the houses of lots of famous residents. He knows how to tip people properly. His second wife has been married to him longer than his first wife which I admire. He took me fishing in the bay with old commercial fishermen and was proud that I didn't get seasick.

This father knows all the best places to eat, and where each kitchen entrance is located along with the names of most of the staff. He has lived here on the Monterey Peninsula so long that he knows short cuts so you don't get stuck in traffic. This father owns a white dinner jacket like Tony Bennett and Bobby Darin, and has sat at the captain's table on a cruise ship, they took a photo.

This father has overcome a lot of obstacles and keeps trying. He was a kid who had to stand in line for butter and sugar during World War II in San Francisco. He is a great supporter of all of his kids and grandkids though not always at the same time. He listened to his daughter's music while sitting on a bean bag chair on the ground under a tent at an amusement park, once.

Visit Monterey with your own father and enjoy some of the tips from mine. Here are some of his secrets:

- Golden Tee Restaurant, a small & very local place for a bite to eat or drink, located on the upper deck of the Monterey Airport Terminal
- Drive slowly along Ocean View Blvd and take in the water from Monterey through Pacific Grove to Pebble Beach
- Enjoy a bucket of golf balls at the public course in Pacific Grove
- Get up early, grab a coffee or tea and walk to Fisherman's Wharf to enjoy the sunrise
- Take a scoop of ice cream and walk along the waterfront until you get to Cannery Row

June 2, 2009

Lodi Wine Tasting: The intimacy missing from today's Napa Valley

In the central valley of California, near Stockton and the state capital of Sacramento is the town and wine growing region known as the Lodi Appellation. This gorgeous area is filled with vineyards and wineries that nurture and bottle some of the best wine grapes you will find - they rival Napa and Sonoma.

Recently we toured this lush area and had an extended visit with long time wine grower, David Lucas, of Lucas Winery. He took the time to take us out back to share the precise moment that some baby Zinfandel grapes started showing up on his vines.

These Zin Star grapes are just part of the success story that Lucas Winery has had with its amazing wines - with the vineyard celebrating its 30th year. Does it help that David travels to Tuscany every year? Is it the experience and skill of his wife who made wines for 16 years at the Robert Mondavi Winery where she was responsible for their Cabernet Reserve and Opus wines.

David Lucas also took us for further discussion inside where their barrels were laid out. Their wines are aged in French Oak barrels (not flavored with oak chips) and when we were there they had some new barrels waiting - with instructions!

In the Grand Chai, oak barrels resting single high hold the entire vintage from the ZinStar vineyard. Five different barrel coopers were chosen to carefully enhance the unique characteristics of the vineyard. Depending on the special quality of the vintage the wine will rest here for 12 to 16 months. Crushed gravel under the barrels is used to maintain the proper temperature and humidity in order to age the vintages in ideal conditions. Even the barrels resting "one high" are specific for the aging of a great wine.

We do not know of anyone who has done this for Zinfandels. This centuries-old technique is typically reserved for the world's elegant wines. The wine will rest undisturbed, allowing for un-filtered wines. This process is a luxury in wine making, but we wouldn't have it any other way. Our goal is to protect the traditional craft of winemaking.

This part of California is such an unexpected treat when we come here. It does feel as if this is what Napa or Sonoma Valley must have been like 20 years ago or more. No wonder Mondavi is said to have started in this area, the air and people have a warmth that is nurturing. If you come to Northern California, this area known as the Lodi Appellation is worth adding to your itinerary.

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