Despite there being more to see and do in San Francisco, we deliberately only planned to spend a day and a bit in the city before we headed south to Monterey and other parts of Big Sur. We felt this was best for us to ensure we visited all the smaller places we wanted to see between the major cities We can always fly into the big cities again in the future to see more if we want to. Perhaps San Francisco will one day be the starting point for another trip which sees us head north, instead of south, as we were headed on our second day in California.
Mission San Francisco de Asis
Our first stop of the day was the Mission San Francisco de Asis (also known as Mission Dolores after a nearby creek). This is the oldest surviving structure in San Francisco, so how could we not stop by? The original mission is a smallish white building now dominated by its more recently built neighbour, the Mission Dolores Basilica.
Our visit started in the original mission with its colourful ceiling, elaborate mural on the right wall and the highly decorated altar. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to wander through, but it’s an interesting mission nonetheless. To one side of the altar area is a kneeler that was used by who other than … Pope John Paul II! It might be cheaper to put signs up to show places he DIDN’T visit :-). So we were once again walking in his footsteps by visiting.
The original mission was a small wood and thatch structure but in 1791 this current structure was built. About 26,000 adobe bricks make up the walls that have survived several earthquakes, including the devastating 1906 and 1989 earthquakes. The roof is made of logs and rawhide and then has been beautifully painted in an Ohlone Indian design with vegetable dye.
Leaving the original mission we entered the more recent basilica which was rebuilt in 1918 after the original church was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. Inside are beautiful stained glass windows with 21 of them depicting all of the missions in California. Other windows show angels and Saint Francis of Assisi, for whom the church was named.
Moving outside into the courtyard/graveyard there is a replica of a Tule House, or Ohlone Ruway, which is a reminder of the Native people that originally inhabited the land. They visited the missions, often seeking food, and the priests would invite them to stay in an effort to convert them. They were also often enslaved to farm, build structures, and serve the priests. In addition to religious conversion, the priests also converted the Native people culturally but forcing them to lose their language, culture, and even their names.
But the real treat in this courtyard are some excellent views of the spires of the basilica contrasted against a beautiful blue sky, and a quiet walk through the cemetery amongst the colourful flowers. It all made for a very peaceful start to our day.
Twin Peaks and “The Thinker”
Our next stop was a complete let down. We headed up to Twin Peaks to take a look back at San Francisco but instead we got all the way to the top just to have a close up view of the fog! Oh well, these things happen.
We quickly headed back down the hill and were off to the Legion of Honor Museum that was built to commemorate California soldiers who died in WWI. On this occasion we didn’t have plans to go inside but were there instead to see Rodin’s ‘The Thinker‘ in the courtyard. This is one of the many casts of this sculpture scattered around the world, not all of which were actually cast during Rodin’s lifetime. As I had never seen any of them (Stacey has seen one at the Met in New York), we took the opportunity to see this one and it didn’t disappoint either of us.
Originally a depiction of the poet Dante, this pieces now represents all poets and creators. This particular cast stands over six feet tall in the middle of the courtyard of this beautifully designed Beaux-art building with a view of the Pacific and Golden Gate Bridge through the trees.
Close to the Legion of Honor Museum is a Holocaust Memorial. A large stone tablet lists the names of many concentration and death camps- names that will be familiar if you have visited Holocaust sites or memorials around the world. The memorial itself consists of a single stretch of concentration camp barbed wire fence with a solitary figure standing against it; behind him is a twisted pile of dead bodies. I imagine a scene like this would have met the liberators of many of these camps…
Our next stop was something altogether more light (sic) hearted… with a visit to a Camera Obscura. In these days of UltraHD TV, this quaint relic from the past is still very interesting. Relying on nothing more than prisms and mirrors, it allows you to see an almost 3D like image on a concave screen in the darkened interior of the building.
When we arrived we initially thought the camera wasn’t going to be open so we headed out to over-see the ruins of the Sutro Baths just next door instead. Situated on this scenic coastline in San Francisco, this was once the largest indoor swimming establishment in the world. The pools were fed the tides of the San Francisco Bay and the huge glass-roofed structure contained seven (!) salt water swimming pools. They opened in 1890 and were quite popular for a while until so few people visited that they became too expensive to maintain. The baths were closed in 1966 and in the same year they burned down. Now all that remains are these ruins.
On the way back to our car, we were delighted when we saw a man cleaning the lens on the roof of the camera so we waited a few minutes for it to open and headed inside. As it was quiet he was able to explain how it worked and we spent an interesting few minutes looking at the image of surfers and the surrounding area.
Android Statue Garden
And off we were again, continuing south out of San Francisco and into Silicon Valley. Whether you like our next stop will possibly depend on whether you are “Android” or “Apple“!
Well we are all Android so we headed to the Android Statue Garden. It’s here that the large plastic models that Google release each time they bring out a new version of Android are to be found. If you are Apple, then a visit to the “Mothership” nearby might be more up your street??
We weren’t the only people to have driven out to see the statues either (which Stacey thought we might be). There is plenty of parking nearby and you are free to wander amongst these cute little guys as you wish. On the way out we also spotted one of those oh-so-useful street view cars; such a useful service that when creating travel plans, has saved us much anguish.
Old Mission San Juan Bautista
Heading on further south towards Monterey we broke the drive up with a visit to another mission- the Old Mission San Juan Bautista. Established in 1797, and reminding me of one of the missions near San Antonio, it was another peaceful place to wander round (especially the cactus and flower-filled garden) and stretch our legs before continuing on our drive.
Before we got to Monterey, we checked into our Airbnb for the next two nights because it included two passes to the Monterey Aquarium, and it would be rude to turn down such a useful inclusion. Passes in hand we headed into Monterey and to the aquarium to continue our day.
Now I’m no marine biologist (that’s Stacey’s domain), so I can’t tell you much detail about anything we saw. I do know we saw lots of cool fish, sharks, turtles, anemones and penguins in different sections.
But if you want to save the best until last, then save the jellyfish. They were just fascinating and illuminated so well that it was easy to take pictures – unlike some of the other creatures who would swim off just when you got them in focus!
A stroll around Fisherman’s Wharf brought our day to a close and we returned to our Airbnb to be rested and ready to hit Big Sur in the morning.
To read more about our adventures on our California Dreamin’ Road Trip, please feel free to check out these posts:
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