Blog Travel

SF Day 1: Sea Lions, Science, & Sightseeing

October 13, 2018

Ah, San Francisco. The fog! The streetcars! The absurdly overpriced housing and lack of parking! Er…maybe we’ll stick to the fun bits. When we last met, I was telling you about how we got to SF. In this post, we’ll look back on day one of our two-day adventure in the city by the bay.

Sunday morning we all got up early. Like, really early. Keep in mind we’re East coast dwellers, so to us, the 5 am wakeup felt more like 8 am! Granted, I spent most of that first night crowded to the very edge of a full-size bed by my dear sweet toddler son, who enjoys sleeping sideways and kicking me in the boobs. I love my child. I love my child. I love my child even when he kicks me in tender spots and takes up the entire bed and only lets me get 4 hours of sleep…

After a half hour of snuggling in bed and trying to figure out where to get some breakfast, we settled on a cozy local diner in Portola. I’m super indecisive, so Peter made the judgment call on based on their cool mural.

A colorful mural of flowers and abstract shapes on the side of a building.
There are a ton of murals in Portola, a lot of them featuring inspirational figures like Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Rosa Parks, and Cesar Chavez.

We got there shortly after opening and snagged a table, minutes before the morning rush. This place is popular, and it’s clear why! I’m an Eggs Benedict girl; I order them 98% of the time we go to a breakfast joint, and I’m often disappointed. Overcooked yolks, too-runny whites, or too little Hollandaise…but not this time! I ordered their special BLT Benedict, and when they dropped this monstrosity in front of me, my eyes practically bugged out. The food is fantastic, the coffee is strong, and the vibe of the place is relaxed and comfortable. 

After breakfast, we made our way down to the Embarcadero to check out the Aquarium of the Bay. Ben has been really into fish recently, so we knew he’d love it. We parked about a mile away and had a nice walk down to Pier 39, and since the aquarium hadn’t opened yet, we strolled down the pier to check out the sea lions. It was still relatively early, so there weren’t a lot of folks out, nor were many of the stores open. The weather was gorgeous – sunny and about 68° with a gentle breeze, aka freaking perfect. If you’re not into crowds and don’t care about buying stuff, then 9:45 on a Sunday morning is the ideal time to walk around. 

The aquarium opened at 10, so we were some of the first to get in. As predicted, Ben loved it. He ran around the tanks, giggling and smiling and pointing at every fish; when he gets really excited he clasps his hands together at his belly and does this funny little sideways hop, I wish I had video of it. The jellyfish exhibit is gorgeous and ethereal and incredibly hard to photograph, but I tried! There are two underwater tunnels at this aquarium, which I was pretty excited about…but Peter wasn’t too thrilled with them. The light filtering down through the water made him kind of motion sick, so I’m glad the moving floor was out of commission! It’s not a very big aquarium (nothing like the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is on our list), so we finished our tour in about an hour.

I honestly hadn’t planned much for this day aside from the aquarium, since I didn’t know how long it would take and how much Ben would tolerate. We talked about what we should do as we walked back to the car when it hit me: we had parked right next to the Exploratorium. Duh. We’ll go check out their new location! When I was a kid, the Exploratorium was housed in the Palace of Fine Arts, but in 2013 they moved to a new home at Piers 15 and 17. It’s a great space: 25% bigger and far more energy efficient than the old location, utilizing solar panels and the water from the bay as a heat sink, all in an effort to become San Francisco’s largest net-zero-energy-use museum*. Ben loved the kinetic, light, and outdoor exhibits the best, but he’s a bit young to really enjoy the rest of it. Next time we come to California we’ll bring Isaac to check out the Exploratorium, San Francisco Zoo, and Computer History Museum.

After a late lunch at a delicious Burmese restaurant near the Presidio, we took a brief stroll to admire some of the interesting houses nearby (and digest a bit), then took a scenic drive through the Presidio along Washington Blvd to go check out the view of the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Interesting fact about that white house: it’s the Commander’s house (aka the biggest) of ‘Pilots’ Row,’ 13 homes built in 1921 for pilots with families stationed at nearby Crissy Army Air Field. The houses were all rehabilitated in 2005 as part of a 3 million dollar project funded by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. These days, you can rent one for just $6,750 a month! They’re gorgeous, and the view is stunningprovided you don’t mind the traffic and constant stream of tourists right out your back door. 

Our last stop of the day was the Palace of Fine Arts, with a quick jaunt out to the Wave Organ, a huge, wave-powered acoustic sculpture at the end of a jetty in San Francisco Bay. Unfortunately, we were there around low tide, so there wasn’t much wave music going on. I put my ear up to several of the tubes, but the sound was muted. It reminded me of the sounds you hear when you put a conch shell up to your ear, with additional gurgles and burps. Pretty cool, but by the time we got out there we were all tired of walking and ready to head back to our AirBnB. Maybe next time we visit San Francisco we’ll go out to hear it at the appropriate time!

As you can probably tell, we had an incredibly busy first day in SF! We managed to hit almost all of the sights I had wanted to show Peter, in one day. This kind of tweaked my plans for day two…what on earth would we do all day?

Well…you’ll find out in the next post! This one is already way too long!

Miss the first part of this story? Check out the intro post.

*Hall, Christopher (August 6, 2013). “A San Francisco Museum, Reborn on the Bay”. New York Times. Retrieved 2013-08-07.

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