• Pier7
    We arrived in San Francisco too late to accomplish much so we decided to "practice" using the Muni system to get downtown. We figured we'd just check things out so we'd have a better feel for where to go the next day. The first place we walked to was Pier 7. I wanted to take in San Francisco's skyline from the end of the pier.
  • Fishing For Sharks
    Pier 7 is the one pier along San Francisco's waterfront that is designated for public fishing. By this time the sun had set and the pier was largely -- but not completely -- deserted. There was still a group of teenage boys fishing at the end of it. They looked a little rough and not too friendly so Darla decided it might be best to steer clear of them. Her plan was thwarted by The Boy, who noticed them bringing in a bat ray as we arrived; they set it down next to a couple of juvenile leopard sharks they'd caught earlier. The Boy demanded a closer look.

    I asked what they were going to do with the sharks. One of them looked at me like I was a rube and said, "Eat them, of course!"

  • Boudin Bakery Animals
    Further north along the waterfront, just past Pier 39 and across the street from The Rainforest Cafe, we discovered the Boudin Bakery. It was just after 10:00pm so the bakery was closed but several elaborate sourdough bread animals were on display in the window.
  • Sourdough Turtle
    Two days later, the evening of July 4th, we came back to the Boudin Bakery around dusk to find a crowd gathered at the front window. Bakers were hard at work creating more sourdough bread animals like the ones we'd seen in the window a couple nights earlier. One of the bakers, a young lady who turned out to be the daughter of the master baker, noticed Lewis watching her. She called him over to a side entrance where she gave him this sourdough turtle. We stowed it away in our backpack for safekeeping. This turned out to be the last time Lewis and I would see it. Whatever happened to that turtle, Mommie?
  • Butterfly Lady
    The fourth of July is a great time to be along San Francisco's waterfront. The roads are closed to traffic early in the day. Even the street cars and buses that normally run through the area are shut down. By early afternoon, the whole waterfront is transformed into a giant carnival. Street performers and musicians compete for space with vendors selling every kind of light-up trinket imaginable.
  • Make Me a Butterfly
    Just outside of the Boudin Bakery, this colorfully dressed woman was making balloon figures. Despite her attempts to relate to the children she was clearly a little odd, a fact not lost on Lewis, who was reluctant to talk to her.
  • The Finished Product
    With Mom acting as intermediary, The Boy requested a blue and purple butterfly. Balloon Lady groused a little over this request, complaining that butterflies were not particularly challenging. She had just finished explaining to the gathered crowd that larger, more elaborate balloons required a larger, more elaborate tip.
  • Here's Your Loot
    After receiving his balloon, The Boy gave Balloon Lady $4 in change. This was a little more than the going rate but she didn't seem happy to be getting it in the form of coins. Balloon Lady was a little tempermental.
  • It Passed Inspection
    To her credit, Balloon Lady produced a very nice butterfly balloon exactly to The Boy's specifications. He was quite pleased with it.
  • Aquarium of the Bay
    Just a block away from the Boudin Bakery is the Aquarium of the Bay, originally named Underwater World after its two large acrylic tunnels that run through its center. Images of these two tunnels undoubtedly lure thousands of visitors to the aquarium -- including us. Little did we know that these two tunnels are the aquarium. Except for a few touch tanks, the tunnels are it. Frommers describes this place as "overrated." I'd have to agree. Still, the tunnels are cool!
  • Bat Ray Touch Tank
    Lewis thought about touching the bat ray. Then he thought better of it.
  • Leopard Shark Touch Tank
    Darla had been talking for days about wanting to touch a leopard shark so she was quite pleased to get the opportunity here. This is the one thing that we could do here that we could not do at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

    Leopard sharks are the most docile kind of shark; these juveniles didn't seem to mind the attention. For the record, leopard sharks are rough to the touch, particularly if you stroke them back-to-front. Bat rays, on the other hand, are soft.

  • The Conservatory of Flowers
    Golden Gate Park is filled with many interesting places, not the least of which is the Conservatory of Flowers which features many rare and beautiful tropical plants housed in an ornate 130 year old Victorian greenhouse.
  • Chomp! Banner
    One wing of the Conservatory featured a special carnivorous plants exhibit called "Chomp!" which included an assortment of pitcher plants, venus flytraps, butterworts, and sundew plants.
  • Conservatory Entrance
    Being more than a little concerned about finding a parking place for my 26' RV, we arrived early -- just as the Conservatory opened. We ended up with a great parking spot. Had we arrived even 10 minutes later the situation would have been quite different. This was the first Tuesday of the month, meaning that admission was free. At first I considered this a good thing; before long I realized it had a significant downside as well. You might be surprised by how many people jump at the chance to see tropical plants for free. It wasn't long before there was a line out the door to see the Chomp! exhibit.
  • Tropical Butterflies
    "That's my favorite one."
  • The Chomp! Room
    The Chomp! room became increasingly louder and more crowded as time passed. A number of conservatory volunteers patroled the area around the venus flytraps in a vain attempt to protect them from curious visitors who failed to read or to otherwise heed the many signs imploring them not to molest the flytraps. It went something like this:

    visitor #1: "Honey, check this out!"

    volunteer: "Sir, please step away from the venus flytrap."

    visitor #2: "Look at what happens when I..."

    volunteer (interrupting): "Please, do NOT touch the flytraps. You'll kill the plant!"

    visitor #3: "Watch this!"

    volunteer: "Young lady, excuse me. Please don't blow on the flytraps."

    visitor #4: "Dad! Look at what happens when you touch this plant!"

    volunteer: (sigh)

    visitor #5: "You just barely touch these things and..."

    volunteer: "BACK AWAY FROM THE FLYTRAP!"

  • A Closer Look
    The Boy proved to be a friend of the carnivorous plants. He looked but did not touch.
  • Show Your Mother What You've Learned
    "OK, Little Man. Let's show your mother what you've learned. You're a venus flytrap and your mom is a little gnat that's just landed on you. What do you do?"
  • CHOMP!
  • What'd Ya Think?
    "Nicely done, Boy!"
  • Tropical Pond
    The most spectacular room in the Conservatory was actually on the opposite end of the building from the carnivorous plant exhibit. The aquatic plants room was filled with a variety of very cool plants.
  • Water Lilies
  • Leaf, Under
  • Leaf, Top
  • Giant Amazon Lily

  • Silhouettes
    From the Conservatory, it is only a short walk through Golden Gate Park to the new de Young Museum. We made a brief stop in a nearby tunnel so that The Boy could practice his echo-making technique.
  • Acanthus
    One route between the Conservatory and the de Young goes past this mass planting of Acanthus.
  • The New de Young
    Often my favorite thing about visiting an art museum is the architecture of the building itself. The de Young is no exception. Although the de Young dates back to 1895, this beautiful new $200 million facility is less than two years old. The fascade is made up of metal sheets covered in various patterns of bumps, impressions, and perforations.
  • Ruth Asawa Wire Sculpture
    There were a number of interesting exhibits at the de Young however the Ruth Asawa wire sculptures were easily my favorite. The intricate designs cast equally intricate shadows which transform the look of the sculpture as one walks around it. Now if only they could have done away with the bright red box on the wall...
  • View From Observatory
    On a clear day, the de Young's observation floor offers panoramic views of the city and beyond -- or so I'm told. It was not a clear day in Golden Gate Park, which actually worked to my advantage for this shot. It became one of my favorite images.
  • Boy With Eucalyptus Leaf
    One thing The Boy quickly discovered about San Francisco was the presence of eucalypus trees all over the city and -- more to the point -- the collection of bright red eucalyptus leaves that one could find underneath them just sitting there for the taking.
  • Stairway
  • Suspended Wood Fragments
    It was all The Boy could do to resist batting around these hanging fragments of charred wood. They formed a giant suspended cube.
  • Elevator Self-Portrait

  • Postcard Row
    San Francisco is known for its beautiful Victorian homes. Postcard Row features six of its best, all designed by the same architect in 1895.
  • Alamo Square
    It doesn't take long to figure out why these six houses are referred to as "Postcard Row". They sit across the street from Alamo Square, a popular neighborhood park that provides a perfect vantage point from which to photograph these Victorian beauties with San Francisco's skyline in the background.
  • Cheesy Grin
    A word to the wise: Don't expect to have this view to yourself. There's always going to some guy with a cheesy grin invading your otherwise perfect composition...

    Oh, by the way, apparently the show Full House took place in one of these houses. I've never seen the show but I ran into a group of girls who had come just to see the "Full House house," as they put it.

  • On Golden Gate Bridge
    If there's one thing that's synonymous with San Francisco, it's the Golden Gate Bridge. I'd driven across it a couple times as a kid on family vacations but I'd never walked out onto the bridge before. It is designed to be flexible in extreme weather conditions, thus it sways on really windy days. Some people warn that you can get sea sick if you're out on the bridge when this happens. I believe it. Fortunately, on this day it was merely breezy.
  • Chasing The Dad
    The Boy took this opportunity to burn off some energy chasing The Dad.
  • Finding the Perfect Eucalyptus Leaf
    As any four year old leaf collector will tell you, no matter how perfect the red eucalyptus leaf you've already got, there is always one better. It's just a matter of finding it...
  • Golden Gate Bridge From Spencer Battery
    So this perspective looks familiar? That's because everyone and their brother shows up at Spencer Battery to take this photograph. You can too if you drive out to the Marin Headlands. Just know that it will cost you $5 to get back across the bridge into San Francisco. That's cash, by the way. No checks. No credit cards. Don't have $5 cash? No worries. The helpful attendant will take down your information and mail you a bill...for $30!
  • The Bay Bridge and downtown San Francisco as seen through the Golden Gate Bridge
    The Bay Bridge and downtown San Francisco as seen through the Golden Gate Bridge
  • The Second Time Around: Foggy & Cold
    The second time we showed up at the Golden Gate Bridge it was not quite as clear...or warm. That's summer in San Francisco. We embraced it -- or, more accurately, some of us embraced it.
  • Lines in the Fog
    C=0% M=69% Y=100% K=6%. That's the CYMK formula for International Orange (according to the official Golden Gate Bridge website). If you plug it into Photoshop like I did, you'll see that it looks wrong, wrong, wrong. Oh, the joys of color management!

    Here's something you thought you knew about the bridge but don't: The bridge is NOT being painted year round from one end and back to the other. The last complete paint job was finished in 1995 and since then there has been continuous "touch up" in areas that experience heavy corrosion.

  • Boy v. Rope Fence
    It's best not to lean against the rope barrier, Little Man.
  • Caught in Mid-Shiver
    Caught in Mid-Shiver
  • Mine. Mine. Mine.
    Mine. Mine. Mine.
  • The Golden Gate as Seen From Treasure Island
    This was our final view of the Golden Gate as we left San Francisco via the Bay Bridge. The shot was taken from Treasure Island and, despite all appearances, is a color capture.

  • Dragon Gate
    The Dragon Gate on the corner of Bush and Grant marks the entrance to Chinatown. The gate was a gift from the Republic of China (AKA Taiwan).
  • Chinatown
    San Francisco's Chinatown is one of the oldest and largest outside of Asia. In the earthquake of 1906 the entire neighborhood was leveled and many within San Francisco's government argued for moving it to a less desirable location. Others argued that it should be rebuilt in place as a tourist attraction. Ultimately, Chinatown was rebuilt in its original location. Today it draws more visitors than the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • Getting a Ride
    Despite the number of visitors it receives, I've never heard anyone argue that Chinatown isn't authentic.
  • None For Me
    "Daddy, I'm sorry but I don't see anything that I like."
  • Whole Chickens
    In Chinatown, "whole chicken" means whole chicken.

  • Montgomery Street and the Transamerica Building
    Montgomery Street, just below the Montgomery Steps, provides a nice view of the Transamerica building framed by several blocks of well kept row houses. I actually preferred this view to the better known one at the top of the steps.
  • View From the Top of the Steps
    Once you've climbed to the top of the Montgomery Steps, you're just a few blocks away from Coit Tower. Just a little more climbing...
  • Montgomery & Union
    Montgomery & Union with Russian Hill in the background
  • Blue Tongue
    Having walked all the way from Embarcadero Station, through Chinatown, and up to the top of the Montgomery Steps, "just a little more climbing" was not a phrase The Boy wanted to hear. Yet the promise of candy waiting at the top of the hill proved motivational. Said candy ended up taking the form of a giant blue sucker.
  • Blue Teeth
  • View From Coit Tower
    My primary guidebook advised me not to pay for the trip to the top of Coit Tower. "The view from the parking lot is largely the same as the view from the top," it advised. I decided to check it out anyway, a decision I came to regret after discovering that all the openings were closed off with smudge-covered plexiglass. My advice to readers: The view from the parking lot is largely the same as the view from the top. Spend your money elsewhere.

  • Welcome to The Rainforest Cafe
    Welcome to one of the coolest restaurants ever! Located along the Embarcadero not far from Fisherman's Wharf, The Rainforest Cafe is three stories of lush (fake) vegetation populated by animatronic pythons, gorillas, elephants, cheetas, birds, and butterflies.

    As we walked through the front door, we were greeted by this giant and very realistic looking python -- and the sight of a parent forcing their screaming and clearly terrified 3 year old to touch it. The snake would bend its head and neck down and flick its tongue at curious onlookers. If I didn't know better, I would have sworn it could tell when someone was nearby. Not surprisingly, Lewis wanted nothing to do with it.

  • Animatronic Elephants
    Despite Mom's best efforts, Lewis was not interested in touching the elephants either. Although their movements were confined to blinking eyelids, moving heads and trunks, and flapping ears, Lewis had apparently decided that it was only a matter of time before someone got stepped on -- and it wasn't going to be him.

    On the other side of the room was a giant gorilla that would occasionally beat its chest. This often occurred in the middle of a "thunderstorm" during which all the lights would flicker and go out, strobe lights would flash, and the sound of thunder would emanate from all directions.

  • Our Table
    We discovered The Rainforest Cafe on our first evening in San Francisco -- too late to eat. We promised Lewis we would come back another night to eat and, more importantly, to buy him a collection of pretend insects: all the plastic insects he could fit into a small box for only $7.99 plus tax!
  • Organizing the Bugs
    The folks eating under the snake got no peace at all due to the constant parade of people coming over to have their picture taken under it.
  • Aquariums
    Diners in another section of the restaurant were surrounded by giant aquariums.

  • Inside the Metreon
    San Francisco is the home of Sony's first Metreon, envisioned as a high tech mall and showplace for technology, games, and entertainment. Although it attracted considerable foot traffic, the San Francisco Metreon was ultimately unprofitable and thus sold off. Today most of the high tech tenants are gone but a remnant of its past exists in the form of this game which sits in the middle of the main floor waiting for a child to wander onto it, at which point it comes to life.
  • Yerba Buena Gardens
    The San Francisco MOMA is visible in the background at the edge of the Yerba Buena Gardens. The MOMA is what brought us to Yerba Buena but there is much more to see in this area. We discovered later that we were only a block away from a children's garden that features a restored carousel. We never got to see it. Bummer, man.
  • MLK Memorial
    What we didn't miss was the MLK Jr. Memorial, one of the best memorials I've seen. Its design was inspired by Dr.King's speech quoting Amos 5:24 where he says, "No. No, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until 'justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.'"

    A roaring waterfall is the heart of the memorial with a passageway underneath that is lined with quotes from his speeches. The memorial and Dr. King's words were both very impressive.

    This shot of Lewis at the end of the passageway is one of my favorite images from San Francisco.

  • Playing in the Water

  • A Battle of Wills
    As we waited in line at the Powell Street turnaround, a war of wills broke out between The Mom and The Boy over the necessity of wearing a hoodie. For The Boy it was a losing battle -- but he went down fighting.
  • Turning Around the Cable Cars
    San Francisco's cable cars are still turned around by hand at the end of each line. In fact, everything about them is old school. One of the operators explained to me that every time a cable car needs a new part it has to be made by hand. As a result, each car has its own personality.
  • The Powell-Mason Line
    Our first ride was on the Powell-Mason line at dusk. We departed from the Financial District instead of the waterfront so the wait in line was very short.
  • Powell Street
  • Mason Street
    We enjoyed great views along the way, particularly as we descended down the east side of the route. The tracks lit up like shiny ribbons adorning the middle of the street.
  • Spare Change
    This man spent his time performing for the line of people waiting to ride San Francisco's most popular cable car run, the Powell-Hyde. He described himself as the one-man band known as Spare Change. "Get it?" he kept asking.

    Once we got up next to him, The Boy broke into song too, offering up a rendition of "Jesus Loves Me".

  • Waiting For the Hyde-Powell
    We had so much fun on our first cable car ride that we decided to take another ride back to where we started. This time we took the Hyde-Powell line, the steepest line in the city as it climbs Russian Hill.

    The wait was a little longer for the return trip. It was dark by the time we left.

  • Ready To Go
    We sat in the very front of the cable car on the way over. We decided to stand on the rear platform for the ride back. We were fortunate to get our choice in both directions, although Lewis wasn't feeling that lucky when he saw where we would be standing. We had to convince him he wasn't going to fall out.
  • Powell & Bush
    Each cable car is run by two operators. One is inside the car toward the front; the other stands on the rear platform -- with us in this case. This made for interesting conversation on the trip back. Our operator seemed to enjoy explaining how everything worked. He also shared a few good stories. He was driving a bus when the Northridge earthquake hit in 1989.
  • 4th & Market
    You'd be excused for thinking that we were still on the cable car line at this point; we're not. These tracks are for the trolleys (not to be confused with cable cars) that run up and down Market Street.

  • The Thinker
    There's a good chance you recognize The Thinker, one of the world's best known sculptures. It was sculpted by Rodin, one of the worlds most admired sculptors. But Rodin was French. What was The Thinker doing in San Francisco? It turns out that the finest collection of Rodin sculptures outside of Paris can be found at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.
  • The Thinker In Courtyard
    The first thing I told Darla was that this had to be a replica. Not only was it in San Francisco, but it was sitting outside exposed to the elements. Once inside, I was assured that it was, in fact, the actual Thinker. What they should have said is that it was an actual Thinker. I would find out later that there is more than one actual Thinker; multiple castings were made from the original mold. I don't know why but that seems like cheating to me.
  • Crop Of Trees
    The museum sits on a hilltop that offers great views of the Golden Gate Bridge...supposedly. It was another blustery day; quite cold, in fact. But the monochromatic skies and soft light set off the form of the surrounding Cypress trees quite nicely.

  • Chaos Theory
    How can I describe The Exploratorium? It's like the world's coolest science fair. I was a little concerned that either The Boy or The Parents would end up bored in short order. It took less than five minutes to realize this wasn't going to be a problem. We had to drag Lewis away kicking and screaming (a figure of speech...for the most part) from a few of the exhibits so that other children would have a chance to enjoy them.
  • Fluid Dynamics
  • Spinning Discs
    I've never seen Lewis as delighted as he seemed to be at this exhibit. The metal turntable in the center was rotating and people of all ages lined up along the edges of the table to see how long they could keep their particular disc spinning. Lewis used his disc to take out as many of the other spinning discs as possible.
  • Resonance
    The resonance generated by this instrument as it was dragged across the edge of the metal square created distinct patterns in the sand on top of it.
  • Distributed Mass
    The disc with the weights concentrated toward its center always rolled faster than the one with weights set on the outside edge. As the weight is shifted farther from center, the disc has a harder time getting moving.
  • Floating Ball
    This was one that The Boy would have preferred to have all to himself.
  • Technicolor Shadows

    This was the best demonstration of color theory I'd ever seen. Can you figure out how it was done? Remember, it is the shadows that are in color. The wall is white. Theater majors, put your hands down. I know you've all seen this before.

    Of course, The Boy wasn't so much interested in the theory as he was the colors themselves. He was a little miffed that the red shadow wasn't bigger.

    Previous stop: Monterey, CA