As written in the headers for all of my blog posts, I conceived of this site as a place to “share pictures, stories, and reflections of my birding adventures – past and present…” There have been a couple of exceptions but otherwise all of the posts, and this one will be post number 233, have had birds and birding as the main focus. To be sure there has been much more with some history, psychology, politics, geography and what-not thrown in. And of course many of the best times have been with wonderful people that I have tried to include.
Although there is an important connection to my birding past, indeed the very beginning of that history, this post will be very different. It relates and reflects on a relatively short trip to San Francisco over Christmas 2019 with Cindy Bailey, the special lady that came into my life earlier this year and who has made my life immeasurably happier and better with her support and company. We covered a lot of ground in just 4 days ending at Baylands Nature Preserve in Palo Alto, California, the largest tract of undisturbed marsh land in the San Francisco Bay and the place where I started my birding life. The experience was so full and so fun that I wanted to memorialize it in one place – why not here?
Alaska Airlines flight flight 1794 was scheduled to leave SeaTac Airport at 8:00 a.m. on Monday December 23rd. Travelers were warned that due to heavy traffic at the airport, being there two hours early was advised. So given the distance from Edmonds, the need to park the car and then shuttle to the terminal, we planned to leave Edmonds not later than 5:15 a.m. Maybe it is from all the early morning risings for my birding adventures or maybe because I have no hair on my head to wash, dry and attend to, but I can be ready to go within 15 minutes of waking up. It helped that we had packed everything except incidentals the night before. Cindy has many fine qualities, but she does have that hair thing to deal with and is generally not quick to get going in the mornings in any event. So the alarms were set for 4:00 a.m. I was showered, dressed and had eaten breakfast and was ready to go at maybe 4:20. Cindy skipped any breakfast and really made good time, so we were out the door not much after 5:00. We needn’t have hurried.
The security lines at the airport were long but for some reason, the TSA line was as short as I could remember it. We were through in just moments and were at the gate well before 7:00 a.m. The plane was a little late to load but about 8:20 a.m. we were all onboard and ready to go. Alas, there was no go as we sat there waiting to taxi off for at least 25 minutes. Finally we backed away from the gate and got in line. Sometime around 9:00 a.m. we were on the runway apron ready to get into the queue. The attendants announced there were a lot of planes in line ahead of us and it would take awhile. But even though we could see the line of planes, we never moved to take our place. We sat…and sat…and sat. Maybe thirty minutes passed – no movement and little information other than that there were problems in San Francisco to the extent that “they were not letting any planes land”. Huh??
We were told we would head back to the terminal to … well it was not sure what. We got to the terminal and were at first told we could get off and then moments later were told to stay onboard and wait to see what might happen. Well, you could get off – but then would not be able to reboard. At least they allowed access to the bathrooms on the plane. As you can imagine there was not much happiness among the holiday travelers on board. This certainly included Cindy and me as we had non-refundable tickets for the musical Hamilton that night – not a cheap date. If this flight was canceled we would not be able to find another (assuming any planes would be landing at SFO) to get there that day. The odds were not good on finding a flight the next day either. We agreed that a 2.5 day trip without the theater was not worth the airfare, hotels, car etc. We would cut our losses and celebrate – somehow – in Seattle. (There was much cursing under our breaths.)
Then news came that the SFO airport was open again and we would be leaving soon – not sure what soon meant. Out to the apron again to get in line. It seemed to take a long time but finally we moved into the queue and around 10:30 a.m. we headed off. This was significantly later than we were originally scheduled to arrive in San Francisco. Now that landing would be 3 hours late…BUT our theater tickets were still good and it was going to be a great holiday after all. The SFO airport was a zoo as hundreds of flights had been canceled or delayed. We heard many reasons for the delays – internet problems, a runway reconstruction project, mechanical failures and weather problems including fog and wind, but the weather was fine when we got there – sunny skies and 52 degrees. No longer our problem in any event. We took BART to Union Square and then walked over to the Staypineapple Hotel – yes that really is the name. We had wondered about an early check in but with the flight delay, there was no need to worry as it was after 2:00 p.m when we got there.
Located at the corner of Geary and Jones, the Staypineapple Hotel is self described as an “elegant hotel”. We agree. It is fairly small and every detail is thought out and designed around the “Pineapple” theme. We are probably too old to understand the full hipness of the name, but we loved the look.
Staypineapple Hotel (Exterior)
Staypineapple Hotel (Interior) – Over the Top Design
The cookies awaiting us in the lobby – pineapple shaped and flavored, of course – were a bonus. Our room was fairly small but very attractive and the bed – with pineapple pillow was appealing. And he tree in the lobby was a must for a photo.
Although there were few specific details, our original plan had been to be in downtown before noon and then check out some touristy spots before heading off to dinner and then the show. There had been a fair amount of stress with the flight situation and we had been up early so we just took it easy and had a short cat nap in the room. We expected to do a lot of walking during this visit in part because we knew there would be a lot of food consumed (even without those pineapple cookies). Hamilton started at 7:00 and the Orpheum Theater was maybe 15 minutes from the hotel. We had found an appealing restaurant that was somewhat in the same direction as the theater and it was also about 15 minutes from the hotel and then there would be another 10 minutes or so to the theater. We had a dinner reservation for 5:15 and got there a few minutes early. There was a long line and staff was not real helpful in explaining the check-in process, but they found us a table and we were set.
Max’s at the Opera Restaurant on Van Ness Avenue
Our restaurant, Max’s at the Opera, was like a glorified deli with many theater goers in attendance. Not haute cuisine, but that was not the goal this night in any event. Service was excellent and our waiter affirmed that their featured Reuben Sandwich really was excellent. Why not? We were on vacation. It really was excellent and we dismissed any caloric calculations for it or our drinks that preceded the meal.
My son Alex was visiting Seattle and we had a chance to have lunch with him before leaving for this trip. It was the first time he and Cindy had met. Much of our talk had been about his life in the world of specialty coffee and a potential change in employment, but we also talked about San Francisco as he had been there recently. He is very urban and urbane and loves the city but called it a dystopia with the overwhelming homeless situation on many streets. We had not seen that walking to the hotel, but it was very apparent walking to the restaurant (through the edge of the Tenderloin district) and then to the theater. Very depressing indeed.
We were now off to see Hamilton. It is always exciting to be in a theater crowd before a performance especially so with the anticipation for this much loved production at a very nice theater. Our seats were excellent (at the price we paid they should have been) – about 20 rows up in the orchestra. I won’t go into details about the show. Incredible performances and an amazing conception and production. As much as the main characters were terrific, it was the excellence of the many smaller players in the highly complicated choreography that stood out most to me. I had mixed feelings on how the story was related and the music. Rap is not my favorite and we often could not hear/understand the words, but there was no missing the incredible force and energy of the production – especially in the first half. Not so much in the second half and especially the ending. Production and casting (deliberate I am sure) definitely made it easy to not like Jefferson and Madison. We were glad we went but are not members of the Hamilton as Best Musical Ever fan club.
It was nice to have the hotel well located to get to Union Square, restaurants and the theater, but that central in the heart of the city location also meant lots of noise at night with traffic, sirens etc. – a reminder that I am not an urban type especially as a light sleeper. The (only) other less than appealing part of our hotel stay was a very limited breakfast menu at the “Bistro+Bar”. The only fruits available were apples and bananas. A few pastries (good) and some limited other options. Not a big problem but especially with local markets and delis closed on the day before Christmas and Christmas day – not great. Of course there was a Starbucks and a Burger King (or was it a Jack in The Box and aren’t they the same?) within a couple of blocks – so much for trendy San Francisco. We survived and began a very full day of exploring the city as tourists.
We started at Union Square – with yet another Christmas Tree photo op. The weather was perfect, cool, dry and windless with bright blue skies, and the crowds were not yet out in force – except for the lines for the the Cable Car which we had hoped to take to Fisherman’s Wharf. We waited for 20 minutes just north of Union Square as two cars came by too full for us to board. So we hiked down to where the cable car starts but found hundreds of people already in line – looking like an hour plus wait. Not keen on lines anywhere so we started off relying on “shank’s mare” – as in walking (I have always wanted to use that term). We casually walked through the shopping areas around Union Square. Fashions, jewelry, art, more fashions and more fashions – many high end Italian and French designers as well as Bloomingdale’s and Saks. Our shopping was all of the window kind, keeping our wallets tightly closed, but it was fun. Cindy liked one dress or coat but not the other and so on and we usually agreed.
Next was a walk through Chinatown with lunch an objective at some point. The ethnic diversity of San Francisco was hard to miss and almost everywhere we went, Asians were by far the most visible – of course much moreso in Chinatown itself. But there as well as everywhere else we heard many languages – Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Russian, French, Spanish, German, Arabic, Hindi, Bengali and Hebrew as well as many other Eastern and Northern European and Southeast Asian ones that we could not identify. As much as Seattle at least sees itself as a big and cosmopolitan city and I have seen it become moreso in my now almost 50 years there, there is simply no comparison with San Francisco.
There were LOTS of people and lots of small stores offering goods cheap and expensive and food and groceries to feed visitors and residents alike. Many were familiar and others were not. Lots of fish, poultry, pork and vegetables as well as herbs, spices and sauces. We were not sure if some of what we saw was to be eaten or… We had recently joined friends Randy and Janice Leitzke for dim sum at a small restaurant in Edmonds. Pretty good, but we figured we could do better here. Hawkers handed out pamphlets for competing restaurants and we chose one on a side street that looked just right – the Grant Place Restaurant. A little bigger than a hole in the wall and definitely not design conscious, but the food in the window looked good and there were many Asian couples and families and groups inside enjoying their fare.
Grant Place Restaurant
The food and service were both great and the only problem was that we ate too much. Back onto the street we continued north up Grant Street towards North Beach. Now there were even more people and we were amazed how every little shop seemed to be selling the same foods and all were jammed.
North Beach is famous for Italian restaurants, cafes and bakeries. We were already way over our theoretical calorie counts for the day but we figured we were doing a lot of walking so maybe a dessert would be okay. First however, we were enticed by Goorin’s Bros. Hat Shop on Stockton Street. An awesome collection of hats that were really fun to try on. There were definite temptations but I just could not see myself wearing the top hat that I liked best or the blue fedora that Cindy preferred. One of the best parts of this day was that nothing was really planned and we could just react to whatever appealed to us. The hat shop was fun, but the next stop was even more appealing.
Goorin’s Bros. Hat Shop
Molinari Delicatessen was established in 1896 and is one of the oldest delicatessens in the U.S. It was mobbed and everybody seemed to be buying something. If we had not already had our lunch, we would have been happy with any of a number of things offered. We moved on – reluctantly. But then we found Mara’s Italian Pastries and Gelato and this time we could not resist.
Mara’s Italian Pastries
We got a wonderful poppy seed confection and a chocolate mousse to be eaten later. Both were excellent and not terribly expensive. I would be in serious trouble if I lived anywhere near either Molinari or Mara’s. Happy but in serious trouble…
We headed back to the Staypineapple returning again through Chinatown. There were easily a thousand or more people shopping. Root vegetables seemed to be particularly popular. Unlike the pastries or the deli, for these there was no appeal. We took a little different route to check out the garage where we would be picking up our rental car the next morning on Bush Street. We got back to our room while it was still light. Being much further south and finally getting past the winter solstice, it was not dark as early in San Francisco as it had been when we left Seattle. The skies were turning gray, however, a portent of things to come.
Recognizing that we had eaten a lot this day and the previous night, but had not had much of a breakfast, we had omelettes at a delicatessen a block from the hotel. It was Christmas Eve and a lot of places were closed. Not fancy, but not bad and we were back to the hotel and turned in early. We had walked over 5 miles that day and were feeling pretty virtuous. It was not as noisy as the previous night — until a major storm hit the area. The rain pounded on the windows of the hotel. Somehow Cindy slept through it but not me. I was getting into serious sleep deprivation mode but could hardly feel sorry for myself thinking about what it must have been like for the homeless people on the streets. Sigh…
Christmas Day was to be our day out of the City. Cindy’s cousin Lisa and family were celebrating at their second home in Inverness, California in Marin County on Tomales Bay and near Point Reyes National Seashore. About 50 miles away, it would be about a 90 minute ride without stops. Our plan was to pick up the car early and drive to Inverness with some stops at Point Reyes, have lunch with the family and then return to San Francisco for a 7:00 dinner returning the car that evening. That’s what the online rental arrangement said, but we were thrown a major curve ball when I was informed – only at the time that I picked up the car at 7:30 a.m. – that the car office would be closing at 3:00 p.m. and there was no way to drop the car off until the next morning – unless we wanted to take it to the airport. WTF!!! There was no way we could be back by 3:00 p.m. and no way to go the airport – and then have to get back to our hotel – a two hour ordeal. So our option was to keep the car overnight – pay (exorbitantly) for parking at the hotel and then to return the car the next morning. To say we were unhappy would be a major understatement. There being no other option, we carried on.
Inverness and Point Reyes – about 50 Miles Northwest
Another curve was that instead of the small SUV that I expected, we were “upgraded” to a very racy Chevy Camaro. It was a fun car but with very low clearance and there were a couple of spots where this might have been an issue – especially with the somewhat flooded roads we would encounter in Marin County. I can only imagine what the traffic would have been like if it were not Christmas day, but we had very little traffic getting out of San Francisco, and our only issues were that every intersection seemed to have a stoplight and each one of them was red for us – timed terribly. But it was lovely. The storm from the night before was nowhere to be seen and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge is a spectacular ride. And Marin county is like a world apart compared to San Francisco – beautiful with its big trees, cypress, eucalyptus and others. The roads were winding which thrilled me and frightened Cindy a bit. It was a fun trek as we got more and more remote covering territory I could barely remember from early birding days in California almost 50 years ago.
We stopped at a really funky little coffee shop in Olema and felt like we were back in the Hippie days of the 1960’s. Not a whole lot has changed since then probably. Then we went to Point Reyes National Seashore stopping for a few birds on the way. One was a very close in Red Shouldered Hawk, a new bird for Cindy. It was close enough for an ID quality picture with my phone. Birding friend Ann Marie Wood in Washington has been trying to see one there for months without success. I could not resist sending her the picture. I wish I could have brought it back for her. We would see several Red Shouldered Hawks and more Red Tailed Hawks but the most common raptor were American Kestrels. We probably saw two dozen.
Red Shouldered Hawk
We saw some of these and some of those species but mostly we were there to enjoy the spectacular scenery along the coast. Mark Tomboulian later advised me that the ice plants that were everywhere are invasive, but they were nonetheless beautiful in many shades of red, gold and green and even purple.
View from North Beach at Point Reyes
We left the beach and joined cousins Jimmy and Lisa, her husband John and their kids Alec, Alana, and Sean, and their kids Arden and Coral and spouses Craig and Clare, for a relaxed visit at Lisa and John’s Inverness home. More food and good company. I had met Lisa in Edmonds but everyone else was new. It was a good way to spend Christmas.
Around 3:00 p.m. we left to get back to the City. We had dinner reservations at 7:00 at Tuba, a Turkish restaurant, but since it was a ways from our hotel and we could not return the car until the next morning anyhow, we drove to the restaurant and found nearby on street parking. Although they were quite busy the restaurant was able to take us early and we had a good meal with some wine. I had salmon and Cindy had lamb. The ambiance was good and the service was excellent.
Cindy Toasting the Holiday
Back to the hotel parking at the “reduced” overnight rate for hotel guests of only $30 for the night. It was convenient, though.
Before the surprise on the rental car return, our plan had been more sightseeing in San Francisco all day on Thursday and then flying home on a 7:25 flight. Since we still had the car, I called Alamo to see what it would cost to keep it and drop it off at the airport instead. Here was the second disappointment with Alamo. We were told it would only be another $6.95. When we actually did drop it off, we were charged a lot more. I will not go into details because I want to keep my blood pressure low. Oh well, we had the car and changed our plans to drive around in San Francisco to see where Cindy had lived in the Marina District and then to see some of the beautiful homes and scenery at Sea Cliff and then the Presidio ending at Cliff House. It was all beautiful.
I had never gone through the Presidio or gone to Seal Rock or Cliff House. The Presidio was incredible and the view of the sea breaking in waves over Seal Rock was spectacular. And I had no idea that there was so much sandy beach on San Francisco’s ocean side. Cindy said that the wind and fog could be pretty awful and that cars were sand blasted by the wind blowing the sand from the beach which significantly depressed its desirability for permanent residence, but none of that was evident on this lovely day.
Seal Rock from Cliff House
Cindy with Our Camaro Parked at the Cliff House
We continued south along the Junipero Serra Freeway down the Peninsula heading to Stanford University. Cindy had never been there and I am not sure if I have been back since Law School in 1973. Rolling along on Highway 280 it was hard to believe that dense population was so close by. Very light traffic on the day after Christmas certainly helped. Stanford was as I remembered it – times 10. There were many new buildings and the campus is truly awesome with magnificent palms, eucalyptus and open space. We parked at the main quad and found ourselves with maybe several hundred other visitors. No students as school was in recess for the Holidays. It seemed that at least 90% of the people there were Asian, many families with children maybe with hopes to be accepted and enrolled someday. It was really gorgeous.
Memorial Church at Stanford
We walked over to the Law School – its location changed from long ago when I attended. A placard on the building showed donors whose contributions had made it possible. I don’t know when the donations were made, but my name’s absence was evidence of how detached I am from those days. It has been almost 40 years since I practiced law at all. We had a nice lunch at a pizza place at Town and Country Village and then searched for the place I lived when I first arrived for law school – an apartment over the garage behind a modest home in Menlo Park. I could not recall the street address and despite a diligent search, we could not find the place although I am sure we were close.
There would be one more stop before returning to the airport. This was Baylands Nature Preserve, the place where I first became interested in birding back in those law school days. That interest was sparked by seeing – yes actually seeing a Black Rail – an extremely secretive species I have not seen or heard since. The marsh land is awesome, a great place for shorebirds, ducks, waders and many others. Cindy is not a birder (yet) but has joined me on some of my trips. I wanted her to see this special place. It was not overflowing with birds but we had good looks at a bird we had seen the previous day on our visit to Marin County – a Long Billed Curlew – and also saw a few other shorebirds including Killdeer, Least Sandpipers, Black Necked Stilts, Greater Yellowlegs, Willets and Dunlin.
Long Billed Curlew
There were many duck species, some American Coots and numerous gulls, but by far the species of most appeal to Cindy were the Egrets, a couple of Great Egrets and several Snowy Egrets including one that came quite close and splayed its beautiful feathers and plumes for us. At one spot both egrets stood together giving Cindy a great comparison and an appreciation of the very significant difference in size.
I had to have a picture of me there to memorialize the return visit. Many hours were spent there back in the old days.
We said goodbye and went to the airport. Returning the car with the surprise additional charges was no fun but we did not let it ruin our wonderful trip. We were a couple hours early for our flight and tried to get on an earlier one, but prior delays and cancellations made that impossible, so we waited…and waited…and waited some more as the congestion caused our flight to depart an hour later than scheduled. I have flown Alaska Airlines many times in the past few years and have never had problems. I am chalking the ones this time up to San Francisco Airport problems compounded by travel during the Holidays. It was almost midnight by the time we were back in Edmonds. Unfortunately we both picked up colds the last day we were there – maybe on the flight, maybe in any of the crowded venues we visited. Not how you want to end a trip, but we were fine while we there and had a great time. It was especially nice to be able to share all of the experiences together.