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November 4, 2011 > Around the Bay and Back Again

Around the Bay and Back Again

By Denny Stein

To understand the relationships between towns, bodies of water, highways, and coasts, nothing beats looking at an old-fashioned map. Relationships between people can best be understood by entertaining guests. What kind of guests your friends make will often map out how far that relationship will go.

Since Fremont is the center of the world (that's a little joke), it is a great Bay Area base for visitors. Friends who come prepared with their own itineraries, maps and directions definitely start off on the right foot. Dwight and Michele (our excellent guides in New Orleans last year) arrived from Louisiana, though their luggage didn't arrive with them. But they are intrepid travelers and, leaving instructions for Delta, they tackled the California highways in a rented car, arriving in good time without calling us once for directions.

We took them to Walgreen's for toothbrushes and on to Sala Thai for dinner. Fremont's cuisine options are numerous, and we could just as easily have wound up at Bahn Thai or Cracker Barrel Deli & Thai Cuisine, without driving more than ten minutes from home. Miraculously, the missing suitcases were delivered to our door before bedtime and all was well.

The next day being Labor Day, my fear of crowds made me cast a dim eye on venturing into the City, but the rest of the troops were eager so we soldiered on. First stop was Clement Street for a taste of San Francisco character, import shopping, and dim sum picnic supplies. Our stroll, (code for walking slowly while trolling for purchases) netted us a new broom, a mortar and pestle, tee-shirts, safety pins, a sewing kit, baked goods, and roasted fowl. We could easily have been on a scavenger hunt!

On to the Golden Gate Bridge, a must see for visitors and residents alike. The traffic was predictably slow, crawling over the bridge and into the Visitors' Center parking lot. Fortunately, the slow pace made it easy to get lots of pictures, left, right, up and down. After parking, we joined the crowds walking the bridge span. Now if you've haven't done this yet, be prepared - it is crowded. Two lanes of walkers move in either direction and two lanes of bike riders do the same. And really, there's only room for one set of two-way traffic. Then there are the actual cars on one side, and the dark waters of the bay far below on your other side.

Flanked by drivers, riders, walkers and water, it seemed a good time to panic, but there's no room and no one will really care, so move on. The bikers ring their bells and shout "Behind you!" and I feel free to shout back "Ahead of you!" Notwithstanding all the sturm und drang of the bridge walk, though, it is a beautiful place to be with the towers rising into the blue sky above and the clouds' reflections floating amongst the sailboats below.

Back at the Visitors' Center we found some room on a stone bench and spread our Clement Street picnic. Soy sauce duck, sliced roast pork, fresh fruit, BBQ pork buns, and a small but dense chocolate mousse cake from Schubert's Bakery. With the crisp breeze and the warm sun, good company and a melange of sweet and salty tastes, you couldn't have asked for a better moment. One of the nicest things about the Golden Gate Visitors' Center, besides, the view, is the public restrooms. Fairly clean and tidy, despite the number of people who use them, they are free and much appreciated. It's a good idea to check the bridge website before your visit, as there can be construction and other delays going on. Go to http://www.goldengatebridge.org

Once you're on the western side of the Golden Gate Bridge, it would be a shame not to drive up to the Marin Headlands and see its magnificence from on high. Understanding the Golden Gate, its history and mystique, its "awesomeness" in today's lingo, is easy to do from this windy outpost overlooking the bay. There's a Golden Gate Facebook page too, if you want to check it out. We left full of the beauty of the place; Dwight and Michele were starting to feel the pull of California. On the way home, through the City, we detoured over to Coit Tower for another iconic stop.

A little adventuring goes a long way with me, so the next day Dwight and Michele rose to the occasion and took themselves off on a tour of the Muir Woods and the Napa area. Good choice: uncomplicated driving, beautiful scenery, great tee-shirts; they arrived "back at the ranch" after dinner (no care-taking needed!) Wednesday morning they were up and packing for Yosemite, where they had long-standing cabin reservations for two nights. They left with an idiosyncratic assortment of gear: Trader Joe's snacks, state-of-the-art LED flashlights, sweaters, blankets, extra pillows, flip-flops and mouthwash.

Our lives went on as usual, while Dwight and Michele hiked, picnic-ed, biked, and roughed it in the communal showers, flash-lighting their way to the commodes in the night. Glowing would be too tame a word to describe their faces when they returned. Happy campers, they had attended all the lectures, absorbed information, views, woodland trails, and as much national park as could be expected in their limited window.

And by this time we missed them, and wanted to show off some of our favorite places. Chinatown was high on the list, but turned out to be a disastrous choice for that Saturday. The mid-autumn Chinese Moon Festival had shut down Chinatown to regular sightseers: no parking to be found, masses of people, streets closed off. Disappointment was assuaged with burritos and tacos at the Mission District's La Taquiera, one of the best spots for south of the border quick cuisine in the city.

Sunday, the last day of the visit, could have been spent doing laundry, re-packing and looking at all the pictures taken over the week. But no - we all set off to Pt. Reyes National Seashore, with dog and camera (thankfully, both are small). Two iconic stops were mandatory on the way to the beach: Rouge et Noir Cheese Factory for sandwiches (and tee-shirts), and the Tomales Bay Oyster Co. for fresh oysters. Nothing like impressing the Louisiana folks with west coast shellfish.

The day was still overcast and a little drizzly but we were not discouraged, "The sun will break through at any moment. This will burn off!" And it almost did. While we were huddled on the beach, eating our sandwiches and watching the waves foam in and out, the clouds split and re-formed, opened and closed, letting a few rays of sun come through. No one minded; we shared jackets and scarves while the dog, new to the beach, chased gulls and the surf, and everyone looked sublimely pleased to just be here. There was choice souvenir seaweed, if you were so inclined, large logs to sit on or shelter behind, and only a few fisher folk and families out on the sand.

About 3 p.m., we piled back in the car and headed off, back to Pt. Reyes Station where everyone scattered as though this were the last shopping to be found in the world. Just a note - if you run across the Tara's Organic Ice Cream stand, try some. It comes in flavors you won't see anywhere again. I can personally vouch for the Orange Cardamom and Lemon Blueberry and you can see the rest of Tara's flavors on the web at www.taraorganics.com.

To finish the day off in style, we dined at Maya, on 2nd street in the city. The modern Mexican fare at Maya is consistently delicious; be sure to try the fresh guacamole and the Piramide de Res, a tower of grilled skirt steak and tomatoes whose taste satisfaction belies its simple description. The corn puree could almost substitute for dessert except you don't want to miss the flan, or even the original sorbets of the day. Stopping in town for dinner is a great trick to avoid the traffic tie-ups at the day's end in the city.

Looking at the map with Dwight and Michele, we realized they had circumnavigated the Bay and had plenty of time to play and visit with us. They are the type of guests who are welcomed back and we're glad they have a map to our house.

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