Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Day Full of Fun in San Francisco

What to do with three kids who don't start summer camps until July? Play tourist in San Francisco for the day!  We headed up to the city yesterday and found beautiful weather and lots of adventure.  I had booked a walking tour with All About Chinatown.  We parked under Portsmouth Plaza and met the guide a couple of blocks away on the corner of California & Grant.  She walked us around the neighborhood, pointing out the architecture and explaining the history of Chinatown.  We visited an herbal pharmacy, Buddhist Temple, food markets and the Fortune Cookie Factory.  The tour company will include a Dim Sum lunch after the 2 hour tour, but we opted to have kid friendly Chinese food at Four Seas on Grant instead. 

From Chinatown, we drove toward Fort Point under the Golden Gate Bridge, getting temporarily misplaced in the Presidio along the way.  (If you've joined my National Park Service Passport bandwagon, there's a Visitors Center in the Presidio where you can stamp your book.)   Fort Point has been standing guard at San Francisco Bay since Gold Rush times.  Tucked under the Golden Gate Bridge, it's modeled after Fort Sumter and is the only brick fort west of the Mississippi.  You can tour the enlisted barracks, officers quarters and the magazine room.  We headed straight up to the roof just under the bridge in time to see a cargo ship pass and two military helicopters fly overhead.  Then, to our amazement, we watched a pod of 5 or 6 dolphins play just off shore amongst the surfers waiting to catch a wave.  It was a sight to behold!  Oh, yeah.  Don't forget to stamp your NPS Passport in the gift shop before you leave!

How could we possibly top that??  The kids wanted ice cream and our nephew's girlfriend who had joined us for the day suggested a place called Bi-Rite Creamery on 18th and Dolores.  So, we headed across town in search of frozen dairy treats.  Bi-Rite has unbelievable flavors like Salted Caramel, Malted Vanilla with Peanut Brittle, Honey Lavender, Balsamic Strawberry and Rincanelas (cinnamon with Snickerdoodle.)  It is well worth the drive!  We made a quick stop in the Mission Dolores two blocks away before heading back to the nephew & girlfriend's apartment in North Beach to hang out and wait for the husband and nephew to come from work.  We all had dinner at Calzone's on Columbus, then the Palo Alto crew boarded the bus and headed home. 

A very fun day, indeed!

Filmed in Chinatown:    Good planning book:     Set in Chinatown:

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

San Juan Islands - Roche Harbor

A couple of years ago, our family spent Labor Day weekend at Roche Harbor in the San Juan Islands in the state of Washington.  My MIL lives in Seattle, so we were looking for a place to gather that would accommodate our family plus the in-laws.  Roche Harbor was perfect!  Friday Harbor is the largest city on the island of San Juan and is an easy <3.5 hour ferry ride from downtown Seattle.  The ferry leaves early in the morning, but there's a snack bar on board and we brought along books and a deck of cards for entertainment.

Once we arrived in Friday Harbor, it was an easy shuttle ride on the island bus to Roche Harbor.  Be sure to look out for Mona the Camel along the way!  There's also a lavender farm on the island and an alpaca farm both reachable via the island shuttle.

Roche Harbor Resort is located on the site of a former mine.  Lime was discovered at Roche Harbor in 1884 and at it's height, there were 800 people living there working for the Roche Harbor Lime & Cement Company. The De Haro Hotel was built in 1886 to house visitors to the mine.  That's where the in-laws stayed.  The husband, kids and I stayed in a "company cottage," a small, 2 bedroom cottage a short walk from the marina.

What is there to do in Roche Harbor?  Hiking, kayaking, whale watching and more!  We spent the first afternoon on sea kayaks, making our way through the harbor and along the shore, finding lots of sea life and beautiful scenery.  The two person kayaks are easy to maneuver and great for first time kayakers.  We paired kids with adults and had no trouble at all.  That night, we had dinner at the Madrona Bar & Grill on the dock overlooking the marina.  It was the perfect viewing platform for the daily Ceremony of Colors.

Sunday of Labor Day, we went whale watching.  The San Juan Islands are host to both transitory and resident orca (killer whale) pods.  There are rules about how close boats can get to the whales, but you will still see lots of orcas.  I was amazed that the tour operators could identify the individual whales by the shape and size of their dorsal fins!  The day we were on the water, there was a "poop patrol" following a pod of whales trying to collect samples for research.  How's that for a job?

After our whale watching expedition, the in-laws stayed back at the hotel to nap and the family and I headed over to English Camp in San Juan National Historical Park*.  You've heard of the Pig War, right?  Me, neither.  The Pig War was a confrontation in 1859 between the U.S. and Great Britain over the exact division of their territories.  An agreement between the countries had been negotiated in 1846 specifying the division as "the channel at the 49th parallel."  Unfortunately, the U.S. thought that meant the western channel between Vancouver and the San Juan Islands and the British thought it meant the eastern channel between the San Juan Islands and mainland Washington.  

British and American settlers occupied the island and a confrontation occurred when an American farmer shot and killed a free roaming pig owned by an Irishman.  Tensions between the countries escalated and as a result, each party built up military camps on either end of San Juan Island (hence American Camp and English Camp.)  Twelve years later, the matter went to international arbitration and Kaiser Wilhelm I ruled in favor of the U.S.  The pig, by the way, was the only casualty.

*Don't forget to stamp your National Park Service Passport!  We hear San Juan National Historical Park is one of the most difficult to collect since it's so remotely located.
Our final day on San Juan Island, we packed up and headed back to Friday Harbor.  There, we visited the Whale Museum and did a little window shopping.  We hit a slight glitch when the Clipper ferry broke down, as we had to travel to Anacortes via the Washington State Ferry.  From there, they bussed us to Seattle.  It was a shorter ferry trip, but a longer return overall.  

All in all, a very fun trip!