Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sacramento, San Francisco, Stinson Beach and Home Again (WHEW!)

It's so easy to fall behind, particularly during the holiday season and ESPECIALLY when we're on the road. Our second week in Central California was FULL of activities, the best of which involved visits with family and friends. I'll pick up here where I left off, and share some photos along the way.

While Mr. B was out of school, we all took advantage of the days of to enjoy each other's company and explore as a family. Sunday found us cruising up to Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park for Christmas in Coloma, their annual holiday season craft fair. It was raining, and we didn't explore the park's nooks and crannies (was there supposed to be a map somewhere?), so maybe I shouldn't complain. However, I was pretty disappointed in both the park and the event.

Given that this is a park dedicated to preserving the history of the 1848 discover of gold which LEAD to the Calfiornia Gold Rush, I expected more activities related to the time. Instead, what we found were a few booths, most of which were full of dollar-store arts and crafts. The only kids' crafting activities (one of the advertised activities that drew us here for the day) were two tables of crafting materials (glue sticks, stickers, Popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners and the like) which the kids were invited to use at their own discretion. That's fine, but we have those things at home, and, really, how 1848 was that? Panning for gold? Sure, you can do that. It's 7 bucks per person for 45 minutes panning in a raised trough "salted" with "gold dust, pyrite and other minerals."

If I were the Queen of the World, or at least running this event, I would have included period games for kids and adults alike. How about period dining (dutch ovens and jerky rather than hot dogs and deli sandwiches)? Crafters and artisans, while not necessarily focused on works related to that period, would at least have to have handmade their own items. They would be vetted in, like crafters and artisans featured at Portland, Oregon's wildly successful Saturday Market.

Monday, Mr. B headed back to school, and the girls and I headed out to the Koyama Christmas Tree Farm to visit a LONG time family friend. The girls had a blast running around part of the 8 acres (they never made it to the fruit orchard behind the house, or the turkey sheds, long since turkey-free) while the grownups visited. Before we took off, the girls had chosen a Christmas tree to cut down and take home. Never mind that we already have a tree up in the living room. ("Who says you can only have one tree," our friend asked as she offered the gift of a fresh tree to the girls.) We left the tree standing 'til Friday, when we ventured back out to make the fresh cut on our way back home.

Tuesday was our day to meet up with a childhood friend of mine who I haven't seen in probably more than a decade. We've tried to meet up on several occasions, but just haven't gotten in touch. This visit, finally coordinated, started out as "lunch as we pass through the city." But once we got to their home on the edge of the Tenderloin, the visit became a walk to Union Square (where the girls drooled at the ice skating rink), then a city hill walk (Russian Hill, Nob Hill, another hill) and park tour before we made our way into Chinatown, really a world of its own and the largest Chinatown outside of Asia. At You's Dim Sum, we picked up a box-load of goodies and headed to Portsmouth Square Plaza where we enjoyed communal eating on a park bench while visiting and watching the old Chinese people gathered there playing cards, board games and watching each other. What a great way to see the city! I can't wait to do it again!

After our "lunch" turned into "afternoon," we finally tore ourselves away to cruise up to Stinson Beach for a family visit and relaxation. I figured two nights there would give us one full day to visit, but that really wasn't enough. We spent the morning catching up with my cousin, home from college ("I smell roses!") for the holiday break, and her mom, then the afternoon walking the beach between rains before heading back to the house. It's so peaceful here, and the company is marvelous. I always hate to leave.

But leave we did first thing Thursday morning to meet my brother and sister-in-law and three of their kids at the newly revamed California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. The natural history museum includes living displays including a walk-through rainforest, glass tunnel under the aquarium, hands-on displays, a living roof and more. With our kids (and some adults) chomping at the bit to get to the rink at Union Square, our visit was too short, but we got a taste of it before heading out.

One of the most pleasant surprises about the center was, of all things, the food options at the cafeteria. We are all too familiar with the ubiquitous hot-dog/hamburger/cheese pizza/chicken finger offerings of kids menus throughout the country. THIS cafe, however, offers SO much variety, so many flavorful HEALTHY options (lentil soup, Mexican favorites, Lebanese stew, fresh juices, vegetarian offerings, gluten-free offerings, plus tasty deserts, to name a few) we all left more than satiated, and read for the rink.

After winding our way through the streets of San Francisco, we found ourselves back at Union Square where the girls and I skated for about half an hour before the rest of the family found their way there. (Something about a roof rack not jiving with the low ceilings of underground parking.) That 30 minutes was about all it took for me. Memories of painful skates were not figments of my imagination. After 10 minutes, my feet were cramping, and 30 minutes I was maxed out on the pain threshhold. But with cousins to skate with, and newfound friends along the wall, the girls were happy to continue for another hour while my sister-in-law and I and my San Francisco buddy (the one we visited just Tuesday) enjoyed coffee or chocolate and took pictures while we visited.

Traffic in the San Francisco area? A nightmare. Parking? Expensive. Had I to do it over again, I'd ditch the car at the first BART station and go public transit all the way. Plus, the city's so walkabout there really isn't need for a car once you're there.

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