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16 - 20 May 2015 California - Petaluma, San Francisco

Saturday 16th May Departed this morning to make our way towards the coast and the town of Petaluma just north of San Francisco. On the way we stopped off at the town of Rio Vista to look around a classic car rally. The rally was at the local Chevrolet dealership and there were '56' Corvettes, also Stingrays - hard top and convertible. There was one remarkable '56' model where the front end was restored to its pristine glory and the rear, behind the driver, was left as is.







There were several Chevy Camaro's including an Indi pace car. A few drivers enjoyed burning rubber as they excelerated away. On the California 37 we came up over one of the many hills surrounding San Francisco, down into the town of Vallejo and past Six Flags Discovery Kingdom park for our first glimpse of north San Francisco Bay. The traffic was slow on the Napa River bridge which allowed us to enjoy the view. We followed the road around San Pablo Bay along a causeway road to pick up the I-101 north. The traffic was heavy due to road works and we arrived at the Petaluma KOA site, situated three miles out of town, some time after 2pm. The campsite was full to capacity and very lively. There is a nice heated pool and lots of activities for kids. This evening we went into Petaluma for dinner at McNears Saloon and Dining Room.


Petaluma was celebrating its role as the film location for 'American Graffiti and today they had a car show featuring hundreds of classic American cars cruising the town. There was a really vibrant atmosphere with lots of people about having fun.

Sunday 17th May FaceTimed the Poole family this morning. Tom is back from Australia and finding it rather cold in the UK. He went water skiing earlier in the day and said he could hardly feel his face when he got out of the water it was so cold. He is busy getting his application together for Monroe University in Louisiana. All being well he will be here in the US in August. Went back into Petaluma to have a look around in the daylight. The town has some fine Victorian buildings and lots of nice antique and boutique shops. The Petaluma River runs through the town and there is a nice marina. The visitor centre is across the river and as we walked towards the drawbridge to cross the warning sirens sounded and the bridge raised to let three sailing boats through. The bridge lowered but seemingly not properly because the warning sirens continued and continued. After a while we gave up and went off to find some where for a drink. On the way back to the campsite we dropped off at the Rocky Memorial Dog Park to let Sandy have a run off the leash. The campsite has practically emptied and is now very quiet. There are nice views across the hills from the site, there is a small animal petting area and peacocks run around loose. We had dinner in the RV, too cold to eat out, ended up playing famous people. Monday 18th May Into San Francisco today across the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a shame that the weather was cloudy and dull but we still enjoyed the views across the bay. Our first stop was Pier 39 which was originally a cargo pier but now has shops, restaurants and amusements. There is a good view of the bay and Alcatraz Island from the pier and we watched a large cruise liner - Jewell of the Sea - enter the harbour. Off the side of the pier is a large colony of sea lions basking on wooden jetties, amusing the crowds. We walked through Fisherman's Wharf to the cable car terminus for a ride up town.

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Chris and I went on the car whilst Tony and Dave walked Sandy up the cable car route to meet us at the terminus and they would ride the car back down whilst we walked Sandy. The cable car system has been in operation since the 1900's and is operated by a cable that runs under the ground. The grip man inside the cable car applies the grip handle, the grip reaches through a slot in the street and grabs the cable, this pulls the car along. At the terminus of each line there is a turntable where the cars are turned around manually for the return journey. We made our way up and down hills through Nob Hill and Chinatown past Union Square to Market Street passing large department stores and shops on the way. We saw Tony and Dave waiting on a street corner on the way up the line. The views from the car are quite breathtaking at times, looking down the side streets to the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. Some of the hills are really steep and as we started to climb it did feel like we were on a roller coaster starting the ascent ready to tip over the hill but our decent was well controlled. At the terminus we went to the Visitor Centre and had a Starbucks Coffee whilst we waited for Tony and Dave. All the big department stores are here, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdales etc. After a while it became clear that Tony and Dave were not going to appear. There were queues at the cable car terminus, therefore we decided to walk back along the route. After we climbed the first steep hill we waited for the cable car and jumped on. The cars have running boards outside and open entrances to make it easy to hop on and off. When we got to the Wharf Tony and Dave were sitting in a harbour side cafe having (as we guessed) decided the hills were too steep to walk up.


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At last the sun was shining and we made our way to the Golden Gate Park where there was an area for dogs to run off the leash. Within the park was a special paddock where a small herd of bison grazed. To the north of the park is the Presidio area overlooking San Francisco Bay and with good views of the Golden Gate Bridge. We walked down the hill along trails with wild flowers on either side until we got to the coastal path along Crissy Field which was once used as an airfield. Dave let Sandy off the leash in a quiet area of the park and the next thing he was surprised to see she had something in her mouth, she had caught a gopher (type of ground squirrel)! It did get away. We reached Fort Point - built by the US Army in the 19th Century - and stayed a while to take photos of San Francisco bathed in the evening sunshine. After a long but great day we made our way home and had BBQ dinner.

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Tuesday 19th May Took a trip back to San Francisco bay and the small town of Tiburon. Once off the I-101 we travelled through woods along winding roads and beautiful country side which had the feel of an alpine route. Tiburon is a waterfront town with smart boutique shops and restaurants. Apparently some of the buildings are called 'arks' and were originally houseboats that were pulled ashore and refurbished. For lunch we went to Sam's Cafe and sat outside on a wooden patio overlooking the marina with a view of San Francisco in the distance. Sitting in bright sunshine we could see San Francisco across the bay had a thick covering of cloud over the city. Chris and I had bay shrimp salad and to finish peanut butter pie.


After lunch we had a leisurely drive through the pine woods along the coast and took in the views of San Francisco Bay. Went back to camp and sat around the pool for a while.

Wednesday 20 May 2015 (guest blog by Dave Blythe)

We decided to go out to the coast again. We found a small highway from Petaluma that would take us to Highway 1 and into Bodega Bay. This was a small community around a sheltered harbour used by fishing and pleasure boats. Looking for a place to let Sandy run we found a headland on the other side of the harbour with views out to sea. Sadly (for Sandy) dogs were not allowed on the beach.


There were some photographers with long lenses waiting for a pod of whales to appear. One of the photographers was also a dog trainer and Tony got a free lesson in how to stop Sandy jumping up – doesn’t seem to be working though, ha ha! She also told us where there was a beach where Sandy could run. As there was no sign of whales we set off for this beach near Goat Rock just south of the Russian River estuary. This took us on Highway 1 along the coast through the Sonoma Coast State Park reminding us of the earlier coastal journey up to Carmel. We were told we would find several seals near Goat Rock but to Tony’s disappointment there was not one to be seen. The beach was great for Sandy. She was supposed to be kept on a leash but we were naughty and let her loose for her sake.

Having satisfied Sandy we decided to seek lunch for ourselves – funny how our trips often revolve around food and drinks. The nearby town of Jenner did not whet our appetites so we headed inland along the Russian River towards Monte Rio and Guerneville. The journey was pretty as we followed the river in dappled sunlight. Monte Rio didn’t do it for us but Guerneville was a delightful town. We dined at Garden Grill outside on the patio with Sandy under the table and with her own bowl of water. The level of service matched the excellent food and of course the wine and beer went down very nicely too!


Sandy got bored with us enjoying ourselves and had to spend the remaining time in the car. After lunch it was off to the nearby Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve – wow! Colonel James Armstrong bought several hundred acres of Redwood forest to save it from the loggers. This became this State Reserve. The tallest tree is named after him and stands 308 feet high with a girth of about 14 foot and is about 1400 years old. We had a stroll through the Redwoods marvelling at their majesty and looking for wildlife which was well hidden like this Mule Deer.










After this we decided to head back to enjoy the rest of the afternoon and evening at the campsite. All in all a thoroughly good day spent without going on a major highway.

Thursday 21st May Went into Petaluma for a walk around in the sunshine and to do some shopping. The screen of our US phone has shattered and although the phone is usable it needs replacing, therefore, we called in at a smart phone shop for advise on the best way to replace the glass. At lunchtime we went to Lagunitas Brewery Company where you can take a tour of the facility. They also have a 'TapRoom and Beer Sanctuary' where they serve food and drink in an outside patio area. It was very busy and had a lively atmosphere with lots of people coming and going. Of course there was a lot of beer tasting going on. Tony and Dave took home a couple of 'Phat Boys' namely small refillable flagons of beer.


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