We woke up this morning, checked out of our hotel, and then attempted to find a McDonald's for breakfast that Holly claimed was nearby the hotel. We failed miserably at that, but found Highway 35, which led us towards the Golden Gate bridge that we needed to cross to reach Muir Woods. Don't ask me how, but they've managed to keep any place that might serve breakfast well away from Highway 35/1/101 all the way from San Bruno to Muir Woods, so we arrived there without having eaten yet.
The Golden Gate bridge was a LOT bigger than I'd pictured in my mind, and a lot longer too. We made our way across it, then wound through the foggy hills down to Muir Woods, still hungry.
We paid the reasonable $3/person entry fee, and checked out the gift shop, where Holly found a sweatshirt she wanted. She managed to forget to pack any jackets, which I've secretly delighted in, as when I'd reminded her to do so, she mocked me for pointing out the obvious, then forgot to do it.
We saw on the map that there was a cafe just inside the entrance, and hoped for some breakfast, but they didn't really have much in the way of breakfast fare. So, we each had a $2.75 "junior" hot dog and split a coke, a meal that would have cost us about a $1.75 at any gas station was $8 in the park. Holly insists that it was the best hot dog she ever ate, but I'm convinced that she was just suffering delusions due to extreme hunger.
We then started winding our way through the woods, and shortly came upon a ranger giving a great presentation about them. There's a paved path that leads through the "valley" that contains most of the redwood grove, as well as several trails through the hills. You're not allowed off the trails (to protect the environment, as they have over a million visitors a year) but we enjoyed the mile-long hike up the paved trail to Bridge 4, and then the mile-long hike on the Hillside Trail, which is a much more vigorous hike.
Muir Woods is a great place. If you've never been there, it's hard to describe. The redwoods seem impossibly tall, and even when on the hillside trail, halfway up the mountain, you're nowhere near the start of the forest's canopy. If you haven't been there, you simply must go, it's one of the most impressive natural sites I've seen in my life, completely unlike anywhere else I've ever been, and you can't help but feel close to nature there.
Having walked off our hot dog breakfast, we drove down into Mill Valley, a neat little town near the woods. After a trip up and down the main drag, we settled on Joe's Taco Lounge and Salsaria. I had the Tacos Con Carne, and Holly had a Monterey Jack Enchilada. I thought the food was pretty good, though my soft tacos were impossible to eat without a fork. Holly found it a bit too authentic for her taste, as she's more of a Taco Bell-style fan.
A guy from the table next to us leaned over and asked me if I'd graduated from Iowa State, as I was wearing an ISU T-Shirt. I said that I had, in 1999, and he revealed that he'd graduated in 2000. He's been working in the Bay Area doing landscape architecture ever since.
I paid the bill (about $20) and we headed back into the city. It was a $5 toll to cross the Golden Gate, but we got back into the city, and decided to try to find our hotel so we could check in.
I'm really not sure how natives find their way around without the aid of GPS, as I've found myself wishing for it many times already. San Francisco has the usual mess of one-way streets, but what's even more frustrating is the high number of streets that don't allow left-turns! You wind up having to circle a block every time you want to turn left, which gives you a lot of opportunities to get lost.
We eventually got lost near the Union Square district where our hotel is, and after about 15 minutes of circling blocks, we found the parking lot near our destination, the Hotel Adagio. Parking was $29 for the night, with unlimited ins and outs, which is average for the neighborhood, and completely ridiculous to those of us from the midwest. I'm really not sure what the parking lot attendant was saying to me, as his English was drowning in his Chinese accent, but I managed to give him my keys and he took the car away as Holly took the baggage into the Hotel. I wondered if I should tip him, but Holly had my wallet in her purse inside the hotel, so I didn't have any cash on me, and really, I don't think I should have to tip anyone who's charging me $29 to park my car for 16 hours.
We were met at the front desk by a friendly clerk named Karina, who chatted with us for a bit as she got our keys ready. This is a pretty nice little Boutique hotel, but I got a great rate off Hotwire.com, about half of what the rack rate is. I mentioned to her that tomorrow is my birthday as she looked at my ID (which apparently is required to use a credit card anywhere in this city, unlike Iowa) and tried to con her into giving me an upgraded room as a birthday present. She didn't cough one up, but gave us our keys and directed us to our room.
We found our room up on the 12th floor, with a great view to the west of downtown San Francisco. It's definitely a step above the Holiday Inn, with real free high-speed internet (the Holiday Inn's access was free, but slow, it took me an hour to download a 50MB file). We also got a couple of soft bathrobes, Aveda soaps, etc. and a reasonably priced honor bar, as those go.
We dropped our bags, rested for a bit, then hiked east into the city towards Union Square. I found the nearby Apple Store, which was filled with people, so we didn't stay long. We also went to Harry & David, Williams-Sonoma, Crate & Barrel, and several other shops that don't have a location in Iowa.
Holly and I eventually found our way to Chinatown, which was filled with store selling cheesy souvenirs and goods of dubious origin, like grey-market cameras. Holly bought some fortune cookies and I got some postcards, and then we hiked up Nob Hill, much to the displeasure of our legs. We eventually made our way back to Union Square, where we bought some overpriced Italian Bottled Water ($2.75) and basked in the sun.
After window-shopping some more shops, we ducked into the Walgreens on our way back down Geary to the Adagio, and stocked up on some water and granola bars so we didn't have to raid the honor bar if we got hungry.
When we returned to our room, I found a complimentary bottle of Merlot, some Ghiradelli chocolate bars, some postcards, guide books, and a note from Karina at the front desk wishing me a happy birthday. You don't get that at the Holiday Inn.
I checked my e-mail, ignored most of it, and then took a shower and put on my soft robe and crashed on the bed for a brief nap. I then got up and wrote this, as Holly planned our day for tomorrow, and we debated where to eat tonight...