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Baghdad by the Bay

By Paul Hicks

The summer before senior year in college, I worked the night shift with a classmate at a cannery across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco. Sleeping through the cool foggy mornings, we devoted our afternoons to discovering the charms of the city and environs that Herb Caen, a noted local reporter, called “Baghdad by the Bay.”

Spending a week in the Bay area recently, my wife and I were delighted to find that accolades such as these still hold true:

The Bay Area is so beautiful, I hesitate to preach about heaven while I’m here.” Billy Graham

You wouldn’t think such a place as San Francisco could exist. The wonderful sunlight here, the hills, the great bridges, the Pacific at your shoes. Beautiful Chinatown. Every race in the world. The sardine fleets sailing out. The little cable-cars whizzing down The City hills... And all the people are open and friendly.” Dylan Thomas

San Francisco is one of the great cultural plateaus of the world — one of the really urbane communities in the United States — one of the truly cosmopolitan places and for many, many years, it always has had a warm welcome for human beings from all over the world.” Duke Ellington

We stayed in Sausalito, just over the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County, at The Inn Above Tide, a small hotel with a panoramic view from our balcony of the San Francisco skyline and all around the bay. Located next to the ferry dock and marina, we could watch the flow of maritime traffic, including sailors, rowers and paddle boarders as well as many birds and an occasional seal.

One of many highlights of our weeklong stay was a visit to the Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS), which is located less than an hour’s drive north of San Francisco. Within the park’s 100 square miles are vast stretches of undeveloped shoreline, wetlands, forests and grasslands, but it is also one of the few national parks to allow long-established ranching families to lease grazing land from the government.

Guided by Daniel Dietrich (Point Reyes Safaris), a naturalist and wildlife photographer, we watched and listened to a multitude of noisy elephant seals sprawled upon a beach, waiting for the pups to grow strong enough to resume their semiannual migration northward and back. Among other memorable sightings were a herd of native Tule elk and a badger plus many of the birds that make PRNS a birding hotspot.

Among our favorite places in the Bay area is Muir Woods National Monument, one of the last stands of old-growth redwood forest on Earth. In 1905, the forest property was given to the federal government in order to save it from logging and named in honor of John Muir, a pioneering naturalist. Because of its popularity as a tourist attraction, we got there just as it opened and were able to enjoy the tranquility of the forest following the easy trail along Redwood Creek.

One other outdoor adventure took us on a drive through miles of Napa County vineyards to the city of Napa. Passing up numerous wine-tasting offerings along the way, we enjoyed a delicious lunch and local wine at an excellent restaurant called Angele, one of a number that are located along the Napa River in the heart of the city.

There were three very good restaurants in Sausalito within easy walking distance of our hotel, but our favorite was one in Chinatown, despite its name (R and B Lounge). It was only a 20-minute drive from our hotel with little commuter traffic and very good directions from the GPS in our rental car.

We had equally good luck the two other times we drove into the city. One was to see a fascinating exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, exploring the influence of Henri Matisse on Richard Diebenkorn, who lived and worked for many years in the Bay area. It featured 40 Matisse paintings and drawings and 60 by Richard Diebenkorn. As explained by one reviewer: “Because Diebenkorn painted in both abstract and representational styles and wasn’t involved in the New York art scene, he is not as well-known as other American painters of his generation.

A return visit to the Bay area is back on our wish list. In the meantime, we have joined the company of its many admirers, including:

Rudyard Kipling: “San Francisco has only one drawback – ’tis hard to leave.”

O. Henry: “East is East, and West is San Francisco.”

Paul Kantner: “San Francisco is 49 square miles surrounded by reality.”  


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