San Francisco, California (2021)

San Francisco, California about 6pm August 6th, 2021.

We visited San Francisco in early August 2021. After landing at SFO, it was about an hour drive to SF. We stopped at the Ferry Building to eat at Hog Island Oyster and grab some snacks for later in the week (ACME bread). We stayed at Hotel Riu Plaza across from the public parking garage at Fisherman’s Warf. Hotel Riu Plaza was really nice, no complaints, and a decent morning breakfast.

Below are highlights from the several days that we visited the SF bay area…

(click on images for larger view)

DAY 1: Golden Gate Bridge

There was a lot of fog in the morning. This fog gradually burned off till about 3pm, then it started getting foggy again.

These wind surfers enjoyed the wake of our tour boat.

Patience. Foggy at 11am when we first crossed the bridge, then cleared up at 1pm as we returned back across the bridge.

More highlights of the bridge from below…

More fun with the wind surfers…

DAY 1: Bus and Boat Tour

The Hop-On-Hop-Off gave a complete tour of the area. We started at 10am and then took the Bridge-to-Bridge Boat Tour at 4:20pm.

The tour included a lot of commentary, such as the location where Luisa Tetrazzini sang from the streets to a crowd of 250,000 in 1910, or several homes of other famous folks (like Jimi Hendrix or where O.J. Simpson started playing football), and how the City Hall is gilded with real gold (while SF originated in 1776 by the Spanish, it later flourished as a boon town during the 1848 Gold Rush – when the population doubled every 10 days).

DAY 1: Alcatraz Island views during boat tour

While Alcatraz has a very interesting history as a prison, in my opinion this location would be a great spot to have Paintball Events. One interesting thing I learned is that the prison was shutdown because of its operating cost.

NOTE: Had dinner at a sushi restaurant, which we found after walking many blocks, but it was well worth it. Can’t recall the exact street, but it was near “Japan town” portion of the city.

DAY 2: Rose Garden (San Jose, California)

NOTE: In the morning we visited the CHM for VCF West. Click >>here<< for more details about this Vintage Computer Festival. Afterwards, a little after noon, we ventured forth into San Jose. We had no specific destination, we were just taking it easy because I knew the next day would be a full busy day. Then we came across the San Jose Rose Garden, which was in bloom and the weather was perfect for exploring this garden.

Afterwards, we visited the Apple Headquarters (Apple Park and Infinite Loop). We couldn’t go inside the Apple Park, but the building was indeed a huge circle. We did check out the visitor center, which fortunately was still open (closing at 6pm). They had a lot of staff (including security) and a coffee shop. Then we had dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant (in the Vietnamese area of the city). It was a very large and busy restaurant (maybe about 50 tables), I recall an elderly (drunk) man singing loudly in Vietnamese.

DAY 3 (part 1): Tech Headquarters

We visited Google and Facebook offices. There are many others in the area (Twitter, Netflix, Intel, Microsoft and also NASA AMES research and Lockheed). But we also wanted to see the beaches, so our time was limited.

NOTE: The Facebook headquarters was colorful buildings but not as interesting. Their parking lot was completely empty (granted, this was on a Sunday), other than a couple security patrols. They had some Tesla charging stations, and the overall campus was a bit larger than a typical mall.

NOTE: We ate at another Vietnamese restaurant for a late lunch. I can’t recall the exact location, other than it was near a very large railway terminal station that was under construction. This was a smaller shop (about 10-20 tables) and the food tasted excellent.

DAY 3 (part 2): Stanford

Fall semester had not yet started in Stanford, so it was not yet very crowded. We went straight to Memorial Church at the center of Stanford University, with very inspiring architecture (construction began in 1899). We also tried to visit the Hoover Tower (for elevator tour), but it was closed.

DAY 3 (part 3): Beaches along Highway 1

We made it to Half Moon Beach by around 5pm. The drive to the beach was narrow roads through the forest, with lots of farms of tropical plants and fruits along the way. It was $10 for the public parking at the beach (and since the fog had returned and it was starting to quickly get cooler, many people had already left).

We then drove up Highway 1 to return to S.F. Indeed there were some incredible views along the way, I’m very thankful we got the opportunity to do this.

We didn’t get back to town until near 8pm, which still had enough daylight to check out the famous Lombard Street. It was completely empty when we arrived, so we drove it very slowly. It wasn’t long before those curves were full of cars again.

We stayed at Hotel Triton across from China Town. The White House Parking garage across the street was very clean (it seems they spent 2020 repainting everything, even the floor). But being a Sunday night and very late, almost everything was closed. The only place I found open was SF Wraps (Mediterranean food), which had very good gyros (and was open till 11pm). However, the room at Triton was extremely small and uncomfortable (also only one power outlet).

For the next day, we wanted to visit places like the Chinese Fortune Cookie Factory, the historic Buddha Tin How temple, the glass elevators, Sandbox VR, and Marrakech Magic Theater. We had planned to stay one more night in the city. But no one wanted to stay one more night at Hotel Triton, it was that uncomfortable. So, we change plans to wake up as early as we could, and head out towards Yosemite!

DAY 4: Hetch Hetchy and Yosemite

We left early at 6am, since Yosemite was a 4 hour drive away. Like the twisty block back in Lombard street, the road up and down the mountains were very twisty.

Hetch Hetchy has a dam, so it contains a large pool of water. It is a pleasant park, but Yosemite itself is far more grand (especially from Glacier Point). Being able to see Dome Rock held a lot of meaning for me, because I was a huge fan of Sierra OnLine, one of the earliest computer gaming companies (and they used a version of Dome Rock as their logo).

NOTE: It was dark by the time we exited the south end of the park (there was construction traffic within the park and we took some wrong turns). Luckily, one last Chinese restaurant was still open in Oakhurst at 9pm…

DAY 5: Oakhurst

The brown building below was the main headquarters of Sierra OnLine throughout the 1980s (ran by Ken and Roberta Williams). A “mirror” (reverse) of the building was depicted in the game Space Quest 3 in 1989. Sierra also used the “steel building” that is now used by Sierra Tel utility company (next to the Oakhurst Elementary). Sierra OnLine later relocated their HQ to Bellevue, Washington, as it grew into a larger public company.

The fairy tale creation and existence of Sierra had a bit of a tragic ending. Sierra OnLine was purchased in 1996 by a larger entity known as CUC. Ken and Roberta Williams (who had started the company in 1980) knew it wasn’t a good move for the company (in terms of creative autonomy), but they were publicly owned and at ~$1.5 billion (in 1996 dollars) the offer was “too good to be true.” Sierra did continue to make best selling games up until 1999. Ken, Roberta, and Al left Sierra (the brain, soul, and heart of Sierra for 20 years), due to various management rivalries that arose from the now combined software-development entities. The tragedy was that CUC had been “cooking their books” and wasn’t as successful as it had seemed. Leadership was brought to trial, taken to prison, hundreds of workers lost their jobs, and the once talented creative development entities were shattered apart. Ken had built a legacy that would have matched Disney. Nintendo, or LucasArts – and corrupt partners wrecked it within a few years.

Oakhurst is also famous for its Talking Bear. The activation button is not on the bear itself, but at a voice box on the sign behind him.

We highly recommend Yosemite Southgate as a nice place to stay within Oakhurst (and far cheaper than it’s newer hotel neighbors). Oakhurst is essentially the first town after the South Exit of Yosemite National Park.

I hadn’t planned to stop in Oakhurst, it was still a long drive back to San Francisco and we were going to press on through the dark to avoid traffic the next morning. But the family was car-sick from the twisty hairpin turns down Yosemite Park mountains, tired, and hungry since we hadn’t had any dinner while in the park. We saw a Chinese restaurant was still open (actually we stopped just at their closing time, 9pm, but they still had customers and agreed to let us in). After the rest, we almost decided to continue on to SF (again, being uncertain about traffic in the morning).

But the Yosemite Southgate next door beckoned to us, and thankfully they still had a room at a very reasonable price (under $200). The next morning I woke up promptly at daylight, to take the photos above around Oakhurst while the girls slept another hour. As a child, I played many Sierra games between 3rd and 7th grade (King’s Quest, Police Quest, Space Quest), I read Sierra’s InterAction magazine, purchased those clever hint books (that truly gave you hints, not just turn-by-turn walkthru). So to me, this was an honored pilgrimage, and a reminder how great things can certainly come from small towns.

We left in the morning around 7am, driving back to SFO. There was no traffic most of the way, only a brief congestion once within about 10 minutes of the airport itself. We did stop to refill the rental car with gas (while refilling, I witnessed a city bus driver that refused to take a passenger who wanted to bring a bicycle — while the bus had mounts on the front to accommodate the bicycle, my impression of the body language was that the passenger didn’t have their ticket or was unwilling to pay the fare, and the passenger was making a fuss about it — a rude reminder of being back in the city). We made our flight back home by 2pm.

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