Our Highlight Reel of San Francisco!

Family and friends,

Steven and I are incredibly lucky that even if we can’t have our three older children live nearby us in Denver, they are all happily ensconced with loved ones in wonderful cities spread across the country so we at least get to play tourist in exciting places. That was the case when we got to visit our third child, Alexander, and his young family in San Francisco, one of the world’s most delightful cities. When they were at work, Steven and I played hooky, exploring some of the city’s touristy and less touristy sights. Come along with us, why don’t you!

All the best to you and your loved ones,


As we arrived in San Francisco while our son and his wife were still at work, Steven and I beetled over to the Palace of the Legion of Honor, one of the most beautiful museums in the city. It was built overlooking San Francisco Bay between 1912 and 1916.

In the Court of Honor was one of the many copies we have seen of The Thinker created by Auguste Rodin.

It was impossible not to view the sculptures also in the plaza by Wangechi Mutu, a Kenyan-born American visual artist, without recognizing the systemic injustices and violence faced by Blacks and particularly Black women.

It was almost startling that there was such a presentation at the Legion of Honor which was designed in the neoclassical style to showcase European art from antiquity through Impressionism.

The 2020 bronze Mama Ray was described as “part animal, part human, and part battleship that represents women and their divine and resurgent feminine power.” The work was also influenced by war shields made from hippopotamus hides by peoples from Ethiopia.

Mutu’s Water Woman graced the palace’s interior.

The Three Shades, created when Rodinwas 58 years old, was a small part of the Gates of Hell. After Rodin was commissioned in 1880 to create a portal for a planned museum of decorative arts in Paris, the project was canceled. Rodin continued to work hard on the Gates for the next ten years and also in part until he died, however. His dream was to make a 20-foot doorway similar to the famous bronze Gates of Paradise doors Lorenzo Ghiberti did for the Baptistery in Florence. The gates were never fully completed and were only cast in bronze from 1926 to 1928.

Fallen Caryatid Carrying an Urn:

One of Rodin’s most famous monuments was The Burghers of Calais which had been commissioned by Calais’ mayor to commemorate the sacrifice of the townspeople in 1347 during the Hundred Years’ War. Rodin modeled the figures nude before adding the clothing. Five of the six burghers were in the Legion’s collection in reduced-scale version. They were an incredible opportunity to view up close the sense of the townspeople making their way to their fate.

Outstretched was another Mutu sculpture fabricated from paper pulp, wood glue, soil, charcoal, and feathers. Though suggestive of a reclining nude initially, that was dispelled with the ‘suit of armor’ worn by the figure as we walked around the piece.

The mirrors pointing in different directions on these pieces by Mutu were beyond me.

The Legion’s collection of Rodin sculptures was the first in the western US and was acquired directly from the artist’s studio and his collaborators, making it one of the few casts made during Rodin’s lifetime. Part of the Legion’s founding collection, the sculptures have been shown since its opening in 1924.

Rodin created this reduced bronze of his friend the French writer Victor Hugo in 1891. On the back was inscribed “A mon ami/To my friend.”

Another bust of Hugo:

Rodin’s The Age of Bronze:

I thought of you, Janina, when I looked up at the beautiful ceiling.

Rodin’s retrospective in 1900 at the Paris Exposition Universelle was such a resounding success that he became the most famous sculptor of his generation. Museums the world over bought his works and Rodin received international portrait commissions. Near the end of his career, the artist created the larger-than-life Bust of Victor Hugo in unfinished marble.

In addition to the superb Rodin collection, the Legion of Honor also had a lovely Cabinet that had been fabricated in France circa 1580 from walnut.

This sumptuous four-thousand-pound ceiling of interlocking sections of gilt and painted wood once adorned a tower in the Palacio de Altamira near Toledo, Spain, about the time of the Christian conquest of southern Spain from its Muslim inhabitants.

Being a huge fan of Flemish tapestries, I was agog viewing Rabbit Hunting with Ferrets which was created in 1470 from wool and silk. It was the perfect piece to end our visit to the Palace.

Near our son’s home in San Francisco was the colorful Precita Valley Community Center.

It was cute to watch our almost-two-year-old granddaughter, Max, be so excited to see a streetcar pass us by on one of our frequent walks.

Our son, Alexander, and his wife, Cory, hardly huffed and puffed as we all made up one of the city’s steepest hills and they were pushing Max in the stroller, too. I guess Steven and I did all their huffing and puffing.

Looking back down the hill from the top!

The I Can’t Breathe sign honored those young people of color who had died at the hands of police officers in the line of duty. Notice the small RIP RBG on the bottom right, a reference to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

One of Alexander and Cory’s favorite hikes from their home is to Glen Canyon Park so we were happy to join them to get a better sense of their day-to-day lives. During the 1697-1848 colonization and governance period of California by Mexico, the canyon was part of the large Rancho San Miguel estate and cattle grazing was prevalent. Before the invention of the car, it took three hours to reach this spot from downtown San Francisco. During the Gold Rush, smugglers and cattle rustlers hid in the canyon’s rocky outcrops.

In the 1850s the land comprising the canyon was purchased by the Giant Powder Company which started the first commercial dynamite manufacturing in the US under a patent from Alfred Nobel of Nobel Prize fame. Alas, a fireball consumed the entire facility just a year later!

Once the Crocker Real Estate Company bought the canyon in 1889, they tried to attract visitors and home buyers with an amusement park, zoo, bowling alley, air balloon rides, and a tight rope walk across the canyon! Fortunately, the city’s Recreation and Park Commission purchased the property in 1922 to protect the area. 

I could understand how Glen Canyon is considered an ecological jewel in the heart of San Francisco as it contains one of the city’s last two free-flowing creeks, picturesque rock outcrops, and spring wildflower displays. How lucky Alexander and his family live so close to Glen Canyon.

A springtime walk in San Francisco is sure to entice any flower lover. Ellen: You and Peter will love its flowers whenever you  are lucky enough to visit, believe me!

This was one of the city’s famous Painted Ladies, a term initially used in 1978 to describe Victorian and Edwardian houses and buildings repainted, starting in the 1960s, in three or more colors.

Other sights caught our attention as we walked Max home from her daycare in the Mission District.

Sadly, far too many of the city’s Asian population have been victims of hate crimes since the onset of Covid.

Another day while Max was napping, Steven and I played tourists at San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, beginning at Ghiradelli Square.

steam donkey engine – please don’t ask me what it was, I just liked the name!

This little houseboat, known locally as an ark, was a summer hideaway for San Francisco families in nearby Marin County. Summers aboard the brightly painted arks sounded like great fun, particularly at night when the boats glowed with colorful Japanese lanterns and families visited between boats in rowboats.

The design of the Sea Fox,a tug built for the Army Transport Service in the 1920s, was so successful that it was adopted for 61 boats built for the government during WW II. Sea Fox played a heroic role in 1960 when it was the first tug to get a line on a disabled wine tanker, thereby saving it from destruction off Ocean Beach. The ‘little tug that could’ met its demise in the mid-1960s when it was involved in a collision.

Because of our National Parks Pass, we enjoyed free access to Hyde Street Pier and the Eureka car ferry that ran first between San Francisco and Tiburon in Marin County and later to Oakland in the East bay until 1957.

Its huge cylinder walking beam engine is the last afloat in the country and, even though it was technically outdated by 1890, its slow-turning paddle engines remained popular for their simplicity and reliability.

This 1931 Chevy Woody which was normally referred to as a depot hack ferried passengers between the various transportation hubs and destinations in the city.

It was amusing to read how long-time commuters on the Marin ferry fell into regular habits after riding the same boat at the same time twice a day, year after year. The oldest commuters effectively had reserved seats on their accustomed seats. 

Male card players participated in an ongoing poker game while male clerks sat in one area and male executives in another. Females generally sat on the upper deck.

There was a rare whale sighting near the ferry in 1896.

Eureka’s restaurant served full diner-style meals to 64 passengers sitting at tables and counters during the 32-minute crossings from 1922 to 1941 in what had to be the fast food of the era! 

The commuter ferry continued until 1941 when buses crossing the Golden Gate Bridge took over public transportation.

The C. A. Thayer was one of 123 three-masted schooners built in the early 1890s on the West Coast for the lumber trade.

Eppleton Hall was a paddle tug working in the coal ports of northern England whose independent engine control gave it great maneuverability. After she was retired in 1968, she underwent extensive restoration before steaming to San Francisco under her own power in 1970.

Balclutha was one of the thousands of iron and steel sailing ships built in Great Britain and Europe in the 1860s. It called into San Francisco five times bringing coal and assorted cargo from Europe and returning with grain.

Phil: I wonder if you and Michaela might decide to also hang out at the maritime park on your own upcoming visit to San Francisco? If so, I’m sure you’ll have fun. If you decide to give the old ships a miss, however, Fisherman’s Wharf might appeal instead. Though very touristy, it still is enjoyable to wander around the shops and admire the stunning views.

The Guardian of the Gate sculpture:

We’d never seen so many sea lions in one place before as we did at Pier 39!

No post on San Francisco’s highlights would be complete without a single shot of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge!

Another day, Steven and I drove out to the city’s Marina District to view The Palace of Fine Arts,a monumental structure that had been originally constructed for the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition to exhibit works of art. The theme of the 162-foot-high open rotunda was to recall a decaying ruin of ancient Rome.  

Knowing it had become one of San Francisco’s most recognizable landmarks, we were excited to stroll along its paths and lagoons.

The Palace, only built to last a year, fell into disrepair over the ensuing decades and its former fine art galleries were repurposed for indoor tennis courts, a WW II motor pool, a phone book distribution center, and fire department headquarters.

How lucky Steven and I are to regularly visit such a beautiful city as San Francisco when seeing Alexander, Cory, Max, and a soon-to-arrive son!

Next post: Finally, the start of this current trip which started on May 11th with our drive east toward Nebraska and the Lincoln Highway’s Americana!

Posted on June 18th, 2022, from tiny but mighty Fogo Island, an island off the island of Newfoundland that I can hardly wait to tell you all about!


2 thoughts on “Our Highlight Reel of San Francisco!

  1. You make me realise how little we saw of San Francisco on our couple of days there many years ago! I would really love to go back some day. I enjoyed seeing the Rodin sculptures as they took me back to our visit to the museum in Paris last year which has many of the same pieces. But the Mutu ones appeal to me even more, especially Mama Ray – so striking and powerful. I of course also liked the street art and seeing all the old ships, in particular the old ferry and the photos of it in use 🙂


  2. IF you do get a chance to return to San Francisco, Sarah, I’m sure you’ll find so many places to see to make it worth your while. I enjoyed the juxtaposition between the traditional Rodin sculptures and the more avante-garde Mutu pieces at the Legion of Honor. I only highlighted a few favorites in the National Maritime District – there was definitely a lot more that might have caught your eye!


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