Family Trip to the
San Francisco Bay Area
11-25 Aug 2006

August 11th

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We woke up at 3am to drive to Omaha in time to make our first flight. The terrorist threat from yesterday made the lines move slower, but we made it on time. We flew from Omaha to Minneapolis, then rushed to our next plane for the 4-hour flight to San Jose, on the south end of the San Francisco Bay. The flight went without incident. The kids enjoyed watching things go by out the windows. I'm pretty sure we passed over Lake Tahoe on the way in.
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Our rental car is a brand new PT Cruiser. I figured the smaller size and 4-door configuration would work well in the busy traffic. Alas, we don't like the car. For starters, it has the turning radius of a Suburban. All the controls are very poorly laid out. The seats are stiff and not terribly comfortable. The throttle response off idle isn't as smooth as it ought to be. I'll certainly never own one of these myself.

We knew we were in California when, less than a mile from the San Jose airport, we got stuck in our first traffic jam. There was an accident up the road that had 5 lanes of traffic at a standstill on Hwy-101. We went about 2 miles in 30 minutes.

After checking into the hotel in Mountain View, we walked down Castro street and had lunch at a sidewalk-side table at a pasta place. Micah had found a nickel in our rental car, and for some reason had it in his mouth. Next thing we knew, he had swallowed it. He gagged briefly, but soon had completely swallowed it. We called a doctor friend, and he said Micah should be fine as long as he doesn't complain of any discomfort. I guess my good-for-nothing son is now good for at least five cents.

After lunch, we spent some time at the small hotel pool. There was another family there with a "four and three quarter" year old girl named "Maddie." She and Noelle immediately bonded. The pool was pretty cool and the whirlpool was on the warm side, so Micah didn't get into either past his knees. After returning to our room, Stacy and the kids crashed for a while.
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August 12

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We woke up and got moving this morning at a somewhat more leisurely pace, the headed up Hwy 101 for the hour-long drive to Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco proper. Along the way, we drove past the Stanford University campus and saw the famous bell tower 100 yards off to the left. The last 20 minutes or more of the trip was a few miles along The Embarcadero, the main road that runs along all the piers leading up to Fisherman's Wharf. From there, we got our first glimpse of the Bay Bridge, which runs east from the Wharf across the bay.
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We parked in the world's tightest parking garage and headed to Pier 39, where most of the attractions lie. One of the first things we saw was a trampoline with bungie cords attached, which allowed anyone between 30 and 230 lbs to jump really high. Noelle, our little dare devil, though that looked like great fun, so we hooked her up and watched her fly. Micah followed, with some trepidation. Neither of them had the nerve to do a somersault, but it was still worth it.
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We ate lunch at Bubba Gump's (named after Forrest Gump's shrimp business), which was decent seafood with a great view of the harbor, but was horribly overpriced. After lunch, we watched a juggling show (from the back row), and then wandered over to see all the sea lions that have taken up residence on a portion of the pier. I wish I'd had a good telephoto lense, as the zoom on our little Elph isn't all that great.
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We then stopped in a stuffed animal store, where the kids chose to spend some of their vacation money on huggable souvenirs. Micah got a make-your-own-animal horse, and dressed him in a green soccer outfit. He named him "Horick," a combination of "horse" and "Frederick" (his preferred name for our new baby). Noelle got a pre-made puppy named "Pup."

By mid-afternoon, the kids were starting to get tired, so we pumped them full of cotton candy (aka fluffy sugar) and then headed next door to the Aquarium of the Bay -- a kind of zoo for sea creatures native to the San Francisco Bay. Among other things, it has a lengthy tunnel under several pools so you can look up at sharks, rays, star fish, enormous schools of anchovies, and Lenny the Special Needs Sturgeon (he lacks some tentacles necessary to locate food, so he gets hand-fed by the staff). It also has a hands-on area where you can pet skates, rays, leopard sharks, and star fish. Noelle was frustrated that the water containing the rays was too deep for her to reach those bottom-dwellers, but she loved handling the other animals. Micah wasn't sure about it at first, but eventually got up the nerve to touch one of the less-menacing star fish (if I did it with him), and finally worked his way up to the sharks before we left.
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The temps were below 70 degrees all day, and by dinner time, the breeze off the bay made it downright chilly. Long pants were necessary all day, and jackets were required by late afternoon. We ate at a bakery / restaurant called Boudin, where we ate the most incredible crab and corn chowder in a bread bowl. The restaurant was on the second floor of the building, and afforded great views of the bay, which was now getting pretty hazy.

We finished our time at the Wharf by taking part in the ever-popular vacation ritual of buying new children's footwear. Micah's sandals had started falling apart, and there was a Payless Shoes conveniently located across the street from Boudin. We scored some new sandals on sale for only $6, and he also found some Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle shoes, which he claimed he needed for school because his old shoes were starting to get tight. He hasn't worn those shoes all summer, but we figured he was probably right anyway, so we got them. It's a good thing we left extra empty space in our luggage when we left Lincoln. Noelle must have tried on a dozen pair of shoes, even though we weren't going to buy her any. She kept exclaiming, "Aren't these adorable!" and, "These sound very good on my feet" (as she walked around in them).

It was dark when we headed back down The Embarcadero toward our hotel. The Bay Bridge was lit up light a Christmas tree, so we stopped briefly to take a few photos. The one-second exposures would have turned out better with a tripod than they did with me holding the camera against a fence post, but you get the idea. It looked pretty cool in person. The kids were out cold by the time we hit the highway. I guess you can sleep in any position if you're tired enough.
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Tomorrow, we plan on heading back up to San Francisco to visit the zoo and the Golden Gate Bridge. Monday Ben starts his training classes (the real reason we're out here), so Stacy and the kids are on their own during the day.

August 13

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We spent most of today by driving up to the San Francisco Zoo, which is on the western edge of the city, right on the coast. The zoo is certainly bigger than Lincoln's Folsom Children's Zoo, but not as nice as Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo. We crowded into the big cat house with several hundred other people to watch them being fed at 2pm. Stacy and I couldn't see much, but we put the kids on our shoulders, and they had a decent view of the lions and tigers eating. Even a mild roar echoed pretty well in that building. The baby giraffes were also pretty cute.

After we left the zoo around 4pm, and decided to show the kids the beach, since they'd never seen one first hand. Stacy was pretty tired from a day of walking around the zoo, so she stayed in the car while Ben and the kids climbed down the embankment from the parking lot to the sand below. It was cloudy, windy, and chilly, causing us to keep our jackets on, but there were still plenty of people on the beach. Ben and Noelle took off our shoes, rolled up our pant legs (almost far enough), and waded out far enough for the surf to splash up past our calves. Micah wasn't quite brave enough to remove his shoes, but he did like chasing the surf as it receded back into the ocean. We got to watch some guys parachute surfing and some others playing football. Neither kid wanted to leave when it was time.

We ate dinner up the road at a little diner right on the coast at Sutro Point. Our booth looked right out over the ocean, and we got to see several wild dolphins swimming by.

The 195 photos are available at the above link. Photos from the beach are about 30-60 from the end of that list.

August 14

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Ben was in RedHat Linux training today from 9-5, so Stacy and the kids just took it easy, doing some shopping and hanging out by the hotel pool. We had dinner at a sidewalk table at a Thai restaurant on Castro Street.

August 15th

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Day two of Ben's training. Stacy and the kids visited the San Jose Children's Museum. It was nearly twice the size of Lincoln's Children's Museum, but made poor use of its space and didn't have as many cool things that the kids in Lincoln love to do. The kids still enjoyed it, and brought home some corn husk dolls and some crafts made of yarn and popsicle sticks.

After Ben got done around 5pm, we all headed up to the City to see the Golden Gate Bridge. It's been terribly foggy and cool by the coast, but it was still impressive. While we were on the north side, we drove around in Sausalito for a bit. We then crossed back over the bridge to San Francisco and wandered around Ghirardelli Square for a bit, then walked over to see the cable cars before we headed home. On our way out of San Francisco, we drove by the Lotus/Bentley dealership. It was late by the time we left the city -- after 10pm -- but the kids held up like real troopers.
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August 16th

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More training for Ben. Stacy and the kids ran some errands and napped. We've decided to spend our three-day weekend at Disneyland in Anaheim, a seven-hour drive south from Mountain View. We leave tomorrow afternoon. They're excited.

August 17th

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Hollingsworth family, you've just finished a week in foggy San Francisco, now what are you going to do? We're going to Disneyland!

Half day of training for Ben to finish this week's class. After lunch, we loaded the kids into the infamous rental PT Cruiser and made the seven-hour drive down I-5 to Anaheim (southeastern Los Angeles), the home of the happiest place on earth. Traffic was smooth and fast. Half way there, in the middle of nowhere, we paid $3.48/gallon for 87 octane gas. As we were coming over the final pass and descending into the outskirts of LA, you could see a very obvious brown haze over the city. At first I thought it must be smoke from a forest fire, but it turned out to be smog.

As we checked into our hotel (the Annabella) across the street from Disneyland, we could barely see glimpses of the attractions (mostly the roller coasters) over the thick foliage barrier that surrounds the park. Noelle was beside herself, and most have squealed, "Oh my word!" a dozen times before bed.

August 18th

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Day one in Disneyland. Both the kids were excited to be there, but Noelle was downright giddy. She kept asking if the characters were real, to which we always answered, "They might be." Noelle wanted to hug nearly every character she saw, but Micah was really only excited to see Mickey Mouse and Pooh Bear. After making the mistake of taking Noelle on Space Mountain (a pitch black, big kid roller coaster), we stuck to tame rides for the rest of our trip. The kids had a great time.

At 9:25 every night when the weather cooperates, they shoot off fireworks above the castle. We were rushing outside from a shop onto Main Street to see the show just ask they killed all the street lights. Stacy didn't see the curb and fell, spraining her ankle pretty badly. We spent some time in the first aid station, then went to a nearby emergency room for X-rays because she thought she felt something snap when she fell. Thankfully, there were no fractures, and nothing went wrong with Arnie (our unborn son). We finally got back to the hotel around 1am.

August 19th

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Day two, this time next door in California Adventure. This is a smaller park than Disneyland, although we still would have liked to spend more than just one day there.

We rented Stacy a motorized scooter, which was very nice to have. Our first attraction was the kids' favorite -- the Muppet 3D movie. It was pretty cool, but then, I've always loved the Muppets. We took photos with a few more characters. Noelle saw other kids having the characters sign autographs (although I doubt she understood what they were doing), so she got some scratch paper from Stacy and started doing that, too. She was sure cute with them. Almost every time we saw a new character, she tried to run up and give them a hug around the legs right away.

Micah and Noelle had great fun playing in a water park area in the "Bug's Life" area. Micah got so wet that his clothes were still soaked by sunset, and he was starting to get cold. We bought him a Mickey sweat jacket to help keep him warm.

August 20th

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Day three, back in Disneyland for a few hours before leaving town after lunch. We used our free wheelchair coupon (given to us by the first aid people on Friday) today rather than renting a scooter. It's not every day I get to push my wife around without her complaining. ;-)

On our way home, we drove up along the Pacific Coast Highway for the first bit (during daylight). Traffic along I-5 and I-10 was heavy, but moved consistently until we passed downtown. The drive up PCH from Santa Monica to Malibu was terribly slow, since there were stop lights everywhere and lots of weekend traffic at the beach. It was pretty cool to see. I can only imagine how much a small, dumpy house on the ocean side of PCH must cost. I lost track of how many expensive cars we passed. Once we cleared Malibu, the traffic thinned out and sped up, and the scenery got much prettier. We stopped at Ventura Beach for about 20 minutes at Noelle's request, but the wind was blowing so hard that the sand stung her bare legs, and she quickly tired of being out there.

About a half hour after dark, our accursed PT Cruiser died on us -- probably with a faulty alternator, but it's impossible to tell without a voltmeter. In daylight, I'd have risked driving the 27 miles to the nearest Avis office in San Louis Obispo, but I wasn't going to chance it after dark with the headlights on and no alternator. After spending 2.5 hours in a Carl's Jr. restaurant, Avis finally drove down to bring us a Chevy Malibu in replacement. It's certainly a nicer vehicle, but I do miss the Sirius satellite radio that the PT Cruiser had. The brakes on the Malibu are also pretty touchy and squeal slightly when you use them. I love Avis.

Between leaving Anaheim late, having slow traffic along the beach, taking a non-optimal route for a while, waiting for the new rental car, and stopping at every exit for 20 miles trying to find an open restroom, we didn't get back to Mountain View until 2:30am.

August 21st

After almost three hours of sleep, I dropped Stacy, Micah, and Noelle off at the airport before my class, since Stacy couldn't carry the luggage in her condition. They flew flew home without incident. My parents drove them home from the airport so Stacy could rest her ankle. Another full day of RedHat training for Ben, then lots of sleep that evening.

August 22nd

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More training. This evening, I went on a nerd site seeing trip. I drove by the Computer History Museum, but since it's only open for a few hours a week (all during the business day), I wasn't able to go in.

Next, I drove over to Google's headquarters and wandered around their campus for about ten minutes. It's very cool, with an outdoor cafe and sand volleyball courts. People were wheeling around on scooters. Everyone appeared to be in their 20's and 30's, and everybody was smiling. It looks like quite a place.

I followed that with a brief stop at the famous Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center), where the world's first windowed GUI was invented. It's a very nondescript, low building on the south edge of town, bordered horse pastures.

Finally, I spent about 45 minutes wandering around the Stanford University campus. I got there just after sunset, which provided some cool photo ops of the famous Hoover Tower and some other buildings. The campus is absolutely gorgeous. The architecture resembles 200-yr-old Spanish mansions, covered in yellow stone and stucco, with gothic arches and covered walkways around most of the buildings. By comparison, UNL is quite a dump. Speaking of Stanford, last week we drove over the Stanford Linear Accelerator, a nuclear particle accelerator in a very long, narrow building southwest of Palo Alto. A road sign on the side of I-280 is the only indication you're driving over it.

I finished the day with the cajun blackened salmon at the California Roadhouse restaurant on Castro Street in Mountain View. I only mention it because it was probably the best meal I've eaten out here.

August 23rd

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More training. I spent the evening up in the City again, visiting Union Square first. It's a shopper's paradise, surrounded by all the big name stores you expect to see in Manhattan. I climbed (that's a more accurate term than "walked") up Powell Street to the top of the hill (California Street) and then rode a cable car back down just to say I've done it. It was nothing special.

I spent the latter half of the evening at the Boom Boom Room, the bar started by blues music legend John Lee Hooker. I'm tempted to describe it as a hole in the wall bar, although it's noticeably larger and cleaner than Lincoln's Zoo Bar. Incidentally, it's located right across the street from the famous Fillmore auditorium. The band was the Brass Mafia, which plays there twice a month. They're a six-piece brass band (sax, trumpet, trombone, tuba, drums, and organ) that play New Orleans punk jazz. Their stage presence is a bit unorganized, but some of their songs were very well played. One of their more entertaining numbers was a medley of 1980's pop/rock hits. I can honestly say that I've never heard a full horn section play "Axel F" before. They were entertaining, but not enough to make me stick around for their second set. I left when the first set ended at 11:30pm. Curiously, the staff and patrons of the Boom Boom Room were almost entirely white middle class, even though the bar is located in a very low-income, mostly black neighborhood and its heritage seems to cater to that audience.

August 24th

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My final day of training. I was pretty drained by this point, so I spent the evening visiting the Apple Computer campus in Cupertino (its address is 1 Infinite Loop), then visiting the largest Fry's store in Silicon Valley. It's probably three times the size of the Best Buy here in Lincoln. The had three whole isles (both sides) with nothing but laptops. An entire wall of motherboards. They had oscilliscopes, telescopes, vacuum cleaners, and electron microscopes. OK, I made up that last one, but I wouldn't have been too surprised to see one there. It was heaven.

August 25th

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I flew home today, leaving that wretched state behind me. On the way to the airport, I drove by a few more office buildings in northern Santa Clara. These included Yahoo!, Sun Microsystems, Intel, WebEx, Cisco, and eBay. The Sun and Cisco campuses were enormous. Driving around down there and looking at the names on the buildings is like reading a who's who of the I.T. industry.

Anyway, I'm glad to be home.

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last updated 27 Aug 2006
Obi-Wan (obiwan@jedi.com)




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