Coach Tour – Exploring San Francisco

2 October 2014

The amazing Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco


Another early start today as our first stop is Stanford University, or rather a part of it as it covers a massive area.  Stanford was founded in 1885 by Leland Stanford, former governor of and U.S. Senator from California and leading railroad tycoon, and his wife, Jane Lathrop Stanford, in memory of their only child, Leland Stanford Jr  who died of typhoid fever at age 15 the previous year. Stanford was opened on October 1, 1891 as a co-educational and non-denominational institution. Tuition was free until 1920.  The university struggled financially after Leland Stanford’s 1893 death and after much of the campus was damaged by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake Following World War II, Provost Fredrick Terman supported faculty and graduates’ entrepreneurialism to build self-sufficient local industry in what would become known as Silicon Valley. By 1970, Stanford was home to a linear accelerator, and was one of the original four ARNET nodes (precursor to the Internet).

Stanford University is one of the world’s leading research universities. It is known for its entrepreneurial character, drawn from the legacy of its founders, Jane and Leland Stanford, and its relationship to Silicon Valley.  Areas of excellence range from the humanities to social sciences to engineering and the sciences. Stanford is located in California’s Bay Area, between San Jose and Silicon Valley, one of the most intellectually dynamic and culturally diverse areas of America.  It welcomes over 150,000 visitors each year.


Part of Stanford University and the colourful gardens in the early morning

The entry gardens and lawns are quite beautiful in the early morning sunshine.  On our way to the Memorial Church, built by Jane Lanthrop Stanford in memory of her husband Leland Stanford the founder of the University, we passed the Burghers of Calais statues by Rodin looking very sombre in the morning light.

The Spanish influence Memorial Church at Stanford University






A mural on the front of the church (left) and one of the stained glass windows (right)

Part of the plaza around the church

The Hoover Tower in the university grounds, inspired by the cathedral tower at Salamanca in Spain

Although we were not allowed entry to the memorial church, we had an opportunity to walk around it to admire the beautiful facade and stained glass windows, and the superb plaza surrounding the church.  Wandering a little further we saw other beautiful buildings and statues – what a wonderful environment in which to study!

Back on the bus and on our way to view the world famous Golden Gate Bridge, had to pinch myself to believe I was seeing it!  The Golden Gate Bridge is a suspension bridge spanning the Golden Gate strait, the mile-wide, three-mile-long channel between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean.  The Golden Gate Bridge is a technical masterpiece that can only be described in superlative terms. When the bridge was completed in 1937 it was the world’s longest and tallest suspension bridge.  Construction of the bridge started in 1933.  Designed by engineer Joseph Strauss it was built to connect San Francisco with Marin County across the 1600 meter (+5000ft) wide strait.  It would take thousands of workers, four years and 35 million dollars to complete the structure. On May 27, 1937 the Golden Gate Bridge was inaugurated by 18,000 people who walked across the bridge. The next day the bridge officially opened to motorized traffic. Today more than 120,000 cars cross the bridge each day.


 The spectacular Golden Gate Bridge

It’s vibrant orange red colour is renowned, and several painters are employed year round to paint and repaint the structure.  It is quite stunning and in a beautiful area of San Francisco Bay.  Here we also had a chance to purchase a coffee and wander through the souvenir shop before boarding the bus to our next destination, the beautiful Palace of Fine Arts.

One of the most beautiful settings in San Francisco, the Palace of Fine Arts features a peaceful lagoon, a large picturesque rotunda and Greek-style colonnades. It is situated a stones throw from the Marina Green and the Golden Gate Bridge. Originally built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, the Palace of Fine Arts and the surrounding tranquil lagoon are one of the most photographed spots in the city.  I certainly took many photographs as it is a building that takes one’s breath away.  There are some wonderful homes around the area – and I discovered a rather ferocious little creature that I initially thought was a scorpion, but on second thoughts could have been a type of crustacean that had wandered out of the lagoon.  Whatever it was, it had its feelers out in defence (above left), and there was no way I was going to touch it!

Next stop on the agenda was the very interesting, and very steep and crooked Lombard Street, an east–west street famous for having a steep, one-block section that consists of eight tight  hairpin turns. The street was named after Lombard Street in Philadelphia by San Francisco surveyor Jasper O’Farrell.


The zig-zag Lombard Street in San Francisco

Lombard Street is known for the one-way block on Russian Hill between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets, where eight sharp turns are said to make it the crookedest street in the world. The design, first suggested by property owner Carl Henry and built in 1922,was intended to reduce the hill’s natural 27% grade, which was too steep for most vehicles. It is also a hazard to pedestrians, who are accustomed to shallow inclines, up to 4.86° because of wheel chair navigability concerns. The crooked block is perhaps 600 feet (180 m) long (412.5 feet (125.7 m) straightline), is one-way (downhill) and is paved with red bricks. The sign at the top recommends 5 mph (8 km/h).

In 1999 a ‘Crooked Street Task Force’ tried to solve traffic problems around the winding section of Lombard Street. In 2001 the task force decided it would not be legal to permanently close the block to vehicular traffic. Instead, it decided to institute a summer parking ban in the area, to bar eastbound traffic on major holidays, and to increase fines for parking in the area. The task force proposed the use of minibuses to ferry sightseers to the famous block, although residents debated the efficiency of such a solution, since one of the attractions is driving down the twisting section.

Looking back down Lombard Street, and San  Francisco Bay in the distance

San Francisco is known for its steep hills, and it was a long hard climb up Lombard Street to see the crooked block, but well worth it.  There are wonderful gardens all along the crooked section, and numerous cars were descending the one-way block at the time we were there.  Walking down the street was much easier than climbing up and there are great views across the city.

We were then taken to the famous Fisherman’s Wharf area and had time to walk around until our cruise around San Francisco Bay.  The opportunity was taken to purchase a cheap mobile phone each so we could communicate with each other, plus hotels, tour operators etc while we were travelling.  Then it was time for the cruise which took us all over San Francisco Bay, past the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge, the island of Alcatraz and with fabulous views of the city skyline – we loved San Francisco.


Part of the San Francisco skyline from the Bay

After a short visit to the American Church with its superb architecture and stained glass windows, we were driven to a lookout for the most breath taking views across the city of San Francisco, we could see for miles.







The massive organ and exterior of the American Church

Next stop was the spectacular City Hall, the state administration building, the Opera Theatre and Asian Art Museum all surrounding a wonderful plaza – the camera was working overtime.







The impressive entrance to the City Hall (left) and the State Administration building







The Opera House (left) and Asian Art Museum

It was another late night as we made our way to the outer city limits for a meal (Chinese this time) and a supermarket stop for munchies for the next day, and finally our motel for the night.  Tomorrow we are excited about seeing the mighty Yosemite Park.


Spectacular views over a spectacular city on a spectacular day!!

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