Got the Gate on the Golden Gate

As a Bay Area native, I’d like to think I know all the great places to check out in San Francisco, Marin, and the East Bay, but the truth is, I’ve lived in Oregon for 25 years now, so my list of favorite spots may be a little outdated. Thus it was fun when I found two “new to me” places in the Bay on a recent trip to visit family. One I knew existed, but had just never checked out, but the other was a complete surprise.

I’ve always wanted to hike in San Francisco’s Lands End. I’ve been near the trail, but have never seen the Sutro Baths up close, nor hiked on the Lands End trail proper. It’s so beautiful, and if you’re there on a fog-free day, the views are some of the best San Francisco has to offer. My sister and I started at the parking lot near the Cliff House. We first walked down to the remains of the Sutro Baths, once a public indoor saltwater swimming pool. Built in 1896, all that remains of the baths today are pools of saltwater and crumbling cement walls. The walls are easy to walk on, you just have to watch your step for rebar and holes. And the location is terrific.

From the Sutro Baths, it’s very easy to pick up the path of the Land’s End hiking trail, a 3 ½ ish mile loop trail, with many sets of stairs, and several offshoots that get you closer to the water, and even to a beach or two. The trail offers outstanding views of the Golden Gate Bridge (if the fog doesn’t hide it that is), as well as bits of three sunken ships at low tide. All three ships crashed in the 1920-1930’s, and sunk just off the coast. Additionally, you can see the remains of the Miles Rock lighthouse, now just a short and squat tower on top of Miles Rock, with a helicopter pad on top. This is a popular trail and it was busy on our Saturday morning visit. There are lots of dogs on leashes as well.

My surprise find of the Bay Area was Oakland’s Lake Merritt Bonsai Garden. My parents and I had taken a picnic lunch to Lake Merritt, where I got to hear details of my parents early days, including a look at the outside of an apartment my father lived in 60 years ago. We walked around parts of the Lake, and checked out the Science Center and the Boating Center, and we also discovered the Bonsai Garden, something I never knew existed (it’s only been open 15 years, so that’s probably why I’d never heard of it).

The free garden is the only all-volunteer bonsai garden in the United States. Nearly 100 bonsai are on display at all times, and another 100 are in reserve. It includes a 1,600 year old tree, given to the US Ambassador to China during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, as well as beautiful garden architecture, like the classical Japanese Mas Imazumi Gate, which is made with joinery woodworking and has no visible glue, nails or screws. The garden is beautiful, and quite peaceful. It’s a great place for a stroll on a beautiful sunny day in Oakland.

I’m sure there are numerous other spots in the San Francisco Bay Area that I know nothing about. I look forward to exploring more of them on future visits.

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