Home » 2013 Pacific Northwest

San Francisco North / Petaluma KOA and Side Trips to San Francisco, CA

Wednesday, September 11, 2013 - 4:00pm by Lolo
55 miles and 1.5 hours from our last stop - 5 night stay


Herb at Baker BeachHerb at Baker BeachThis flying stuff was great. After years of spending 5 grueling days crossing the country, it's still hard for us to get used to the novelty of waking up in New Jersey and going out to dinner in San Francisco that night.

Fortunately for us, Andrew was kind enough to take time off from work to pick us up from the airport, but the late afternoon traffic in the city was so bad that rather than go directly up to the Petaluma KOA to take the motorhome out of storage, we decided to go back to his apartment to visit while the traffic cleared. Also, he had plenty of chores for Herb to do, such as building an IKEA coffee table and TV stand. We (and by we, I mean Herb) were happy to do it. It was so fun seeing how nicely their apartment was coming along. Also, they live in a neighborhood with tons of really good and inexpensive Asian restaurants. They took us to one of their favorites.

Afterwards, Andrew drove us up to the Petaluma KOA to reunite with the motorhome and to move it out of storage and into a campsite. It felt good to be back.

Day 1 – Reorient and Errands

The next day was spent doing errands – food shopping, washing the car, etc. Petaluma was actually beginning to feel a little bit like home. The campground has a nice pool with lots of comfortable lounge chairs, so after getting resettled, we spent the greater part of the afternoon reading and swimming. Before dinner, however, we did go out on a run. Herb and I discovered a great 5-mile loop from the campground, along country roads through dairy farm country. Despite its proximity to US 101 and San Francisco (about 45 minutes), the Petaluma KOA is really quite rural. In fact, when the wind is right (or wrong, depending on your perspective), you can actually catch the occasional whiff of cattle from your campsite.

Day 2 – Coastal Trail, Planet Granite, and Toronados

Herb at Planet GraniteHerb at Planet GraniteOn Friday, we drove down to San Francisco in the afternoon. We were planning to meet Andrew and Celeste at Planet Granite, their climbing gym, after work. Herb has been an avid rock climber for literally decades, and it was very exciting for him to have his sons take up a love for the sport as well. Not only have Andrew and Tommy become very competent climbers, but Andrew’s girlfriend Celeste is on track to surpass them all.

Since we were in the city a bit early, Herb and I took a walk along the Coastal Trail in the Presidio to Baker Beach. It was quite cold, and Herb did his fair share of complaining about freezing in California, but the views of the Golden Gate Bridge were stupendous.

Around 5:00 we headed over to Planet Granite to meet up with Andrew and Celeste. Before being allowed to climb in the gym, Herb and I had to pass a belay test to prove our competence – a good idea in view of the fact that when belaying someone you are really the only thing between them and the ground. Luckily, Herb had given me a brief refresher course before we entered, so I passed with flying colors.

Lolo and Herb Dining at Toronado PubLolo and Herb Dining at Toronado PubPlanet Granite is an incredible climbing gym. Even if I wasn’t climbing, I would love it for its views alone. Floor to ceiling windows look out onto the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and the Mark di Suvero sculptures in Crissy Fields. It was hard to keep my eyes on the climbing wall.

I have spent time in our own climbing gym in New Jersey, but this gym has so many more climbs that I can do. It was the best climbing experience I had ever had. It was also fun to see how much Andrew and Celeste have improved.

After climbing, Andrew took us to Toronados, their favorite post-climbing sausage and beer place in the Haight section of San Francisco. The bar was really crowded and a bit noisy, but the sausages were delicious and the beer very refreshing after our climbing workout. Herb and I were stuffed, but Andrew and Celeste somehow still managed to fit in some ice cream at the Toy Boat Dessert Cafe, their favorite ice cream place. It’s great how they have really gotten to learn this city and have their favorite places for every type of food imaginable – eating is their second favorite sport after climbing.

Stuffed and content, Herb and I drove back up to Petaluma with the promise of returning early the next morning to explore the city with them by bike.

Day 3 – Bike Tour of San Francisco

Andrew, Celeste and Lolo at Arizmendi BakeryAndrew, Celeste and Lolo at Arizmendi BakerySan Francisco is truly a very bicycle-friendly city, especially if you know your way around. Fortunately, Celeste did, so it was nice to not have to constantly stop and pull out a map and to let someone else be the tour guide for a change.

The first stop on what was to be a 26-mile hilly bike ride – after all it is San Francisco – was Arizmendi Bakery, Andrew and Celeste’s favorite bakery. I must say, they do know their food, because everywhere they take us is unbelievable. After a very large pastry and a cup of coffee, we remounted our bikes and rode into Golden Gate Park to see the buffalo herd that lives there. You could very easily spend an entire day in this amazing park, which is actually bigger than NYC’s Central Park. However, we had lots to see that day, so we kept on moving.

Andrew and Celeste in Pelting Sand at Ocean BeachAndrew and Celeste in Pelting Sand at Ocean BeachOur next stop was Ocean Beach, where our walk was cut somewhat short by the sand pelting us in the face. It was a very windy day, which we really hadn’t noticed when we were inland in the park. This beach was definitely worth a revisit on a less windy day.

Continuing on, we began a very steep ascent up the Great Highway, past the Cliff House Restaurant and Sutro Baths. I think Andrew and Celeste were quite impressed that I made it all the way up without having to dismount and walk my bike. I wanted to die.

After a very brief rest, we continued up even more hills until we got to the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park. This very impressive building is part of the San Francisco Museum of Fine Arts. It was to this very museum that Jimmy Stewart followed Kim Novak in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, where she was compulsively drawn each day to sit for hours staring at a painting of a woman named Carlotta. But I digress. Back on the bikes we go.

Sutro Baths OverlookSutro Baths OverlookFinally, our climbing was over and soon we were careening, probably much faster than I should have, down a steep hill to Crissy Field. I just love this part of San Francisco. The city of San Francisco is very progressive with their public space—a really good thing for residents, as there are so many beautiful places to enjoy on weekend day.

Crissy Field had undergone quite a transformation since the 1990s when it was taken over by the National Park Service. Prior to that, it had served as a U.S. Army airfield and was often used for the dumping of hazardous materials. In fact, when acquiring it, the NPS declared it to be, and I quote, “a derelict concrete wasteland.” Well, wasteland no more. As part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, it has been transformed into a very successful example of urban public space, with beaches, picnic areas, biking trails, historic buildings, and a restored tidal marsh. Today it is a premier recreation area for residents and visitors to San Francisco.

Biking to the Palace of Fine ArtsBiking to the Palace of Fine ArtsAlso, since May of this year, eight of Mark di Suvero’s giant modern art sculptures have been on display here. These were the sculptures that I had spent my time at the climbing gym gazing out at, with the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands, and Alcatraz as a backdrop. It seemed almost too perfect to be real.

Crissy Field is also very bicycle friendly and has a trail leading all the way through it from Fort Point to Marina Green. I was definitely enjoying the reprieve from the hills, as well as the incredible views.

About this time, I was developing a strong craving for an Iced Caffe Mocha, as I have found myself doing since the boys first introduced me to them, so we stopped at the Beach Hut Café to take a break. Afterwards, we walked over to the beach to watch the America’s Cup trials, but unfortunately the wind was so strong that all the races for the day were canceled. We pretended for awhile to enjoy having our faces pelted once more with sand before Herb suggested that we move on to someplace a bit more inland and away from the wind.

Beers at the Velo Rouge CafeBeers at the Velo Rouge CafeWe found just what he was looking for a short distance away at the Palace of Fine Arts, probably one of the most beautiful settings in a very beautiful city. This Greek-style rotunda and colonnades with its surrounding lagoon were originally built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. While most of the other buildings in the exposition were demolished when it ended, thanks to the efforts of William Randolph Hearst’s wife Phoebe, this iconic structure has been saved and lovingly restored. Its reflection in the lagoon is probably one of the most photographed spots in the city. We took our fair share of shots as well and enjoyed lying on the grass, not being covered with sand.

We ended our 26-mile bike tour of the city with another one of Andrew and Celeste’s “favorite” stops – beers at the Velo Rouge Café. I can’t describe how wonderful it was to just sit at an outdoor table, sipping a refreshing and well-earned beer.

It had been an extremely satisfying day in so many ways, and Herb and I really appreciated Andrew and Celeste’s very successful effort at showing us the city from a non-tourist point of view.

Day 4 – Hiking Marin Headlands

Herb on Matt Davis TrailHerb on Matt Davis TrailThe next day, and our last before heading north up the coast to Seattle, was spent hiking in Marin, probably one of the most beautiful counties in the U.S. Celeste’s mom Hilda, met us at the campground and we drove down to Stinson Beach together where we met up with Andrew and Celeste. Knowing the area very well, Hilda took us the scenic route rather than along U.S. 101. I have to say that I was very glad that we were driving a car rather than the motorhome, because the roads were incredibly steep and winding.

Andrew had spent a lot of time researching hikes in the area, of which there are so many wonderful ones to choose from. His choice, and a very good one indeed, was to link the Dipsea, Steep Ravine, and Matt Davis trails together for a spectacular 7-mile loop past waterfalls, through a redwood canyon, and up to expansive views of the coast, before descending once again to Stinson Beach. The 1,600 foot elevation gain made for a challenging and extremely satisfying hike.

Coffee at Stinson BeachCoffee at Stinson BeachPost-hike, we bought coffee at a beach café and sat sunning ourselves on the beach, in the very same spot we had sat and froze last year. September is definitely the San Francisco Bay Area’s season – sunny skies and warm temps. May, June, and July are so much colder and foggier. We will have to time our visits to the boys accordingly because June and July are absolutely beautiful in Seattle.

That evening we met up with Celeste’s father in San Francisco, who had just finished a week-long, 500-mile Cycle Oregon event, and had dinner together at Troya Mediterranean Kitchen, a Turkish restaurant near Andrew and Celeste’s apartment. I had absolutely no idea what I was ordering, but whatever it was, it was delicious. They really are lucky to have such an ethnically-diverse selection of high-quality restaurants in walking distance from their home.

After dinner, it was goodbye for now, because tomorrow we would begin our drive north along the Northern California and Oregon coast to Seattle and our visit with Tommy.


Andrew and Lolo at Ocean BeachAndrew and Lolo at Ocean BeachThe Petaluma KOA is an award winning camping resort located within an hour’s drive of San Francisco, Napa and Sonoma Valley Wineries, giant redwoods, and Sonoma County and California Coastal Beaches. It is considered to be the RV resort in the San Francisco Bay area.

On its 70 acres, there are 312 spacious RV sites, 32 camping cabins, and 10 Wine Country lodges.

Other amenities include:
• Guided tours of San Francisco (from May through October)
• Huge heated pool and spa
• Inflatable waterslide
• Rock climbing wall
• Huge playground
• Petting zoo
• Karaoke
• Hayrides and live weekend entertainment

The campground is open all year.

San Francisco North / Petaluma KOA and Side Trips to San Francisco location map in "high definition"

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