San Francisco Day Two: Muir Woods, Marin Headlands, and Sea Lions Galore!

Birds sighted: Stellar's Jay, White-crowned sparrow, brown pelican, Heerman's gull, Western Gull, pigeon
Mammals: Sonoma chipmunk

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge with Sausalito and Angel Island, click for larger view

This morning we headed off to the Ferry Building on the F-line, San Francisco’s historic street car line. Unlike the cable cars, these cars run on electrical lines and tracks. They have been rescued from now defunct street car systems the world over. The history of each car makes fascinating reading. The F-line is a great way to get from the Union Square area to the Ferry Building and along the Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s $2 for a round trip, though there is a time limit on the return trip.

View of city from Pier 14, click for larger view

Walking behind the Ferry Building

Heerman's Gull

(inside Ferry Building)

We explored the Ferry Building with all its interesting little shops and locally sourced food products. We also walked part of the Embarcadero and walked out to the end of Pier 14. We also found Pier 1 ½. For Harry Potter fans everywhere I was reminded of Track 9 ¾. Then later I discovered Pier 43 ½ too. I briefly entertained the idea that maybe there were ferries for us non-muggles out there that took us to the U.S. equivalent of Hogwarts. I was stopped before I ran head first into the wall next to sign for the pier though.

Echoes of Track 9 3/4 from Harry Potter. Seriously, I'm sure there's a ferry to a non-Muggle place on the other side if I just run hard enough at the door...

View of the suspension section of the double decker Bay Bridge that I get to drive across in a few days.

We also had fun poking around the booths of local artists outside the Ferry Building, checking out the giant water fountain, and watching people zip line through the skyscrapers.

Zip Line through the skyscrapers. The person on the left is doing it upside down!

Young and rather wet Brewer's Blackbird. Must have been playing in the water sculpture.

Young Brewer's Blackbird

Pigeons over the sea. I like their orange eyes.

Then we boarded the ferry to Sausalito. We had perfect weather for the crossing of the bay. It was a gorgeous trip passing by Alcatraz and Angel Island and arriving in Sausalito just as fingers of fog were slowly reaching down the hills of the Marin headlands, trying to obscure the Golden Gate bridge and Sausalito from view.

View of Sausalito (left) and Angel Island from the Sausalito Ferry, click for larger view.

Sausalito is known for its houseboats, really houses standing on the water, more than actual boats. I found my new artistic god here: Nano Lopez. I fell head over heals for his sculpture aesthetic. Brilliant stuff.

View of San Francisco from Sausalito

Street performer in Sausalito. I love that he's playing guitar while holding his dachshund.

Muir Woods
Then it was an bit of a nerve-wracking bus trip up and over the winding roads to Muir Woods National Monument to check out the coastal redwoods.

Coastal Redwoods in Muir Woods

Coastal Redwoods

Looking up at least 200 feet, click for larger view.

Looking into a thousand years of climate history, tree rings

Redwood-like trees covered much of the Northern Hemisphere over 150 million years ago. Over time and through climate change the range of the redwood has retreated. Coastal Redwoods, taller and skinnier than their interior cousins the Giant Sequoia, are now found along a discontinuous 500-mile strip along the Pacific coast. The trees in Muir Woods have never been logged.

Traveler 5 volunteers as a scale for size. She's standing next to a "fairy ring." See below.

Moss on stump

Coastal redwoods are the tallest living things on earth. They can live over 1800 years and can reach up to 379 feet and 26 feet in diameter. The tree is part of the sequoia family, though the term “redwood” is reserved this coastal species. They rely on the frequent ocean produced fog for their water needs. They are well adapted to fire, are incredibly fire resistant, and rely on the fire to help open their tiny cones for reproduction. They also reproduce asexually by sprouting off of fallen trees or stumps. The sprouts erupt around the “mother tree” creating a circle. This ring of trees is called a “fairy ring.” You can see many such formations as you walk the trails in Muir Woods.''


Redwood Sorrel

The redwood forests support an incredible diversity of flora and fauna. Douglas firs vie for the heights, while Bay Laurel and big-leaf maples inhabit spots of sunlight breaking through the canopy. Sword ferns and redwood sorrel line the forest floor and the calls of Stellar’s Jays echo throughout woods. Sonoma chipmunks scurry under foot and under brush.

The best time to visit is early or later in the day. If you arrive in the early afternoon expect crowds and the only peace and quiet you will get is if you venture off the main paths onto some of the side trails.

Marin Headlands

Looking south

We stopped for a brief visit to view the Marin Headlands and incredible views of the wild, hilly coast, where squadrons of brown pelicans fly in formation and tiny, fire adapted and wind adapted flowers and bushes hug the side of the hills with the Pacific Ocean stretching out and out and out into the blue, blue sky.

Looking up, brown pelicans in formation

Looking north

California Sea Lions
Somehow we ended up back at Pier 39…ahem…says the animal photographer. Today I brought a better lens. More sea lions had arrived from their breeding grounds and much territorial squabbling ensued. I could watch these amazing creatures all day for days on end. They are endlessly fascinating.

Sea lions are part of the eared seal family Otarlidae, on of three groupings of Pinnipeds. Sea lions can be distinguished from other local seals by their external ear-flaps (which I find adorable), long fore-flippers, and the ability to walk on all fours. They have a life span of 20-30 years, though they are favorite prey of Great White sharks.

Sea lions breed on sandy beaches, usually in May and June. They feed on a wide range of seafood including squid and fish. They are known to cooperate with other predators including dolphins and seabirds when hunting large schools of fish.

I find how how you can see the joints in the sea lions' flippers fascinating.


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