If there is one way to get me to visit touristy spots in the Bay Area, it’s to get family to visit. I didn’t visit Alcatraz, ride the Cable Cars, or visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium until my parents came to check out the new state I was calling home. Even after 15 years here, I’m finding new places to take not only visitors, but myself. This past week my parents were here to visit and we rather serendipitously stumbled across a couple of these spots!
On Monday, we decided to head into San Francisco to see the Fleet Week ships before they headed back out to sea. And, of course, to indulge in a traditional San Francisco tourist lunch of clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl followed by a Ghirardelli chocolate dessert. My dad is in a wheelchair, so accessibility is a must. My post-lunch plans were to wander along the paved pathways of Crissy Field since it was a such a beautiful day.
As I moved the car in that direction, I decided to follow the signs to Fort Point. I had a vague idea of what Fort Point was; something-something-civil-war-ruins. I assumed there were some crumbling old walls and maybe a viewpoint and interpretive sign. I figured we’d park down there then walk along the waterfront.
I was quite surprised to find a solid building at the point! Not only solid, but a dedicated museum to the history of this crucial geographical point in United States military history. We rather tentatively walked/rolled in the door and were amazed at the courtyard, surrounded by brick arches and with views of the Golden Gate Bridge underbelly directly above us. The bridge was designed in such a way that it could be built over the Fort so the Fort would not have to be destroyed, per the requests of Chief Engineer Joseph Strauss.
The bottom level of the old fort contained exhibits in the old artillery storage rooms, and many artifacts from the defensive tools used in the Fort (cannons, transportation devices, cannon balls, and more). This point defended the narrowest point of the Golden Gate from potential invasion, and although shots were never fired on enemy boats, the fortress was used from the Civil War through World War II.
The upper levels contain the officer quarters, enlisted mens quarters, and the hospital.
My favorite place was the top level, the barbette tier. Cannons were stationed up here, but the open roof was more appealing to me for the view. To the west, beautiful views of the Marin Headlands. To the east, the city of San Francisco and Alcatraz. Above? The bones of the Golden Gate Bridge. Almost close enough to touch, it was an unexpected and delightful experience to see the bridge from this perspective.
When the fort was first built, this was considered a hardship post in the US military. Men stationed here in the early days did not have the bustling San Francisco a mere walk away. The point experiences the brunt of the coastal conditions – wind, fog, and dampness must have seeped into the bones of those early soldiers. It’s hard to imagine that while standing on the top level of the fort on a gorgeous warm clear day, looking at the boats in the bay, the tourists in the park, and the cars overhead.
The next day we explored the coast to the south of San Francisco. After a lovely lunch at Half Moon Bay Brewing at Pillar Point, we drove along highway 1 and took in the ocean views. As we drove I was trying to remember where I had stopped with my parents before – Pigeon Point? Yep. San Gregario? Yep. Davenport? Yep. Santa Cruz Boardwalk? Yep. Then it occurred to me – they’d never been into the redwoods!
When we got into Santa Cruz I pulled over and whipped out my phone. Googling “Wheelchair accessible redwoods” pointed me to Henry Cowell, a state park just up the road from where we were. They have a 1 mile loop trail that is ADA Accessible, so we had a plan!
The Redwood Trail at Henry Cowell loops through an old growth redwood grove, so I knew the trees would be impressive. And they were! It’s nearly impossible to photograph the scale of these beasts, and they aren’t even the tallest redwoods out there (that honor belongs further north).
The trail was wide and mostly flat which made it easy for both of my parents to enjoy it. And I enjoyed taking things slowly and immersing myself in the forest. It was late afternoon on a weekday so it was uncrowded and peaceful – exactly as a redwood forest should be.
Of course, the best thing about family visiting is seeing family. But seeking out and finding some of these nooks and crannies of my home state is the cherry on top. Enjoy!