Category Archives: Northern California

Lava Beds National Monument


Yesterday   │   Tomorrow (coming soon)

On the long stretch from the Pacific coast inland to Lava Beds National Monument, we fell prey to the usual must-see pull-offs to snap photos, making the drive that much longer but that much more enjoyable too.

The first such stop was the Smith River on Route 199. I have never seen a more pretty aquamarine in my life. Pristine river water and mini rapids meandered as far upstream as my eyes could see. The scenic byway wrapped with the river’s edge so intimately, it mesmerized me to the point I had to pull off to take a long gaze to better appreciate it.

For a bit, we were in Oregon. I stopped to gas-up. When I popped out and pumped my gas, an attendant rushed over to me and said that I can’t do that.


“$15,000 fine for pumping your own gas in Oregon!” he said, seriously.


It didn’t seem like he was pulling my leg so I could only take him at his word.

Once we were back in the land of self-serve, I noticed a peculiar topography. It looked like the hillside all along the roadway was lava rock. I pulled off of the road to take a closer look.

It was an incredible sight to see what was once a massive lava flow cooled in its tracks. It came pouring over the hill, thick, and into the valley, ground black as night. Trees burst through it around the perimeter, creating a stunning contrast. It seemed like a black frozen lake and river. We walked along it, picking up loose rock – light, hard and sharp – careful not to cut ourselves.

On our way to the motel near our Lava Beds destination, we passed similar scenes, each wondrous and beautiful. It was an hourglass deep into Earth’s geologic history.

Eventually, we were in no man’s land. And when I say no man’s land, that means only one place to stay (that we could find) and it wasn’t in any brochure, on GPS or in the Triple-A database. Somehow I found and booked it online months in advance. It was the closest (only) place I could find near the entrance to Lava Beds National Monument.

On a desolate road, the sun finally handing the sky over to the moon, we arrived. Had I knew of any other accommodations or thought we could get away with sleeping under the stars, I would have pulled out of the parking lot as soon as we pulled into it.

There was a strip of about six rooms encased in cinder block walls and a house, a.k.a. lodge, hanging on from the 1930’s or so it seemed.

When I went up to the “office” inside the old house, I was relieved that the manager’s name wasn’t Norman Bates. The live-in lady manager said she didn’t think we’d make it. I thought to myself, the night is still young.

She escorted us to our room, carrying an old, metal, square floor fan. That was our “air conditioning.”

Inside were two beds (a single and double), old carpet, cinder block walls and a bathroom occupied by a huge wolf spider. The back window was unlocked. I promptly locked it and set a booby trap consisting of things that would fall over and make lots of noise if anyone came through it that night.

“Can you help me with your son’s cot?” the nice lady asked.

I followed her to a nearby shed to retrieve the cot. This was after she offered the alternative, a mattress on the floor. Seriously, folks, I can’t make this stuff up!

Had everything not appeared to be clean, inside, we would have slept in the car for sure. But it was a long adventurous day and a bed was a bed. On the other hand, there was no television or radio and no room key if you can believe that! I mean, where ya gonna go, right? It was about that time that I started humming Hotel California by the Eagles.

After tucking the kids into bed, I sat on the concrete slab out in front of our door and noticed seven holes that had been filled. I wondered if they were bullet holes. Then I tipped back on the plastic chair and heard dead silence. Incredibly, that night just happened to be the soundest sleep I had had in years. Imagine that.

Rise. Shine. And get the heck outa here! Wait a minute! Really? There’s a Continental Breakfast included with the room rental here. Hmm, this just may be the Hotel California. Knowing there wasn’t another choice for breakfast other than our bag of trail mix, we made tracks up to the lodge.

I have to make it clear that despite all of the knocks I made against this place, it was clean. Not only that, it was exceptionally quiet and the manager was a very nice lady. Did I mention I slept like a baby? Oh, and the whole reason we picked this place was because it was just a stone’s throw from Lava Beds National Monument. Besides, it would be another long haul from here to our next stop – Yosemite.

When we entered the dining room, my mouth watered and my stomach growled. MM-mmm-MM, the cooking I smelled from the kitchen had me very excited for breakfast. I sensed a feast!

…for the three-man construction crew already seated.

The manager/bell hop/cook/waitress explained to me that our Continental Breakfast was on the shelf. The other gentlemen, who had stayed in the lodge, signed up for the breakfast works. It was further explained to me that I could not upgrade my breakfast without at least 24-hour’s notice.

So after a quick hearty bowl of cereal, a slice of toast and a banana to go, we pulled out of there and never looked back. Okay, one peek in the rearview mirror but that was it.

Quicker than you can say, “Are we there yet” or “I have to pee”, we were there and there was a port-o-pot just inside the entrance road.

I dumped my Styrofoam cup of so-called continental coffee and gazed at the glass-enclosed wooden map, outside on a gorgeous morning where the sun split the land from the sky, rising over the high desert. I had our plan of attack formulated in my head when Captain Chaos, a.k.a. my wife, threw a monkey wrench into my well-oiled machine.

“Look, Petroglyphs!” she asserted in a delightful tone full of enthusiasm.

If there is one thing that’s non-negotiable on our family vacations, it’s that if there are Petroglyphs to be seen, you betcha we’re seeing them. I knew it, the kids knew it, and you better bet she knew it.

But I tried to talk her down from the ledge anyway. After all, the entire game plan for staying at the Hotel California was to be up and caving at the crack of dawn – no commute! And to add insult to injury, the Petroglyphs were nearly 10 miles THE OTHER WAY! I did the math. That means 20 miles plus a mile hike there and back, not to mention the time to take at least 39 photos.

Long story short, I lost the battle but it wasn’t for the lack of effort.

Our site seeing detour also took in Jackrabbits, a rodent of some sort, quail and a pelican. Then, finally, the visitor center. We grabbed a map, talked to a ranger and bought an extra flashlight and spare batteries. Now it was time to go caving.

The park was like nothing we’d ever seen. On the surface, it was nothing more than endless high desert nothingness all the way to the base of the mountains, which were way in the distance. But beneath the desert floor were more than 700 caves, according to the brochure. And dozens waited for explorers like us – completely unprepared and raring to get lost. Well, we did have flashlights and water so I guess we were somewhat prepared.

The choices were overwhelming. We had time to probably see a half dozen or so lava tube caves. They had names like Blue Grotto, Golden Dome, Catacombs, Labyrinth and Skull Cave. The most wonderful thing about this experience was that we were left on our own. Once you left the visitor center, you were free to go wherever your heart’s desire. No guides, no lights, no nothing, just you and a pitch black subterranean adventure. We didn’t see another soul anywhere for the longest time.

Our fist lava tube split into two directions. It was treacherous to navigate. If you have never walked on top of lava rock before, it has no give what-so-ever and it is extremely porous so it catches your footgear with the slightest graze. That said, we stumbled down this tunnel and that like a pack of drunken sailors.

When I convinced everyone to turn off their flashlights and zip their lips, the silence was deafening and the darkness blinding.

It was “Wa-a-a-a-a-ay cool!” to quote a Tween.

I became brazen in my quest for excitement and pried my body through tight crevices or slid down lava tubes that were sure to lead to the bowels of a monster’s lair. The caves began to echo with, “Don’t go in there Dad!”, “You’re on your own!”, “Let’s get out of this one!”, “What’s that sound?”, “BATS!”, “I’m scared!” and “Wow! Check that out!”

Everyone looked at the ceiling. It was “Golden Dome Cave.” I delighted in telling the kids that the golden glow was due to glowing bacteria. It wasn’t a joke.

Once we felt like we “did” a tube, we’d bail and drive to another. Some had discreet entries. If you were 15 yards from it, you wouldn’t know it was there until you were right on top of it. You definitely had to pay attention or you could fall into a hole. There were different levels of difficulty. Some had secure metal ladders descending into a cavern and others required climbing over boulders and rubble to get inside.

Only one time during all of our spelunking did we see other people. It was a family of four and they were wearing bicycle helmets. It looked kind of humorous. The self-conscious father of that family apologized for the “goofy get up” as they passed. But goofy was worth it I’d soon find out. I later hit my head so hard on a stalactite that I saw stars underground. Another mishap was when I was using my video camera’s night vision mode to see where I was going when I slipped on wet rock and slid down an incline. As I lay at the bottom gathering my senses I heard my son say, “Don’t go that way. I think we lost Dad.”

Thanks for the concern.

Skull Cave was enormous. The mouth opened with wonderful rock teeth that had shiny tones to it. It looked like giant gray swirled marbles. It had a flat walkway carved into the side so we walked, and walked and walked. It was a while before the daylight dissipated and that was after the huge tunnel curved. As I looked back, I thought of ants in a dinosaur’s world. Then there was a metal stair system that plunged to a ridiculous depth. It got very cold very fast. So cold, at the bottom, we discovered the ice floor, which was gated and out of reach.

When we left, I felt like a kid throwing a tantrum, “Do we have to go?” I wanted to keep on exploring. It was the most fun I’d had in a long time.

This wasn’t your ordinary national park or monument. It had hardly any visitors and it was in the middle of nowhere. In fact, the southbound road we took, leaving the park, was listed as unpaved. But it did have blacktop at one time. Now, it was very old crumbly blacktop. Imagine it was an airstrip that had been bombed. And I mean carpet bombed! We were going under 15 miles per hour, snaking around depressions and mounds of loose, pulverized blacktop chunks. I kept thinking about the time this was costing us and the power drive still ahead to get to Yosemite.

Once we found our way back to modern roads, we talked about adding in a spontaneous stop despite being behind schedule. As soon as the words “ghost town” were uttered, we all got excited.

Now, “ghost town” to me and my nine-year-old son meant tumble-weed, saloon doors and a “High Noon!” atmosphere.

This place was none of that.

My wife and daughter loved the remnants of the old gold rush town. My son and I sulked, mildly impressed.

“Can we go yet?” – “How ‘bout now?”

Looking back, it was a neat pit stop that didn’t detour much from the planned route. The town of Shasta, California dated back to 1878. Most of the buildings were red brick ruins. In retrospect, it was worth the 30 minutes stay.

The approach to Yosemite had magic in the air on this late night drive. There was a calming that overcame my wife and me as the kids were sound to sleep in the back and had been for quite some time. Finally, at around 10pm, we were as close to Yosemite’s official park entrance as you can get and still have lodging.

What a difference a night makes!

We went from rags to riches in 24-hours. The room had it all; fireplace, Jacuzzi, bar, fridge, balcony and much more. When I opened the sliding glass doors, paradise rang in my ears. We overlooked a canyon with roaring rapids right under our feet. Crack the wine, pull up a chair, romance was in the air.

By Rocco Satullo, your tour guide to fun!

Tomorrow: Yosemite (Coming Soon) next right

last leftYesterday: Redwood National Park


Redwood National Park

Yesterday   │   Tomorrow

Up early, we asked our waitress where we could kill some time in town before getting lost in Redwoods.

Minutes later we were gazing across a low tide isthmus between the mainland and the islet known as Battery Point. On it was the historic Crescent City Lighthouse. Only it wasn’t an islet at the moment. We could walk out to it if we navigated around the pools of water just right.

All four of us went our separate ways, exploring. The kids climbed on top of rocks so high and steep I normally would have forbidden it. But once I saw them thrust their arms into the air as if they had summited Mount Everest, I figured the risk of a trip to the hospital may be worth their reward. I smiled and lost myself in the early morning ocean breeze, taking in all that surrounded me – rocky terrain, massive driftwood mounds, the lighthouse, water and mini rock mountains.

Meanwhile, my wife was tip toeing around the tidal pools, hunched over to examine something. Curiosity drew the whole family back together for a real treat. Crabs galore! The tiny critters were under every rock she flipped. Then they’d scurry for new shelter. As we enjoyed disrupting the quick little crabs, we noticed something else scattered all around us – starfish! There were so many latched to rocks in and out of water we had to watch our step.

“It’s like Bikini Bottom,” said a voice.

“Say what?”

Oh yah, Sponge Bob Square Pants.

Once we had had our fill, we ventured back down the road we came in on the night before. The timing was perfect! Sun beamed through the giant redwood forest in such a way that I spontaneously started to sing Morning Has Broken by Cat Stevens. You know I had to be caught up in the glory of the moment because I don’t (rather, I shouldn’t) sing out loud.

When I could no longer take being confined in a metal box on wheels, I swung off the side of the road, randomly, and left the vehicle to go traipsing through my Eden.  I don’t know if the sun rays burst through misty fog, bending around the wooden towers and all their branches, every morning the way it had then, but it was truly a sight to behold. It felt that anything modern in the world ceased and we were in God’s country now.

After a while, and 10 rolls of film (if there was such a thing anymore), we did what anyone would do in this situation – hugged a tree. We tried anyway but it would take a schoolhouse of children to truly get arms around the trunk of any of these monuments.

We were hooked. More trees, please!

We delighted in losing ourselves in the tallest trees on Earth. This old-growth forest spans nearly 40,000 acres along the Northern California coastal region made up of not only of the national park but a few state parks as well. That may sound like a lot of giant redwoods but as recently as the mid-19th century, it covered two million acres! Failed gold miners turned to harvesting the towering trees instead. The clear cutting of the forest continued uninterrupted for decades before conservation efforts began to preserve what was left in the early 20th century. The tallest known California Redwood (technically a Sequoia sempervirens) stands about 380 feet high. Although some argue that there may have been some taller than that, especially according to the Native American tribes of the area.

Our next destination was Fern Canyon, where some scenes from Star Wars, E.T., and Jurassic Park were filmed. That caught the kids’ attention!

But first, we took a little side trek up to Klamath overlook to whale watch. Unfortunately, it was too foggy to see anything at that time. The same held true the other two times we jetted up the mountain road to no avail. On one of the stops, Cliffside, high above the ocean, I decided to ham it up for the video camera, whales or no whales. The fog was so dense, you couldn’t see over the cliff.

Whale Watching

We were the only people there, or so I thought. So I went into mock documentary mode about “whale watching.” Just then, a half dozen people appeared out of the fog just a dozen feet or so away.

We embarrassingly chortled in the mist to our escape. Moving on, laughter still echoed in our ears.

Getting to Fern Canyon was a trip in itself. A winding dirt road, barely one and a half lanes wide, snaked through hilly forest and in and out of creeks, water and all. It was not a short stint. But it was well worth it.

Once we parked and found the trailhead at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, we soon found ourselves deep within Fern Canyon. We walked through the creek, over logs, navigating the rough terrain headed north up the California Coastal Trail. Every now and then we’d stop and marvel at the green canyon walls jutting straight up for what had to be 50 feet or more above us, totally blanketed with Five-fingered Maidenhair ferns. Wow! And nicer yet, we were the only people there.

The kids were timid navigating nature’s obstacles at first. Then they turned pro before long and zipped around with confidence – until our little boy became overconfident and found himself at one with Home Creek, head-to-toe.

We laughed AT him but he got over it.

The day had more adventures and yet another side trek to not see whales. We found ourselves pulled off at a scenic parking lot to gaze at a herd of elk relaxing under a shade tree. Dozens of other motorists did the same, some in such haste they just left their cars on the edge of the road, standing next to them, cameras a blaze.

Just then, the most horrifying sound and sight played out in what seemed to be slow motion. A truck sped along the curvy road, unsuspecting of the mass of cars and flesh littering the berm. Fortunately, perhaps miraculously would be a better way to describe it, the truck spun this way, skid that way, people jumping out of the way, in such a way that nobody got hit. The truck recovered and continued on down the road, never looking back. The expressions left in its wake said it all.

Time to go …and find a restroom!

Ahead of us that night would be hours of driving inland so we could wake up near Lava Beds National Monument.

By Rocco Satullo, your tour guide to fun!

Tomorrow: Lava Tubes National Monument next right

last leftYesterday: Muir Beach & Glass Beach


Crescent City

Crescent City

Crescent City

Crescent City

Crescent City

Fern Canyon

Fern Canyon

Muir Beach & Glass Beach

Yesterday   │   Tomorrow

As we left San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge in our rear view mirror, we looked forward to driving all the way up the coast on California Highway-1 to Crescent City where Redwood National Park waited.


I remembered planning the trip with my wife and her saying we don’t have to go that far to see giant redwoods. But what she soon understood was that I HAD to see THE National Redwood Forest. And for reasons I’ll explain, it was well worth the drive!

The whole day was reserved to meander up the coast, stopping wherever we wanted. We were hardly out of the Bay Area when we made our first spontaneous stop – “Let’s go swimming!”

Muir Beach was empty except for one other couple and their toddler. They were struggling to light a fire in the wind. As we walked like penguins in the deep soft sand past them, we were friendly but they seemed to not care to talk so we trudged on to where rocks large, small and humongous littered the beach and shallow water. We delighted in dipping our bare feet into the Pacific Ocean for the first time and instantly realized you do not go swimming at Northern California beaches – Brrrr!

So the kids ran around as free spirits as we relaxed, took scenic pictures and breathed in deep the brisk ocean breeze.

“Check it out!” the kids called. “Looks like a Jellyfish.”

I grabbed the video camera and focused just when a wave hurled it at my legs.

My reaction was perhaps “wimpy” to the point everyone was laughing AT me. I was laughing AT me. I looked up the beach and I swear that grumpy couple was laughing AT me.

I survived and we moved on.

As we drove, we took in the incredible coastal views from the twisting hillsides of mountains plunging into the ocean. I had to be careful of bicyclists as we wrapped around blind curves. Pelicans flew by, distracting me.


Then we tried to figure out the intoxicating smell wafting in the breeze. It wasn’t wine country. Our guess was some sort of tree but what kind? The answer wouldn’t come for several days when we’d befriend a ranger at Yosemite. The drive didn’t grow old but my arms grew tense from the constant twisting and turning of the steering wheel as we passed cliffs, beaches, marshland and dunes. I was amazed at the untouched natural landscape all the way up the coast on both sides of Highway-1.


Another thing that weaved in and out, rather up and down, was the temperature. As the road curved inland for a bit, the digital car barometer read 83 degrees. Swing closer to the water again and it plunged to 55 degrees.

“Glass Beach!”

This was a planned stop.

Glass Beach used to be a city dump near Fort Bragg, California. When they cleaned it up, they left only the glass trash behind. The rocks broke it, the water smoothed it, and now, people collected it. All the big pieces were picked over long ago but a seemingly endless supply of little rounded glass stones remain.

We weren’t nearly as prepared as other glass hunters staking claims to areas of the hidden beach, sifting into buckets like 49ers. We used our hands and pockets. After our pants sagged to the ground, we sang a song we remembered hearing on America’s Got Talent, “Pants on the ground, pants on the ground, lookin’ like a fool with your …”

None-the-less, it was my favorite kind of souvenir – free!

Glass Beach looked pretty cool washed off and filling a vase showing off an eye-popping array of color.


The drive was taking longer than we thought but not too far off the course was a drive-thru tree! A TREE YOU CAN DRIVE THOUGH! C’mon, there’s no decision there.

Before we knew it, we were in Leggett, California staring at Chandelier Tree, standing at some 300 feet tall. It had tourist trap written all over it but I just couldn’t resist. Besides, we had a rental car. It turned out to be the largest and oldest Redwood we’d see. When we pulled up for our turn to drive through, I realized we might not make it without scraping the sides of this new sporty SUV. Then it dawned on me that I did not buy the extra insurance. So my wife got out to meet us on the other side so she could take pictures and also guide me as I inched inward.

The kids loved it. So did I even though I voiced many “nervous” sounds as I eyed up how close the tree closed in around the vehicle.

“Check this out. We’re like an inch from wood,” came a kid’s voice filled with exuberance.


I instantly stopped and was about to drop a “bomb” when the kids laughed and said, “Just kidding that was us.”

Not funny!

I kept inching forward, knowing the train of traffic behind me was growing impatient.

By the time we got out of the tree my I had a gray beard.

But the picture proved we did it.

After a pizza and ice cream stop, it was nothing but driving into the dark. Big sis used little bro’s head as a pillow smothered under her pillow.

Nearing our destination, my wife and I marveled at the bizarre nightscape we were driving through. Our ribbon of road had no streetlights. It was as black as night could be except a headlight or taillight here and there. Looking high above in every direction were trees that seemed to reach into the heavens above. Majestic and haunting at that hour. We felt like ants. It was surreal. A feeling I will always remember. Man humbled by the power of nature. As it should be.

Serenity was on the mind that night.

By Rocco Satullo, your tour guide to fun!

Tomorrow: Redwood National Park next right

last leftYesterday: Golden Times in the Frisco Bay


Stepping into the Pacific Ocean for the first time

Jellyfish washed up at Muir Beach, California

Somewhere along California Highway 1 North of SF

Golden Times In The Frisco Bay

Yesterday   │   Tomorrow

san francisco lombard street
San Francisco is where you’ll repeatedly say,
don’t see that every day!”

After our hearty McDonalds breakfast and snaking around those who slept under the stars, we had time to kill before our early bird tour of Alcatraz. We paused to see the wild California Sea Lions that took up residency at Pier 39 in Fisherman’s Wharf. They’ve been congregating on the docks since 1989. They moved in when boats were moved out for the docks to be refurbished. Ever since, these invaders have become a tourist attraction. The kids picked out their favorites when two would start wrestling with noses and flippers to playfully knock each other off the dock. It was pretty fun entertainment for free. We were the only audience they had at that early hour. None of the shops or restaurants that we saw along the walk were even open yet.

The ferry ride was nice. It allowed for a panoramic view of San Francisco’s skyline and its roads plunging to the sea.

Once we landed on The Rock, everyone gathered around a special guest introducing us to the island. He was the youngest guard at Alcatraz when the active federal penitentiary closed. He knew several infamous prisoners, including the Birdman of Alcatraz whom a Hollywood movie later featured starring Burt Lancaster. The guard had written a book telling all about his tenure. When our thoroughly enjoyable orientation was over, we beat tracks straight to this now elder man for our tourist-must photo-op. He posed with the kids like a good sport and said his goodbye, anxious to get up the hill to sign and sell his books.

We were free to roam the island. It was a real treat. There was a lot of ground to cover for such a small island. Much of which can only be described as ruins. The out buildings were decayed to the point they posed a danger if visitors were allowed any further access. Cement staircases had collapsed sections. Building shells looked like something out of 1940’s war-torn Europe. But the way vegetation was creeping back to claim their ground left an artistic contrast of the neglected architecture.

Walking by a cannon and cannon port, I scratched my head. Cannons on “The Rock.” Why? Well, it turns out there was more to the island’s history than I ever knew. In 1859, a citadel was built on the island. And during the Civil war, it was said to have served as an important line of defense. Then again, I read that it was never needed. Anyway, America’s Civil War had ties to the San Francisco Bay. Bend your mind around that!

Earlier still, a Native American tribe known as the Ohlone lived there. They’re the earliest known residents of the small island.

American Indians lived on Alcatraz once again from late 1969 to mid-1971. This “Occupation of Alcatraz” was by those who called themselves Indians of All Tribes. The 19-month demonstration drew national attention. Today, there’s still graffiti visible on a wall when you get off of the ferry. It reads, “Indians Welcome.” There’s more verbiage but it is partially covered by a historical plaque anchored on the face of the wall.


When you enter the prison, here’s some advice. You are a fool if you do the tour without the audio headset. Truly, it is a must. And from the looks of it, there were no fools in the crowd on this day.

Once inside the historic prison, we synchronized our headphones or so we thought. My nine-year-old son would wander off into crowds when he heard prompts like, “Walk to your right and….” Meanwhile, the rest of the family was left gawking in a cell listening to the audio. When we were done, we’d turn and freak out when we couldn’t find our little boy! That didn’t last long before we re-synchronized. When we took off the headphones to do so, the entire place seemed like a zombie-land. Hundreds of people were moving slowly in dead-silence. It was a peculiar and eerie scene.

The tour is fascinating and covers everything from the showers to the dining and visitation rooms to old decayed cells. Some cells were made-up to look as they did when the prison was active while most were just vacant and dilapidated. There’s even a cell that shows the hole dug straight into its pliable wall, widening the existing ventilation duct, for what is known as The Escape From Alcatraz. Around the corner you can see the exit part of the hole in a space between cellblocks which was an unused utility corridor. This is a view into the 1962 escape from the federal prison – the only successful escape in its history. The mastermind behind it was prisoner, Frank Morris. Clint Eastwood played his part in a Hollywood movie about the event.

The Yard is another cool part of the tour. When you sit on the same concrete slabs that Capone and others did and look at the view they saw, you can feel the history here. But everywhere your eyes lead, there’s decay from the windy bay spraying salt water against the material structures. Conditions became so deteriorated and upkeep too expensive. So the federal penitentiary was finally closed March 21, 1963.

The ferry ride back crossed paths with a dolphin. I thought the boat would tip when everyone ran to our side to see this novelty.

Back at the mainland, we walked the scenic Bay streets. Our son took notice of a natural design in the bark of a curbside tree. It struck his funny bone so he clicked a pic of it and said, “I’m going to snap a butt pic every day.” Did I mention he was nine?

Now it was time to do that thing you feel you must do because you’re in San Francisco, ride a streetcar. So we waited in line – for a very long time. It was near the bay and cold. The park next door had a lot of people chilling out. Then there was a very distinct “college” smell floating in the air. So we passed the time talking about hippies.

The streetcar ride reminded me of my first day in the army when they packed us tight into cattle cars. It was that relaxing. But you do have to do it once I guess, to at least be able to say that you did it. Fortunately, we were on the backend and had a wonderful view of the bay as we climbed the steep hill.

In Chinatown, we saw mostly tourists and the things sold to tourists. We ate like tourists and shopped for a souvenir. My daughter fell in love with something I could have bought at a thrift shop back home but hey, the price was about the same so I didn’t say a word.

chinatown-san francisco

We wandered aimlessly the whole day.

As connoisseurs of Cannoli, we stopped to try some in North Beach Little Italy. Once inside the café ready to dig into the greatest pastry ever made, my family embarrassed me.

“Happy birthday DEAR DADDY…” I didn’t even realize it was my birthday. But now, 30 strangers did.


I remembered a documentary about the parrots of Telegraph Hill so we decided to walk – all – the – way – up – there! By the way, the views of the street-laced hills were incredible. So, apparently was my lung capacity. I found some college-age students kickin’ it in the grass by COIT Tower and asked where I could find the parrots. This awkward exchange made me think they might have had a hippie discussion after I left.

Finally, I found someone who pointed me in the right direction but said I was too late for today. You can usually see them from 6-10 am. When I relayed this new knowledge upon returning to my family, they were convinced I made the whole thing up.

“Dad and his parrots, yah right! Parrots in San Francisco – gimme a break!” So it goes.

We walked onward, downward and upward to the world’s most crooked street – Lombard – taking pictures all the way. Lombard Street is so colorful with its landscaping and beautiful buildings framing it. You can see this one block wonder and its eight hairpin turns down a very steep hill from far away. No matter the time, there’s a steady stream of thrill seekers driving bumper to bumper down the famous street just to say they did it.

On our last morning, we walked to find breakfast somewhere in Fisherman’s Wharf. While waiting at a street corner, a strange sight grabbed my attention. I know new trends tend to begin on the “Left Coast” so perhaps my backwards butt will see this become commonplace back home before long: A lady was walking backwards ever so casually at a pace somewhere between not too fast and not too slow. I quickly reminded the kids (and myself) not to snicker when she neared. We missed our “walk” sign and stood still, gawking, as her back-side passed us and now shown her front side. She kept walking, looking at us, us looking at her. She crossed a couple streets as if she had eyes in the back of her head and finally turned a corner, all the while walking backwards before any of us could look away.

In unison we said, “Well, you don’t see that every day.” Which pretty much summed up our visit to San Francisco.

By Rocco Satullo, your tour guide to fun!

Tomorrow: Muir Beach & Glass Beachnext right

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Winchester Mystery House

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 Winchester Mansion Door To Nowhere

It’s the little things that we remember from big trips. And so it was for our family when we did Northern California in 10 days.

Yah, we did the touristy things but enough has been written about those. This is more about the experiences, not the sites.

When the alarm bellowed out – VACATION! I was eager to realize the savings in airfare having booked 10 months earlier, the furthest out you’re permitted to make reservations. So we left bright and early to beat the rush hour traffic to get to the airport. Straight off the shuttle we decided to do curb side check-in. My mind was racing. Maybe it wasn’t. I needed coffee to decide. Meanwhile, this guy rendered me motionless with his stare. My wife said, “tip him,” as if the man couldn’t hear her. I obliged, and all was well.

Clouds from airplane window  looking out airplane window

The flight wasn’t bad at all. Neither were the two dollar bags of M&M’s once I stomached that fact. When we landed in San Francisco, a terror alert flashed. Funny how you think about the potential delays rather than the possible danger. In either case, we were happy to get our bags quickly and get our rental car. Distracted by the kids as my wife wandered off, the man at the counter upgraded me for only $10 more. My wife returned to my side and informed me it was ten dollars more per day. Next purchase, swampland. Regardless, I still thought it was a good spontaneous splurge. And away we went.

Straight from the airport, we decided to hit the Winchester Mystery House before the hotel. It is billed as the world’s strangest house. And let me tell you, if it isn’t, I’d hate to see what beats it. There are disturbing architectural anomalies at every turn.

Unfortunately, indoor photos and videos are strictly prohibited.

This mystery mansion was built under the supervision of Sarah Winchester. She was the wife of William Wirt Winchester, son of Oliver Fisher Winchester who had created the Winchester Rife, “The Gun That Won The West.” She lost both her daughter and husband prematurely sending her into deep depression. She sought a spiritualist who convinced her she was cursed by all those killed by the Winchester rifle. She was urged to move from the east coast to the west coast and build a grand home that never ceases construction to appease the spirits and keep her from danger.


For the remainder of her life, the house continued to grow for nearly 40 years. As heiress to the Winchester fortune, money was not an issue. The bizarre home features seven stories and 160 rooms in a design that baffles the mind. Open a door and walk through and you’ll fall into a kitchen. There are six kitchens total and 13 bathrooms, 47 fireplaces, 10,000 windows and 2,000 doors. Oh, and 47 stairways. Mrs. Winchester was a very small lady with arthritis so each stair inside is only two inches high making for very long stair cases. Such baffling mysteries abound throughout. The architectural oddities and extravagant maze of eccentricities can leave you lost for hours. There’s even a séance room!

Winchester Door to Nowhere

At any given turn, you may find danger with the slightest misstep. Another door to nowhere leads to outside and another sudden drop. This door is marked clearly …on the outside. Exploring the inside of the mansion is only half the fun. Outside, the grounds and Victorian gardens are spectacular.

Remember, the spirits talked to Mrs. Winchester. Maybe they’ll talk to you, too, while you navigate the world’s most peculiar home. All in all, this was a very cool stop to kick-off our Northern California adventure.

By Rocco Satullo, your tour guide to fun!

Tomorrow: San Francisco next right

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