Thursday, September 2, 2010

San Francisco and Marin Headlands

Today we headed up to San Francisco for the day, visiting Fishermans Wharf first to look for souvenirs and to have lunch, before heading across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County.

The famous Sea Lion population at San Francisco's Pier 39 is significantly smaller it has been over the past 20 years, but there are still a handful around to entertain the tourists

We visited the former Nike Missile Site SF-88, in the Marin Headlands, the only former Nike Site in the United States that has been restored and opened up to the public.

For your safety, it is advised you do not climb on the big noodle

SF-88 is a fairly typical Cold War era Nike Missile site, of which there were approximately 300 throughout the United States and it's overseas bases. The site has been restored by a team of volunteers to a point where it appears to be almost fully operational, and is under the care of the Goldan Gate Park and the National Parks Service.

Not only is the SF-88 tour free, it also includes a visit underground to see the missile storage bunker

Nike Site SF-88 was constructed in 1954 and originally built for and equipped with Nike-Ajax Surface to Air missiles. In 1959 SF-88 was converted to fire the Nike-Hercules nuclear warhead missiles, which carried a payload roughly equivalent to twice as powerful as the bomb dropped on Nagasaki at the end of the second World War.

A Nike Hercules missile on the launch pad at SF-88

SF-88 was part of an 11 site Coastal Defence network for the San Francisco area, and all the missiles it housed were designed to fire at air borne targets. By 1974 the face of warfare had changed again, and the Nike missile system was no match for a fleet of submarines launching ICBM's at targets thousands of miles away. This site was shut down in 1974 and for at least the last 20 years has been in a constant state of restoration to maintain it as close to it's early 1970's appearance as possible.

Two radar units at SF-88, the one on the left is a general scanning unit while the one on the right is used for tracking the missile and it's target

After leaving site SF-88, we headed over to the local town of Sausalito for some gas and for a look around. Sausalito is home to the Bay Model, a huge scale model of the San Francisco Bay, however as we didn't leave SF-88 until almost 4:30, we were too late getting to Sausalito to check out the Bay Model.

San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, viewed from Fort Point

We then headed back towards San Francisco, stopping at the Marin County end of the Golden Gate Bridge to take a few photos and look out over the bay, before taking a drive around some of San Francisco then back to the Presidio district and down to Fort Point, where I had been to take photos a year ago. We had a walk around the outside of the Fort, which was not open to the public today, took a few photos and then jumped back in the Caddy.

The Palace of the Fine Arts at dusk, lighting just starting to take effect

Another short drive later and we were at the Palace of the Fine Arts. Last time we were in San Francisco there were signs at the Palace of the Fine Arts announcing an intention to restore the Palace area to it's former glory, and today I was happy to see that the outdoor part of the Palace has been fenced off to begin that restoration, even though it meant that we couldn't walk through the tall columns and under the enormous dome of the Palace. Instead, we viewed the Palace from the other side of the lake, took a few photos and then headed back down to Fishermans Wharf for dinner, although we did detour to drive down the windy part of Lombard Street, something that I've done before in the long Caddy, but I still find enjoyable.

San Francisco's Fog City Diner

Tonight we ate at the Fog City Diner, featured in the movie "So I Married an Axe Murderer" and recognisable to most who have driven along the Embarcadero as the shiny stainless steal diner with bright neon trim. The Fog City Diner is an upscale diner serving good food at reasonable prices, and we had an enjoyable night there before the drive home to San Jose.

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