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Such a long name for a patch of forest! As in all of the surviving forested preserves in the San Francisco Bay Area, the majority of the redwoods here are second growth. Douglas firs are abundant too in this part of the Santa Cruz mountain range. In many parts of the Purisima Creek Preserve, you will encounter classic Mediterranean chaparral vegetation such as sagebrush, manzanita and madrone. The drive to the trailhead on Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35) itself is quite scenic, as is the road that continues twisting down to Woodside. At the junction with La Honda (Highway 84) , the fabled Alice’s Restaurant is the favorite pit stop for motorcylists and other travelers. It was extremely crowded this Sunday so I did not stop to sample the fare.

Alice's Restaurant in Woodside, CA

Alice's Restaurant in Woodside, CA

Motorcycles fill up the busy parking lot at Alice's Restaurant

Motorcycles fill up the busy parking lot at Alice's Restaurant

Turning onto La Honda heading West towards the coast takes you through more beautiful rolling hills, past farms and the picturesque, ramshackle white Victorian stagecoach stop at San Gregorio, before arriving at Highway 1 at San Gregorio Beach.

Red barn seen from La Honda, Highway 84

Red barn seen from La Honda, Highway 84

I went back to the festival to get the grilled duck hearts that were sold out last week. But I was not destined to taste them today (at time of writing, April 19th). The O Izakaya Lounge foodstand at the Hotel Kabuki did not have enough to serve them to the crowd so they offered chicken skins instead. Coated in a light batter and fried to golden crisps in the kitchen before being put on the outdoor grill for a light toasting, the crunchy skins were served with dainty wedges of lemon. This traditional Japanese snack was an unexpected first-time treat for me but I resolved to make yet another trip to Japantown to nosh on the duck hearts.

The parade arrived in Japantown soon after I finished my snack. I stood under a fir tree pruned into a bonsai outside the hotel for shade. It was very hot for San Francisco, reaching a recordbreaking 87 oF (30 oC). George Takei, the parade’s Grand Marshal was near the front of the procession. He gestured the Vulcan salute, to the delight of the huge crowd lining Post Street.

George Takei does the Vulcan salute in the Cherry Blossom Parade, San Francisco

George Takei does the Vulcan salute in the Cherry Blossom Festival Parade

Dancers in kimonos parade down Post Street in JTown

Dancers in kimonos parade down Post Street in JTown

Taiko drums, politicians, diplomats, marching bands, martial art and dance troupes went by. And several floats carrying beauty queens. I have never seen an anime costume contingent before but this parade had one.

A contingent of anime costumes at the Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, 2009.

A contingent of anime costumes at the S.F. Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, 2009

Ladies in kimonos on a parade float

Ladies in kimonos float by

The end of the parade was suitably raucous and festive with a a Shinto shrine stacked on a tower of sake barrels, guarded by three almost naked men . This shrine, the Taru Mikoshi, was carried by energetic men of all ethnicity, mostly in traditional Japanese garb such as hapi coats, and a few in fundoshi. the traditional diaper-like loincloth. The bold graphic patterns on the coats were a visual feast. Would love to have one myself.

Since circumstances do not allow me to do international travel now, I am grateful that a festival in my own hometown offers such a sensational show of Japanese culture and a much needed dose of joyful exuberance .

This is the first weekend of the Cherry Blossom Festival at Japantown that continues next weekend. When I got there this afternoon, sunshine and a strong breeze which kept the the sky of clear of clouds provided fine Spring conditions for the event. My first stop was at the Peace Plaza to watch a few minutes of the martial arts demonstrations.

Peace Plaza tower and cherry tree in blossom

Peace Plaza tower and cherry tree in blossom

Martial arts demonstration at the Japantown Peace Plaza

Martial arts demonstration at the Japantown Peace Plaza

Then I went indoors into the Hotel Kabuki where meeting rooms were used for various demonstrations and exhibits: swords, traditional music, origami, paper dolls, and Ikebana. The Ikebana floral designs were breathtakingly beautiful and some were very unusual.

Ikebana floral design

Ikebana floral design

After an hour of flower arrangements, clever origami dinosaurs and spaceships, I came back out into the sunshine and made a beeline for the outdoor food stand featuring the chefs of the hotel’s O Izakaya Restaurant, who offered rather exotic grilled meats including duck hearts and tsukune (chicken meatballs). Unfortunately, the group ahead of me in line bought all those kebabs and I had to make do with walu. The skewer costing $4 held 3 cubes of the rich, moist and tender white fish alternating with 2 cubes of sweet, warm pineapple. A delicious combo.

Chef brushes skewers of walu on grill with marinade

Chef brushes skewers of walu on grill with marinade

Still hungry, I tried Okinawan soba noodles at the Festival’s Food Bazaar. The noodles were thick and surprisingly yellow. I guess I am used to brown buckwheat. A shaker of chili flakes was at the counter. It jazzed up the light noodle soup. This snack was tasty too, but in a different way. Rustic. Next week, I’ll try to return for a taste of the duck hearts and tsukune! As an extra incentive to return, next Sunday’s schedule includes a parade featuring actor George Takei as Parade Grand Marshal. I wonder if he will stop in at the origami room to see the Star Trek Enterprise spaceship made of paper.

When I was a kid growing up in multicultural Malaysia, I noticed some neighbors and teachers would quietly disappear just before midday on the Friday before Easter. They were off to church. After I moved to San Francisco and settled as an adult in the even more diverse and multicultural Mission district, I often visited the Mission Dolores church just a block away from home.

There are actually two buildings of worship at the Mission Dolores complex. A low white structure, the actual Mission Dolores church , was built circa 1782-91 of adobe brick, and survived the earthquakes of the 1800s and the famous big one in 1906. It is the oldest surviving building in San Francisco. Next to the Mission, on the street corner (Dolores and 16th Street) is the Mission Dolores Basilica. A Victorian Gothic Revival brick church on this spot was severely damaged in the 1906 quake and was replaced by the current Basilica. Although designed in the Spanish Plateresque style, the exuberant exterior decoration is not carved of stone, as at the cathedrals of Salamanca and Santiago de Campostela, but appears to be of cast material.

Mission Dolores church and Basilica

Mission Dolores church and Basilica

One Good Friday years ago, I went to the Mission’s Basilica to watch the Stations of the Cross, a rather long ceremony performed in front of a series of plaques illustrating the significant moments on the last day in the life of Jesus. Then I understood what my Catholic neighbors and teachers had experienced.

In the evening of this most somber of Christian holidays, a service called Liturgy of the Word is held simultaneously in both buildings at Mission Dolores. Conducted in English in the old Mission, and in Spanish at the Basilica. I went to the Mission for its Old World ambience. After about an hour and with no pause—so I did not know the service had ended—the congregation was led into the Basilica by singing choristers where the next ceremony called the Veneration of the Cross and Holy Communion was conducted bilingually. There was a lot of kneeling and standing. Then a large cross was paraded up the center aisle by priests and attendants, and passed over the heads of the worshippers, pew by pew. This veneration took a while as there were a lot of pews. After the communion was celebrated, a solemn procession called Santo Entierro started from the Basilica’s portal into the street. Santo Entierro means Holy Burial in Spanish and it was interesting to witness the local, predominantly Hispanic Catholic community continue this old religious tradition at this historic church.

Santo Entierro catafalque with Christ figure on Dolores Street

Santo Entierro catafalque with Christ figure on Dolores Street

Youth carried black and white banners at the front of the procession. Next was a wooden catafalque with a painted figure of Jesus lying down and covered in white fabric. The catafalque must have been heavy as the men in black robes carrying it stopped often to change positions. A statue standing on a slightly smaller platform decked with flowers and carried by women followed. I assume the figure is of the Virgin Mary. Worshippers singing softly formed the rear portion of this short procession. The designer in me wished they did not use fluorescent bulbs in the catafaque’s canopy to light up the Jesus figure. It might have looked better with LED lights powered by batteries. The LEDs bulbs could be discretely placed along the wood frame or even under the white shroud.

Statue borne by women in the Santo Entierro procession

Statue borne by women in the Santo Entierro procession

This modest and mournful parade of about 100 participants. some carrying lit candles, slowly crept 2 blocks towards Dolores Park before turning around. In contrast, the noisy San Francisco Chinese New Year parade (see video) illuminated by klieg lamps draws an audience of over 700,000. San Francisco is certainly blessed to have such an incredible range of cultural events every year.

This small county park is a bit more than an hour’s drive south of San Francisco. It is hidden in the Santa Cruz mountain redwoods but can be easily reached from either Interstate 280 or Highway 1.  You will encounter very few people on the trails even on a weekend. I like the mix of shady forest and open sunlit meadows that provide views of redwood covered mountains in the distance.

Mountain and forest view from Sam McDonald Park

Mountain and forest view from Sam McDonald Park

As it is spring, the meadows are a lush green and it is very pleasant to lie on the soft grass and contemplate the view. By summer, the grass will dry to a brittle golden brown. A small cluster of old-growth redwoods can be seen at Heritage Grove.

Jack Brook Horse Camp is nestled in the hillside

Jack Brook Horse Camp is nestled in the hillside

An ideal spot to picnic in solitude is up at the Jack Brook Horse Camp with three small sites equipped with picnic tables. This location is much more attractive than the heavily shaded and noisy picnic areas around the Ranger Station’s parking lot. Apparently the horse camp is only operational from May 1st until November 15th so springtime is great for taking advantage of this space.

Overall the views at this park are pretty, but not jaw-dropping spectacular. This is simply a restful place to escape to when you need a quick getaway from urban life.

Golden Gate Bridge from Marin Headlands, Marin County

Golden Gate Bridge from Marin Headlands, Marin County

This video was taken on Sunday, March 8, 2009.

It shows the trip from Marin County in the North, into San Francisco. The San Francisco skyline is visible for a few moments just above the railings on the left hand side of this Art Deco style bridge completed in 1937. The color is not really gold but a paint color called International Orange.

The spring rains stopped few days ago to let sunshine warm up San Francisco to 60°F (16°C) this Sunday. Cyclists, hikers, and motorists were out to enjoy the fine weather and scenery north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Wildflowers, especially California poppies, are starting to bloom on the hillsides.

The steep winding road along the Marin Headlands with view of Pacific Ocean

The steep winding road along the Marin Headlands with view of Pacific Ocean

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