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On our second day in the Bay Area, we hopped on the train with Ellis, our youngest, and rode into to San Francisco. The first stop was the aquarium. As much as we liked to walk along the bay, looking at boats big and small, it was hot, so it was very nice to duck into the air conditioning and watch undersea creatures.

My favorite was the otters, unless you count the giant walk-through aquarium, which is like an underwater tunnel made of glass.

Schools of sardines, manta ray, and even sharks swam right over us, as if we were the curiosity and they the tourists.

There was a petting zoo, too — a couple of shallow pools with sea creatures you were allowed to touch with one finger.

Next, Ellis ushered us to Telegraph Hill for lunch. The brunch place he had scoped out had a line out the door, so we chose a quiet pub down the block.

While waiting for our order, we got dispatches from home. Katie, from Frisky Claws and Muddy Paws (find her on Facebook if you need critter care) was looking after our pets. Every day, she sent us a couple of photos.

It looked like they were behaving. We had warned her that our cat, a long-haired tortoise shell, was shy, and she should not be alarmed if she never saw the cat the whole time we were gone, but here she was, winding herself around Katie’s cowboy boot.

Another picture showed Cullen’s big muzzle, poking his nosy nose right into the camera. Everyone seemed to be having fun.

We did enough sightseeing in San Francisco for three days, and it would have been lovely to hit pause right here to go back to the room and take a nap.

But our room was back in Redwood City, so we pressed on, napless. Next time, we will arrange for a room for one night in the city, so we can spread our fun out over two days.

Our next stop was Mission Dolores Park. We stepped off the train and walked out to the edge of the green. We were at the rim of a natural bowl.

Spread out below us, the grass was blanketed with happy people, sunning, laughing, hugging, having picnics (Cue the soundtrack of my youth: Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park”).

I turned to Ellis. “Is this a Pride celebration?” But he shook his head. “No, Mary. It’s San Francisco.”

The big Pride parade would be Saturday, and we would be sorry to miss it.

We sat on a stone bench with the skyline rising over the happy park. A man next to Ellis spoke up. “If you want to know about any of these buildings, I can help. This is my front yard.” And he indicated the venerable stone apartment buildings rising on the street behind us.

His name was Harlan, the same as my great-grandfather’s. (“First name or last name?” asked Harlan. “First,” I said. “Oh, that’s highly unusual.” And I agreed.)

He proceeded to point out historic buildings and tell us remarkable stories about each. He asked where we were from, and I told him Illinois. He nodded solemnly. “I have heard of that.” But he was just joking, because he was a mathematician from Iowa (“And I have heard of that.” I gave as good as I got.) and had even visited UIUC.

Next, we ambled down the hill and found Tartine, the famous bakery that Dylan told us about. It was a plain building on the corner, and I didn’t even see a sign, but Ellis had been there before. A line spilled out the door and wrapped back to the next shop, but it was worth the wait.

We bought three giant puffy pastries and went on our way. In all, we packed about three days’ worth of stuff into a long day in San Francisco. But I think Ellis is a California boy now, so we will have the rest of our lives to perfect our visit, and we’ll know just what to do next time.

Tour in beauty; explore in peace; blessed be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. You can follow Birdland on Instagram (@BirdlandLetters) and Twitter (@BirdlandLetters). Mary can be reached at or via snail mail care of this newspaper.