Family Fun at Four San Francisco Museums

Steve works from home most of the time, but goes into the office in San Francisco once a week or so. Trevor had last week off from high school (but not college) so we chose a day to go into SF with Steve and do some sightseeing while he worked. 

Our day started bright and early (actually, dark and early). We drove 20 miles to the Vallejo Ferry Terminal and then enjoyed a relaxing hour-long cruise across the Bay. Then we had a 1.5 mile walk along the Embarcadero...

... and up Bryant to Steve's office at Span

He gave us a tour and we met a bunch of his coworkers, then Trevor and I walked a half-mile to our first destination, the American Bookbinders Museum. What a neat place!

The American Bookbinders Museum is the only museum in North America focused on preserving the art of bookbinding. Visitors learn how books were bound by hand until the mid-1850s when machines started automating the art. The museum is not large, but it is very well done with lots of interesting exhibits and bookbinding equipment. An outstanding audio tour is included with the price of admission. Speaking of which, I received comped media passes to this and one other museum. We visited the others for free through the library's Discover and Go program. I'll blog about that more tomorrow. 

Back to the Bookbinders museum. It was so interesting seeing all the steps that went into bookbinding when it was done by hand. 

This tool was particularly interesting to me. After sewing the pages together, the bookbinder trimmed the papers to make them even. He could then sell the trimmings to a paper maker and get a bit of extra money. But not too much - since the person who commissioned the book had purchased the paper it was printed on, it was considered stealing if the bookbinder trimmed anything beyond what was absolutely necessary to make it even. 

Seeing how books were covered, debossed, and decorated was equally interesting. We learned that only the wealthiest people would gild the edges of all three exposed sides. For most people, gilding the top was adequate, as the side and bottom would be protected by the shelf on which the book sat. 

Of course, it was interesting to see how mechanization changed the profession. Trevor mentioned that his history class has been discussing jobs that were eliminated by the introduction of technology; while some people today do typesetting and bookbinding as a hobby, nearly 100% of books are printed and bound mechanically now. 

My favorite part of the museum was the hands-on area. Here, Trevor is following the directions to fold paper, much like bookbinders would fold sections of the pages (signatures). 

I enjoyed trying to sew the signatures of a book together by hand. 

We left the American Bookbinders Museum and walked another half-mile to the Contemporary Jewish Museum

One of the most interesting things about the museum is its building. The unique shape is inspired by the Hebrew letters in l'chaim ("to life"); an exhibit inside celebrates the symbolism in the architecture. 

My favorite exhibit was a very small but fascinating look at Isidore and Frances Oznowicz. As  puppeteers working in Belgium in the 1930's, they created a caricature of Adolf Hitler to mock his rise to power. They buried this puppet before escaping when the Nazis occupied Belgium and eventually made their way to England, where their son Frank Oznowicz was born. The family moved to Oakland, California, which is where Jim Henson met the 19-year old Frank Oz and convinced him to move to New York to work with him. Oz went on to become the puppeteer behind many beloved characters, including Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, Sam Eagle, Cookie Monster, Bert, Grover, and Yoda. 

This is the Hitler puppet, unburied. 

I also highly recommend Cara Levine's This is Not a Gun exhibit. She started with carvings of items that United States police officers have mistaken as guns during shootings of unarmed victims. These include a sandwich, a bible, a wallet, a phone, an umbrella, glasses, a candy bar, Skittles, a wrench, and even a person's own hand. Levine's project has evolved into a series of workshops and a book. 

I love when museums have a hands-on area for kids (and adults). These weaving stations were right up my alley. Trevor preferred the light pegboard in the back right. 

Time for lunch! We ate at Super Duper Burgers, a Bay Area chain beloved for their commitment to locally-sourced, high-quality, delicious food and 100% compostable packaging. 

Trevor and I shared a half-pound burger, an egg and cheese sandwich on ciabatta, an order of fries, and a chocolate-vanilla swirl milkshake. Everything was SO good! And what a great feeling to know that all that packaging (even the milkshake cup) is compostable. 

We were comfortably full as we headed off to our next destination, the California Historical Society

It is a research library as well as a gallery space. The current exhibit is Mapping a Changing California and features maps from the 1600s through 2000. The oldest maps show California as an island. Trevor is studying this very thing in his California History class, so that was really cool. 

We spent a lot of time looking at this map of the Burned District from the 1906 San Francisco fire.  

We also enjoyed this 1960's map of Disneyland. The park sure has changed! 

I like when museums have a display of where their visitors live. We were the first to come from Fairfield.  

We enjoyed our visit to the California Historical Society. You might find this article about the making of the current exhibit interesting; I definitely did. I also learned a new word - vitrine

Directly across the street was our fourth and final museum for the day, the Museum of the African Diaspora. MoAD is a contemporary art museum that features the works of Black artists and looks at the unique voices of those who make up the African Diaspora. 

There are currently two exhibitions. We spent most of our visit looking at "The New Black Vanguard: Photography between Art and Fashion." It highlights the work of 15 Black fashion photographers from around the world. It was so interesting to read their stories and see their unique perspectives in their work.   

The curator of the exhibit, Antwaun Sargent, has also put the images into a book, available at the museum and through Amazon (affiliate link). We thoroughly enjoyed a video featuring all of the contributing photographers. 

We left the MoAD and walked a block to Yerba Buena Gardens. This public park is an oasis, packed with public art and all sorts of plants. Even in the dead of winter, it is really pretty.   

Yerba Buena Gardens is home to a memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Behind the waterfalls, there are glass panels inscribed with Dr. King's words. 

We needed to kill some time before Steve finished work, so we popped into Metreon. It has a nice view of the gardens.   

When Steve was done with work, we walked back to the SF Ferry Building then waited for our ferry back to Vallejo. 

As you can see, Steve is carrying an umbrella. It was supposed to rain, but we totally lucked out. The rain stopped shortly before we arrived in the city and didn't start until after we'd left. 

I'm a big fan of the SF Bay ferry system. It's a beautiful, stress-free way to get into the city. And considering how much bridge tolls and parking cost, the $18 round-trip ticket from Vallejo to SF ($9.00 for kids) is a bargain. (That's the longest route - the shorter routes are cheaper.

Another fun detail: you can collect free trading cards from each ferry you ride. Here are the cards from Vela and Pyxis. 

We were ready for dinner when we docked in Vallejo, so we went to Mare Island Brewing Co. inside the ferry building. Their history is very interesting. And their food is outstanding. 

Trevor was supervised, so he was not fed to seals. 

We had such a fun day. There's so much to see and do in San Francisco. I've been there a hundred times (probably more - that's only twice a year for each of my 50 years) and there's always more to see and do. 

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