Salmon Spawning Run at Lake Tahoe

When autumn arrives in the High Sierra and the beaches of Lake Tahoe shed their summer coat of sunbathers, something remarkable happens in a little creek about five miles south of Emerald Bay.

At the Taylor Creek Visitor Center, you can take a short stroll along an easy trail to the gravel banks of one of Lake Tahoe’s many small tributary streams.

Here, nearly everywhere you look, you’ll see hundreds of spawning kokanee salmon filling the shallows.

The kokanee — also known as landlocked sockeye — were introduced to Tahoe in the 1940s. Every year, tens of thousands of mature fish find their way out of the cold depths of the lake and up Taylor Creek to mate and die.

Although more than 60 streams feed Lake Tahoe, the great majority of kokanee — around 95 percent — are born and spawn in Taylor Creek, which has a silt-free flow and well-sorted gravel beds that provide good conditions for the salmon to create their nests, called redds.

Farther down the path, you’ll enter what’s called the stream profile chamber, a small museum with a bank of tall windows where you can watch what’s going on beneath the surface of Taylor Creek.

With so many sex-crazed fish confined in a shallow creek, you would expect to see natural predators attracted by the easy pickings and you would be right.

You may encounter a California black bear crossing the stream or the trail and you should keep well away if you do — but don’t run. Black bears (whose fur is often blond or brown, despite their name) would much rather fish than fight and you don’t want to distract them from that purpose.

The salmon you see here in October will be long-dead when their small-fry progeny emerge from the gravel in February.

After years spent swimming free in the boundless depths of Lake Tahoe, they’re biologically driven to make the fatal trip up their river of no return to go out in a blaze of crimson glory, an appropriate fate in this season of color and melancholy.


Taylor Creek Visitor Center

Japanese Tea Garden

The Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park is one of San Francisco’s best-loved outdoor attractions and certainly among its quietest.

It is said to be the oldest public Japanese garden in the country.

Despite its status as a favored tourist destination, it is mostly undefiled by its popularity.

There is a modest entrance fee and a gift shop.

You might also spend a few dollars at the tea house to get a cup of tea and the fortune cookies — which are originally a Japanese confection, not Chinese. They were introduced to America on this very spot over a century ago.

Photographers will find no bad angles in this five-acre oasis of tranquility. The textures and colors of the abundant flora (and the occasional fauna) delight the eye and can quickly fill up your camera’s memory card.

Originally planned to be a temporary attraction at the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition, the tea garden was expanded and cared for by its creator, a landscape gardener named Makoto Hagiwara, who died in 1925.

His family tended to the garden and lived on the premises under a 99-year lease which went up in smoke in World War II when they were evicted and sent to an internment camp.

The 17-room house where the Hagiwara family lived is long gone as are many of the ornaments and statues they collected during the almost half-century they stayed here.

But the garden they nurtured for so long, though sometimes a bit the worse for wear, still endures as a monument to peace, a place of delicate beauty and a bridge between continents and cultures.


Official Site: Japanese Tea Garden of San Francisco Tea Garden’s Radiant Foliage

Cable Car Routes Compared

Other than the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s hard to think of anything that says “San Francisco” better than the sight and sound of a cable car clawing its way up a ridiculously steep hill, “halfway to the stars.”

For tourists and locals alike, the urge to hop aboard, grab a pole and ride to the end of the line is irresistible — but that brings up the question: “Which line?”

Before the Great Quake of 1906, cable car tracks ran all over the city. Now, only three routes — all of them downtown — remain active.

The most utilitarian of the three is the California line. It features a challenging climb and descent but it’s just a straight run along California Street.

You’ll have more fun on either of the two Powell Street routes with the more spectacular being the Powell-Hyde Street line.

Starting at Market Street, both routes feature a climb past the hotels and shops of Union Square, up and over Nob Hill, and a nice squeal-inducing turn onto Jackson Street at the edge of Chinatown.

At the next intersection (Mason St.) the Powell/Mason line makes a hard right turn and heads downhill through North Beach to Fisherman’s Wharf.

Powell-Hyde riders keep on climbing. Their big payoff comes soon enough, with an exhilarating descent toward the bay and the tall ship Balclutha on the Hyde Street Pier.

At Maritime Park, the Powell-Hyde cars are shunted onto a turntable, where they’re spun around and reloaded with passengers.

This is the most scenic cable car turnaround in the city. Pull out your camera and you can get San Francisco’s two most famous icons — the Golden Gate Bridge and a cable car — in the same picture.

RELATED LINKS San Francisco’s Cable Cars

Cable Car Routes Compared (Animated GIF)

Cable Car Lore

Conservatory of Flowers

For gardeners and admirers of Victorian architecture, the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park is San Francisco’s Taj Mahal.

First open to the public in 1879, this wood-and-glass greenhouse — a monument to botanical art and science — has endured thanks to several major renovations, the most recent being a $25 million bottom-to-top reconstruction completed in 2003 after the structure was closed to the public for eight years as a result of storm damage suffered in 1995.

Once inside, visitors leave San Francisco’s often chill weather behind as they explore exhibits featuring plants native to tropical lowland, highland and aquatic environments.

As soon as you enter you’ll see a true survivor directly beneath the dome — a giant philodendron alive and well since 1883.

This is a paradise for flowers and the photographers who love them but be warned: the near-constant spritzing from mist machines that pump up the humidity in this hothouse means you’ll be wiping off your lens frequently.

More than 16,000 glass panes cover the Conservatory and they’re painted white to soften the sun on the plants inside.

The Conservatory was purchased in the mid 1870s as a prefabricated kit by the California land baron James Lick, who died before he could do anything with it.

A group of wealthy San Franciscans bought it from Lick’s estate and had it assembled in Golden Gate Park where it remains one of the City’s beloved landmarks, the subject of countless postcards and a great location for a picturesque picnic or sedate stroll; a place where time passes slowly and the thrum of the surrounding city is faint, distant and easy to ignore.


Official Site: Conservatory of Flowers