SAN FRANCISCO - As our Amtrak bus made its way across the San Francisco Bay Bridge, it was raining so hard we couldn't even see Alcatraz. Pretty inauspicious beginning for our three-day stay in San Francisco, a culminating field trip for our Seaside High School Beat literature class. As it turned out, though, the next two days were sunny and basically rain-free.

The following day, our group of 35 split up into three separate groups. One went to Berkeley. Another went to Fisherman's Wharf. My wife's and my group decided to rent bikes and ride along the waterfront and across the Golden Gate Bridge.

San Francisco sits at the tip of a large peninsula that runs basically north-south. On one side is San Francisco Bay; on the other is the Pacific Ocean. On the northeast tip of San Francisco is a district known as North Beach. At one time it was a predominately Italian neighborhood. It still prides itself on having some of the city's best Italian restaurants.

We ate at one of them while we were there. The Stinking Rose. If you like garlic, it's a place you definitely don't want to miss. Some of the best food I've ever eaten.

During the 1950s North Beach was a popular hangout for the Beats. City Lights, beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti's famous bookstore, is still there. In fact, we took a tour and bought quite a few books there.

We rented our bikes from a place in North Beach called Bike and Roll. It's located on Lombard Street, east of the street's famous curves. We took an unguided trip, technically, but we had an unofficial guide. Seaside High graduate, and now Yale graduate, Kirsten Webb lives in San Francisco and thankfully joined us most of the time we were there. Her help was invaluable.

We rented bikes and headed down the hill to Fisherman's Wharf. There's a bike route along the waterfront that you can follow all the way to Golden Gate Bridge. We stopped for food at a restaurant along the bay and I could hear some of the people in the group commenting on how it sure seemed like the bridge was really a long ways off. It did look like a pretty long haul and we were all enjoying our nice warm pizza out of the mist and wind. Kirsten gave everybody a pep talk, though, and everyone would be glad she did.

The Golden Gate Bridge is an amazing piece of work, not just because of its unusual design, but because of its beauty. The bridge reminds you that it's possible to build something that actually complements its natural surroundings. According to Ferlinghetti, though, it's the wrong color. The Golden Gate Bridge is reddish orange. When Ferlinghetti gave his inaugural address as poet laureate of San Francisco, he said that the Golden Gate Bridge should be painted gold.

The view from the bridge is breathtaking. You don't realize how high above the water the bridge is until you get up top. On a clear day, which we had, there's a post card picture in every direction.

Once we crossed the bridge, we headed down the hill into the town of Sausalito. It's a beautiful little town. Well manicured and right on the water. A pretty high-ticket place, though. More BMWs than Ford Rangers, if you know what I mean. We had just enough time to sit down for an ice cream cone before it was time to catch the ferry back in to San Francisco.

The ferry ride alone made the trip worth it. The view of San Francisco from the water is really a unique perspective. It's also nice knowing that you don't have to pedal back.

Mark Mizell is an English teacher at Seaside High School. His column runs the first Thursday of each month in The Daily Astorian.

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