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Maneuvering around tourists to the end of Pier 39 was worth every ounce of trouble. Even when she fell asleep upon arrival. I still got to unstrap her from the stroller, hold her in my arms, close my eyes, feel the sun warm our skin, and listen to the sea lions bark and the gulls cry. It was heaven.

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Probably would have avoided the pier if it hadn’t been for my pint-sized companion.    In fact, last time we were here, we skipped right past the hot dog stands and gift shops to make it up the hill to Ina Coolbrith park. Savored a picnic lunch on a wooden bench– strawberries, samosas, and naan from the Ferry Plaza– overlooking downtown and the Bay Bridge, no one around but a feisty Chihuahua named Charger and his family.

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That was our favorite day in San Francisco three summers ago, before becoming parents. That day, we walked at least five miles up and down hills, through Union Square, the Financial District, Embarcadero, Fisherman’s Wharf, then up Russian Hill and Nob Hill, fueled first by coffee, then the picnic lunch, finally a bottle or two of white wine.

Sunshine was a novelty that week in the city by the bay. The jackets we brought were lacking, and we made an impromptu stop at the Gap on our first day in town just to buy more layers. But that day on our picnic, we took off our coats and scarves, and it almost felt like summer.

Three years later, I’m a Mom with my little girl. I know by now trying to recreate the perfect day never works out as well. But I loved the Farmer’s Market, and I loved the walk along the Embarcadero, and I knew my little animal-lover would be awed by the slippery sea lions. And it wasn’t a complete repackaging– new companion, no hills (no way, not with a stroller), full sobriety, different season. And this time around, it was kinda perfect.

I knew to carry a jacket and scarf, but they remained stowed away all day. The sun was strong, and there was a light, cool, breeze. I hadn’t planned much for the outing– in fact, we’d only decided to fly to California weeks before– so our pace was much more relaxed. All I knew was that I wanted to buy us a picnic lunch at the Farmer’s Market, watch the sea lions, eat at a park somewhere, and maybe or maybe not find time for a nap sometime, jumbled in with all the rest.

She enjoyed herself. Her favorite thing that day– in fact, her favorite thing all weekend– had to be chasing the gulls and pigeons everywhere we stopped around the city. Every single time I let her out of the stroller, she’d spot a bird, clap her hands, and commence to chasing after it on wobbly legs. Those patient, brave birds let her come so close, too.

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We spent too long at the Farmer’s Market, I know. Bought the best-ever cheese cubes from the Achadinha Cheese Company’s stall, a sourdough loaf, and a bag of blood oranges. And I stopped too, too many times along the Embarcadero to snap photos of things I’d already seen– palm trees, the Bay Bridge, Coit Tower, the Transamerica Pyramid, Alcatraz. And riding in a stroller in late morning along the bay is so relaxing. I shouldn’t have been surprised that she fell asleep.

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Or, for that matter, surprised that when she finally woke, after some gentle coaxing on my part as the crowds grew thicker, that she was hardly interested in the sea lions. Are you kidding?! How could anyone be interested in sea lions when there were so many pigeons and sea gulls nearby?

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So we walked another mile down the road to buy her dad a bag of overpriced-yet-unbelievably-delicious sea salt and caramel-filled chocolates and stopped at a park across the street, with views of the Rock and the Golden Gate Bridge, to eat our loot. While I licked blood orange juice from my fingers, she toddled away, in pursuit of another gull.

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