Starting a story about California with a picture of palm trees is highly unoriginal, but I decided I don’t care. I like palm trees. I like the wild shapes their leaves make against the clouds, and the patterns of the bark, wrapping in circles from the earth to the sky, and how their refusal to look like anything else on the planet makes you feel like you’re somewhere exotic when you spot one, even if where you are is a city on the west coast of America.
But then, this isn’t just any city.
This is San Francisco.
And I realized, while we were there, that I am in love with it.
Let’s start with the houses: rows and rows of Victorians. Joe and I live in a Victorian house in Portland so clearly I like the style, but in San Francisco they are everywhere, saying: “Look at us! We’re happy sitting side by side by side for miles, all narrow and colourful and cute and old but somehow still modern, making every street beautiful. That’s right, keep looking, we know we’re cool.”
The houses above are an example of ‘Painted Ladies’— Victorian houses painted in three or more colours. This row borders Alamo Square, and is in the opening credits of Full House…recognize it?
The ones below are in the Haight-Ashbury area (now called Upper Haight) where Joe’s sister Annie lives. (This is also Janis Joplin’s old neighbourhood!) As I mentioned in my pre-trip post, in high school I had visions of living in SF…and I’m pretty sure this is the part of town I pictured myself. Here we are 20 years later, and my husband’s sister lives there. Life’s weird, right?
Okay, so the Victorians are everywhere and they’re awesome. Also everywhere are hills, so you’re continuously elevated, which means running into staggering views of the city and the Bay every 5 or 10 minutes while driving through town. You guys know I’m not one to exaggerate…it’s that good here.
Then there are the parks, which also take advantage of the hills/views/surrounding architecture. Joe and I, his parents, and his sister spent about an hour people watching in the sun on a Saturday afternoon in Dolores park, and I was done for.
SF, you know how to do life.
(I know, no one can afford it. Including us.)
One of the most memorable characters was Mr. Sunblock, who cruises around offering quick sprays or rubs of sun screen, for free. He was really popular, stopping every few feet to help a brother or sister out.
That same day we also took a leisurely hike along Lands End, a park that’s really a shoreline leading to views of, you guessed it…
The Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge is named for the Golden Gate Strait it spans, and apparently its paint colour is “International Orange”.
Lunch happened at a Peruvian restaurant in the Mission District called Limon Rotisserie. If you go to SF, I recommend. The food was so good, I found myself thinking between bites of ceviche, ‘well Peru is definitely rising on the list of countries I want to visit…'(not that you need to eat Ceviche in San Francisco to want to go to Peru, but you get what I’m saying).
After, we strolled around the Mission en route to Clarion Alley, which is filled with murals created through the Clarion Alley Mural Project, many of them expressing issues of displacement. (Portland, TAKE NOTE.)
Not far from there, a touch of anti-Trump rhetoric plastered to the walls…
I wasn’t exactly sure what these posters said, but I was certain I agreed with it. I also saw ‘F-ck Trump’ spray-painted on some nearby mailboxes or garbage cans or some other street surface and knew I was in the right place.
Moving on…to Muir Woods! A redwood forest in the Bay Area, north of the city, where we started our day on Sunday.
This is Joe, Annie, Al, and Sue. I have to say, I lucked out in the in-law department. Look at this crew.
It doesn’t matter if we’re playing late-night games at Christmas, hiking through the woods, or downing shots of Fernet (the Italian digestif that’s popular in SF, which we sampled in celebration our first night of the trip…), we have a good time.
After our forest stroll we drove to Stinson Beach, a gorgeous beach town further north. On the way back we stopped in Sausalito for happy hour, and then, because one view of the Golden Gate isn’t enough…
The next day Joe and I took off for Vallejo, a small city about 40 minutes northeast of SF, and 20 minutes south of Napa. I’ll tell you guys more about that part down the road, but this is what it looked like from our Airbnb the next morning.
After such a long, rainy winter in Portland, the sun in California felt almost foreign to wake up to. Didn’t take long to acclimatize though! Sue and Al caught the ferry from SF and met us there, and later that day we all went to the cute little seaside town of Benicia.
By then it was our last night of the trip already. We headed back to SF to Fisherman’s Wharf…
and accidentally stumbled upon Scoma’s, the restaurant Sue and Al had dinner at when they were here 10 years ago for Al’s birthday. Clearly some beer and seafood platters there, overlooking the wharf, was necessary.
On the walk back along the Embarcadero we spotted this bakery with sourdough teddy bears, crabs, and other creatures. Um, next to cheese, bread is my vice. (Not good, I know.) Lucky I was already full, or one of those bears would be missing an ear…
In the morning we checked out the view from Twin Peaks, two hills that make up the second-highest point in the city.
A good friend of mine in Portland, Sara, is from the Bay Area, and she told me before this trip how magical San Francisco is. It had been over a decade since my first time there, and I’d forgotten what a spell the city has. It’s truly stunning. It reminded me of Sydney, Australia, which I remember thinking when I was there 15 years ago that it seemed someone had built a city with the sole purpose of seeing how beautiful they could make it.
If you have the chance to see San Francisco, go. Go when it’s sunny and you can cruise around and lay in parks and take day trips up the coast and stop at viewpoints and drink margaritas over lunch and stroll along the pier watching the white lights glimmer off the Bay Bridge at dusk. Go with people you love, who aren’t in a rush.
Thank you, California. We’ll be back…