My Mom's best friend, Connie, lives is Northern California so the day after the wedding we got together for some sightseeing. We headed up to Armstrong Redwoods. In the first picture you can see what happens when everyone lets Stephen lead the hikes. We weren't quite dressed for the haul I had envisioned. I dragged everyone up and away from the redwoods they were all hoping to see! Everyone was a good sport about it and still seemed to enjoy themselves.. after the necessary shoe and sock adjustments of course. Once we came down from the hills we got back to seeing the giant Redwoods everyone was interested in. I can hardly comprehend the height of those trees in person, much less capture their intensity in photos. I can capture a sign though. Colonel Armstrong, 308 ft tall, 14.6 ft in diameter, 1400 years old. Dang! After our hikes we had lunch at a diner in Guerneville and then stumbled across the Guerneville Bank Club, a super cool bakery, ice cream shop, art gallery, and more. Their pumpkin spice ice cream was the best ice cream I've had in my life. So amazing. I thought it was the neatest place ever.
We followed the Russian River (great name if you think about it..) down to the ocean where we found Goat Rock State Beach. I've since learned that there are actually prominent rub marks on some outcrops and are believed to be left by mammoths some 40,000 years ago. There are no mammoths there today but you can find Harbor Seals! They relax at the river delta which had been recently cut open to help aid the fish runs. Instead of satisfying my want to see Bodega where Hitchcock's The Birds was filmed I asked if we could just stay and watch the sunset at the beach. It was the right choice! It was a really pleasant way to wrap up our family trip and we were very gracious for Connie and Bob's hospitality. I enjoyed spending time with my family and I wouldn't have asked for anything more. We had great experiences full of great memories. Especially that ice cream. My goodness. Until next time, California. Thanks for having me.
I slept in after my epic day in Big Sur and didn't have to be at the Oakland Airport until noon to pick up my family. My solo adventures were at an end for this trip but it was quite alright. I had a splendid four days and was ready to enjoy some company and more adventuring at a slower pace.
I picked everyone up right on cue, and felt like a local to everyone who just flew in. Actually, my mom grew up in the Bay Area and told us about traveling to the city when she was a young teenager and about my grandpa experiencing the 1989 earthquake. My parents met and married in Sacramento so they have much more history in California than my 4 days.
We went straight to our hotel along Ocean Beach, the one with the child-sized toilets, you probably haven't heard of it. We dropped off our stuff and decided to head to the Sutro Baths area as recommended by my friends Michael and Sierra. They were more ruined than I was expecting but I had at least seen some historical photos on the internet to know more about what had been there before.
After Sutro Baths we walked around Golden Gate park a bit and just missed a chance to go into the Japanese Tea Gardens but we did see that the Botanical Gardens would be free first thing in the morning and we all got pretty pumped about that! As the day continued to fade we drove to some of my grandparent's old flats and caught the last moment of light at the Painted Ladies overlooking the skyline. After dark we found a random Vietnamese restaurant for a nice and spontaneous authentic dinner experience.
We got out bright and early to catch our free admission to the botanical gardens which were raved about by our friend's Lee and Katinka and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. I think my favorite part was the ancient/prehistoric plant section. The sun was gleaming through a sprinkler mist and created a great Lost World feel.
I felt super disappointed when my mom wasn't able to get in to the Japanese Tea Garden the prior evening so there was no way we could pass up this second opportunity. The $7 entry couldn't even dissuade this frugal family of ours because, what the hell, we're on vacation and these are the things money is worth spending on! (This is about half joking)
The tea garden was unlike anything I had seen before. I felt like a giant in a miniature world and all of the manicured plants were surprisingly satisfying to me, a person who likes to let the lawn run wild. There were a few nice hints of fall color that added to the viewing as well. We wrapped up our walk through the garden and went to the Spreckels Temple of Music to take a group selfie and witnessed dozens of Tai Chi students practicing across the grounds. It was very peaceful!
Our last mission was to get up the Coit Tower (another Carl Furry recommendation) and eat some authentic cuisine in Chinatown (Lauren's dream). So we did! While walking up the streets so steep they have stairs built in to the sidewalks my calves began to remind me about my big day in Big Sur! I suppose I'm not invincible. A couple notes on Coit Tower: The elevator rides with strangers are as awkward or fun as you choose! On the way up I asked if it had ever not made it up before, or something to that tune, and I think my sister-in-law was embarrassed. Sorry Lauren! The other funny moment was watching the school children lose a basketball over the fence and watch it bounce down the steep-ass street we had just walked up - I can't imagine growing up in a city like San Francisco.
After Coit Tower we yelped our way to Lai Hong Lounge where we were seated in hidden corner as far away from everyone and everything as possible. Us whities definitely got some looks and I'm sort of glad they hid us away instead of putting us front and center. It let us experience the confusion we called lunch without much pressure. Lauren ordered everything for us (shes been to China!) and it was a lot of fun. Great new experience.
Lastly we wanted to see the gate to Chinatown so we raced the clock on our parking meter a dozen blocks in the opposite direction. On the way back I was literally running up the streets of Chinatown to get to our car before the meter-maid. I think I made it 2-minutes after the buzzer and occupied the car to avoid any trouble. Family caught up and off we went to Santa Rosa where Best Western cookies were waiting for us!!
Its taken me a long time to even begin processing the photos, let alone experiences, from this day. It was truly epic. I hiked over 18 miles in one day of Big Sur. That's far beyond anything I've done before and it was an unforgettable experience.
That morning I woke up and learned my 3-liter bladder had a new hole and soaked my entire backpack. That bladder was supposed to hold the water I needed for my ~12 mile day! I downsized to my "hiney" pack with some smaller water bottles and picked up some other rations at the nearby safeway on my way out. I was set for my adventure and headed an hour south of Monterey on the Pacific Coast Highway to my first destination, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which would be the southern-most point of my trip.
I stopped for one dawn picture along the way at a pull-off facing the Point Sur Lightstation.
Once I rolled in to the park I tried to fill out my self-serve pay station slip but the pen and everything surrounding me was covered in morning dew. I wondered how important it was that they had my information because all they really want is the money, right? I stuck the money in the blank envelope and took my stub.
The first hike started at a small creek among some big ol' redwoods, the first I had ever seen, and quickly climbed up along the narrow valleys they sprawled. I'm not sure what lasting anthropogenic influences are taking place but it's pretty wild to see how specific these niche habitats are, you have shaded redwood groves in the riparian valleys and immediately after crossing a ridge you're in an oak/pine motte with a lot more sun penetrating the canopy. The temperatures change a lot too. It seems like a bunch of micro climates butting up next to each other. Just very peculiar. This hike was the Ewoldson trail, 4.4 miles.
From the same parking lot I crossed under the highway to see McWay Falls, the feature that attracted me to this park in the first place. Apparently it's one of the few waterfalls that empties straight into the pacific ocean. There were a couple info displays that shared some really interesting notes. The cove that McWay Falls empties into wasn't always a sandy beach. There was a big landslide a couple hundred meters north of the cove that filled it up after it washed into the ocean. The scar from the landslide is easily spotted in the aerial imagery and a lot of people likely remember when this section of the highway was shut down for a long period as the road was completely washed away. It was a relaxing spot with outrageously beautiful water. I sat down and ate a snack on what was formerly someone's patio.
There is something truly satisfying about working hard to see something beautiful and McWay Falls wasn't one of those cases. I don't get the same joy when I take photos of super accessible places and end up with images that are dime a dozen. I like to explore, wander, and find unique experiences. Those are the types of things I want to share with everyone. This hike was .8 miles round trip.
Next stop, Andrew Molera State Park for the 8+ miles of the Andrew Molera Loop. That'd put me at about 12 or 13 miles for the day! I roll up and wave my blank pay stub from the last park's self-serve station and it turns out they're pretty serious about filling out your information. They weren't entertained by my wet pen story. The good news was my pass covered all California state parks admission for the day.
The hike started with an immediate creek crossing and no bridges provided this time. I had to take off my shoes to wade across. I took the River Trail upstream towards Hidden Trail that would connect me to the wide open Ridge Trail for a straight shot to the highest point of the loop. When I made it to the Hidden Trail fork I caught up to a small group standing in front of the trail sign. I asked if that was Hidden Trail and they said yes, because the trail marker was "hidden" behind them... now that's my kind of humor! I explored a little spur off the ridge trail and the group ended up getting ahead of me again. When I passed them a second time they said they were so fast that they didn't see me, but I replied, "No, I was just hidden on the hidden trail." Ha, outwitted! Small victories, y'all.. small victories.
One of my favorite parts of this section was an awesome stand of oak trees that looked straight out of a Dr. Suess book. These oaks led to an serene Redwood stand with gentle streaks of sun breaking through. Right before I emerged from this wooded area a small bird pooped on my shoulder. I grabbed a plant's leaf to scrape it off, and what serendipitous moment, the leaf smelled AMAZING! It was a sort of fruity-soapy smell that I couldn't get enough of. It turned out to be California Bay Laurel and it wouldn't be my last moment with that plant on this trip.
My GPS watch sort of conveniently stopped its route near the half way point so I'll just go with it.. The first section was 4.15 miles including my side quest.
Loop Part 2! It was pretty much all downhill or flat from here, what a breeze. Speaking of breezes, check out the gale force winds tossing my whispies around like whispies in gale force winds! (As much as I love puns I'm so bad at analogies) The wind was tricky to dress for, actually. I was exposed to the bright sun and would get too hot in my jacket but the winds were too penetrating without it! Yeah, life is hard.
Along the trail I spotted a hole in a thick blanket of trees that lead to a barren understory surrounded by its canopy dome. This was a "pygmy" redwood forest (as described by local naturalist Steve Harper). I guess they're old trees stunted by the constant winds. They're only salvation is from each other like a huddle of penguins in the antarctic. It was a nice unexpected little find.
There were tons of termite clusters along the trails and I kept finding myself gazing at the shimmer of their wings as the wind would sweep through and move their reflections in waves.
After eyeing a nice vantage point I sat down in the blasting wind to eat my lunch, a sandwich from Safeway. It was delicious AND photo worthy.
At some point around the middle of this section I started to get a bit loopy/goofy. I was singing to myself some weird improve jazz instrumentals and performing the whole gamut of instruments with my voice. I think part of it had to do with being alone for so long. Those long stretches of isolation without any or much contact with others. I love it though.
As I booked it through the rest of the trail I came towards the end of the cove where I watched a handful of surfers, there were people on the beach photographing them but I didn't talk to them. I was probably only capable of speaking my native jazz voice by that point. On the way back to the trailhead I started to notice the big white peak (HINT: I'M FORESHADOWING) to the East and enjoyed a few tastes of fall colors. I finished the hike after passing through the stream one last time. This section of the hike was 4.6 Miles.
Alright. Approximately 14 miles under my belt for the day but it was still early. I had more daylight to kill, and this was my only chance to explore Big Sur. What do I do!? Ask someone! I talked to Denise, the park ranger who made me feel guilty about not filling out my pay stub. She told me about the East Molera trail, a real "booty-buster" (I'm happy to add that word to my repertoire). I felt like I could conquer anything at this point so off I went!
This booty-buster was no joke, appropriately nicknamed the "Golden Staircase", it's an unrelenting two miles straight up to reach the ridge with an unsuspecting view that took the rest of my breathe away. The staircase continued along the ridge for at least a couple more miles to a nice peak but everything I had hoped for was already right in front of me. This entire ridge is a front row view of Pico Blanco, a very prominent marble peak, supposedly the largest single limestone deposit in the state, and pillar of local lore. I was in awe of both the stunning marble peak and the redwoods that framed my view.
I spent some time sitting in the grass facing Pico Blanco. It was very peaceful, and I watched a hawk ride the turbulent winds across my path. Thew views from up there were spectacular in every direction. The majestic mountain on one side, the beautiful golden fields along the ridges, and the ocean and cliffs to wrap it together.
I collected some acorns from a gnarly oak tree and took some more sniffs of that great California Bay Laurel. I was so happy on that ridge. The miles were quickly catching up to me as I made it back down the trail. I was taking one step at a time but I felt so accomplished and satisfied from my amazing journey. The 4.4 miles from this East Molera hike lead me to over 18 miles of hiking in one day. It was exceptional.
Daylight was coming to an end. I was driving back up the Pacific Coast Highway and ended up catching the sunset at the Bixby Bridge (More serendipity). I captured several angles and finally just found a rock and sat. There were tons of people all doing the same thing, pulling over for a quick sunset shot and taking off. Then something struck me. Everyone took their pictures of the bridge and the sunset, but no one just looked at it. It encouraged me to be present because I see how easily we can get buried in our Instagram posts, blog pictures, Snapchats, and Facebook updates without stopping to actually experience the things we're so proud to share. It's OK to take pictures, but don't forget to look at it while you're there.
Lastly, after everyone was gone, a cyclist rolled up! I asked him where he was heading, and he mentioned one of the State Parks I had driven through. It wasn't a short ride, there are no shoulders, and now it was dark... yikes! This gentleman's name was Noel and had rolled in from Santa Cruz on a tour to Los Angeles I believe. He asked me to take his photo with his phone but the memory was full. He humorously told me that I could take one with MY camera and I happily obliged. We exchanged emails and I wished him luck and a safe journey. I've been in touch and know for fact that he survived the journey. We both survived our journeys, and I'll never forget mine.
I can't believe you've made it to the bottom of this post, but I want to share one more thing. I made it back to my Airbnb and told my host about the plant I found and it turns out she was an herbalist! I told her about how much I loved the smell of creosote in the desert and she ended up making me a little tincture of the California Bay Laurel with Creosote! What a nice gesture.
I woke up bright and early on Monday, navigated the bus (stood in the rain), navigated the BART, and made it back to the Oakland Airport to pick up a rental car. It was overcast for the whole drive down to Monterey but after a short snack break at my second Airbnb the clouds began to open up. I had my fourth and final CityPass admission to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Having seen so many great aquarium exhibits at the Academy of Sciences I wasn't SUPER excited for more but interested enough to see what they had. I arrived just in time to meet their Laysan Albatross and enjoyed their hands-on exhibits. Actually, I was misunderstood and touched a ray in one of the no-touching pools. I was completely unaware I was breaking the rule but in that brief moment of ignorance I was SO HAPPY. It also reminded me of that one time in college when we ate a stingray over a fire for a Steve Irwin party. Sort of conflicting emotions there.
They also had a small shore bird exhibit where all the birds hang out within arms reach, so calm, so close, it was awesome!
Apparently I didn't take any photos of the Sea Otters but I enjoyed watching them swim for a few minutes and then I went up to the amazing jellyfish exhibit. I wasn't expecting much but the atmosphere in there was really wonderful. Super dim lights, ambient music, and beautiful jelly fish and friends. I don't know how they did it but there was a window that showed a small piece of a big loop that a school of fish were swimming in. They swam by endlessly. Quite mesmerizing. Similar to the entrance of the exhibit where all the fish swim continuously in small loop around the ceiling..
After the Aquarium I drove over to Point Lobos. Online they said it closed at 7, but it turns out they closed at 5 which gave me about an hour! I had to make haste and see as much as I could. It turned out pretty breathtaking and were my first real looks at beautiful coastal cliffs on the Pacific Ocean.
After zipping through the Cypress Grove trail I headed to Bird Island which turned out to be a roost for hundreds of Brandt's Cormorants which I had been waiting many years to see. Embarrassingly I forgot my binoculars on this trip so I didn't get to gaze into their ocean blue eyes which have always lured me. The whole trail was great, as you can see, and the sunset was really nice. Can't ask for much more in just an hour's time.
I went to a little beach pull off on the way back in to Monterey to enjoy the last few moments of dusk. I found two dead cormorants lying together and then some sea lions were spying on me very creepily. I didn't stick around there too long.
For dinner I found the Noodle Bar restaurant. A small Thai hole in the wall that had enough seating for maybe 12-15 people at the bar and that was it. I scarfed a chicken curry plate and some spring roles then went off to my $35 bedroom in a house.
Here's the quick scoop. My cousin Genna had a wedding planned for a Friday in Santa Rosa, California. I knew it would double as a family vacation but I wanted to make the most of my plane ticket so I flew up 4 days ahead of my parents, brother, and sister-in-law. I flew in on Saturday afternoon, Halloween day. I had until Wednesday to rendezvous with my family. So let's see what I stumbled upon..
A couple nights before my flight I booked my first Airbnb, a hostel style, in Western Addition. I really didn't know which neighborhoods were which, or even have a good understanding of the scale/size of the city. All I knew was I needed to get from the Oakland Airport to downtown SF and hike my way up to Pier 33 to pick up my CityPass for unlimited muni travel and admission to 4 attractions. This was my first time to use public transit and I thought it was super hectic. I rode the BART (which I didn't even realize was a train that went under the bay), got my pass, took the buses up towards my Airbnb, and unloaded my belongings.
I scoured all the San Francisco event pages I could find and stumbled across... ROLLER DISCO! There is an abandoned church turned roller rink called the Church of 8 Wheels. It happened to be pretty close to my hostel so I was able to walk around some of the streets for food and drink before I braved the Halloween Night Roller Disco in plain clothes by myself. I had never used roller skates before (done plenty of rollerblading as a child) but I showed up after a couple drinks and figured it all out right away. Had a blast. Didn't meet very many people but it was groovy. Could have been a lot more fun if I was feeling social but that's OK.
I found this video on Instagram. I'm behind Mr. T with the mic during the Thriller dance.
Alright, it's 5 am, and I'm up thanks to Mr. Carl Furry who recommended a dawn walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. I think I showered, got ready, and RAN FULL STRIDE TO THE BUS STOP BECAUSE I WAS ABOUT TO MISS IT. I probably made it with about a minute or less to spare. What an unnecessarily stresfful way to start the day -_-
I arrive at the GGB welcome center and walk up the path to take the bridge and there is a serious looking gate blocking the path. What? Oh, let me read these signs. Oh, it's closed? For a run? I was standing there with another gentleman and a loud buzzer sounded and then a mysterious person spoke through a speaker and said "THE BRIDGE IS CLOSED." as the signs attempted to say. The man by me mentioned a couple paths to walk down, so I wandered.
Traveling is still very new to me. Over and over again i'm finding that life has a way of leading you to where you're supposed to be. From the sunrise on the dock to cheering on hundreds of women who raced by, my morning was completely unexpected, unplanned, and I wouldn't have asked for it any other way.
Next stop is Alcatraz! I needed to take the bus towards Pier 33 but I ended up getting off on the west end of the Fisherman's Wharf which made for a nice walk before the tourist hustle and bustle began. I needed some food and saw a board advertising a waffle bacon taco. Uhh.. perfect! It was at Bistro Boudin, a hoppin' bakery.
Alcatraz was great. I really enjoyed the audio tour that guides you step by step through the prison and features interviews with real inmates and guards. I had a profound moment while I was standing in one of the isolation cells. The man interviewed shared how he'd spend time in that pitch black room by tearing off his pant button, flicking it into the air, and searching for it blindly. Over and over. It really struck me at that moment that real people actually suffered in the exact spot I was standing. So many crazy things happened in that place but at first it's hard to transcend yourself out of a park/exhibit, and into a maximum security prison. It really changed the tone of my tour.
My CityPass gave me admission to Alcatraz, Exploratorium, California Academy of Sciences, and Monterey Bay Aquarium. Close to pier 33 I stopped by the Exploratorium but was mostly disappointed for not realizing it was a place for kids, and best for groups of two or more! In hindsight I should have used the alternate admission option for the De Young Museum.
The Academy of Sciences was a lot of fun. I only had a couple hours before the closed but managed to see a little infrared light show and a sweet "Fragile Planet" movie in the planetarium. Their aquariums were quite impressive too.
I tried to catch the bus back towards my hostel, I thought I was getting a hang of things, but I hopped on the wrong direction. I played it cool and used the opportunity to check out the beach on the West side of the city. It was a bit moist in the air so I wrapped that up and hopped back on the bus towards the familiar street with all of the bars and restaurants by my hostel. I went to Little Star pizza for a deep dish pizza as recommended by my friend Rebekkah's cheat sheet. The leftovers would make for a great snack in a time of need. Day 2 done.