When I was ten, my family took a road trip down Highway 1 through California. I believed the roads would literally be paved with gold (I thought that’s where it got its nickname, the Golden State). Despite growing up with only one state in between, my perceptions from growing up in l’il ‘ol Spokane, Washington was that “civilization” and “wealth” were concentrated in California. I was shocked to find out that crossing into northern California, it actually looked quite similar to parts of Oregon and Washington. But, of course, the trees were grander, no where in Washington or Oregon can you drive through a tree.
On this particular trip, my brave parents took this long trek from Spokane, through Oregon and along down the coast all the way to San Diego (that’s over 1400 miles one-way taking the long route) with three young children in a cramped sedan (now that’s how it was done in the old days). What I remember from that trip has stuck with me to this day. The memories, especially from San Francisco and the Bay Area, string together with all my other memories from various subsequent visits. My last trip to San Francisco conjured up those memories and I realize how very little I know about the city despite the moments I’ve spent there.
What I know of the place only comes together through my distinct memories: My tenth birthday where the trolley driver had all the passengers sing “happy birthday” to me (I loved being the center of attention). The cat fight with my sister before going into the city from the suburbs because I didn’t want her to come into the city with us (she came out of that fight with a deep scratch on her head). Watching the sun set over the bay near Ghirardelli Square with my college friends after a somewhat last minute decision road trip to the Bridge School Benefit concert via San Francisco. The post-college New Years with college friends, a trip during which I fell off a chair causing me to think I had ruined my recent knee surgery, went to a psychic whose words I remember to this day, and discovered Good Vibrations. The week I spent recently returned from Peace Corps reconnecting with my many friends who lived in the city while awkwardly readjusting to life back in America. Strangely important moments in my life that somehow took place in a city I’ve been to many times, but know very little about.
I’m sad to say that 8 years ago was the last time I had visited San Francisco. I couldn’t help but think of all those other visits during my most recent, albeit brief, visit. This last time (just a couple weeks ago), we found ourselves in San Francisco to celebrate my best friend from high school’s wedding. The wedding was a couple hours north in the Russian River Valley, but we made sure to spend at least one day wandering the city after the festivities were over.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that coffee porn is a big thing for us and our travels, thus, you’ll not be surprised that our first stop was to Blue Bottle Coffee (http://www.bluebottlecoffee.com/). That was the only destination we really had planned out, so we figured we’d start there (not to mention my dire need for caffeine before I can make any decisions).
As the San Fransciscans commuted, we walked alongside them. Maybe it was where we were (the one-mile walk between where we were staying in SOMA and Mint Plaza), but there were a lot of cyclists…and then WAY more from Mint Plaza to the Ferry Building. Well done SF! Seriously, coming from a place that poses serious hazards for bikers in the city, it’s great to see so many somewhat protected bike lanes downtown, a ton of people riding, and with the hills no less! (seriously, those hills!). I should give a shout out to my friends whose wedding we celebrated – these two have given up their cars and have gone full-on bicycle commuters.
The rest of the day led from the Ferry Building where I got my perfect sunny San Francisco Bay Bridge photo opp and several more bags of Blue Bottle Coffee, Chinatown where we got Dim Sum and Cory got the tea he was in search of, Haight street where Cory got his Amoeba Records fix and we grabbed a deliciously amazing cocktail (well, I had the cocktail, Cory had a beer) from Alembic and ice cream from Bi-Rite Creamery, a glimpse of Victorian San Francisco (and yes, the opening credits of Full House) from Alamo Square Park, and a walk on through to the Mission District.
With the quick trip, I suppose this is just another memory to chalk up there with all the others. I didn’t really get a better sense of the city than I had in the past. But the self-led walking tour (minus the one cab ride) gave us a geographic sense of the city. Because the sister who I once fought about going into the city with on that family trip way back when will actually be moving to San Francisco in the coming months, there’s a high likelihood that my knowledge of the city will improve in the coming years. Plus, I have a long overdue trip to see my old friend Kate with whom we couldn’t hang out in the city because, well, she’s the one that got married and was on her mini-moon.
So, with that, I’ll end this post with a sense of what is to come. This will not be my last post on San Francisco as in the future I hope to explore the many diverse neighborhoods more deeply, and with people that know them better than I. Here’s to my future trips to San Francisco…