We’ve been home from vacation for a week today and I figured it was a good time to share a little bit about our trip to California. This is more of a travel diary for me than anything else, but I hope you enjoy the pictures anyway 🙂
We started our trip by waiting over an hour and a half first thing in the morning to check our one bag (which is a pretty long time for our local airport). I thought I’d prevent this sort of thing by checking us in on our flight, paying the baggage fee, and printing the boarding passes online the night before, but you know the saying “the best laid plans…often go awry”? That set the tone for the whole trip. Nothing went according to plan. Not always in a bad way, but it made me realize that sometimes no matter how in control you try to feel over things, there are some things that you just don’t get to decide, and it makes everything easier if you stop stressing and just see where life takes you. It’s not an easy lesson for me to reconcile with my control freak tendencies, but I didn’t really have any choice as things unfolded over the next week. Long story short: I’m trying to be more zen…I usually fail miserably, but I’m trying.
So back to baggage…the systems were down, there was no curbside check-in, and when we finally got our sticker printed, it was for some guy named Andy going to Columbia. Thank God we figured that out before our luggage ended up there. Things went more smoothly as we moved through security, and eventually we got in the air. We sat next to a really sweet woman flying to Washington, D.C. who gave us San Francisco suggestions and chatted with me most of the 90 minute ride. I’m not scared of flying but sometimes I end up feeling a little claustrophobic in the cabin so it was nice to have a distraction. She was actually super interesting and cultured and I wish I’d gotten her contact info (or would that have been so weird?) We got stuck with a three hour delay in D.C., but we posted up at a free charging station and laid across a few seats until our next flight. Dulles was a nice airport, and United made up for it by giving us all free DirecTV when the flight did take off. I bought the in flight wi-fi, sipped tomato juice and watched cooking shows until we landed. Technology is amazing.
We landed in California around 6pm and grabbed our checked bag, then caught a cab to the apartment we were staying at. I found it through AirBnB and it was even better in person than it looked in photos. I’m so glad we ended up doing that instead of staying in a hotel, because it was so nice to be able to have a fridge and full kitchen and coffee maker and all the comforts of home. Our host, Karen, had fresh flowers and a goodie basket filled with snacks waiting for us.
There was a big deck off the sliding glass doors that led to a patio with a full garden, dining table and a fire pit. Twinkly lights included!
It was one bedroom, one bathroom with a flat screen TV and access to a washer/dryer. Karen, as a lifelong resident, even put together a comprehensive guide to the city, surrounding areas and restaurants, plus all the information we could need about the apartment and life in the city. I reiterate: Airbnb is amazing!
Our first night in the city, we were exhausted and sore from traveling all day. We didn’t have a rental car yet and we were starving, so we started looking for take out that we could have delivered. We ended up walking to a burger place 10 minutes down the street called Calibur. It was like 9pm at this point so they were getting ready to close up for the night, and I asked the guy who rang us up if he knew of any grocery stores within walking distance that we could grab some breakfast foods before we got our rental car the next day. It ended up being the owner, who told us that no, there weren’t any stores that close, then went right into the back and came back with bacon and eggs for us. He refused to take any money, and instead said “that’s what California love is all about, welcome to San Francisco.” California, restoring my faith in humanity one step at a time! By the way, the burger was amazing, so if you’re ever in West Portal, go see Jorge at Calibur.
The next day we grabbed our rental car and went grocery shopping. One thing I was starting to notice about California that was WAY different from home was how big recycling is out there. We recycle bottles at home, but in California, it’s required. There’s not even a garbage can at fast food restaurants, instead there were three separate spots, for compost/recycle/landfill. Everything is labeled so it’s pretty idiot-proof, and it’s kind of inspiring. Karen said the city is trying to get to zero-waste, and all the restaurants/stores participate. I didn’t see a plastic bag the entire time we were there, and most stores even charged $0.25 for a paper bag. Bringing your own bags is apparently mandatory there, so right on San Fran.
Another thing we did on the second day was explore the neighborhood we were staying in, West Portal. Such a cute area. One of my favorite things about our stay was all the new plants I got to see. One of the standouts was this one, called brugmansia.
We were walking around at night one time and the whole street smelled like this sweet, almost intoxicating fragrance it gives off. I started searching for candles or perfume with notes of it and came up with nothing. I did more research and found out it’s because apparently it’s toxic, dangerous and a serious deliriant/hallucinogenic, so no one wants to work with extracting it. Like, this stuff will make you trip in a bad way if ingested and could kill you. Even too many whiffs could give you a bad headache. So, boo.
Our third day, we decided to drive the Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur, stopping to visit a friend in Santa Cruz. It was majorly foggy in the morning, which it was basically our whole trip, and I figured it would clear up the further south we went. It didn’t. It wasn’t bad more inland, but the fog on the coast never cleared up, so we didn’t get those amazing Big Sur views that I was expecting, but it only made us appreciate when it momentarily cleared even more. This is McWay Falls, which is an 80 foot waterfall and one of few that empties directly into the ocean. The beach is inaccessible by foot, which just made it even more picturesque.
One thing to know if you ever visit Big Sur, there is basically zero cell phone service, so have it planned ahead of time since you can’t navigate while you’re there. Seriously, your cell phone is essentially a brick. I’d love to go back to Big Sur someday and go further south, exploring the area more. The drive is a little twisty but I imagine if it’s a clear day along the coast, you don’t even notice because the views are so incredible. The Pacific Coast Highway is definitely something to see before you die.
On our way back to San Francisco from Big Sur, we stopped to eat and do some shopping in Carmel-by-the-Sea. I wish we hadn’t been still in our hiking clothes from Big Sur so we could have eaten at Mission Ranch (Clint Eastwood owns it, he used to be mayor of Carmel) but we’ll just have to save that for a return visit. We shopped around in the Carmel village shops, which are adorable and what I imagine a real life gingerbread town would look like. I found the cutest dog boutique there called Diggidy Dog. Cute thing about Carmel – most shops close around 6 pm on weekdays, which an employee explained by calling it a “sleepy little town.” Maybe not convenient for visitors/tourists, but I like the idea of a pretty little coastal town shutting down early to enjoy where they live.
One major thing I didn’t expect on this trip was how sick I would be (not exactly something you can prepare for though). I had a little cough before we left but didn’t think anything of it. It quickly established itself as a full blown, bad cold while we were flying. Have you ever flown congested? I don’t recommend it. It felt like my head was going to explode through my ears. It got progressively worse as the trip went out, so we were forced to relax a bit more than I had planned, which means we didn’t get to see every single thing I wanted. I usually plan a vacation to see places I don’t normally get the chance to, not to relax, so this was new for me. I probably would have been fine going to work like normal at home, but the full days of walking around I had planned just weren’t going to happen with me sneezing and hacking and coughing every 2 minutes. Lucky for me, Joe is very go-with-the-flow and didn’t care what we did, as long as we were together. We came back to the apartment early after Big Sur and spent the night in. Our next day was another day in, resting up for the night at AT&T Park.
We saw a Friday night game vs. the Diamondbacks, and we were excited that Madison Bumgarner was starting. The park is beautiful, right on the bay and very well taken care of. We had great seats, 13 rows up on the third base line, though I doubt there’s a bad seat in the whole place.
Neither one of us is a Giants fan, but we couldn’t resist the sweatshirts, since neither of us hates them either. Just felt like the right, tourist thing to do 🙂
We had a great time, and even made Sportscenter, in a background image of Bumgarner warming up 🙂 The Giants ended up getting no hit through 7 innings and lost 1-0, but it was still fun to see the park and experience the atmosphere. Really passionate and fun fans, plus they’re the reigning world champs.
The next day we took the rental car over the Golden Gate bridge, through Sausalito and into Muir Woods. Muir Woods is another spot where you expect zero cell service and more twisty roads. We pulled over at one point to look out over a forest valley, and it was kinda scary standing up there. There aren’t even guardrails in a lot of spots so you really have to be careful and go slow enough, though maybe we just aren’t used to those kind of roads so we were being overly cautious.
I finally started to feel better toward the end of the trip, so we went Sunday to Alamo Square, Ghirardelli Square, Fisherman’s Wharf and just walked through the city. First up was the Painted Ladies – ironically, one of them was being painted (I think?), so I cropped it because it was tarped over. It’s no wonder they call it “postcard row” because they’re so damn pretty. These next two photos are from my Canon, but I actually prefer the photos of them from my phone, because the sky looks so much bluer, more representative of what it actually looked like in person.
So pretty and pastel, like a bunch of candy houses in a row.
Before we went to the major tourist spots, I had to find the actual Full House house. It was about a 20 minute walk from Alamo Square, and it’s painted a different color now, but make no mistake, this is it.
More pretty architecture spotted on our walk:
One thing I absolutely loved about San Francisco was how pretty all the houses are as a whole. Part of this is due to the fact that so many of them are painted fun colors. Our own apartment was pastel green, and next door was bright pink. Put a bunch of fun colors like that on a street, and it’s hard to walk around without smiling, simply because there are so many fun colors staring back at you. If you can find a high hill (which isn’t hard!) and look down at the city below, there are so many bright and pastel buildings that stand out and somehow at the same time blend together to form this beautiful candyland.
Another great thing about San Francisco is that it’s the birthplace of cab-alternative services like Uber and Lyft, so they’re a dime a dozen. At this point we returned our rental car and were relying on these services, and we never had to wait longer than 5 minutes for a ride. They’re mostly cheaper than cabs, but watch out for increased charges during “busy times” – referred to as Surge Pricing for Uber and PrimeTime for Lyft. There is public transportation on the muni but it doesn’t go everywhere that Uber and Lyft do, or maybe we just couldn’t get the hang of it. This was our first foray into using these services since we have no need for them where we live, but they’re such a great idea in the city.
Ghirardelli Square was fun, one of my favorite shops was there called Jackson and Polk. It was a really cute gift shop with a big selection of adorable souvenirs, I picked up a vintage looking t-shirt for my brother and a bunch of cards and cute little things for family and friends.
Next was Fisherman’s Wharf, where we just walked around and eventually found our way to the sea lions at Pier 39.
It was pretty crowded, but worth it because they’re fun to watch. There were a few huge ones who were clearly “in charge” and wouldn’t move to make room for any of the smaller ones. Kind of like a little kid bothering his grumpy dad for room on the couch.
Our next day was our last day before our travel day home. We started in Crissy Field, taking in views of the Golden Gate Bridge from the beach.
We spent the rest of the afternoon in Haight-Ashbury, the hippy epicenter of San Francisco. It was so fun to walk around the neighborhood, there are a lot of head shops and definitely a very liberal area, which we loved. My favorite shop was a bookstore called The Booksmith.
I came home with lots of souvenirs for myself and the dogs. I even found San Francisco themed squeaky toys for them, because don’t forget, I’m a crazy dog lady.
We spent the night relaxing and packing and enjoying our apartment one last night. We had spotted hummingbirds the whole trip, they were all over the place on our deck and not scared of anything, and I finally got a picture of one.
Peace out, cute little apartment.
Tuesday, we came home. Or at least, we tried to. Our flight leaving San Francisco (which is such a great airport, by the way) was slightly delayed, making our connection even tighter. Or, it should have…but our connecting flight out of O’Hare was cancelled last minute due to air traffic control. I don’t want to rehash the travel nightmare that ensued, but long story short – we waited hours only to be told that we couldn’t leave til the following day. American Airlines, we are not cool.
We stayed overnight in a hotel a half hour from the airport, because I’m lucky enough that my best friend works in hotels and was able to secure us a room. Lest you think our whole trip was full of beautiful, fun things, here’s what our last night looked like:
Although I guess buffalo wings are pretty beautiful, in their own way. We had a good night’s sleep and came home the next day with no problems…except for the fact that American Airlines left our luggage in Chicago. But that’s a story for another day. We did get it back thankfully, a day and a half late, but I just can’t even think about it again right now. Murphy’s Law was all over us this trip.
We had so much fun together, but it was so long to be away from Millie and Gracie and our home. We are homebodies so I’m not sure why I scheduled a full week, other than the fact that you kind of have to make sure you go for long enough to make the travel days worth the trip. We were so so excited to come home to the girls, especially after the day-long delay because of the cancelled flight. They were so happy to see us, but we had been facetiming them regularly while we were gone so they knew we were still alive. They had so much fun with my brother, who loved them too. He said “go on vacation whenever you want!” and I told him we aren’t even going on vacation again. Kidding, kinda. Our next vacation I would love to go somewhere along the east coast so we can bring them with us.
California was incredible. The people out there are so incredibly friendly. Literally everyone who we crossed paths with was so, so nice and it seemed like they genuinely cared about making other people’s days better, which was so refreshing. On the east coast, people aren’t mean, but I wouldn’t say they go out of their way to be nice and friendly, either. So it was definitely a change of atmosphere on the west coast. It’s not only more laid back, but it’s just friendlier overall. No wonder, because they live in the one of the best states in the country. I’m not sure I’d want to live there, but what an incredible place to visit. I think you could live there your entire life and still not see everything it has to offer. I can’t wait to go back. Not very soon, but sometime.
One last lesson: it’s not where you go. It’s who you’re with. And I’d go anywhere with my guy.