If you're a regular reader of my blog, you've probably noticed that new posts have been M.I.A. for the past week or so. Sorry about that, but in my defense, I've been busy exploring a state that I always thought I hated.
Growing up in the PNW (Pacific Northwest, for you East Coasters), the seed for California distain was planted in me at a young age and sprouted rather quickly. There are lots of reasons to hate on California. At the top of that list is their monopoly over society's perception of the West Coast as being strictly beaches and surfing. This is closely followed by the tendency for bands on tour to have the entirety of their West Coast stops be four different cities in California, evading the entire northern part of the coast.
Against my better judgment, and finding a lack of Seattleites in D.C., I became friends with a Californian, Hannah, in college. A summer trip was arranged, and I found myself boarding a plane to San Jose.
I've been to Southern California a few times, but this was my first time in the northern part of the state. As we drove into Santa Cruz, I wondered, Where is the smog? Where are the crazy techies that I blame for the gentrification of my beloved Seattle? I began to realize that maybe Northern California wasn't all that different from Washington.
Hannah and I stayed local my first day, exploring the small shops in downtown Santa Cruz and lying on a local beach that was far too cold for us to enjoy for more than an hour.
Day two was spent picking fruit in the morning before embarking on a photography adventure at a state park. I was promised that there would be dramatic, rocky cliffs, and the Pacific Ocean did not disappoint. With much hesitation, I found myself admitting that maybe Washington isn't the only pretty, nature-filled state.
On day three, Hannah had to work a shift at the local cupcake shop, Buttercup Cakes and Farmhouse Frosting (their vegan cupcakes are top-notch). I accompanied her downtown and sat in the back of the shop sending out fall internship applications for when I return to D.C. Who says vacations can't be productive?
Day four was our big city day, and we drove two hours north to San Francisco. Except for a brief overnight stay during a road trip town to Disneyland ten years ago, I'd never been to the Bay Area. Hannah parked in North Beach, and we began the afternoon with lunch in Cafe Sapore.
When we finished off our sandwiches, the walking began. In total, we walked over 26,000 steps (which I think is a new personal record). We made our way through Chinatown, spent a brief amount of time being lost in the Financial District and paused to take pictures in front of the Civic Center.
Our trek ended in Hayes Valley, where the recently gentrified neighborhood had no shortage of cute boutique stores and “bougie” shops. We looked around for a little while before my hankering for a latte was too much to ignore. Fortunately, right across the street was Artis Coffee, and I stopped in to enjoy a cup (or rather, a bowl) of vanilla bean latte with almond milk and a baguette.
After taking a few minutes to refresh, we went back to the streets before hopping on the BART (which is waaaayyyy easier to navigate than the D.C. metro) to meet up with our friend Nia who was interning in the area.
We found Nia in the Mission District, where I was equal parts surprised and amazed by the caliber of the art plastered onto the walls of buildings. After hopping in and out of a few thrift shops, we made our way over to Cream for ice cream sandwiches.
With the sudden realization that the parking garage that Hannah’s car was parked in was about to close, we parted ways with Nia and made our way back across the city.
We got to the car just in time, parked on the street and slipped back into Chinatown to grab dinner.
By the time we’d finished eating, it was starting to get dark and we still hadn’t seen the Golden Gate Bridge. We piled back into the car and, a few wrong turns later, found ourselves in front of the most beautiful orange piece of architecture I’d ever seen. It was the perfect conclusion to a day in San Francisco.
Exhausted from all the walking we’d done the day before, my fifth day in California had a late start. When we finally woke up and got ready, we drove over to Pescadero, where Hannah’s mom was participating in a barn sale. While in the rural town, we photographed flowers, ate tacos and visited a goat farm.
The sun found its way back into Santa Cruz on my sixth day, making it the perfect time to go for a hike. For two hours we avoided poison oak, wandered through wheat fields and marveled at the beautiful ocean view. I was grateful I had a tour guide who knew as much about the local flora and fauna as Hannah did, and I listened to her share facts and stories about the area to distract me from the burning sensation in my calves that I owed to the uphill portion of our climb.
On my seventh day, we drove past artichoke fields and miles of “Steinbeck country” to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The only other aquarium I had previously visited was the Seattle Aquarium, which is rather small in size, so I wasn’t expecting much.
Boy, was that a blunder. The Monterey Bay Aquarium was huge! There were tanks filled with hammerhead sharks, overhead wave simulations and outside demonstrations in the bay, where divers fished for abalone. It's no wonder why Pixar was inspired to base Finding Dory here.
Suddenly, it was Tuesday, my last day. Despite my lifelong preference for Seattle, California didn’t seem so awful anymore. We took advantage of the sunny day and spent some time on the beach, exploring tide pools. I was warm, sunburned and surprisingly sad to leave as I boarded my flight back to Seattle that night. Seattle will always be my favorite place on the West Coast, but maybe, just maybe, I'll consider Northern California to be a close second.