Recently Matt and I went on our first vacation together in several years. You could argue that our “weekend warrior” trips are vacations too, but somehow weekends never quite fill that void in my heart that’s only really addressed by day drinking, eating a crazy array of foods at all hours of the day, exploring new places, wearing out the soles of my shoes, and sitting on a beach (under an umbrella, and a hat, and a pair of sunglasses, and while basically still clothed- gotta protect that pale skin, folks!). So, in line with that argument, our trip to California fits the bill.
Since Matt was still on summer break from graduate school, he drove down to San Francisco, and I flew in several days later from Denver. Matt’s brother Michael lives in the city, and after I got embarrassingly lost at the airport (this is not a one-time occurrence, sadly), Michael picked me up and we went into town.
I’d always heard that San Francisco is at its most moody during the summer- foggy, overcast, damp, and chilly- but the weather was pleasant for us. Admittedly, it helps that I love fog. It always reminds me of Carl Sandburg’s poem: “The fog comes/ on little cat feet.” And one of my favorite morning drinks is a London Fog: earl grey tea, foamed milk, and vanilla. It was only foggy the morning we went whale watching- but I’m getting ahead of myself.
On Saturday morning we awoke bright and early (a.k.a. after Michael had already gone for his morning run) to get to Chinatown for a walking tour. Chinatown was one of my must-sees for San Francisco, especially since I’ve yet to find a good Chinese restaurant in all of Wyoming. I was very excited to drink boba or bubble tea again.
Due to the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fires, almost all of the downtown architecture in San Francisco is relatively new. In a way, this reminded me of Hamburg, Germany, which was completely destroyed by bombings in World War II. The entire city is glass and sharp corners, not unlike San Francisco. After the fires, hardworking Chinese immigrants insisted on keeping Chinatown in the city despite reluctance from white Americans, so the Chinese paid for the rebuilding of Chinatown on their own.
Mostly our tour guide spoke about how hard life has been for Chinese immigrants in San Francisco, how they’ve fought for recognition and for the freedom to practice their traditions, both religious and cultural, in America.
We visited a Buddhist/Confuscius temple, walked down several alleys, saw a 93-year-old man sing and play a traditional Chinese instrument known as the erhu, and passed by the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory.
After our tour, we grabbed some clam and herb pizza on the way to Coit Tower.
I was impressed by how hilly the city truly is (I’ve been to San Francisco once before, but I was maybe 3 or 4 years old and don’t remember most of the trip).
Upon finally reaching the base of the tower, which is atop a large hill and staircase, we groaned when we saw the line of tourists waiting for their turn to take the stairs to the tower’s top, so we just enjoyed the view of the bay from the park below.
We walked around the city some more, then took an Uber to Mission Dolores Park to meet up with my Uncle Tom, Aunt Morgan, and two little cousins Catalina and Maxime. Lina and I ruled the playground, no big deal. Actually, cops do patrol the playground to ensure that every adult is “accompanied by a child,” as a sign proclaims. I don’t blame them; it’s a pretty awesome playground. Lina and I climbed to the top of a genuine boulder and had a small picnic up there.
I told her, “Hey, that policeman was making sure your dad was here with a kid.” She looked up at me, half-bitten sugar snap pea in hand, and replied, “What kid?”
After the playground, we headed to Dosa, an Indian restaurant in the Mission, for a mid-afternoon snack. We ordered everything off their small bites menu, and it was all delicious. Think spicy kale chips, fried chickpeas and chicken, sweet and savory chutneys. I also had a pretty spectacular beet cocktail.
We parted ways with my aunt and uncle and my sleepy cousins, and went for a short hike up to Mount Davidson to get a good view of the bay.
That night we went out to a fancy bar that purportedly had a live jazz band, which ended up being a sort of wedding band specializing in soul music and love songs from the 60’s. The bouncer wore a buttoned-up vest over his collared shirt, and the bartender had a mustache like that of the Robin Williams/wax museum version of Teddy Roosevelt, but more steampunk, and more curly at the edges. Lots of wax, or whatever it is hipster guys are putting in their facial hair these days.
The next morning was our whale-watching tour, which was expensive, but ended up being totally worth it. I highly recommend signing up for one if you ever go to San Francisco. The special up-close view of the Golden Gate Bridge was an added bonus.
Unfortunately for me, my propensity toward motion sickness has seemed to increase over the past several years, and being on a boat, even a nice, flat catamaran like the Kitty Kat (yes, that is the name of their boat), reminded me of such. I felt fine for the first couple hours, and was even impressed with how normal I felt, for a while. By the time we got to the Farallone Islands, I was popping ginger candy like it was, well, candy.
The first notable animal we came across was, sadly, a dead, discolored, and very bloated bottlenose dolphin. Actually, the person who had originally spotted it had thought it was a leatherback sea turtle due to the yellow tint of the dolphin’s skin. The naturalist warned us, over the microphone, that children and those of the squeamish persuasion would be better suited looking in the opposite direction.
At about fifteen minutes into our boat ride we saw our first whale, not even out of the bay yet.
Most of the whales we saw on our tour were humpbacks, who arc out of the water’s glassy surface so beautifully, spray their misty spout, and plunge back down, but not before waving with that mermaid-esque split tail.
They also like to alternate lifting their fins out of the water, like waving hands.
The naturalist said this behavior had something to do with the bacteria and barnacles growing on their skin. I like to think they were just saying hello, but I don’t speak whale.
I was also impressed with the amount of sea birds we saw, especially on the Farallone Islands, which are actually just a few big rocky caves covered in bird poo and a couple of research buildings. The stench did not allay my nausea, in case you were wondering.
On the trip back, we passed under the Golden Gate Bridge.The clouds had lifted so that the whole of the bay was sunny and clear.
After disembarking, Matt and I shared an obligatory order of fish tacos on the pier.
I tried my best to balance out my nausea by concentrating on my hunger, and we headed back to Michael’s house to change into land-appropriate attire. For dinner, we ate at a delicious Chinese restaurant that specialized in dumplings, appropriately called Shanghai Dumpling King. I insisted we order a bok choy dish so that I could say I ate at least one vegetable in San Francisco. (Oh, sushi’s not a vegetable?)
On Monday morning, Matt and I got an early, pre-sunrise start on our drive to Big Sur, and then Groveland, California, just outside Yosemite National Park. Stay tuned for Part II of my blog post for gorgeous pictures of Big Sur, and harrowing tales from Yosemite.
Love to all.