I’ve started writing to you as I sit in Los Angeles. When I was a teenager, I was just convinced that I was going to move to California, attend UCLA, get an amazing apartment in the city and work as an interior designer. Then I actually went to LA.
I’ve started writing to you as I sit in Los Angeles. When I was a teenager, I was just convinced that I was going to move to LA attend UCLA, get an amazing apartment in the city and work as an interior designer. Then I actually went to LA and decided that it just wasn’t the place for me, for a variety of reasons. I still feel that way today when I get stuck in awful traffic or when the smog is so bad you can see the air.
Being in LA always brings up memories of my first time in the city. We had just graduated high school and my two best friends and I hit the road west. None of us had very much traveling experience at that point. We got rear ended in Tucson and didn’t know enough to insist that the police be called, even though the driver at fault insisted otherwise. We ate our first whole lobsters in San Diego, somehow navigating the green tomalley. We drove in big city California traffic. (Driving in LA traffic led Chelle to come up with some very creative obscenities – one of which we still joyfully use today). And we got lost in East LA.
For as much as I dislike the traffic and the smog, LA makes me smile. I’m week two into a stretch of work meetings on the West Coast. And while, I won’t have time to get out and about in LA while I’m here (I’m actually in Norwalk), I did get a few free minutes last week to sightsee at one of my favorite West Coast locations, Seattle.
With a presentation in Federal Way, WA, I had a few morning hours to kill before I had to get to work. I’m a lover of flowers and if you Google things to do in Federal Way, this pops up: Rhododendron Species Garden. This lovely little non-profit garden exists specifically to conserve the Rhododendron species of flowers. The garden is fairly large in size – large enough that early on a Tuesday morning, I didn’t run into another soul. It’s a quiet piece of real estate in a bustling and busy metropolitan area. As I wandered the path, I found myself pondering the tall trees that you find in this area of the country. The sheer size of them makes me feel small, but it also makes me feel closed in. If you stop and think too long about the heavily wooded forests and what might dwell within them…well, I can creep myself out – Bigfoot anyone?. I suppose I’ve just grown accustomed to living in an environment where I can see miles ahead in every direction.
If you’re seeking a quiet spot or if you are a Rhododendron enthusiast, make a stop at this garden. It really is gorgeous. Just keep an eye on the trees.
By now, you also know that anytime I can theoretically get myself to the ocean, I will do it. Close to my hotel in Federal Way lies the spectacular beach of Dash Point. State Park access to the beach is available (be prepared to pay a nominal fee) but I crossed over the water into the Puyallup Indian Reservation, parking instead at a town park located right on the water. It was a typical Washington day (read: cloudy and rainy).
A few people were fishing off the pier and one grandmother and her granddaughter in her wellies were braving the wind and rain to splash in the water, my kind of people. After admiring the water for a bit, I took a quick walk up the beach, my eyes on the sand for my favorite treasure – sea glass. I found four pieces of glass and one very weathered nickel. Not bad for a quick trip. I have plans to return to search for more.
If you’re in the Seattle area for longer than a minute, there are several amazing sights to see and don’t shy away from the touristy stuff! Pike’s Market, the Space Needle and the Seattle Underground Tour are some of my favorites. But don’t limit yourself to just the touristy stuff either.
The last leg of this trip is to one of my favorite cities ever: Portland, OR. Sadly, I didn’t have much time here this week either, so look for a Portland post in the future.
Lured by the promise of a cheap vacation and time on the beach in exchange for two hours of my time, San Diego seemed like a great idea.
Lured by the promise of a cheap vacation in exchange for two hours of my time…..
Hilton has been trying to convince me to buy a time share for years. (And I have been trying to convince myself to finish this blog post for months. New Year’s Resolution #258 – write more timely blog posts). Their latest attempt included a good deal on a stay by the Pacific Ocean, so I decided to give up two hours of my time in exchange for a mini vacay.
I love San Diego. I have daydreams about moving there until I remember that I’d never afford the real estate and that I have California traffic…traffic be damned! There’s a beach to get to and sea glass to hunt for!
Our first night was just north of San Diego in Carlsbad. Carlsbad is kind of a family summer-by-the-sea kind of location. Legoland is here. A giant outlet mall is here. Lots of timeshares are here. Maybe not the best location if you’re looking for some quiet solo time or a romantic couples weekend, but there are also a few choice beach spots and some great restaurants up and down the coast.
Now, if you are a little ocean crab like me, you should know that the Pacific is not really known for being a warm body of water – it’s especially not warm in December. (Yeah, December. I’m working on that new resolution). Cold water or not, it’s so nice to walk along the ocean and enjoy it. Plenty of Californians agree with me and while we didn’t see too many swimmers, we did run into lots of surfers and beachcombers – both two-
and four-legged. The California coast is full of public beaches. Literally. Drive the coast and pull over whenever and wherever the mood strikes. Most of the beaches have paid parking so be prepared with cash or credit to pay the moderate fees. (PS: sea glass found!)
Before you make your way out of Carlsbad, stop in and eat at the Green Dragon Tavern & Museum. This place had phenomenal New England food (yep, you heard that right! Lobster rolls….yummy!) and an incredible private collection of Revolutionary War documents and artifacts. The owner of this private collection built The Green Dragon (a replica of the original in Boston) specifically to share these museum quality artifacts and history with the local community. Pretty amazing.
You can cruise easily from Carlsbad a bit further north to the community of Oceanside, where we visited the historic Oceanside Pier and, big surprise, found another great
restaurant. The Oceanside Pier is a (rebuilt) wooden pier. It is one of the longest piers in the state of California and the current pier is the sixth pier to stand it its spot. Enjoy a long walk (off a long pier) and enjoy the breeze of the water. It’s a great place to watch surfers, fish if you’d like, and meet some new friends.
While here, I’d highly recommend Rockin’ Baja Oceanside Harbor where I devoured some delicious seafood tacos and received some sage advice in the ladies room. If you happen to be in Oceanside around the holidays (yeah, yeah, timely posts….), there are Christmas light tours in the marina where people get festive and decorate their boats. There are also plenty of other boat tours, kayaks to rent, and so on….
Now, when you’re ready to head south to San Diego, you can make yourself crazy trying to figure out what to do. San Diego was suffering from some pretty major forest fires in December 2017 so we opted to keep our distance from them. First stop was the Old Point Loma Lighthouse (National Monument alert!). The old lighthouse has been turned into a
museum and on a clear (not smokey) day, some pretty amazing views of the city of San Diego. Definitely worth a stop in my opinion. There is a short uphill trailhead to the lighthouse itself, but most walkers won’t have a problem making the short trek.
Anytime you’re in San Diego, I will recommend that you drive out to at least have a drink at the Hotel Del Coronado (it recently became a Hilton property and it will be crowded but the views and the historic property are so worth your time). They have a spicy margarita here that is SPICY – you’ve been warned. The Hotel Del (if you’re in the know, you drop the Coronado) is on Coronado Island which is a short drive over a bridge from San Diego. In 1888, the Del became the first seaside resort on the west coast and it’s gorgeous (currently hoarding Hilton points in hopes of a girls weekend next December…)
The rest of our time in San Diego was spent aboard some boats. There are many, many boats in San Diego (including some yachts that normal folks like you and me can’t afford). Some of the most incredible ships have been made into museums. Whether or not you are a military history buff, please take time to visit The USS Midway. The Midway is the longest serving Navy aircraft carrier of the 20th Century. It’s humongous – a floating city and there is something for everyone here. We were excited to learn that a WWII vet would be aboard the day we were there – talk about living history.
If you’re into ships with an even older history, San Diego’s got those too at the Maritime Museum of San Diego. This on-the-water museum allows museum goers to walk aboard a variety of ships and submarines, including The Star of India, the world’s oldest active sailing ship. I decided this is haunted boat as well….how? Well, sometimes you just get a feeling……
My last suggestion to you, if you’re not staying at the Hotel Del, stay at a hotel close to the Gaslamp District in San Diego. My choice was the Hilton Bayfront, but there are plenty of choices in all price ranges. (The Bayfront’s pastry chef and staff built a life-sized gingerbread house for the holidays – complete with actual nutrition information.) The historic Gaslamp District has been revamped and now is a great place to spend an evening checking out the shops, bars and restaurants. You can still see the old gas lamps on the streets. Save up your pennies while you’re there and enjoy a delicious steak dinner at Lou & Mickey’s.
….well, not really, but I was excited to finally get there! I’ve spent plenty of time in SoCal, but hadn’t made it to The City by the Bay until Labor Day weekend. I set out to hang with a buddy for the weekend to enjoy the sights and sounds of San Fran. When he had to cancel due to family commitments, I decided to keep the reservation and take my mom instead.
Looking forward to a fun weekend in a much cooler climate (sounds so refreshing, doesn’t it?), we were slapped in the face with a heat wave upon landing. A heat wave? Oh, MissHeatherLynnP, don’t be so dramatic! It’s not drama; it’s truth. People, I live in the desert and I’m aware of the definition of hot. When we made our way into San Francisco that Saturday, it was 105 degrees and sunny. Gag. The heat provided a few complications namely that my mother (who some how does not sweat) looked like she was going to pass out most of the day on Saturday. More on the heat in a minute.
Landing at San Franciso International (not Oakland, but you can do that, too), we found our bags and grabbed a cab to the hotel. It’s not a terribly long drive, but traffic. Lots of it. As we headed into downtown, I immediately thought that I was going to feel overwhelmed in this city. And I was right. Everything is so tightly packed. Even if you own your own single family home, you probably still share a wall (or two) with your neighbors. Real estate is precious in a city with geographic limits (water. hills.), so you really pack them in. The San Fran hillsides looked like a postcard from Cinque Terre – rolling hills, bright colors, houses practically stacked upon one another. (By the way, I read somewhere that natives of this city on the bay hate when tourists say “San Fran” or “Frisco.” I’ll probably type both by the end of this blog. Please don’t take offense.) San Francisco is the second most densely populated area in the country. That’s the statistic that makes it feel a bit overwhelming.
After dropping our bags into our room at the GIANT Hilton in Union Square (seriously, I think it’s the biggest hotel on the West Coast), we navigated through the crowds (American Society of Political Science conference. Did you know that was a thing? I didn’t.) and headed across the street to Bartlett Hall for a bite of brunch. Brunch was delicious, but many places in San Francisco don’t have air conditioning. Not normally a problem here, but it was a bit warm this weekend. I really felt for the restaurant staff. That’s a hard job anyway, but having to run around and pretend to be nice to hungry tourists when you’re so hot you want to rip your clothes off cannot be any fun. After getting some food and lots and lots of water into our bellies, we braved a short walk to the closest cable car stop. Now I know it’s touristy, but I don’t care. We were riding one of those trolleys! Us and all of the other tourists in town over Labor Day… (As an aside, the trolleys are only part of the municipal transportation in San Fran. They also have buses, a subway, and an adorable line of vintage trolley cars purchased from all over the world).
There was a line. A long line. We’re not averse to waiting in line and so we did. For a while, we were happy to look at the amazing architecture. (Frisco has lots of that. See? I told you!) And for a while we were amused to watch the guys turn the cable cars around at the end of the route. What a back breaking job when it’s 105. But, after a bit in the sun, Mom starts looking like maybe she’s getting overheated. (She really doesn’t sweat and I don’t know how you do heat that way. Thankfully for me, I inherited my father’s genes which means I can sweat like a pig. So feminine! Eye roll). We’re making our way around the queue, hoping we’ll get on the next car. “Maybe when we can get a little shade?” “Once we’re on the car and the air is flowing it’ll be ok.” “Here, please drink some more water.” We’d all but decided to head back to the hotel and return later for a
night time trolley ride, when our car arrived. Perked up with some last minute energy, spunk or heat induced dementia, Mom yells “Let’s just go!” and we hopped into the car. I’ll say this about the trolleys: 1. I think they’re a lot more fun when it’s not 105 and the cars are not crammed full of sweaty people. 2. We were right. The air flow made it bearable. 3. People do not listen to the trolley drivers. 4. Operating those cars is no joke. It’s a physical job and you have to watch for the idiots on the road and the idiots trying to jump onto your car.
Our first day in San Francisco sees us deposited at Fisherman’s Wharf from our cable car ride. Our first attraction in San Francisco was….Starbucks. Don’t judge. It was hot. Mom was red. Starbucks had air conditioning and iced tea. Lest you be worried that we did not get our tourist fix, we did. After cooling off and hydrating we headed down to the water. One of us (I’ll let you guess who) got into the bay
water and she wasn’t the only one. We also got to see a cute little harbor seal! (Different than the sea lions we’ll see later…) Here are my other lessons from day one (105 degrees): 1. Uber is a wonderful thing. 2. San Francisco has amazing food, but sometimes ordering room service while you lay in your underwear by the AC vent is ok.
A good night’s sleep had us revived and we were up early. We had booked a San Francisco City Tour. I’ll admit that I made fun of Mom when she wanted to book some tours. Ugh. Tours? It’s so…..never traveled before tourist! Turns out that she was right. (More and more I realize my mom is usually right…about a lot of things. It’s kind of annoying.) Since we were only in town for a short time and because it was so hot (still in the 90s on day two), a tour was a great way to go. The tour buses are air conditioned and we did get to see a lot more of the city than we would have otherwise. I know now what I’d go back to see my next time in town. We saw all the highlights. We got our hair blown off at the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge is beautiful and the breeze off the water, heavenly. It was too hazy for a great view but (haze cannot be helped with the number of forest fires currently burning in the West) we tried to decide how hard it would really be to escape from Alcatraz. We drove the hilly streets. We took in the city view from atop Twin Peaks. We learned about the history of each of the neighborhoods and marveled at the beautiful Victorian homes. We saw the remnants of the giant Sutro Baths (think Rome not your own tub). So yeah, the tour was worth it.
Our afternoon was free and was spent at the Piers. We stopped in at Alioto’s (delicious!) for the obligatory clam chowder and crab. There is great food and great views on the
pier and it’s always cooler on the water. Mind the crazy crowds and watch the even crazier sea gulls. After lunch and on our way to Pier 39 (you know I had to see the sea lions) we stopped in at Boudin’s Bakery…home of sourdough bread. You have to have a piece at least and Boudin’s does it right. The dough at Boudin’s, legend says, came from a starter
piece of sourdough from the Gold Rush. I don’t know if this is true as we didn’t have the stamina for the tour. Boudin’s also makes the most amazing little bread animals. I grabbed a sourdough teddy to bring home to my friend,
Chookie, for minding the furry beasts while I was gone, but when his ears, head, and an arm fell off, I felt obliged to eat him instead. (Sorry, Chookie).
Pier 39 is insane. It’s the tourist mecca in San Francisco. We braved the crowds, though, to watch the sea lions. Sea lions are slightly different than seals. Both pinnipeds, there are a few easy ways to tell them apart. Most easily, you can notice that sea lions have little external ears. There were a few sea lions lounging
about, but not the large amounts that mom had seen in earlier visits here. Maybe it’s not mating season or maybe these pinnipeds just got tired of the heat and beat it out of San Francisco, but we spent a while watching the few that were there. If you’ve never encountered sea lions in the wild, let me fill you in. They are cute, but they stink. They never stop barking and they constantly jockey for position on the floats out in the water. The best spots seem to be on top of ten of your sea lion pals and nevermind that if you’d just turn around, sea lion, you could have your very own flotilla. Turns out, Pier 39 has a Sea Lion Webcam, so check it out!
After sea lion watching we grabbed an Uber to see one of the sites I was really excited about: The Wave Organ. The wave organ is a cool piece of sculpture that looks like ancient ruins that is designed to play “music” with the incoming tides. You can’t always rely on internet directions to these places, but our Uber driver, Mohammed, knew where it was and was bound and determined to get us as close as he could. Mohammed was a man on a mission and we soon found ourselves driving through lots at the yacht club that I’m not sure we were supposed to be in.
Anyway, as you know, I love chatting with my Uber drivers. I’ve found they are most often interesting people with great insight into my country. Mohammed was no exception. I’m not sure where Mohammed is from originally; he had an accent I could not place and when I asked him where he was from he said, “Sacramento.” (Touché Mohammed). We got to talking about New Mexico, my state, and I could see Mohammed’s face in the rear view mirror, wracking his brain for what he knew about New Mexico. Now, that’s not unusual. Thanks to the Balloon Fiesta and Breaking Bad, more people are becoming acquainted with New Mexico, but those of us that live here are largely used to living in the forgotten state wedged between Arizona and Texas. When he finally answered, I was blown away. “I think New Mexico is like here (San Francisco). There are lots of different people and everyone can feel American.” From your lips to God’s ears, Mohammed.
True to his promise, Mohammed delivered us very close to the wave organ. We didn’t mind the short waterfront walk the rest of the way. We decided that in our grubby, sweaty, touristy state, we probably wouldn’t be allowed in the yacht club and so we made our way out to the end of the jetty. The wave organ kind of looks like something from ancient Roman times. I’ll leave you with this one, very important note: you should check the tides before heading out to the wave organ.
We made a short walk across the street to view, up close, The Palace of Fine Arts, the only building left standing from the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915 and you can see why. This place is impressive, massive, gorgeous. Take a look at the website and get there if you’re ever in San Francisco.
An Uber ride back to the hotel, a mile walk and we ended up at Delarosa for dinner. The concierge at the hotel did not disappoint with his restaurant recommendations. Delarosa has small bites and Roman style pizza. It also has communal seating. Always weird, right? You never know who you’ll sit next to. We sat next to a lovely couple back in San Francisco for a quick visit. Al and Grace moved to Kentucky from LA and never looked back. He’s an IU graduate (go Hoosiers!) and a former University of Kentucky philosophy professor who studied for a time in Poland. Sweet Grace held down the fort and, I think, keeps Al in check. They were delightful. We talked about travel and their honeymoon in San Francisco years ago when Al lost the brakes on the car because he had no idea about how to navigate the hills. They were off to an Alaskan cruise and I hope they are enjoying every second of it. Every once in a while, people, put down your phones and talk to someone. You never know who you’re going to meet.
Early day two. Maybe we weren’t quite ready to get up, but we did so that we could head over the Golden Gate Bridge and into Muir Woods. (Puh-lease, you didn’t think I
wouldn’t sneak a couple of National Monuments in on this trip, did you? Fisherman’s Wharf is one and so is Alcatraz, by the way). I was really excited about this little trip as I have been dying, dying to see the giant redwood trees. It turns out Muir Woods is really close to the city and we were not the only people that thought they’d get out into nature. Lots of hiking to be done here: most of it easy and flat but there are some longer and more challenging trails. I cannot wait to go back to Muir Woods and I will not do it during a holiday weekend in the summer. So. Many. People.
Ok, let’s talk about the trees. So, so tall. I mean crazy tall. Unable to get a whole tree into a picture tall. The forest here has been protected since 1908 and it really is a lovely place. I found myself longing for that quiet day where I could walk or
sit silently, listening to the trees and taking in the sheer beauty and magnitude of the forest. Labor Day wasn’t really that day. Still beautiful, of course, but silence was not gonna happen. So enjoy a few pictures from our hour long walk. I’ll be back Muir Woods.
Back into the city and it’s time for lunch. After Muir Woods, the thing I was most excited for was eating dim sum in Chinatown. I am not sure if my mom was into the idea of eating dim sum to start with. Kinda hard to tell, but she’s a good mom and humored me. San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest in North America and is
fun to walk through. It’s colorful and it’s busy. You can buy almost anything imaginable in the shops that line the streets and if you walk long enough…you start to smell food! The concierge at the hotel recommended The Great Eastern for its ambience and experience. I have no idea if it’s the best dim sum place in town and I don’t care because it was delicious! It’s busy at The Great Eastern. Waiters and diners all dashing to and fro, noisy conversation from the tables, kitchen staff bringing out baskets of delicious dim sum. We had taken a look at the menu and ordered a few things when I leaned over and gently informed my mother that even though neither one of us is great with chopsticks we were going to have to make due. I refused to be the only person in the restaurant that asked for a fork! It turns out that the lady next to us actually did ask for a fork, but I am pleased to say that mom and I made it successfully through the meal with only chopsticks. We even ate green beans with chopsticks! (Order at least the steamed pork buns and the green beans with XO sauce).
We wandered a bit more of Chinatown and San Francisco’s equivalent to Little Italy and eventually made it back to our hotel for a nice dinner at Urban Tavern. (Chocolate
budino at this place is phenomenal. I command you to order it). An early night in in order to catch an early flight out. I’ll be back to see you San Francisco with your traffic and crowded neighborhoods. It might just happen a weekend at a time.