Thursday, March 5, 2015

Galifornia, Part I: Bitches Be Hiking

Shortly after AS left New York for Palo Alto, California I realized I hadn't taken a proper vacation--i.e., not traveling for work, not traveling for a wedding, not traveling home--in two years. I love what I do for a living, but sometimes the nature of it means that I just don't stop doing it for an extended period of time. I love traveling, I love to see someplace new, and frankly, after two years, I had earned it. At the end of December, I booked my travel plans to San Francisco from New York, from San Francisco to Los Angeles (to visit GD), and from Los Angeles back to New York. On Tuesday, my California--nay, GALifornia--adventure began.

The nearly seven hour flight passed fairly quickly, only the last hour making me shake my legs in anticipation. Getting of the plane into the car, I was mesmerized not to see snow on the ground, shouting "CALIFORNIA! WOOOO! YEAH MAN!" repeatedly to AS's boyfriend, IH, when he picked me up from the airport. I had been in California not even twenty minutes before I started adding "man' to the end of all of my sentences. Arriving back to their apartment, delightfully and hilariously named 'Cohabitation Nation,' I was treated to a tour and a glass of wine on their terrace, where the three of us would later sit outside eating sushi. Yes, New Yorkers, sitting OUTSIDE. Do you remember what that's like? That's okay, I didn't either.

The Fabulous Baker Beach
(see what I did there? Ha.)
I did not find the cold in New York particularly oppressive this year, just lengthy--and as I write this from a couch in Palo Alto, I'm told it has snowed yet again in a big way. Needless to say, I'm happier with the prospect of only wearing a leather jacket atop my clothing. The sun, too, had eluded me, as it had everyone else in the Northeast. Because you can only stay in it for so long after you just can't feel your hands anymore. But yesterday, AS and I spent the morning and afternoon basking in it as we hiked about seven and a half miles across San Francisco. And it was phenomenal.

I made no specific plans when arriving, and only knew a few things I wanted to see in town. Mostly because I wanted to spend time with my dear friend who had recently moved across the country, and mostly because when I travel I really just like to pick a neighborhood and get lost in it. The night I landed, AS and I thought about what to do, and the idea of a hike along part of the coast presented itself. Always game for a new adventure, I welcomed the thought of seeing a new city in a way that wasn't typical for me.

Bluffs on the Coastal Trail
Miss M is a big ol' tourist.
Our day began with a scenic drive into San Francisco from Palo Alto. We parked at the extraordinarily beautiful Baker Beach and proceeded to hike part of the California Coastal Trail. This part of the trail, near the Presidio area of the city, winds its way through San Francisco's coastal bluffs and connects to the Golden Gate Bridge (one of the items on my list to see, in all my touristy glory._ The air was slightly chilly, slightly salty. The sky was pure, cloudless blue and the foamy sea washed up onto the light brown sand and got into our shoes but we didn't care. In the distance we saw the famed reddish-orange bridge, we watched people play with their dogs in the surf and inhaled that incredible sea air. Winding our way through the bluffs, up and down steep staircases, the air soon felt less chilly. After about 2.7 miles, which didn't really feel too long, we arrived at the bridge so I could have my tourist moment. It really is a sight and a feat, especially since each cable on the bridge is made up of 27, 572 other, small cables. Whoa.

Feeling mouse-like at
Palace of Fine Arts
The next portion of our hike took us from the Golden Gate Bridge to Crissy Field, a flat stretch of beach and grass in the Presidio that was once a U.S. Army airfield. From Crissy Field we went over to the Marina District, to the absolutely opulent Palace of Fine Arts. The Palace of Fine Arts is an enormous, Greco-Roman inspired structure that was originally built in 1915 to exhibit artwork in the Panama-Pacific Exposition, which was kind of like a World's Fair. It was rebuilt in 1965 to be more stable. It makes one feel wonderfully dwarfed, like a teeny mouse entering a palatial mansion. We stood craning our necks at the intricate columns before becoming hungry.

Palace of Fine Arts
 For lunch, I requested, and I quote, "freaky-ass vegan food." The real deal, that earthy-crunchy San Francisco stereotype of organic, gluten-free, dairy free goodness/craziness that you can only get to a certain extent in New York before people start raising an eyebrow at you for being a "goddamn hippie." The kind of vegan that Andrew Zimmern would have (and actually has had) on Bizarre Foods America when he visits California. And we found it, mere minutes away from Crissy Field, at a joint called Seed + Salt. With its painted white walls, napkins, utensils, and containers of recycled materials, and long wooden tables, Seed + Salt, as it says, is "chef-driven cuisine done clean – plant-based, organic, ethically & locally sourced, plus free of things that aren’t always good for you like gluten, dairy, refined sugar, trans fats and GMOs." Meaning fruits and vegetables and nuts and seeds and delicious clean things like the eggplant BLT that AS had (featuring bacon made of eggplant!) and the cauliflower couscous (interspersed with raisins and pepitas) that I had with black bean tempeh. It was served with raw seed crackers, which may have appeared to the outsider as flattened bird seed. "That looks like something I used to make in Girl Scouts," AS said. Maybe she was right. Either way, it was nutty and crunchy and fun to eat with my couscous. After hiking at that point what was maybe three or four miles, it was lovely to have a healthy meal, freaky-ass as it may have been. Plus, Tony Kanal, bassist for No Doubt, sat at the end of our table with friends so that was pretty rad, too.

Post-vegan, we began our trek to our ultimate destination, the City Lights Bookstore in North Beach.
If you aren't familiar with City Lights, it is the independent bookstore and press that was founded in 1953 by Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. It became a haven for similarly minded individuals, and remains such today. To get there, though, we walked up Lombard Street. AS couldn't remember exactly why Lombard Street was significant, and had suggested we walk up it simply because the street we had been walking, Chestnut Street, was purely residential and Lombard might have more to offer visually. She was not wrong. We soon found that Lombard Street is known for its rather steep hills and got a fantastic glute workout climbing to the top. On the way, huffing and puffing (or maybe that was just me?) we passed people going about their regular lives, like a woman walking her dog. "Look at her, this is just her life!" AS said in minor disbelief. And I looked at that fluffy little dog, and I said, Man, if that thing can do it I can! And I continued up the hill. We concluded that everyone in San Francisco must have amazing calves and butts because DAYUM THESE HILLS, SON. Lombard Street itself, AS remembered as we got to the top, is known for its crazy, twisty turny portion down a 27-degree incline. Apparently it's also a tourist attraction, and we did take some pictures, though for us it was more of a means to an end.

Pilgrimage completed.
And end we did on Columbus Avenue, walking past the area's many Italian cafes and restaurants to finally arrive at City Lights. We ambled throughout the store, marveling at its rich selection of fiction and poetry, but also its sections for anarchism, praxis, muckracking, green politics, and a section called people's history. Truth be told, when reading about the Beats I had always hoped to one day find myself at City Lights, but was never truly sure it would happen. California always seemed so far away, too far away for me to get to, but as we walked into the store I was able to not only cross something off my trip bucket list, but my life bucket list. We celebrated with a slice of homemade tiramisu at the Brioche bakery not too far away and began our trek back home. We knew our calves would be laughing at us tomorrow, but the day was too fantastic for us to care.