We resume our adventure on Highway 1, the famous coastline highway that is uninterrupted in beauty. Between LA and SF, sticking on the highway will bring you up along the mountains and on literally the closest reachable point to the Pacific Ocean on this stretch. It’s a breathtaking sight, and a dangerous one too as the mountainous path curves unexpected and propels you to another risky stretch.
It’s all completely worth it though, for sights as the one above. Wild, untouched and absolutely mesmerizing, this was by far one of my favorite parts of the trip.
Go further north, and you’ll hit Monterey, a lovely coastal town that is home to a number of attractions including the Monterey Aquarium. We reached too late to visit the aquarium, so we took the time to explore the 17 Mile Drive though, a famous route that passes by many beautiful natural coastal sights and the well known Pebble Beach Golf Course. I’m not sure if it was named Pebble Beach because of the beach above, but I’d like to think so.
What you’ll notice immediately about this route is how secluded it is. It’s really a testament to the exclusive lifestyle lived by those who can access these parts of the country. Beautiful, untouched and barred by gates.
The lone Cypress tree is known as one of the most photographed trees in North America, and it sits near the end of the 17 Mile Drive. It’s held by cables, but one must ask – how does a tree endure the hardships of being exposed to the elements all by itself and remain standing? I guess that got pretty deep.
Of course while in Monterey, we decided to try some of their famous seafood. The Clam Chowder at Old Fisherman’s Grotto was memorable, with its hot, creamy and delicious flavor going doing your throat. Their crab sandwich is worth trying, although the chowder was definitely the star.
The next day, we made our way into San Francisco, the second most famous city in the US. SF is full of promise, and its city seems to suggest a new way forward for the US. The first stop for us was Pier 39, a pier completely redone to accommodate commercial activities and restaurants. There’s tons to see and do on this pier, but only if you’re looking for ways to simply spend money.
Walk further along the pier and you’ll notice Alcatraz, the infamous prison island for the US’s most dangerous prisoners. You need to buy tickets weeks in advance to even have a shot of stepping on the island, but the view from afar is already thrilling in imagining the lives of those on the island and how difficult it must have been to be so close to the mainland.
One of the more unique attractions is the Bay of Seals. I’m still puzzled on how all these seals manage to just flop on over to these platforms and how they do so consistently every day, but they do and people simply watch. One must wonder who’s watching who – are we watching them or are they watching us?
One of my favorite sights in SF was the trolleys moving up and down the main streets. Apparently, SF has brought in all the trolleys from around the world and incorporated them into its network, making it a unique way to travel around but also a iconic part of SF transportation.
My only grievance, if you would call it that, of San Francisco is the hilly streets. Without a car, one can expect to climb a couple of blocks uphill before reaching your destination. The most significant point is Lombard Street, that peaks on Russian Hill. From this point, you can see most parts of SF but you’re also going to see the world’s ‘crookedest’ street, which is quite the comical view.
How can one go to San Francisco and not see the Golden Gate Bridge? It’s an architectural wonder and the photos never do justice to the scale of the bridge when up close. We took the bicycle tour and biked up and across the bridge. It was a good exercise but an even better memory as we crossed one of the most iconic structures of the world on our bikes.
There are many good sights of San Francisco. Twin Peaks is normally suggested as a popular spot, and I have good memories there from my previous trip, but this time our friend Lucas brought us up to Corona Hill, where we coincidentally opened up some Coronas and enjoyed the view. It’s a secluded and therefore cozy running trail that only those who want to put in the effort to climb get to enjoy the view from.
Being in Chicago, you become familiar with Boystown – the popular Gay district where gay people have their own bars and clubs that are catered for them. But in a lot of ways, Castro in SF stands boldly as a whole cultural district. It’s not just bars and clubs, it’s a celebration of the LGBTQ culture and stands boldly for them. I was personally caught unaware by the Rainbow streets which made for a great picture.
Finally, a trip to San Francisco is not complete without a trip to Ghirardelli, the chocolate factory that is similar to the fictitious Willy Wonka’s. The smell of chocolate in the building is intoxicating, and such a pleasure.
I got the world famous Chocolate Fudge sundae, and I had a tough time eating anything else the whole day. The fudge is smooth and rich, and the ice cream mixes well with it to make a sweet escape.
On the topic of food, one of the must-eats is Boudin’s sourdough bread. Yes, the bread. The clam chowder is what’s well known, but I decided to try their shrimp sandwich and was not disappointed. The bread is flavorful and adds such distinction to each bite, the shrimp played but a supporting role in this meal.
Finally, while in SF, one cannot avoid the Asian Food. Dim Sum places are plentiful and at good prices, and it was a good time taking my friends who had never tried it before on an adventure where it was as authentic as it got, with shouting waitresses and bamboo steamers. The food reminded of Asia back home, and that was all that mattered.
San Francisco was full of culture, with people trying to make their claim on the new America. From a strong immigrant culture to the obvious rise of Silicon Valley nearby, this city is where you’ll find energy. There’s much to be aware of as well, it’s not all gold and silver – with many homeless and places in shambles – but those stories don’t get told of much in favor of shining light on the promise of a new future.
In the next and last post, we finish the adventure by traveling through the Redwoods and ending up in Portland, where things get weird.