I recently returned from a vacation in San Francisco, California with my mom. It represents my first time being west of Wisconsin, my first time riding an airplane for more than an hour, my first time being in California, and my first opportunity to touch the west coast, which I have really found myself longing to live near. It was incredible and inspiring how different things are 3,000 miles from the unfortunate state I currently call my home. Even seeing how much kinder people drive really gives me hope in mankind. My mom and I stayed in Japantown for the week and it was a great, quiet place to get some rest at night.
First getting on the airplane in Richmond was exciting. It was pretty early in the morning for me. It was really neat flying up the James river for such a long time, I had my eyes glued to the windows trying to find Lynchburg. Eventually it got cloudy and I turned on my music until we landed in Chicago. That airport was huge! It wasn’t as crowded as I had anticipated, but it still was big enough to get lost in. We then caught our plane to San Francisco. Of course, it was the biggest airplane I had ever been in, but it’s amazing how many people they can shove into those things. I am used to trains, which have ample space for larger folks. Flying over the Rockies and what I presume to be the Sierra Nevada mountains was really neat. I had no idea what I was looking at, but it was bigger than any mountains I had ever seen, regardless of the 30,000 feet we had on top of them. We finally landed and I saw the bay for the first time. It’s huge! I guess I’m used to the Chesapeake, but not really given that I’ve only been there once. We got off the plane and went to go get our rental car. It was a new Ford Focus. Not the fastest car ever, but it was roomy and smelt good. We got onto highway 101 and made our way into the city. I could see the skyline, but was surprised at how small it was. I was half expecting a skyline like New York City. My mom was a little stressed at first driving in the city, as the hills were larger than we Virginians have ever driven on. We didn’t really know if we were supposed to hold down the gas or use the brake and risk rolling back if we let it go. We checked into our hotel, Hotel Tomo, in Japantown and got into our room. It was Japanese styled, and had furniture that appeared to be from Ikea. After we unpacked, we made our way onto the Muni headed towards the Pier. We didn’t really get the bus system at first and walked several blocks to get to the piers. It was my first time seeing the Bay Bridge, Alcatraz, and the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge. It was surreal seeing all of the landmarks at the same time, along with the crazy water and the hundreds of boats. We wandered along the pier until we decided to eat at Bubba Gumps, which ironically served southern-style food. We stayed around the northern part of the city for a while, eventually getting to Ghirardelli Square. After catching the bus, we made a quick trip around Japan Center to see what the mall had to offer.
The second day, we woke up early to catch our tour to Alcatraz. This was one of the neatest things on the trip because I’ve raved on about the show since the first episode. The boat ride over was a little bit rough and I enjoyed the view from the front of the ship, seeing all of the iconic landmarks of the city. We got to the port and made our way around the island. It was raining and windy that day, so we enjoyed what we could indoors. The cells are much smaller than I imagined, about 1/3 of the room I am in right now. It’s really impressive how much the producers of the show got accurate still. The yard was the neatest thing. I had no idea that the prisoners could see the Bay Bridge from there. After leaving the cruse, we caught a streetcar for the first time. I love vehicles and San Francisco’s wide variety of the antique streetcars was no exception. We got off and walked over to the cannery for some In & Out. My Californian friends at school have raved about In & Out to me since I first met them. Finally getting it, I realized it was great - but much like 5 guys, and didn’t stand out strongly on its own as I initially imagined. It was still neat finally getting to try it. After we ate, we caught the cable car. We rode up the crazy hills on a tiny vehicle that somehow fit 60 people. They’re fairly complicated beasts, and to hear they can descend those hills with pine-block brakes is very impressive. We got all the way back to Japantown and got some Japanese food in the mall. After that, we headed up to Baker Beach in Presidio park to get a better glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge. We then headed down to Seal Rocks to get our first view of the coastal cliffs and huge rocks. No seals at the rocks though… we got to see our fair share of sea lions at the Pier.
On our third day, we got out of the city to see some more of the surrounding areas. We first headed out over the Golden Gate Bridge to go to Muir Woods. After a crazy drive to the park, we got to see some of the tallest and oldest trees alive. It was pouring and the Redwoods actually made the walk a tiny bit more dry. I was hoping to get better pictures, but the rain really made pulling out my camera unappealing. We headed out towards Napa Valley to catch some vineyards next. This was really neat… The mountains out there are so much different than east coast ones. I love the grass and bush on the sides. The whole area was pretty quiet too. We headed over to Sonoma to get some Thai food, which my mom loves. We headed out and drove to the nicest vineyard we could to go look around. My mom told me not to touch anything, which was smart because there were no price tags on anything and it all looked really expensive. It was a beautiful facility and I’m sure rich people think the same. We headed back to the city for our third trip to the Japan Center mall, and found this store called Daiso. It quickly became one of the highlights of the trip, because it was a Japanese dollar-and-a-half store. They had some nice stuff for a dollar store, including a tools/diy section I flipped over. My mom loved all the food containers and the poor english on all the packaging. She got a lot of neat things for my siblings there.
The fourth day we decided to spend in the city. We had city passes and went to the California Academy of Science in Golden Gate Park. It was a really nice museum, and I’d even say it’s comparable to a rich Smithsonian. My favorite exhibit there was the penguins. We headed back to the Pier again, mostly because it was a nice area just to walk around and explore. We went to go eat at Boudin, which has fantastic food. I’ve had sourdough bread before, but Boudin does it nicely. After eating, we used our passes to go to the aquarium on the piers. It was a really nice aquarium, with long tunnels to walk underneath the tanks to see entire ecosystems and thousands of fish. The second walk-through tank had sharks in it! After this trip, we headed back to the Japantown mall to explore further. There are many, many places to explore and get lost inside this mall.
On our fifth day, we took a trip down to Santa Cruz down rt 1 to see the pacific coast. It was incredible, as I’ve never seen anything but beaches by the water. My mom made many comparisons to Hawaii. It is a really quiet drive with many places to stop and just look around. We stopped at the Pigeon Point lighthouse, which was technically impressive for its time. There were some sea lions down below just sunbathing. We eventually hit Santa Cruz, which I expected to be a nice area, but it came off as the average middle-class beach town. It was really neat driving through Half Moon Bay country, because my siblings play The Sims and it’s a close resemblance to the styles of the houses in the area. We got back to the city and again headed to the Daiso store and found another Japanese store upstairs to explore.
Day 6 was our last on the west coast. We woke up a little later and checked out of our hotel room. It was St Patricks day and I was a little worried the city would be a drunk mess already. We thought it safe to go straight back to the piers, which were more populated with tourists and families. We ate lunch at a nicer seafood place overlooking the docks for some ferries. We rode the streetcars a lot and explored the Ferry Building. We had a lot of time to kill to get our parking figured out, and wandered a bit before leaving the city. It was really awesome getting to drive underneath the Bay Bridge and see the sheer size of it, seemingly hundreds of feet above our heads. We headed to the airport, and I enjoyed the last glimpse of the houses on the hill before we took off. It was my first night flight and fairly hard to sleep. We landed in Newark, in the dumpster of the states, New Jersey. I couldn’t see too much before we landed, but everything I could see was ghetto. The airport smelled like fast food and trash. I could see orange people walking around. We caught our tiny plane to Richmond and ended our vacation.
The west coast really is a special thing. This trip was a landmark in choices I’ve already made and a landmark for choices I will make. I have known for several months now that I won’t be spending too many more years on the east coast, as people here are rude and any future here sounds uninteresting and hopeless. I’ve seen a little bit of Pacific topography, some of the people, learned that the “most liberal” city is really nothing to fear, and that there are many more opportunities for somebody interested in my fields there. It felt more free, and the place itself felt an accomplishment, as even a crappy job in San Francisco would top a good job in Virginia. There are things to do there. Beautiful people everywhere. I didn’t see too many violent places (I know they exist everywhere, no worries). It may have been raining the whole time, but I feel even the weather could be adjusted too. Humidity kills me and that’s the first thing I felt back in Virginia.
Sitting here in school, I realize that my life isn’t headed the same direction that most of the students lives are. I feel like I’m headed somewhere better and not settling with the mundane that is life in Virginia. I don’t want to go to the west coast alone, but that’s not even going to slow me down once the chance finally comes for me to tell this coast goodbye.