San Francisco and the Central Coast

Posted from Santa Barbara, California, United States.

(or: Earthquake 2011!)

To view the accompanying photos, go here.

Thursday morning, after a too-early arrival at the Point Reyes Lighthouse which was still closed, we braced ourselves for another long, mountainous, and curvy drive along the Pacific Coast on Highway 1.  Oh, to be driving along the flat prairie of Saskatchewan once again… At least the scenery is beautiful, even if we can virtually hear Apollo groaning, “Not again.”


After about two hours traversing the snaky roads alongside strangers feeling your exact pain, the Golden Gate Bridge was in front of us and Apollo proudly escorted us into San Francisco.  After a quick driving tour of the Golden Gate Park and the Pacific Heights neighborhood, we arrived at our friends’ adorable house in the Castro neighborhood.  The good news was that we were going to spend the next three nights in the middle of the San Francisco excitement; the bad news was that our two good friends, both conductors, who own the house were not going to be there.  (Or was that also good news?)  One of our friends was there when we arrived, but he needed to head to the airport so he could tend to important matters in other states.

Since Apollo currently only allows for one driver and one passenger, Erik drove to the airport and Joe stayed at the house.  At one moment while Joe was at home alone sitting in the living room, he felt the entire house shake.  It lasted maybe two seconds and felt as if a giant tree had fallen onto the house or maybe a car smashed into it.  That day there was construction on the house directly across the street and it was somewhat windy.  So Joe walked around the house and surveyed the area; no trees fallen, no cars collided, nothing unusual.  He even checked the washer and dryer in the garage to make sure they hadn’t spontaneously exploded.  They hadn’t.  It was incredibly confusing.  And since Erik was driving to and from the airport, he felt nothing.  Yet…

That evening we went to a grocery store, bought a few supplies, and made ourselves a nice little dinner at the house, enjoying the wonderful bottle of wine from our friend Joann.  While sitting at the kitchen table, basking in the accomplishment of cooking a meal without a camp stove, the house shook again exactly as before.  But this time Erik was there and felt it.  We went online and scoured the local websites and finally found our answer: that afternoon Joe had experienced his very first earthquake, registering 4.0!  The second jolt that evening was only 3.8, but it was Erik’s first.  For our first night in the City by the Bay we were heartily welcomed by the local shifting geological faults.

Friday was sunny and warm, and so it was a perfect day to dedicate to a self-guided walking tour of the city.  As we said, our hosts’ house was in a fantastic location, so we were able to make the most of it.  The morning energy of the city was pretty electric; sure, it’s gritty and rough around the edges in places, but we were struck with the confident and proud energy all around us.  The locals looked like cool people – people we’d like to know or be.  The bakeries and cafes looked like places we wanted to be and be seen (but we couldn’t because the seats and tables were all crammed with the cool locals).  The parks beckoned us to enjoy them.  The streets invited us to cross them.  The trolley cars enticed us to ride them.  It was a good day to walk through San Francisco.

Instead of a play-by-play, here are the highlights of our day: we walked through the Castro and Mission neighborhoods, down Market Street, through Chinatown and North Beach, saw the Jack Kerouac Alley and the Beat Museum, walked up to Telegraph Hill to see the Coit Tower (where the fun energy was temporarily disrupted by the onslaught of annoying tourists acting as only annoying tourists can – which is not to imply that all tourists are annoying, but this loud and obnoxious crew certainly was), and walked to Russian Hill and Knob Hill, among other activities.  At 4:00, having not eaten anything since leaving the house that morning, we stopped and had a burger at Burgermeister.  Since it was a long, full day of walking and no food, there was no friendly chitchat during this meal.  There was no eye contact nor even awareness of the other person.  The objective was to get the food in our mouths.  Quickly.  Chewing was optional.

That evening we had the special treat of meeting up with a friend of Joe’s whom he has known since kindergarten and all through high school.  We had a great time catching up with him, and then he treated us to ice cream at Bi-Rite, which was awesome.  Joe had malted vanilla and salted caramel flavors while Erik had pumpkin and brown sugar flavors.  So good.  And since we were in the presence of another person, we partook of our dairy treats like normal, calm, civilized human beings, as opposed to the burger episode of earlier in the day, of which we will never speak again.

Saturday morning we took a 1960’s streetcar down Market Street to the Ferry Building at Pier 1, which houses a huge farmers’ market.  The tourists were in full force, so we didn’t spend too much time there.  Instead, we hoofed it back to North Beach and met our friends from Portland, and we all enjoyed some great Italian pizza for lunch.  (We enjoyed it so much that Joe did not eat for the rest of the day.)  After taking the streetcar back to the Castro, we walked up the Pemberton Steps to the top of Twin Peaks to bask in the amazing view of the city and the bay.  The scope of the city was immense and the thousands and thousands of houses and buildings made our eyes numb.  It was hard to comprehend a city being so large and being able to view it so completely.  It was a fitting end for our time in this great city.

On Sunday we packed up Apollo, who had been resting for several days on a rather intense angle, locked up the house, and bid farewell to San Francisco.  But we were excited for our lunch plans in Los Gatos, meeting a friend of Erik’s whom he met while in Costa Rica in 2001.  (Once Joe Camper found out the translation of “Los Gatos,” he wasn’t too excited about the trip.)  On the way we did a drive-by of the International Culinary Center in Campbell; not sure why we would do that.  Unfortunately, Erik’s friend was unable to join us for lunch that day, but we had a delicious meal and even bought a dessert crepe to go (bananas and Nutella) for dinner that evening.

On the way to our campground for the evening we stopped at two vineyards that we visited in 2003 and loved: David Bruce Winery was even more impressive than the first time and had incredible wines – and we even met and chatted with David Bruce himself.  The other winery did not impress us at all and will go unnamed.  Then it was time to head to our campground – special shout-out to the MPO here… The Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.  (Henry Cowell was an American composer from this region.)  The campground was woodsy and quiet, with one startling exception: it was the season for the acorns to fall from the trees.  We both wore caps as they pelted us all evening long while we tried to enjoy our crepe.  They pelted Apollo and Maggi all night long as we tried to sleep.  Originally we were to stay two nights there, but after the Attack of the Acorns we moved on and headed south.

Ocean with an attitude

Emerging from the woods it was confirmed that it would be a chilly, damp, and gray day.  After a stop in a Starbucks in Santa Cruz where we not only mooched their free wi-fi but also got two free drinks in the process (they were practicing drink-making that day – and by the way, the Strawberries and Cream Frappuccino is utterly revolting unless you happen to be a nine year-old girl), we continued driving down the coast.  We drove through Big Sur and then on to Kirk Creek National Forest Campground, right on the ocean.  Apollo was parked about 40 yards from a cliff, and over that cliff was the rather unruly Pacific Ocean.  We went for a walk along the rocky beach and were intoxicated by the smell of wild fennel – not the bright, licorice-y smell from the inside of the bulb, but the grayish-brown musty smell of toasting fennel seeds in a dry pan on the stovetop.  It permeated every breath of air.  All night long we heard the thundering ocean work itself into a frenzy and crash onto the shore.  It was at times uncomfortably loud but also pleasantly romantic until the morning, when everything was still chilly and damp and gray.  So, again, instead of staying two nights which was the new plan (after leaving Henry Cowell a day early), we moved on south into Santa Barbara county.

Very fancy!

We found a luxury campground in Buellton that had showers, wi-fi, horseshoes, a TV lounge, an arcade, and even fresh baked cookies for the new arrivals.  Sadly, again, the cost per night is about 60% the price of staying in a California state park.  Our hope was for warmer and less damp weather, but that was not the case.  In fact, that night was one of coldest we’ve ever had to deal with.  The temperature inside Maggi at 5:30 A.M. was 44 degrees.  As disappointing as it may have been to race through Canada in seven weeks, this is why.  It’s late October and no matter where in the U.S. we are, the nights get cold.  And even if the daytime weather is sunny and warm, the nights are still cold.  Actually, the late afternoons are cold.  The tourists walk around in shorts and t-shirts but the locals wear sweatshirts and jeans.  We had been so cold and damp to our cores for so many days that it was hard to break out of it.  The kind of cold where it feels good to burn your mouth on hot soup and you keep gulping it down before it cools off enough to be tolerable.

Cute tasting room

Although it began in fog, Wednesday was forecasted to be warmer and sunnier, and it was, although with the sunset the chilly breeze was back to its old tricks.  But until then we enjoyed the day and the sun, touring some of the vineyards and wineries of Santa Barbara and Los Olivos.  In Santa Barbara we visited another vineyard that was recommend by a friend through this website (thanks, Greg!), Rancho Sisquoc, which was very charming and truly had good wines.  The wine sampling in Los Olivos was less impressive (no vineyards, just tasting rooms), but we did have an olive oil sampling for the first time, which was a fun and interesting experience.  Nighttime brought with it the cool and damp air, so after polishing off our can of beans (yes, for real) and washing up at the distant restroom station since the one closest to our campsite was inconveniently “under repair,” and playing a couple of games of Donkey Kong in the arcade, we headed up to bed to read and count the minutes until it was necessary to put our faces under the blankets.  According to our alarm clock/thermometer, it got down to 41 that night.

So we are deciding to head south today.  Tonight we are in Huntington Beach, only one day earlier than planned, sleeping in a house.  We don’t think we are wimping out; this is a valid part of being spontaneous.  Since we have no scheduled obligations in this area, we are choosing to go where it is warmer simply because we can.  And so we will.  Have no doubt: there will be plenty more opportunities in the future to brave the cold with four layers on as we try to sleep.

Coming up: the mercury in the thermometer…?

This entry was posted in U.S. (Sept - Dec 2011). Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to San Francisco and the Central Coast

  1. Keith says:

    44 degrees does make it tough to get out of the “sack” but I was talking to my fishing partner in Ennis, MT earlier this week and it was 17 one morning, the hot water line was frozen, and it was going to be 13 on Wednesday morning. Keith

    • Erik says:

      If it stays that cold, you may want to rescue your fishing partner with an ice auger and ice fishing shack. Doris, Dick and I had the walls smoking one time in ours. …too much wood in the stove. Smoke was rolling out the door.

  2. Kathy Koellner says:

    Dear Joe and Erik, Wow! I think you are having the experience of a lifetime…..even an earthquake for heaven’s sake!!!!!! Jerry and I have taken a ride on that beautiful Highway 1…actually Jerry took me for my 40th birthday…oh my gosh that was 23 years ago already!!!!! I do believe it is one of the most beautiful rides I have ever been on so I am happy you are able to see it!! Glad you are both doing well I really enjoy reading all about your travels.You are both wonderful story tellers….Love Kathy and Jerry

  3. Aunt Mary & Uncle Bill says:

    What another great update…and the camera and the guy behind it, are doing such a great job…beautiful pictures…. Surprised it gets so cold at night, many layers kept you warm, I’m sure… You two are doing great on your adventure…Just be careful…Drive safe…Stay warm…hope you get to see “teddy” soon!!!
    Love to both…Aunt Mary & Uncle Bill

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