A Splendid Trip to the Left Coast!

Bixby Bridge Big Sur - photo from Internet

A recent trip to the central California coast – to San Francisco and a several-hundred-mile segment of the Pacific Coast south of there – was the second of two trips celebrating both my recent retirement from thirty years of librarianship as well as my 65th birthday. (The first celebratory trip, in mid-April, was a ten-day stay in several cities in Mexico.)

The California excursion was a bit unusual for me:

  • A mere three-month interval between two major vacations was a lot shorter than usual!  (Actually, I wouldn’t object to this becoming a major post-retirement pattern!)
  • It had been many years – fifteen? – since I’d last visited San Francisco, and even longer – thirty years? – since I’d treated myself to the spectacular scenery along the Pacific coast highway.
  • Since there was no full-time job to rush back to, my California vacation could be – and was – gloriously longer than most of my previous out-of-state vacations.
  • The weather throughout the trip was so unexpectedly pleasant that I spent most of my California vacation outdoors instead of visiting places that would take me inside of buildings.  With one exception, I didn’t venture into any museums – despite the fact that there are several in San Francisco I’d planned to see, including an interesting one literally next door to the hotel I stayed at for nine nights!
  • Although my California trip required only a single round-trip plane ride, my time there consisted of three distinct adventures:
    • a seven-day Bay Area sightseeing extravaganza;
    • a four-day gay square dancing marathon at a convention hotel in downtown San Francisco;
    • a week-long road trip down (and back up) the coast with a beloved friend who’s made San Francisco his home for the past 30 years.

Each of these three experiences garnered lots of photographs – some taken by me, others taken by the folks I was hanging out with.  A few of these photos – plus some photos from ye Internet (like the one at the top of this blogpost), or links to photos on ye Internet – I’ll be using here to highlight some of the people I visited, the things I did, and the places I saw.

Falling in Love Again with San Francisco

My Atlanta square-dancing pal Larry and I checked into our square-dancing convention hotel several days before the convention began so we could spend a few days exploring San Francisco. (Larry hadn’t been before, and I was determined to re-visit my favorite haunts from when I’d lived in San Francisco many moons ago, and to see a long list of places I’d never gotten around to seeing either when I lived there or on subsequent brief visits.)

We arrived in time to immerse ourselves in the city’s annual Gay Pride festival, including joining the throngs to watch the seemingly interminable (if extremely colorful) parade down Market Street:

2013 SF Pride Parade - Balloons - Photo by Larry Minogue

A veteran of previous Pride Parades in several U.S. cities, I found this one be unusually engaging. Not only was everyone in high spirits due to that week’s landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, but some of the posters carried in the parade I found quite moving, like this one:

2013 SF Pride Parade - Long Live the Constitution - Photo by Larry Minogue

My first San Francisco sightseeing adventure was a day in Golden Gate Park, most of which I spent meandering around – and having lunch in – the Japanese Tea Garden.

The next morning I took the bus to a French bakery/café

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located near Washington Square Park, in North Beach, where I had worked when I lived in San Francisco thirty years ago. This park was where I’d first seen anyone doing T’ai Chi, and I decided on the spot that someday I would learn T’ai Chi myself (which I did, in fact, learn). Remarkably enough, there are people still doing T’ai Chi every morning in Washington Square Park:

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After finishing a bowl (!) of hot chocolate and my pastry and my T’ai Chi watching, I huffed and puffed my way up the nearby steep hill to Coit Tower, which – although I’d passed it every day when I was working at a series of temp jobs in San Francisco – I’d never been to see. What a breathtaking viewpoint for looking out over the Bay!

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Later that day, after treating me to the first of a series of delicious meals (this one being bung me, a type of Vietnamese sandwich new to me), my friend Harvey devoted his afternoon to chauffering me around various San Francisco neighborhoods – some of them familiar, many of them much changed since I lived there -and showing me various places he knew I specifically wanted to visit or re-visit – including:

One of the city’s famous staircases (this one in Pacific Heights, where I’d first realized that San Francisco is probably the most beautifully-situated city in the country):

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The Presidio (which, until the Bill Clinton era, had been a military base off-limits to civilians, despite its huge swaths of greenspace and its location at one end of the Golden Gate Bridge) and Fort Point, an abandoned fort underneath the bridge-end,

View of GG Bridge from Fort Mason

where Harve and I enjoyed the first of our many outdoor walks and talks:

C&G at Fort Mason  - photo by Harve

and, finally, for the afternoon’s pièce de résistance, Harve drove us to my favorite spot in the city, the Palace of Fine Arts (a relic of an early-1900s world’s fair):

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Palace of Fine Arts - photo by Harve

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Another day of sightseeing I devoted to wandering among the houseboats moored along a half-dozen piers just outside Sausalito, the first town at the far end of the Golden Gate Bridge. This was a pilgrimage I’d long wanted to make, and I wasn’t disappointed. What a wonderful day I  had, marveling at the amazing creativity on display (many of the boat owners are artists), and besotted by the dazzling arrays of potted flowers planted so imaginatively along the piers and trailing from every roof, balcony, nook, and cranny of the houseboats themselves.

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After my extended stroll among the houseboats, I explored the shops and a few of the residential streets above downtown Sausalito, whose waterfront setting and hillside houses certainly makes Sausalito resemble many a town I’ve visited along the Mediterranean. Paradise!

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On the morning of my birthday, I got to briefly meet Harve’s son (and his son’s moms) and Harvey’s current partner Leonard. Then Harvey whisked me off for more touring of his fabulous town, including a stop at Golden Gate Park’s Dahlia Garden

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and the Park’s National AIDS Memorial Grove. (The Grove was one of several places I’d never seen and very much wanted to see, and the thoughtful and generous Harvey seemed determined to make sure that we eventually got around to everything on both my sightseeing and nostalgia lists.)

The day’s series of wonderful excursions included Harvey’s treating me to a birthday dim sum at one of his favorite Chinese restaurants, where we were joined by a friend of his I’d known back when Harve and I lived together in San Francisco. Harve also took me to see his favorite local plant nursery, where we browsed for at least an hour, me mostly raving about the amazing varieties of succulents and air plants on offer there:

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That night, Harve braved the downtown traffic heading for the July 4th fireworks to pluck me from my hotel and drive Leonard and me to an office rooftop where we’d been invited to watch the city’s annual fireworks display over San Francisco Bay. Wonderful! And it was fun to see Coit Tower, looming up just behind our rooftop perch, lit up like this for the holiday:

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Dancing My Patootie Off

The numerous hours I spent square dancing during the four-day convention of the International Association of Gay Square Dancing Clubs was a complete hoot. I’d planned to hide out with the beginners throughout the convention, but, after finding that I wasn’t making any more (or fewer!) mistakes than when dancing with more advanced dancers, I ended up dancing mostly with the non-beginners.

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Besides the fun I had dancing with a wide assortment of the 1,200 other gay and lesbians attending the convention, it was also fun to be exposed to so many excellent callers – many of them apparently stand-up comics as well as nationally-respected callers – who were hired for the convention; to spend time getting to know my hotel roomie, fellow Hotlanta Squares dancer (and de facto convention mentor and sometime sightseeing companion) Larry:

Larry and Cal at Ocean Beach - Fun Badge Tour

and to re-connect briefly with someone who I’d met in 1986 at a librarians’ convention, my Seattle-area-based librarian friend (and veteran square dancer) Paul:

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I was impressed with the amount of work that had gone into planning the convention, and especially enjoyed the four-hour bus tour of the city the convention organizers created. Five big ol’ buses full of square dancers – each busload supervised by a local dancer in full (and fully tacky) drag regalia – were driven to various spots around the city (Ocean Beach, Treasure Island, Chinatown, City Hall Park, etc.) where we disembarked from our respective buses and square-danced for the bemused onlookers. Here’s us milling around getting ready to dance in Union Square:

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I did a lot more dancing than I thought I might, especially since I arrived in town worried about a leg I’d injured back in Atlanta a mere week before my trip. The severely-pulled leg muscle miraculously healed up the morning the dancing commenced, however, which allowed me to enjoy the dancing (and the convention banquet, brunch, and picnic) more than I expected to.

The day after the convention ended, Harve drove us over to the East Bay for lunch with some friends at a Victorian-era resort in the Berkeley Hills, with wonderful views over the San Francisco Bay:

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followed by a brief foray onto UC-Berkeley’s campus:

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and a peek at the grounds of (and the view of the Bay from) the Nyngma Institute, a Tibetan monastery. That evening we visited one of Harvey’s exes (who lives in a loft in Oakland); after our supper with him he gave us a sunset walking tour of the Oakland marina.

The second morning after the convention I spent reading, lounging, and napping on the sofa strategically placed in front of the bay window of Harve’s house that looks out over the Castro neighborhood:

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That afternoon I devoted entirely to pretending that I lived in San Francisco: I went downtown and purchased a day pass at the Mechanics Library, one of the country’s few remaining membership libraries. After so much dancing and sightseeing – and so little time for reading for so many consecutive days – this leisurely afternoon that I spent perusing, from the comfort of a leather armchair, the absorbing introduction to The Essential Ambrose Bierce proved to be one of the most relaxing days of the entire vacation. And what a gorgeous space to while away an afternoon:

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Cal’s and Harve’s Marvelous Pacific Coast Road Trip

Day 1 of the road trip Harve and I had planned for ourselves was spent driving all the way to our furthest southern destination: Santa Barbara. We spent two nights there at the charming Franciscan Inn.

Better Franciscan Inn Photo

The next day we walked around the gorgeous Spanish-architectured downtown,

Gywenth Paltrow and Chris Martin Take Out Wedding License

spent a couple of hours at the city’s Botanical Gardens, and drove out to and through the campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara (the only U.S. university with its own beach). We also drove a very scenic highway to the nearby town of Ojai, where we managed to locate and visit the house where a hero of ours, Krishnamurti, lived from 1922 until his death in 1986.

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Day 2 was devoted to a boat trip to, and exploration of, Anapaca, the closest and smallest of the islands in the Channel Islands National Park. We walked for several hours among what seemed like millions of squawking, anxious  gulls and their equally noisy offspring.  Despite our frequent encounters with the carcasses of the many chicks who didn’t make it to adult gullhood, the views from the island’s cliffs – and the conversations Harve and I had while walking the path that criss-crossed the island – were most enjoyable.

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Day 3 entailed a long drive northward along the coast (with pit stops along some of the more scenic stretches) to our next hotel, a vast and garden-surrounded complex called the Cambria Pines Lodge, where we stayed for two nights.

The town of Cambria itself was a startling, altogether delightful revelation: every shop, no matter what it sold – clothing, antiques, ice cream, art – featured both front and back gardens! All these gardens were delightful and some of them quite elaborate:

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These dozens of burgeoning gardens certainly added to the fun of poking around in the city’s shops (from one of which – a shop selling Mission-stye furniture, pottery and textiles – I actually purchased something to remind me of our discovery of this unexpectedly wonderful town.

On our final evening in Cambria, we discovered the scenic drive in the part of town located along the coast:

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which we overlooked from our al fresco restaurant perch while snarfing down, at sundown, a delicious seafood pasta supper.

Our drive the following day was devoted to a deliberately leisurely taking in the scenery of Big Sur:

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Among other stops, we treated ourselves to lunch at Nepenthe, which, like every tourist establishment in these parts, overlooks the rugged coastline:

Nepenthe photo from internet

We spent the final night of our coastal trip in Cabin #8 at Lucia Lodge, perched upon yet another spectacular cliff along the southernmost portion of Big Sur. Staying here was the realization of a life-long dream of mine to actually spend a night in this unforgettable landscape. The view from our cabin:

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Next morning, there was more sightseeing in Big Sur, the generous driver for this entire trip continuing to indulge me with frequent stops along the way. For example, we spent a couple of hours walking around on Pfeiffer Beach, which Harvey remembered visiting as a teenager (and that took us awhile to locate):

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Our final road trip destination was Santa Cruz, which we finally reached after wasting a precious hour on the underwhelming tourist trap known as the 17-Mile-Scenic Drive near the thoroughly twee Carmel-by-the-Sea. Much more to our liking was Santa Cruz’s funky downtown area where we stopped for lunch before driving up into the hills onto the immense campus of the university – a sprawling complex of huge buildings completely camouflaged by a dense forest of redwood trees!

A final overnight at Harve’s place, and early the next day I was suddenly back at the airport waiting for my long flight home, feeling exhilarated about the depth and quality of my latest reconnection with Harve, and blessed by one of the most stimulating, leisurely, varied vacations I can remember.

A more enjoyable way to celebrate my retirement and my 65th birthday I cannot imagine. Reader, this trip was indeed splendid, and at many levels. If my future trips are as rewarding as this one was, my retirement – and my dotage – could turn out to be one of my favorite eras! Stay tuned!

7 thoughts on “A Splendid Trip to the Left Coast!

  1. Wow, great trip! Loved the pics, especially of the houseboats at Sausalito and the dahlia garden at Golden Gate– been there twice– don’t think we can grow those in Atlanta.

  2. what a lovely travelog. san fran is my favorite city of all i have visited. you write so well and descriptively, i feel like i just did return from san fran myself. martha

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  3. Very nice, Cal. Nice pics, plus your blog will be a wonderful reminder of the good time you had when you look back on it years from now.

    Roger

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