I had a chance to revisit the northern part of California last week. My last visit dates back to two years ago.
One of the best things about California is the weather. That was probably clear within a few hours of touching down at the airport, and it was certainly clear by the next morning, at which time we already started probing into San Francisco. Fishermen’s wharf was our first destination. Among all piers, pier 39 is known to be the most popular, so it was our first stop. We weren’t disappointed- plenty to choose from in terms of good seafood dining and entertainment options in addition to scenic views of the bay. What especially sticks in my mind from walking along the bay are the unusual sounds of sea lions and the omnipresent chowder bread bowls. There was an overall jovial and festive atmosphere which is quite unique to pier 39.
Union square was our second stop. For shopaholics, I believe this is heaven. Finding parking there wasn’t as difficult as I first expected, but it was expensive. I stopped for a while at Uniqlo, a Japanese clothing store. In my experience, Uniqlo is one of the best brands in terms of quality– I discovered it during my stay in Japan (in 2010) and, since then, I’ve always been a happy customer. There was a big line of people waiting close by the store to take the cable car. For lack of time, we ended up being discouraged to try this iconic symbol of the city. A giant mall was also nearby in addition to many busy walkable streets full of department stores, upscale boutiques, art galleries, and several dining options. Everyone in Union square seemed to walk fast as though in a rush to catch something. Music, singers, painting exhibitions, and many Starbucks. Union square is probably one of the most dynamic places we’ve been to.
One of the best things we did in San Francisco was a guided half-day tour. The guide was a native of the city, and so he introduced us not only to the good aspects but also to the bad and the ugly. We stopped for a bit at Chinatown at the oldest fortune cookie factory. It’s worth noting that San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia as well as the oldest in North America. We enjoyed panoramic views at the Golden Gate Park and Twin peaks. The Japanese Tea Garden was definitely worth visiting: this place has so much tranquility, calm and harmony that it unconsciously takes you to a near-meditative state. I also recall from the guided tour the Victorian homes (also called painted ladies) and the huge city hall. Being a coastal city, the presence of mountains and hills gives an additional vibe to San Francisco that few other big cities have. A common issue though is the high taxes and incredibly high house prices. According to the guide, the average apartment rent price is about $3000 per month!
Traveling a bit south we had a chance to visit Stanford’s campus. What we started to notice from the very first minutes was that biking seemed to be very popular among students to get around the campus. We only had two hours to explore as much of the campus as possible- a quite ambitious objective given how flat and spread-out the campus is. We did: Palm Drive, the Oval, Hoover Tower, Memorial Church, Rodin Sculpture Garden, the Bookstore, Arizona Cactus Garden, and a coffee shop (I can’t remember its name) featuring caricatures of some famous Stanford alumni. The buildings onsite featured some of the most diverse architectural styles I’ve seen. In the Quadrangle, the arches, red-tile roofs, and use of sandstone are reminiscent of early Spanish missions. I liked the stone carvings and ornamentations. Some newer buildings feebly imitate the Quad’s architectural style while many recent buildings are very high-tech and starkly modern. On our way-out we passed through university boulevard and explored a bit of Palo Alto.
In San Jose, we began by visiting the Tech Museum. This museum is quite small, but it features some impressive artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies donated by companies in Silicon Valley such as Google and Facebook. If you’re a nerd, you’re most likely to enjoy a visit to this museum. Next, we stopped at Santana row and had lunch there. We then headed to Santa Cruz where we enjoyed some amazing views of the beach and spent an afternoon in boardwalk amusement park.
I think what’s remarkable about the northern part of California is a combination of pieces: nice weather, diversified nature, high tech and many good places to visit. In the presence of all these things, the ways to fill your days in this region of Earth come effortlessly. I know that one week isn’t enough and that there is a lot that can still be done. For example, I’d like to revisit the Yosemite national park and be swept away by the natural beauty of this heavenly place. One thing I know for sure is that I won’t miss the chance to come and visit this place again.