"it's the last days of summer in san francisco"

I've reluctantly returned to the real world after a vacation in San Francisco, a city in a state I'd never visited before. And I think it's changed me a little inside. I'm a born and bred Cajun girl, and I always tend to visit Massachusetts when I set foot on an airplane, so I consider myself as having a little bit of Masshole in me. Before this trip, I'd never been further west than San Antonio, Texas. And now I've been on the West Coast and dipped my toes into the (super cold) Pacific Ocean (or I guess more specifically, Monterey Bay).

Flying to San Francisco on a clear evening gave my boyfriend and me a strange feeling. Since our phones were on airplane mode, the time didn't switch to the correct time zone yet, so our phones and our bodies said it was 10pm, but the sunlight outside told us it was only 8pm. It felt like we were briefly living in suspended time, where we keep going, but the sun continues shining.

There are just so many good things I could say about San Francisco and our trip. I'm normally very good with directions and navigating, and in some moments on this trip, I was completely turned around and had to re-orient myself. The weather, the scenery and the lifestyles were different from anything I've experienced - yet so similar to experiences I do have. For example, the first day we toured the city, I got a distinct feeling of a combination of New Orleans' French Quarter and downtown Portland, Maine. 

The weather was beyond perfect all week. In fact, my only complaint about it was that it was too warm for all the clothes I'd packed. The highs were in the 60s, but with the sun and all the trekking we did, my light sweaters were too much. And in the evenings it was wonderfully crisp. The house we stayed in doesn't have air conditioning, because they don't need it. In the evenings we cracked the windows and let the natural air circulate through the house and cool us off. That just cannot happen down here. We'd either swelter in the humidity or get eaten alive by mosquitoes.

After a week, I really began to get used to the scenery, especially watching the mountains roll by as we rode the train into the city. And I didn't realize how used to it I was getting until we returned home and I was surrounded by the flat scenery of my town. Nothing compares to those mountain views. I'd do anything to have them just a little longer. (My boyfriend and I joked about printing pictures to hang in our windows.) I miss seeing them each morning as I make my way to work.

We saw such a variety of landmarks, from the typical touristy things like Alcatraz, Lombard Street, and the Golden Gate Bridge, to pop culture icons like the Full House house, Mrs. Doubtfire house and Amoeba Records, to wine country, to a beautiful college campus, to the beach, to the headquarters of Apple, Google and Facebook. We went to an Oakland A's baseball game. We went mini-golfing. We rented a Prius for one day - and my boyfriend drove it in the city (which was almost a roller-coaster ride). We rented bicycles for one day and rode 18 miles across the city hills and the Golden Gate Bridge (this Southern girl barely survived - it was intense in many ways). We walked around Golden Gate Park one afternoon as the fog swirled in. And "swirled" is about the only word I can think to describe it. We literally watched it move in, in this ethereal pattern, weaving between the trees in the park, giving the whole area a gray cast. It just felt so appropriate, and I could mentally play only Matt Nathanson's newest album, as it's an homage to the city Matt calls home. 

And the greenness of everything. It was so strange and yet felt so natural. Louisiana is almost light-years behind California and it was never more noticeable than in the few days after we returned home. I saw about three plastic bags all week, everywhere we went. We got a plastic bag for our restaurant leftovers one night, and it was biodegradable corn-based plastic. I used my Klean Kanteen at least 10 times during the week: each morning to carry coffee, and in the afternoons to alternately carry Gatorade, water or an occasional soft drink. I toted a reusable bag each day for any purchases. The one time we needed our own vehicle, we rented a Prius and enjoyed watching how our driving performed. I saw more public recycling bins than trash cans. I saw public compost bins next to those recycling bins. I saw wind turbines and a solar- and wind-powered Alcatraz tour boat. There were so many bicyclists. The bike lanes were painted green, separated from the road or dedicated bike paths. We used public transit. We saw zero-emission buses and hybrid taxis. 

What I loved most about it is that being green was just commonplace. You didn't have to take extra measures to recycle or reduce your plastic use. The alternatives were there in front of you. Here, it almost feels like you have to shout from the rooftops that you are recycling or being green in some way, in order to even be able to do it. And there, you just go about your normal day, being green at each step. 

Visiting San Francisco definitely opened my eyes, inspired me, and changed me. I hope to be able to return sooner rather than later. The week was hectic, and every muscle and tendon ached at some point, but it also gave me a chance to reflect a lot. By the end of the trip, I was ready to return home to see my family and my kitty, but I was not ready to get back to the pace of every day. I'm just so grateful that we were able to get away for a week and take a real trip, instead of a halfhearted vacation. We got to visit with my boyfriend's cousin and her fiancé (our gracious hosts) and get a taste of what it's like to live in California. I spent most of the week mentally playing California by Phantom Planet (not helped by my recent viewing of The OC Season 1).

Calistoga Bike Shop, where we rented bikes for a winery tour.

Chandelier made with wine bottles at Lava Vine.
Touring San Francisco with new TOMS and hot coffee in my Klean Kanteen.

A green bike lane. 

I was highly jealous we didn't get to ride the eco-friendly tour boat, but then again, we would not have been able to ride on the top deck!

Wind turbines, recycling bins and compost bins at Crissy Field.

Taking a small rest break while on our 18-mile bike trek.

Trash disposal is not the only option.

The Golden Gate Bridge on a gorgeously clear afternoon.

Waiting for my lunch order at a vegetarian restaurant near the UC Berkeley campus. The mushroom sandwich was pretty killer, and we got in a nice picnic on the campus.

Compost bin on the UC Berkeley campus.

The beach in Santa Cruz.

Cigarette butt disposal in Santa Cruz.

I wish all bike lanes were able to have a raised divider like this near the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz.

Apple headquarters.

Google headquarters. I LOVED all the Google bikes around their campus.

I was surprised to see a plastic bag within San Francisco, until I saw it's compostable. Well-done! I might've brought it home with me.

Haight Ashbury from the bus window.

The fog in Golden Gate Park.

A marker for a pedestrian path and bike lane somewhere in the city. The Walk man is also a symbol of one of my favorite Hanson songs.

Is it time for our next vacation??

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