Archive for May, 2013

Look Over the City

May 31, 2013

Did you know that LA is gigantic? I knew this in theory, but I didn’t have a real sense of how big LA was until I noticed that we would be driving 15 miles from Highway 1 (“the PCH” as they say in LA) to the flat we were renting in Silverlake. This was notable to me because you can’t drive 15 miles across San Francisco without ending up in the ocean, in the Bay, or in a different county.

griffithparkviewview of LA from Griffith Park Observatory

Getting a better sense of LA was one of my goals on this trip. Although I’d been to LA before, I didn’t know it very well. I didn’t have a real sense of LA as a city  – its size, its smells, its neighborhoods, parks, or streets. I’d never given LA the time or attention that I’d given to other cities.

Like many northern Californians, I’d long dismissed LA. I thought it was polluted, car-centric and generic — a city made up of strip malls and chain stores that you could find anywhere. And there were parts of LA that still felt that way to me on this trip.

what so much of LA looked like

We had coffee and pastries at Single Origin, which was in an outdoor area full of food stands called the Farmers Market. It’s a place could be (should be!) cool, but it’s surrounded by big parking lots and giant big box stores that lend it the feeling of a mall food court. We went to a Santa Monica café that’s owned by someone who’d trained at Tartine Bakery in SF. But while Tartine is in a neat, old building, this cafe was in a totally non-descript building that could easily have been a location for the Gap.

But the majority of LA that I saw on this trip wasn’t generic or mall-like at all. We had coffee at two different, (mostly) independent coffee shops in Silverlake. On tree-lined North Vermont Street in Los Feliz, we went to an indie bookstore and admired an ornate old theater. We went to 826 LA in Echo Park. (826 has locations across the country and they’re all different and absurd in their own special way: 826 SF is a pirate shop, 826 NYC is a superhero supply shop, and 826 LA is a time-travel shop that sold items like cans of mammoth chunks, shown below, and travel posters for Pangea.)

Across the LA River in Atwater Village, we ate croissants from Proof, a great local bakery, and checked out the old Beastie Boys’ G-Son studio. We also ate really well in the industrial-looking Downtown Arts District, where we had coffee at Handsome Coffee, fantastic tacos from Guerrilla Tacos (a weekly pop-up at Handsome) and a slice of pie at the adorable Pie Hole (pictured below).


And while we certainly spent our fair share of time in the car, we also took long neighborhood walks through Silverlake and spent time exploring the many little stairways in the hills around where we were staying. I’d mapped out one stairway walk before we left (The Music Box steps, which are featured in the classic Laurel & Hardy movie; we roughly reversed the directions posted here), but we stumbled on all kinds of other stairways, like the Landa stairs that we happened on one night and led us to a great view of the city lights.

la-stairwayStairs at Micheltorena and Sunset Blvd

We barely scratched the surface of the city on this brief trip, but it was enough to counter many of my assumptions about LA. Yes, there was the glossy mall-like experience of LA, but there were also grungier areas full of old warehouses and unique neighborhoods that felt like small towns. As expected, we did a lot of driving on long, four-lane boulevards and many, many freeways. But we also walked a lot and spent time on suburban-feeling streets lined with single family homes, down sidewalks that were often plagued with dog poop, and up bougainvillea-covered stairways in the hills.

And I left LA this time wanting to come back so I could see more.


From Here to Gardena

May 30, 2013

Just as we’d finished packing up the car and were pulling away from the curb, it began to rain. Big, fat drops of rain. The first rain we’d had after six straight weeks of summery weather. This was not a good sign.

“Are we doing the right thing?” I asked.

Mr. WholeHog laughed. “What other option do we have? Fly to LA?”

Our LA road trip was already turning out differently than I’d expected and we hadn’t even left San Francisco. I’d imagined that I’d wear sundresses and drive with the windows open to let in the breeze. I pictured sun glinting off the ocean on our drive down the coast. I thought it’d be so hot that we’d pull over when we spotted a nice beach and swim in the ocean. Instead the sky was dark and it was raining hard.


It was dry 20 minutes later as drove through the new Devil’s Slide tunnel outside of Pacifica, and it was dry in Santa Cruz where we stopped for to get lunch and coffee. It drizzled a bit down the Big Sur coast, but our camping site at Limekiln State Park was protected under the redwoods. After we set up camp, we walked through the woods along a creek and up to a waterfall. (For some reason, every Big Sur hike I’ve done has included a walk along a creek and a walk to a waterfall).

It was gray the next morning, as we curved down the steep cliffs of Big Sur, scanning the sky in hopes of seeing a California condor (no luck). The hills were gentler just south of Big Sur where we drove past zebras in a pasture near Cambria and stopped briefly near San Simeon so I could take a look at the (smelly) beach full of elephant seals.


By Santa Barbara, it felt like we were suddenly in Southern California. The skies were clear and the sun was out. Palm trees lined the edge of the teal-colored ocean (with its depressing oil derricks) and the hills were full of red-tiled-roof homes. We stopped for tacos, discovered excellent Handlebar coffee and walked the sunny streets a bit before getting back in the car.

There were porpoises leaping out of the ocean by Camarillo, and we passed wildfire-charred hills by Oxnard. We listened to Neil Young’s Zuma as we drove past Zuma Beach and through Malibu.

The rain returned right when we were coming into LA, coming down hard just as we entered a packed LA freeway, but it stopped by the time we pulled up to our rented flat in Silverlake, and as the clouds parted, we could see the domes of Griffith Observatory and the Hollywood sign.


City Bike, Country Bike

May 22, 2013

I want to like bike riding. Everyone around me seems to love it. Mr. WholeHog bikes instead of taking MUNI and now my sister does, too. A close friend biked a 100-mile “century” last year on a whim and then did the AIDS LifeCycle ride from SF to LA. My dad, who was always a runner when I was growing up, now bikes more often than he runs. He’s gone on biking trips down the California coast and up through parts of Oregon.


What appeals to me about biking is the chance to spend some fun and ideally relaxing time outside, but I haven’t found biking in the city to be fun or relaxing. Biking in the city is a challenge. Beyond just the incredibly hilly landscape, there are so many things to watch out for: pedestrians, dogs, cars, buses, other people on bikes. And there are so many potential hazards, too. I could get hit by a car. I could get “doored” by a parked car or my bike tire could get caught in the streetcar tracks. So many of the things that I find exhilarating about city living – the density, the hills, public transit, the mix of people out on the streets – are things that make it stressful to bike.

My bike also isn’t very relaxing to ride. It has what I believe are far too many gears (bike people strongly disagree with me on this). I’m stressed enough just trying to stay on my bike in the city; clicking through 20 possible gears just puts me over the edge. I’d gladly trade half the gears on my bike for a nice kickstand (bike people also seem to hate kickstands) or a softer bike seat. My ass hurt for days after Mr. WholeHog and I took a leisurely bike ride through Golden Gate Park and down the Great Highway. My dad advocates for padded bike shorts, but he’s the kind of person who has no qualms about wearing a purple woman’s REI shirt around town. If I have to wear a special outfit to bike, I’m probably going to give up the bike.

And I’d considered giving up on biking after the white-knuckle ride Mr. WholeHog and I took over the Golden Gate Bridge in March. I’d expected a car-free ride with great views, but instead of checking out the Bay or the SF skyline, I spent most of the ride trying not to mow down the many tourist families taking photos and trying to ignore the competitive, jersey-wearing cyclists on my back. But a bike ride I took last month in Healdsburg may have changed my mind about biking.

barnOn our overnight trip to Healdsburg last month, my sister and I took a beautiful, scenic bike ride through the Dry Creek valley. Out on these rural roads, there were no buses or train tracks or people to watch out for. Since we were out before any of the wineries opened, there were practically no cars to worry about either.  The only real obstacles on our ride were a long yellow snake lying in the road and one (mostly decomposed and unidentifiable) roadkill carcass.

It was a mostly flat ride, too, which was good since the PUBLIC bikes we were riding had no gears (!). We could have used maybe one or two gears on the ride (I stood up once while pedaling uphill), but ultimately I found it so freeing to only have to pedal and take in the scenery.

We rode next to vineyards, across one-lane country bridges, and up gentle hills that offered long views down the vineyard-covered valley. We biked down roads lined with fragrant roses, past ivy-covered barns and by big wooden winery gates. We saw hawks flying overhead, sheep grazing in a pasture and people working in the grapes. Coasting down a brief downhill stretch, we threw our legs out to the side with total delight.

vineyardsBiking in Healdsburg made me realize that I do like biking after all — but outside the City, on quiet sunny weekdays, and in a flat and beautiful part of the state.

This was April

May 7, 2013

The New Divis
I checked out some of the new additions to Divisadero: I had toast at the Mill and shopped at the new BiRite. We considered buying a condo that was one block off of Divisadero, and I sometimes think about what our lives would be like if we lived there and had BiRite, NOPA and the Mill just a few short blocks away.

Flowers at the Farmers Market
I filled in at the farmers market again in April. Getting to work there once (or twice) a month is a really nice balance. It’s also nice to spend a day surrounded by flowers. Flowers make people so happy.


Hawk Cam 2013
It’s year 3 of  the Washington Square red-tail hawk nest again, and there’s three (!) eyasses in the nest this year (and lots of rat-eating).


Out of Town
We visited our parents and spent a weekend in our old hometown(s) checking out all the spring flowers and walking along the river. I enjoyed some serious summertime in the wine country on an overnight trip to Healdsburg with my sister.


I don’t see things quite the same as I used to

May 4, 2013


A year later, and it doesn’t feel any better.

One bright spot — although it still made me cry — was reading (and seeing the pictures) online on Friday about the new Adam Yauch Park in Brooklyn.

Now the Sun is Shining

May 2, 2013

Summer came to San Francisco in April, and I spent the month trying to pack in as much summer as I could.

In SF, seasons don’t arrive in the expected three-month intervals. Instead, we can cycle through a year’s worth of seasons in a week (or even a day). This used to drive me crazy (OK, sometimes it still does), but one thing I’ve grown to appreciate about SF’s unpredictable weather is that we can’t be complacent about it.

goldengatebridgea pretty day down on Crissy Field

We can’t take a warm day for granted because our summers are an accumulation of these rare days when it’s warm enough to wear shorts or when we didn’t need to carry around a jacket. This pushes us to make the most of every warm day in the City, to do something that feels like summer to us, whether it’s wearing a sundress or going to the beach or barbecuing. On one 80-degree day last month, a friend emailed me, “I’m in a sundress!”  This is what a summer day in SF feels like, a time to be documented and celebrated.

I tried to take full advantage of these warm days we had in April and these first few days of May. I had a coffee milkshake and walked along the Bay one sunny afternoon with Mr. WholeHog. We spent a few warm evenings out on our back deck drinking margaritas and having chips and guacamole for dinner (I think it’s safe to say that I’ve gotten more satisfaction out of the table and chairs on our deck than anything else we’ve bought for our place). I got my first sunburn of the year just walking through the Mission. The first cherries of the season arrived at the farmers market. My sister and I took a trip up to Healdsburg where we wore sundresses, rode bikes, swam in the pool, and ate dinner outside.

h2-poolby the pool in Healdsburg

By the end of such a warm April, I was surprisingly tan. I looked the way I might look after spending a week on the beach at Tahoe in July. I could point to the time I spent by the pool or the sunburn, but the real reason I was tan was simply that we got a shot of summer in SF and I was out enjoying it.