San Francisco, Napa Valley, Redwoods and Bend OR
We arrived in San Francisco on Sunday night with the bright lights of Vegas far behind us. Our hotel was downtown, smack bang in the middle of China town. Joseph was very excited on our walk through the area stopping every few meters when he recognised a Chinese character on a sign. I think he might have a little Chinese character overexposure in China. I am very impressed with his Chinese skills so far, he has been teaching himself with a little book on this trip. He knows about 150 characters including the characters for puppy and kitty, so we know what to avoid on menus in China. But I digress. Long days of driving usually mean early nights and this one was no exception.
We had a full day of sightseeing ahead of us as we woke the next day. Although I have visited to San Francisco before with Mikey about ten years ago, we never really took in any sights. Unless you count the numerous bars we frequented. I was excited to really see the city for the first time in the daylight. We started off checking out Union Square before making the ‘gay pilgrimage’ to San Francisco’s colourful gay area, The Castro. With Melbourne’s commercial road all but disappearing it was nice to see big rainbow flags flying proudly. There were lots of nice little cafes, bars and local residents out and about walking their very tiny dogs. There was even a Gay and Lesbian history museum which, although a bit small, was interesting all the same. It’s hard not to feel lucky growing up when we did in a more accepting time.
The next stop was Haight-Ashbury, aka hippy town. The area is known as the centre of the hippy movement in the 1960s. Now it is a collection of bong shops, op shops, stoners and old hippies. We quickly ticked that off the list and moved on to Fishermans Wharf. I was excited about this part as the intention was to get on the boat that takes us to Alcatraz. Unfortunately for us the tickets were sold out for the day so we had to settle for a meal at the pier 39 hard rock café and the promise we would return someday. After a long day of walking and blisters the size of fifty cent pieces we got a Chinese and called it a day.
The next morning I woke early, excited, knowing we were picking up little Lisa Phung from Sacramento. We drove over the very impressive golden gate bridge and onto Sacramento. It was awesome to see Lisa after four long months and to have her join the infamous road trip. We thought we would break her in gently with a short hour and a half drive to the beautiful Napa valley. A few wine tastings and a delicious lunch and we were well on our way catching up.
On our first day of exploring northern California we scanned the map to see what sights we had in store. I really wanted to see the Pacific Ocean and the red wood forests. Seeing the ocean turned out to be a very long detour but absolutely worth it. Driving up Highway one, a road that literally hugs the rugged cliffs of the coast line, we took in some incredible, albeit frigid, scenery. Joseph pointed out the ‘tree so big you can drive your car through’ landmark on the trusty map so we unanimously voted on seeing that little American tourist gem. The tree was 2400 years old and a beauty. Unfortunately for the old tree, someone had carved a giant hole through the centre of it so silly tourists like us could drive through it. Our rental car is a little on the large side and with me not opting for the damage waiver insurance, I thought it best we not scratch the sides attempting to pass through it. But we did get some fun photos. We then headed back on the 101 and to the scenic drive called the Avenue of the Giants. Apparently, I am at the stage in my life where I now choose the scenic route over the most direct. That said, I am glad I did. Within the Humbolt Redwoods State Park, the avenue weaves its way through the bases of the largest trees I have ever seen. Sunlight barely reaches the forest floor giving the whole thing an eerie Ewok / Avatar feel. Of course we stopped and hugged the trees, how could we not! Unfortunately there were no Ewoks or Navi folk about.
After a day of driving we called it a night in a little roadside motel. We continued on north to Bend via Crater Lake the next day. Crater Lake is the result of a volcano collapsing in on itself about 7700 years ago and a lake subsequently forming in the crater. The rim of the crater is at about 8000ft so it can get a little chilly. It was on the drive up when Lisa started to read the USA lonely planet and how the rim drive is closed until July due to snow. As we drove up the mountain, more and more snow piled up on the side of the road. I ignored the “Snow Zone – carry chains” signs and pushed on. Snow plows had cleared enough of the road so eventually we reached the visitors centre and the rim of the lake. It was bitterly cold and blanketed in snow but pretty awesome. We only got the tiniest glimpse of the lake through the clouds but it was worth it. It was cool that less than a week ago we were in scorching hot desert and today we were in minus ridiculous in the snow. After making a snow angel we headed down the mountain to Bend. Bend is the little town Joseph lived in after college so we were all keen to check it out. It is also on the eastern side of the Cascade mountains so although still chilly it was at least sunny. We spent the afternoon strolling around and checking out the town. It is quite quaint but you can tell there has been an influx of tossers to the area with all the wine bars and fancy sushi restaurants. We had our dinner at josephs favourite brewery. I ate an Elk burger. I saw my first Elk the day before so I thought it only appropriate I eat one too.
We are off today to visit Tacoma, the city where I used to work and then onto Seattle to meet the cast of Greys Anatomy.