devil’s slide trail

When I was little, my family spent a few years living in Pacifica, a beach town located just a few miles south of San Francisco. Once a week, my mom would drive me south for swimming lessons at La Petite Baleen. Normally, down Highway 1 was easy and only took a few minutes, however, after a rainstorm, we often had to take a long detour. Mudslides were common along a stretch of freeway ominously nicknamed Devil’s Slide. When a mudslide hit, Highway 1 was closed, sometimes for weeks on end.

In 2013, a pair of tunnels was completed, allowing cars to pass through Devil’s Slide. No longer were mudslides a problem. Instead of closing off the former freeway, San Mateo County turned it into a gorgeous, multi-use trail.

120Parking is plentiful and the signage is fabulous. Apart from a steep hill on the Half Moon Bay side, the trail is fairly flat and to keep you occupied, there are informative signs along the route which will you in on the history of the area.

122 123… but the best part of the experience? THE VIEWS! I didn’t intend to stop every five feet to gawk at the ocean below, but I did. It was a (typically) foggy day, but it didn’t matter. The cliffs, the pounding surf, and the horizon will blow your mind.

124 119I was surprised to learn that the area was previously used for military purposes. Abandoned bunkers (now closed off) still exist in the cliffs and there are dilapidated base end stations at the beginning of the trail. A little creepy and reminiscent of “The Ring,” but they were also eerily beautiful and add to the ambiance.

I definitely recommend a trip to the area, if for nothing else than the view.

crystal spring reservoir & the camp sawyer trail

If you’ve ever visited the Bay Area, chances are, you have driven on Highway 101. It’s the main thoroughfare that leads all the way from San Jose, across the Peninsula, through San Francisco, and up to Marin. It’s congested, but has gorgeous views of the Bay and even traverses the Golden Gate. Running parallel to 101 is 280, which locals know is waaaaay faster and just as pretty, having been designated a State Scenic Highway. Fun fact, my college/employer is located right off 280.

2014-08-23 09.38.29Part of what makes 280 so beautiful is Crystal Spring Reservoir, clearly visible from the freeway. The reservoir was originally used for drinking water and is thus not open to the public (i.e. no fishing, swimming, boating, etc). However, there are a number of well-kept trails surrounding the lake and this weekend, I decided to check it out. LeAnna decided to come along for the ride.

The Camp Sawyer trail is one of the best either of us has ever hiked on. The bathrooms, maintained by volunteers, had hand sanitizer and there were clearly-visible mile markers. While we passed other bikers, runners, and hikers, it still felt remote – at times, you could hear the wind rustling in the trees (one of my all-time favorite sounds).

All in all, we walked six miles, but could have done much more. We made a promise to return with our bikes and explore even more of the reservoir.

p.s. I forgot to mention, we even caught a few glimpses of Bambi and his mom!

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exploring the sutro bath ruins

sutro-baths-ins-c1900-1Growing up, my parents had an oversized version of the painting you see before you. It is based on an old picture of men and women swimming at San Francisco’s Sutro Baths. The baths, housed below a cliff not far from Golden Gate Park, first opened in 1896 and housed seven salt water pools of varying temperature. My grandmother, a native San Franciscan remembers visiting the baths and years later, when the baths were drained and the building functioned as an ice skating rink, my dad remembers peeking through slats to catch a glimpse of the abandoned pools. The entire building was lost to a fire in the late 1960s and was never rebuilt.

Naturally, I grew up fascinated with the baths so earlier in the summer, I drove out to Land’s End to explore the bath’s ruins. It was an uncharacteristically sunny and clear summer day in the city and I soaked up every minute of it. At the top of the cliff is a fabulous visitor’s center with a comprehensive history of the site. You can then descend the cliff using a combination of steps and a semi-steep sandy path.

When you get to the bottom, you can climb on and around the ruins, which aren’t much, but are haunting all the same. I couldn’t stop staring in what was left of the pools and wondering what it must have been like to swim in them. It was creepy, breathtaking, and sad all at once.

2014-07-12 16.32.27When I was finished traipsing through the ruins, I walked over to a small sea cave … so fun to see the tide come in and out.

2014-07-12 16.40.01I ended my afternoon back at the top of the cliff taking picture of the Pacific and the Golden Gate. It was a magical afternoon and fun to stand on the grounds of what was once a magical part of San Francisco’s history.

west coast living: visiting the sunset gardens

Just down the road from my house lies the town of Menlo Park. Menlo Park is an exclusive Bay Area suburb with large houses, leafy trees, exclusive private schools, and gorgeous seminaries. So yeah, all of that is great, but the real reason I love Menlo Park is because it is home to Sunset Magazine, aka the go-to source for west coast living. My mom has subscribed to Sunset for as long as I can remember and like a good disciple, it was one of the first magazines I subscribed to when I started living on my own. Each issue is chock-full of cooking, travel, gardening, shopping, and lifestyle tips.

I didn’t discover how close I was to Mecca, until I was aimlessly driving around the Peninsula looking for the local branch of my new credit union. When I pulled up to an intersection and saw the words “Sunset Publishing” on a large, ranch-style compound in front of me, I may or may not have let out an audible gasp.

I immediately began researching how to get inside and was delighted to find out anyone can stop by, Monday – Friday, and self-tour the company’s gardens. It’s taken me almost four months, but today, I finally had the chance to do just that!

2014-08-22 14.07.42 Sunset is housed in a former ranch-style estate, originally gifted to a local rancher in the early 1800s. The magazine moved to the location in the early 1950s. To get to the gardens, you walk through a set of massive wooden doors to the lobby, and from there, you are let loose.

The garden is divided into five distinct sections: Pacific Northwest, Northern California, Central California, Southwest/Southern California, and the Test Garden. Each section has placards which tell you the name of the plant/flower. My favorite were the dahlias, pansies, and something I had never seen before, a strawberry tree.

2014-08-22 14.23.04There was also a small fruit + vegetable garden with a pomegranate tree. I do like the taste of pomegranates, but I really like them for decorating. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Fruit? For decorating? Yep! There were also HUGE outdoor test kitchens adjacent to the garden, but they were quiet. One of the gardeners told me that if you’re lucky, you can watch a cooking demo or magazine shoot, but they don’t announce them ahead of time.

Perhaps my favorite part of the trip was the test garden. Here, the staffers test out new plants, crops, garden tools, etc for the magazine. It is also where the majority of the magazine’s photography takes place. While I was visiting, there was a small crop of corn growing and a to-die-for outdoor living display FULL of succulents, which I am mildly obsessed with.

All in all I was there for about an hour. If you aren’t into plants, gardening, landscaping, I would probably skip it … there isn’t a gift shop or anything, just the gardens. But if you are, definitely stop by. I am looking forward to visiting throughout the year to see the different plants and to just soak up the awesomeness that is Sunset!

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111 things to do in sf: lyon street steps

San Francisco is full of hills. Steep hills. I mean, like the kind of hills that when you are in your car, and you get the top, you can’t see the decline because it’s so steep. If you don’t like mountain climbing, I suggest you visit New York instead.

While visiting the Walt Disney Museum, LeAnna I figured we would also take a walk through the Presidio using her San Francisco City Walks cards. Because we started in the middle of the walk, we decided to loop back around to the beginning.

Critical mistake.

As we exited the Presidio on Lyon Street, we encountered a hill. A massive hill. The Mt. Everest of San Francisco hills. As we stared ahead we both wondered … “Those can’t be steps, right?”

Wrong.

Turns out we were about to conquer number 103 of the 111 Things to Do in San Francisco:

Walk down or up the Lyon Street Steps in Pacific Heights.

O.M.G. The minute we hit the base of the steps, I regretted my decision to wear jeans and so-so shoes. The sun also decided to emerge from the clouds at this very moment.

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LeAnna charged ahead first. She made it to the first landing in record time. I followed close behind (please note the amused look on my face). Although I was panting by the time I reached the landing, I kept going because I was afraid that if I stopped, I would never start again.

Here’s when it just gets mean. After climbing two almost 90 degree sets of stairs, you realize the last half of the steps, which from down below looked like no big deal, was in fact an optical illusion.

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I am not kidding you … it was brutal. But when we finally made it to the top, the gods rewarded us with amazing views of the Presidio, Pacific Ocean, and my personal favorite – the Palace of Fine Arts.

But yea, eff you SFGate for suggesting one walk up or down these things. It’s not right. They are for descending only.

the little mouse that could …

At my goodbye party in late April, my friend LeAnna surprised me with some news of her own. She was being considered for a position with Stanford – purely coincidental. After months of waiting, she was finally offered the position and is now my neighbor here in Mountain View, only a five minute drive away. Seriously, after knowing each other for 16 years, this is the closest we have ever lived to each other.

Since she doesn’t start her new position until mid-August and I don’t work Fridays in the summer (one of the few perks of working in higher education), we took advantage of some free time and headed into the city for the day. Our first stop was the Walt Disney Family Museum,  which has been on my “to-do” list since it opened in 2009.

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2014-08-01 11.48.15The museum,  operated by Disney’s family, is housed in the Presidio. From the outside, the building is unassuming, but then you step into the lobby and boom, it’s total Disney. Even the bathrooms are amazing (five bucks if you can spot the hidden Mickey).

2014-08-01 11.59.24 Through a series of multimedia exhibits, you follow Walt’s life, beginning with his childhood in Kansas. There were quite a few of his drawings from high school and even then, you could sense his style.

2014-08-01 12.07.532014-08-01 12.11.24You then transition into the “Disney years.” We saw original animation cells from Steamboat Willie and learned the story behind Donald Duck, Goofy, and Pluto.  Perhaps one of my favorite parts was a room with comfortable chairs and screen projections of various Disney movies and music on all of the walls. I could have sat there forever.

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2014-08-01 12.38.25Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the museum was portion on Disney during the war years. Many of the studio’s animators were re-assigned to the war effort and created pieces such as the ones above.

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The most popular room was the one containing a replica of 1950s Disneyland, complete with spinning teacups, flying Dumbos, exploding cannonballs, and howling ghosts.

2014-08-01 12.54.472014-08-01 12.56.16But like all good things, the story of Walt’s life came to an end. Like the Kennedy Library in Boston, I thought the Disney Museum told the story of his death in a classy, understated manner. The above picture was on a white wall by itself while across from it were newspapers and magazines from across the world in the days following. I’ll admit it, I got a little teary-eyed.

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I honestly can’t recommend this place enough, whether young or old. Different people have different levels of affection for Disney, but you can’t deny the company’s staying-power and Walt’s creativity.

P.S. Fun piece of trivia … one of my favorite Disney films is Dumbo. Who knew it one a prize at the Cannes Film Festival???

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111 things to do in sf: twin peaks

A while ago, the SF Chronicle published a list of “111 Things to do in San Francisco with Kids.” I read the list and thought, even though it’s for kids, most of the items would be just as fun for adults. Having grown up in Northern California, I have already done several of them, but after crossing those off, still have plenty left.

I had a rare free weekend earlier this month and decided to knock a few items off the list, starting with a trip to Twin Peaks in the city’s Castro District.

The Twin Peaks are two (get it, twins???) hills located in San Francisco. At 925-feet high, they are the highest points in the city proper. You can drive up a paved, albeit windy, road to the top where there are restrooms, viewfinders, and busload of tourists, but I decided to hike up, from the midway point.

2014-07-12 13.51.01My walk started in a neighborhood … the kind of neighborhood SF is famous for. Multimillion dollar homes were built into the hillsides and I parked at a 90-degree angle.

When I started walking, it was warm. The sun was out and I was on asphalt, but 10 minutes in, it started to get really windy. By the time I reached the summit, I had to pull my hair into a ponytail or risk total blindness.2014-07-12 13.36.50

I huffed and puffed my way to the top … and this is after getting back to running! The entire thing made Coit Tower seem like a breeze (no pun intended), but when I finally made it to the top, it was so worth it. The 360-degree views are incredible.

2014-07-12 13.36.57-1Energized by the view, I continue hiking up to the south peak, which is much less touristy. There I could see south to Candlestick Park, east to Oakland, north to Marin County, and west to the Pacific Ocean.

2014-07-12 13.41.12After admiring the views for 20 minutes or so, I headed back down the peak to my car … again in disbelief that I now call this place home!