Route 1 Road Trip Day 4: Hello San Francisco!

I continue my road trip with the California coast via Route 1 with my travel buddy Nick, check out days onetwo, and three.


Finishing our time on the road with a morning two-hour drive from Pigeon Point and a nutritious breakfast of cinnamon rolls and cappuccino It’s Its, we arrived in San Francisco. We were in my hood; the city proper was my home for the last four months before I left for Central America and I also lived forty minutes south for four years. We started Nick’s San Francisco experience with an afternoon walk through Golden Gate Park and a driving tour through some of San Francisco’s most iconic neighborhoods. The sun was shining and the Painted Ladies on Alamo Square dazzled. Nick asked if I knew where the Full House house was and admited I had no idea! Great tour guide I turned out to be.

Painted Ladies on Alamo Square Park. *

Our tour finished in my old neighborhood, the Mission. We got out on foot to stroll Valencia and Mission streets between 16th and 24th. The stark gentrification divide between Valencia and Mission–two blocks apart–never ceases to amaze me. Valencia is a hipster beat with funky vintage shops and trendy restaurants. In contrast, Mission is grungier, noticeably a lower income bracket, and much straight out of Central America. Both streets ofter great shopping and dining, it just depends on what you are looking for. Our walk terminated in dinner at a place I knew Nick would dig: El Farolito, a hole in the wall Mexican joint at 24th and Mission known for cheap, awesome food–particularly burritos. Nick was tempted by the quesadillas, but I steered him in the right direction and he was not disappointed; he said it was the best burrito of his life. Booyah. We paired it was Pacifico, his Mexican beer of choice, and left no hot sauce behind.
Rockin’ the Pacifico once again. Me perfecting my bunny-nose squinch. *
Nom nom nom nom!!!

We checked in with our lovely hosts Hilary and Austin, spent far too little time chatting (to be rectified later!) before rushing off to San Francisco Nerd Nite to see my brilliant and snarkily charismatic friend Simran educate all us drunken geeks about old-school British handwriting manuals. Within minutes, she had the room eating out of the palm of her hand.
Aw, check out the midgets learning how to write. If only they had some workbooks…

We woke up early the next morning and hustled through rush hour traffic on the Muni to get to Pier 15 for our 9:30am Alcatraz cruise departure. It was a gorgeous day. From the moment you board the boat, visiting Alcatraz is a great experience. The ride to the island offers brilliant views of the city and the bay; for us this also afforded sightings of the America’s Cup boats just days before the Americans upset the Kiwis.

Pro tip: Alcatraz tickets ALWAYS sell out days in advance. We booked three days prior and were incredibly lucky to get tickets at all; Thursday at 9:30am was the only boat available for the five days Nick would be in San Francisco. 
Drinking ill-gotten coffee on the way to a maximum security prison… something about this seems like a bad idea. *

The Rock.

Alcatraz is a place of layered history. It was originally a military base built in 1853 to guard the booming gold rush town of San Francisco and its lighthouse is the oldest on the west coast. It was later recast in 1868 from a fort to a long-term military detention facility to house prisoners form the Civil War and Spanish American War and then in 1933–its most famous incarnation–one of the most infamous maximum-security civilian prisons in the United States. After the closure of the prison it was the site of Native American protests from 1969-1971. The tours exploring the varied stories of the island are fabulous, the history intriguing, and the views stunning. The jailhouse audio tour is particularly quality with interviews with guards and prisoners and details of daily prison life and dramatic escape attempts. It is well worth the trip for visitors and residents of San Francisco alike!

The cell block. *

A typical cell.

So close and yet so far. *

Yes, this was staged. But he looks so realistically sad! *

We returned from Alcatraz feeling rather tuckered out, but after lunch and a siesta we rallied! And a good thing too because we had baseball tickets. I didn’t have Oakland colors, so instead showed off my inner Bostonian. Red Sox Nation represent! Nick is a baseball lover and all about hometown pride, so we arrived a full hour early specifically to go baseball hat shopping. We went on the hunt, visiting every souvenir store in the Coliseum, but nowhere was selling the hat of Nick’s choice at the right price. Probably should have opted for one of those $5 knockoffs being sold outside the subway. 
Root root root for the home team! *

West siiiide! (Or is it east side, since we’re in Oakland?… I’m so confused!) *

We are ridiculous, and very fashionable.

After a thorough assessment of dining options (including the discovery of the mother of all hot sauce–a one gallon jug of Cholula!), we both got sausages and Sierra Nevada beers and brought them back to our section. The stadium was virtually empty, an odd thing for a team about to secure the division title and head to the playoffs. No one was seated in the front five rows of our section, so we hung out for a few minutes for a photo op. I was about to make a joke to Nick about the American baseball custom of squatting in empty seats when an usher kicked us out. Flustered, I spilled my $11 beer.

There’s a yuppie foodstamp’s worth of beer and sausage. Do you know how many bottles of Flor de Caña I could buy for that?! That answer is two and a half. Two and a half!!*

I pouted. $11 is a lot to loose on my daily budget. I really wanted a beer to go with my sausage, but could I really justify the expense a second time? I decided to plead my case to the bartender, an older woman who Nick had charmed not ten minutes prior. But when I got there she was nowhere to be seen. I spotted a gentleman bartender I had talked with briefly and decided to try my luck with him. I had my story prepared, ready to jog his memory and then launch into my tale of woe. “Hello again,” he said, already remembering me thus rendering the beginning of my speech moot. Thrown for a loop, I stuttered into the body of my argument, and he shook his head with disapproval at us sitting in other people’s seats. My chances looked grim. Just as I was getting to the punchline–will you please give me another beer for free?–a stout man wearing a traffic guard-orange vest labeled “ALCOHOL POLICE” came up behind him. Oh shit. I turned my attention to the alcohol policeman, concluding my statement with, “…and it made me really sad.” I gave my very best puppy dog eyes. He leaned in closer and grunted, “what kinda beer wereya drinkin’, honey?” YES!!!!

Over the course of the next few hours, Nick melted into a puddle of baseball-appreciating ooze, illuminating to me the most important person on the field. “The pitcher is the heart of the team. He’s the one who puts it all together.” Ten minutes later: “Now, the catcher, oh, he’s the brains behind the whole operation.” Another ten minutes went by: “But you know who’s really in charge out there? The third base coach!…” I had fits of uncontrollable giggling, fueled by mascot Stompy the elephant appearing next to us and whipping the crowd into a frenzy. “Erin, I know it’s just a man in an elephant suit, but the people are responding to him like a pagan GOD!!!” We aren’t allow to talk anymore, this is all just too funny. Tell me in broad strokes… how are we getting home?

Take us out to the ballgame! *

Deliciousness. *
The morning after we were headed to wine country. First, we fortified ourselves with a brunch of bialys and Reuben sandwiches at one of my favorite spots, Wise Sons deli in the mission. Their bialys are crisp and chewy, their pastrami delectably savory. Extra pickles please! Mmmm…
One of my fave spots, off the beaten track in the Mission. *

One of Nick’s passions is wine, and California wine country was always a draw for him on this trip. (Offering them up *may* have been one of my early tactics to get him on board with a trip–bwahaha! :-P) While it was cloudy in the city, it was beautiful in Sonoma! We headed to Russian River in search of pinots and were quite successful.

Pro tip: wine tasting in Sonoma and Napa is expensive, running $5-20 a pop. Two ways around this: pick up free tasting coupons at a visitor center or flash your Visa Signature credit card for two free tastings at dozens of wineries. (Most of the time they don’t even ask for a card, you just mention the deal and they start pouring.) Doing so turns a pricey day into a cheap one!

Not a bad way to spend a Friday. *

Gorgeous Russian River countryside. *

Entering a wine cave. *

Cheers! *

There she is! *

Ah, Sonoma. *

Our traveling duo temporarily parted ways for two days, and I headed back to wine country sans Nick, this time to Napa via Sausalito with a fellow burner for a red wine and crawdad party. Threatened by rain earlier in the day, the evening ended up picturesque and a pleasure. We drove up in a car still covered in playa dust with bins of gear still in the trunk, sharing stories from the burn. We arrived to a beautiful diner set out in the vineyard of Hall winery, were welcomed and beaded a la Mardi Gras. We quickly found wine and made friends, eating cornbread with our fingers while huddling under a heat lamp at our secret VIP table. And even at a posh Napa wine party, a couple of burners can find amusement  in quirky large-scale art, in this case large huts made of twisted branches like giant bird nests. The evening was a treat of great wine, gorgeous ambiance amongst the vines, and delightfully mischievous company. 
“Childhood Dreams” Not the one I saw, but beautiful and captures that nighttime ambiance. Photo credit:
On Nick’s last full day in North America before returning to Australia, we reconnected over–what else–football at the pub. We enthusiastically caught up over the happenings of the past two days, then the mood turned nostalgic. It was the end of his seven-month trip in Central and North America. We realized this trip that each of us had been the other’s #2 travel buddy in terms of time spent together on both of our respective trips, not too shabby. 
It was truly fun and also a bit weird to have Nick in California, my old home; it was like two worlds colliding, Central America and “real” life, me now and me then. Though we traveled for weeks together in Central America, I feel this leg of the trip solidified our travel buddy awesomeness and friendship. With a sincere farewell I dropped him off. It was hard to see him go. I felt withdrawal immediately. Mi vida, I love ya and miss you already! See you on the flip side of the world soon.

Travel buddy love. Heart! *
* Photos courtesy of Nicholas Cooper.

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