Nearly Napa Valley


I was fine enough to leave San Francisco behind. Being on the road and in such expanses of nature for so long makes cities feel like uncomfortable and unnecessarily hard places. All the symmetry and the gray is unnatural and in longer durations unsettling to a human like me who has tasted the wild.

And so, the Oakland Bay Bridge drew me northeast out of the city, and after some time I neared Napa Valley.

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Destination: San Francisco’s Sutro Baths

Sutro Bath Ruins in San Francisco

Sutro Bath Ruins in San Francisco

San Francisco’s Sutro Baths are the remains of a 19th century poolhouse built into a swath of land somewhere near to where bay meets the ocean. This poolhouse was unprofitable and as a result has become an outdoor attraction drawing visitors on a daily basis.

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Driving “The Peninsula” of California

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Two weeks ago, I learned that I should call this part of California “The Peninsula.” Quick definition: it’s everything on the peninsular land around San Francisco, except for the city itself.

From Monterey I drove toward and through Santa Cruz. There, I saw the first Safeway in months, a reminder of my northward journey. In Southern California, these stores are named Vons, though they’re laid out in the same fashion and sell the same products. Both logos are cherry red and white, but after staring at the Vons sign for a few years Safeway now feels less polished. Anything outside of Southern California, once you’ve been there for some time, feels less polished, no?

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Destination: Pacific Grove and Monterey, California

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I’m nearing San Francisco, but first, I’ll pass through Pacific Grove on my way north. It is here that monarchs, the most widely recognized of the North American butterflies, gather each winter. Thousands travel from southern climes to settle in this small coastal area, migrating as per the season as birds do. The monarchs are such an icon of Pacific Grove, it is against the law to cause them harm and the fine for doing so is $1,000.

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Destination: Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California and the Pacific Ocean

One moment, I was driving Big Sur, and in another, I was in Carmel-by-the-Sea. The two are not far from each other.

And in the change of moments, after two hours exploring a sunny coastline with dotty vegetation, all remnants of Southern California vanished. Succulent ground cover was replaced with grass—bare feet-loving grass that I hadn’t seen in its natural state in months—trees transitioned from palms to pines, and the air circled heavier under a newly graying sky.

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Driving Santa Barbara to San Simeon, California


I’ve driven much of this route before, but not in this direction and it has been a handful of years, so it feels almost as new to me as anything else I’ve encountered lately.

Heading north from Santa Barbara along U.S. Route 101 the earth has a green-yellow tint, sometimes more yellow and sometimes more green depending on the water supply and I’m sure other factors the scientist in me knows nothing about. No matter, even when yellow it is much more alive here than the drive I’ve just completed through inland central California.

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Destination: Santa Barbara, California

Santa Barbara's Shoreline Beach and Shoreline Park

Santa Barbara’s location is a strip of land that, at one end, borders the Pacific Ocean; on the other, it climbs into the sudden, steep Santa Ynez Mountains. These two regions are differentiated not only by topography but also by the north-south running U.S. Route 101, the only freeway in the vicinity, but an important one that brings life to the area as it makes its way from north Los Angeles to Washington state’s blustery Olympic Peninsula.

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