Seattle is no cookie cutter city. It boasts more than its fair share of specialties, including unrivaled seafood and the rise of an eclectic dining scene in recent years, plus several lakes (most notably Lake Washington and Lake Union), parks and fairly distinct neighborhoods. Consider the following quintessential activities during your trip:
Describing Washington, my state of origin, simulates describing an ex to someone who might want to date them, in that I simultaneously warn them of the bad parts while throwing in a “but you might really like it!” and a “I hope it works out for you!” Love is subjective, is it not?
Only in Portland can you pull up to a red light and find yourself flanked by station wagons:
It was upon leaving California that my mind went blank except to consider that I might make it from San Francisco to Seattle in the space of one day.
I did not make it. Pulling into Salem after nine hours in the car, sleep and roadside motels summoned me sooner than I’d hoped. And so I spent a night in Oregon.
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.
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.
A book written in in 1850s by a rather untraveled Englishwoman calls San Francisco one of the “wickedest” cities in the world.
The most wicked aspect of the city is its lack of parking, and mayhaps the way some people dress, or at times, don’t dress at all.
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?
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.
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.