West Coast

January 9, 2012

Scott and I got back late last night from California. There’s nothing sadder than the taxi line on a cold, winter Sunday night at JFK full of people just off a plane from someplace sun-warmed like Los Angeles.

We covered a lot of ground, starting in San Francisco, driving up to Napa and and then down along Highway 1, stopping in Big Sur and ending in Los Angeles, where I got to spend time with my new love, Baby Bea. I apologize that I’m out of practice documenting my travels, this trip had many purposes and I sort of forgot that I was actually on vacation and might want to share some of what we saw. Sorry. I’ll do my best to describe the important parts and put in pictures (mine or other people’s) where I have them.

In San Francisco we mostly walked. And walked up. Then walked down. Then up again. Many times we came over a ridge and saw water and smiled big smiles and said, “It’s kind of like Rio.” We ate delicious food, too. Lindsay took us for a great drive around the city that included the ocean and soup dumplings and a spicy kind of peanutty dumpling at a hole in the wall somewhere west of where we would have gotten to on foot. They were extraordinary.

Sausalito

We breakfasted on pastries at Tartine Bakery and ate a few different Italian meals, all with excellent company. The best food was at Flour + Water, and we loved the vibe there, too. It was the perfect mix of cozy and what I think is being described as kind of “eco chic” decor now, with reclaimed wood tables, exposed bulbs and glowing candlelight. We had a blast on New Year’s Eve at Locanda in the Mission and were warmly welcomed at a house party (not something that reliably happens in New York) and then continued on.

From San Francisco we drove up through Oakland and stopped briefly in Berkeley before continuing to the surreal expanse of Napa. The vines were bare this time of year, but the sideways light was perfect. We had a delicious meal (that included a mountain of truffle fries) at Bouchon in Yountville and checked out the castle (!) that is the Culinary Institute of America just north of the picturesque downtown of St. Helena.

From there we headed down to Palo Alto and then to Highway 1, to Big Sur, which literally took my breath away. It’s almost deliriously pretty. We did the stretch between Carmel and Big Sur as the sun was flaming out orange and pink, fading to cool blues and we ran out of words. I tried to breathe in as much as possible, fill my lungs with the air of a place that has mountains sloping into the Pacific. We ate at Nepenthe, the former home of Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth and went for a quick hike in the morning.

At this point in the trip, I learned some things about myself in California. I learned that I jay-walk like crazy. In San Francisco, people don’t really do it. I never think of myself as that much of a New Yorker, but people in California really just stand on the curb (on the curb, not two steps into the street ready to make the dash) until they get the walk signal. Even if there are no cars coming. They just…wait.

I also learned that as much as I love good food and exquisite coffee, I am not nearly as patient (see above) as California natives. There’s a Blue Bottle Coffee here in Williamsburg, and man, it’s good coffee. It’s sweet and mellow and whenever I’m over there, I try to stop in. Blue Bottles are all over San Francisco and I couldn’t have been more excited about taking in as much of their New Orleans style iced coffee as I could, however the lines were so long everywhere, at every stand, inside the Ferry Building, outside at the farmers market, in Hayes Valley, pretty much everywhere that we went. I kept passing it up, thinking that I would have another opportunity. On Tuesday, the day that we left San Francisco, I had not yet had the coffee I had been so excited about and so I woke up and walked to the Blue Bottle closest to where we were staying. And I waited for twenty minutes along with people who were also waiting for twenty minutes on their way to work for deliberate, pour-over coffee. Do people in San Francisco budget their mornings for half-hour coffee stops to get a to-go cup? This blew my mind. Especially when it happened again at Ritual Coffee in the Oxbow Public Market in Napa (where we had to wait for the water to seep through grounds as the barista poured it over. Slowly.). In Big Sur, at the Big Sur Bakery, again we waited for twenty minutes while coffee was made (not ours, the people directly in front of us). No one seemed in a hurry, and neither were we, really, we were on vacation, it just seemed crazy that people were so consistently patient.

From there we drove down to Los Angeles, through Santa Inez (Sideways) to check out SoCal’s rival wine region and were surprised to see that the towns running through that area were like Epcot villages, the first like a wild west caricature, the next a slice of odd Scandinavia, with A frame buildings and women walking down the street in lederhosen.

And then we arrived in Los Angeles, at Marshall and Heather’s, and I fell in love with Little Bea. It’s been a day and I already miss her.

Los Angeles was mostly consumed by staring at my niece, snuggling into her little downy head, and watching her funny faces. We did have a comical lunch at Cafe Gratitude with some friends (there is no other kind of lunch to have there, although seriously, the I am Powerful is really delicious) and went to a friend’s barbecue in Santa Monica and out in Venice. We had one of those magical experiences of the unexpected. Hanging out at a bar called Townhouse, one of our group exclaimed, “I want to dance! Let’s go downstairs.” Usually when this exclamation is made, the scene becomes more club like with strong beats and colored lights. Sometimes that’s fun, but it wasn’t really the mood we were feeling, and then, after paying the cover and descending down the stairs we were… listening to a great band with a lead singer with a smooth, strong voice. It was a perfect small music venue, with upbeat, laid back energy that carried us through our final late night tacos and back home to Baby Bea.

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