We had always longed to travel to the west. As Joe Flower said: Money lives in New York. Power sits in Washington. Freedom sips cappuccino in a sidewalk cafe in San Francisco.
When we finally visited San Francisco on Thanksgiving weekend, it seemed that this city harboured the freedom and sense of achievement even in confined spaces. The city is full of vibrant colors, with an open culture and welcoming atmosphere. The city has a unique architecture not found in any of the other cities I visited before. The houses are small in size, but the people have big hearts. The language spoken is English, but we could see more Chinese and Hispanic people. We could see the companies dominating the globe by their impact on technology such as YouTube, Uber and Tesla, but all in small buildings. Though the work campuses of Facebook, Google and Apple were huge as their contribution to the world, they still carried a sense of freedom and true entrepreneurship which makes them truly innovative. This article highlights how we came to the west to see the golden state, how we saw San Francisco( we can call it simply SF now), the places we visited such as golden gate bridge and fisherman’s wharf, then traveled to Yosemite, what to carry and what not, our then stay in Monterey, seeing the historic 17 mile drive, then back to SF.
Below is the quick itinerary we followed during our visit.
Day 1 — Flight to SF in early morning from Atlanta. Reached SF around 9:30 am. Checked in the hotel, had lunch and visited Golden Gate Bridge & Lombard street in the afternoon. Visit to Fisherman’s Wharf at night. Overnight stay in SF.
Day 2 — Travel to San Jose(SJ), visit to Palo Alto, mountain view and Cupertino. Lunch in SJ and then travel to Mariposa for overnight stay.
Day 3 — Visit Yosemite the whole day and travel back to Monterey for overnight stay.
Day 4 — Toured the 17-mile drive scenic drive, beaches in Monterey and travel back to SF via the Pacific coast highway.
Day 5 — We had to work remotely and hence, we visited Alcatraz in the evening. Back to Atlanta by overnight flight.
Day 1: Nov 28th, 2019
Visit to Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard street atop and Fisherman’s wharf
We started our journey from Alpharetta, GA to the Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. We had booked an early United Airlines flight which departed around 7:30 AM and which would land in SF around 9:30 AM PST. As we both were just traveling, we decided to take my car to the airport as it will be better for us to commute back while returning to Alpharetta on Dec 3rd.
We got up early and got ready to head to the airport. It was good that we had packed our bags last night. Soon, we reached the airport. Then, I checked my bag, took our boarding passes and headed to the gates. Wow, all set to go to SF, our very first visit to the golden state of California. We were very excited and waiting for this trip for weeks. As it’s said, “Old habits die hard”,so we had done everything needed for the trip at the last moment..lol. We booked the hotels for all the 4 nights including the car rental on 26th, and struggled hard to get the car rental. So, we soon realized we had run out of all the options of the car rental on the first day of thanksgiving ( which was 28th ), and so we finally booked the Budget car rental from 29th morning to be returned on 2nd Dec evening.
Word of Advice: please never book car rental late on a trip to SF during thanksgiving weekend. I will say book it at least one-two weeks before.
Having gone through all these fluctuations in the trip booking, we both were quite anxious for how this trip would go. With all this going in our minds, we reached the gate. We did not have to wait longer and soon, we found ourselves in the flight. Yes….and our trip began.
The United flight experience as many others must have had, was not at the best. But it was still relaxing with some TV shows running on the screen, ( no movies though). I slept for sometime, and then after some coffee and cookies, our flight landed in SF. that’s where we were now. We wanted to shout to the world..hey, hey, hey…there we are, in SF finally!
We collected our bags and then booked an Uber to go to the hotel. As we did not have any car rental for the day, we decided to keep our bags at the hotel, and then head to the Golden Gate bridge. As soon as our Uber came, we moved in the car and both started to look outside to the SF city. It was a 30 min journey from SF airport to the Hilton, financial district. We were surprised to see small houses surrounded by barren hills ( felt like desert), crowded streets and some companies which we knew located in a small confined space. Soon, we reached the financial district and saw our hotel surrounded by Chinatown. This was my first experience of seeing and staying in a Chinatown. I later found that this part of Chinatown is primarily the Cantonese part of china.
Chinatown, where we stayed in Hilton hotel
We then checked in the hotel and went into the rooms. The room with two queen beds was nice, with an amazing view of SF city as seen below.
After watching some Netflix, we headed out to tour the windy city of the west, and our first stop was to have lunch at “Raavi”, an Indian restaurant located at a conveniently walkable distance from the hotel. Just like other Indian restaurants in the US, the food was similar in taste, but just more expensive. Then, we took another Uber, now to see the golden gate bridge. It was very nice of the Uber driver( who originally was from Brazil) that she soon realized that we were new to the city, so she stopped at the Lombard street. Then we immediately went out to see the most crooked street in the world from the top and took some nice pictures. Then she dropped us at the golden gate and we just glanced at the gigantic architecture designed and built by engineers. We took some really nice snapshots and started walking on the golden gate. As usual it was very busy, with lots of people walking on the bridge. Though it was afternoon, the bridge faced cold winds coming across the pacific and as we had read, the waters beneath us were very cold too. There have been many incidents of people committed suicides by jumping off the bridge, and so we could see many signs of counseling assistance, depression assistance contact etc with quotes on life. This made me sad of how tragic that fate would be for anyone who jumped off this bridge into the bay from such a height, with icy waters beneath and cold winds on the top. This bridge was very much surrounded by some of the harshest weather conditions, yet, it stood upright witnessing not only the weather conditions, but also the historic events this city has witnessed for over the past few decades such as world war 2 front against the Japanese, the hippie counter cultural revolution and then the silicon valley boom. At one location, I saw one name “ Gauri Govil” being carved in one of the pillars. Later, I found out that a 2 year old Gauri had suffered the worst fate of falling from this bridge in 1997. It was an accident due to some hidden gap in the bridge structure and that was not realized by anyone before, as this was the first incident after the construction of the bridge. I could not imagine how her parents must have endured this horrific and deeply sad accident, and I pray to God, that no other parent should suffer this fate while visiting this bridge.
Golden Gate Bridge
Then, we walked back across the bridge and went back to the hotel. It was tea time and so we went to “Raavi” and had a nice tea and samosas along with the usual philosophical and spiritual talks we often have at such times. Then, we decided to walk to the Fisherman’s wharf. It was not far away from our hotel and it took us like 20 mins to reach there. While walking across the streets, we could see some of the homeless people, the dirty streets and the old architecture of the city. The walk around the city reminds us of the old hippy days this city witnessed and how unchanged still it is in spite of the world having changed since that time. Anyways, we reached the fisherman’s wharf. It was a nice spot with many restaurants ( mostly seafood ) and a walkway along the bay. But we both being vegetarians, we could not eat anything there. So, we stopped by one of the Indian restaurants — “curry leaf” and had a nice dinner together. After all, it was a long day and we were tired and soon went to the hotel, with the thoughts about how the next day will be. With excitement, we went to sleep.
Day 2: Nov 29th, 2019
Visit to Silicon valley, San Jose and travel to Mariposa for overnight stay
After a long tiring yesterday, as expected we woke up late. Then, we got ready after the morning daily routine and had a healthy breakfast in the hotel. Then, we went to the airport budget car rental and picked up our car. And that’s when our real journey started as we had our car and with our freedom to visit any place, anytime. Hurray!
With excitement, we decided to go to San Jose. But on the way, we had planned to stop by some famous companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google, YouTube, Tesla, HP etc. so, we started across south San Francisco, then Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Cupertino and San Jose. We really liked the small and beautiful town of Menlo Park. It was neat, organized and displayed exuberance and wealth. I remembered from Steve Jobs Stanford commencement address, that this was the town where Stuart Brand had published “The Whole Earth Catalog” and how it inspired Steve Jobs and his generation. I wished I could meet him as I was in his town. Maybe someday later..then, we saw Facebook campus located on hacker way, just as the name says the company had hacked into our personal life and showcased it on the wall with an alias “social networking” (only with our consent…).
The campus was huge and while riding through the campus, we were stopped by the security personnel, and he kindly reminded us that this was a private property. So, we immediately rushed out of the campus and started our journey again through the Menlo park city. We saw Stanford university and I can say only one line for it….”beauty with a treasure of knowledge”. For me, this year has been quite different, having seen Harvard-MIT-BU when I had visited Boston in October and now, I was seeing Stanford, though from outside. I had always wished to see these universities as they have been the beacon of knowledge and innovation for the past few decades. Most of today’s technological innovation can be traced back to the research done in Harvard-MIT-Stanford. This trio has produced the world’s biggest and most innovative companies such as Microsoft ( Bill gates, Harvard), Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg, Harvard), Apple ( Steve Jobs, as he stayed his whole life near Stanford campus), Tesla (Elon Musk, though not from any of these universities but had enrolled in Stanford for PhD but dropped out after 2 days), Google ( Sergey Brin, Larry page, Stanford), Bose (Amar Bose, MIT), Nike ( Phil Knight, Stanford) and many more. It did not take me much time to sense an air of curiosity and rationality on this campus. I wished to stay more in this place, but we had plans ahead for the day.
Then, we saw some more companies in Palo Alto such as HP, Xerox ( where the first GUI was invented, though they were not pragmatic enough to commercialize it, which then Apple and Microsoft took it from xerox) and Tesla, though they did not have big campus like Facebook. Soon, we started towards Mountain View and saw the gigantic Google campus. Wow, this was quite huge just like the search engine has engulfed the globe. Then, we saw the apple campus in Cupertino. By this time, we had become used to seeing companies on our way and simply admired how much this small place on the west coast of the United States has impacted the world. We daily use the products and services made by these companies. We all have Ihone, we use Fitbit, we do everything on Internet, we connect and share with our friends on Facebook/Instagram/Whatsapp, we use laptops, we dream of buying a Tesla someday, we use Bose headphones, wear Nike shoes, and do our transactions through PayPal ( which was co-founded by Elon Musk). So much of our life is been occupied and even assisted by these products and services.
Finally, we reached San Jose and ate a nice lunch in one of the Indian restaurants. Then, we headed towards Mariposa for our overnight stay.
Day 3: Dec 30th, 2019
Visit Yosemite National Park and then travel to Monterey for overnight stay.
We started early after breakfast to see the Yosemite National Park. We were told by the hotel assistant that due to the snow, we were supposed to put chains on the car. So, we decided to rent wheel chains at a local store in Mariposa.
Word of Advice: bring car wheel chains with you during winter visit to Yosemite.
As we started to travel through the valley, it started getting cold. The roads became narrower, turning in a zig-zag way and the mountains became taller and covered with ice. Soon, we were surrounded by this beautiful valley wearing a thick sheet of snow and sheltering a vast canopy of pine trees. It was mesmerizing! Our car seemed to be such a tiny thing in front of the majestic beauty of nature. Later, as I came to know about John Muir who had been enchanted by this nature’s display at best and had decided to make this place his home. I could agree with John on why this place is so serene, spiritual and a rarity of nature’s creation.
Yosemite valley with the famous El Capitan
It was November, and it had just started getting cold in Atlanta. But here in Yosemite, it had already snowed a lot. It was snowing everywhere. We soon parked our car and started walking through the valley taking photos on the way. We took photos of the famous El Capitan and wondered how Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson must have climbed the dawn wall on the El Cap, that to in the middle of winter. We then visited a local store and bought some souvenirs. Then we had lunch and visited a local museum depicting the history of Yosemite. I got to know about John Muir and how he had convinced the then president of the United States, Theodore “Teddy’ Roosevelt, to make this place a national park. We saw two films on the history and conservation movement of this park.
Yosemite valley museum
Then, while sipping coffee/tea, we kept walking through the valley until we got lost near one of the lakes. Though we were surrounded by few people, as it was getting dark and late, we initially decided to use our memory skills to find a way out. But soon, we could see no one around us and after having realized we had lost our path, we finally came to our savior “Prof.Google” to guide us. We were fortunate enough to have a network on our phones, and so following the path suggested by the omnipresent google, we arrived near our car parked location. Alas! A sigh of relief.
Soon, it got darker and we could just imagine how it would be getting stuck in the middle of wilderness, surrounded by darkness and cold icy weather. Then a thought came about how brave and courageous John Muir must have been to stay alone here for two years. Respect!
After clicking and saving several photos on the phone as well as in our memories, we departed from Yosemite towards Monterey. I wished I would come back here again ,someday, in summer to see this beauty during summer time. The journey to Monterey took almost 4 hours and we landed up in the hotel besides the wonderful pacific coast beach. After an exhausting day, we soon went to sleep.
Day 4: Dec 1st. 2019
Visit to Monterey and travel back to SF
We started our sightseeing of Monterey by having our breakfast at the famous “Googie Grill” at Del Monte beach. The breakfast was simple with waffles and coffee. Then, we visited the nearby Del Monte beach. It was a pleasant experience to wet my feet in the Pacific Ocean. This was the second ocean I was visiting after the Atlantic ocean this year in Miami, FL. Then, we decided it’s time to traverse the famous 17 mile drive. We bought tickets to enter the drive, they gave us maps about each point and we started driving through this Hollywood experience.
Entering the 17 mile drive
The driveway showcased an exhibition of wealth and grandeur. It was beautifully decorated with flowers, trees, big bungalows and palatial houses on our eastside, while the pacific ocean dominated our west side of the drive. We stopped at almost all the 17 points, some were exceptionally worth watching and worth picturing, which we did. Everything was great except the weather. It was raining, though not heavily, but still it rained enough to obscure our camera phones getting drenched somewhat. In addition to rain, there was a strong wind blowing from the ocean and this led to the pacific ocean kind of angry with huge waves and tides hitting the coastal walls. So, this made our drive tour a bit difficult to enjoy, like sitting near the beach for hours, or watching the sunset etc. But we were more than delighted to have got this opportunity to see the scenic drive.
After touring the driveway, we decided to move out to see some other places nearby. Having read the forecast of rain on that day, I had taken a raincoat and umbrella with me. So, it was a good decision to be prepared for all weather as we understood California has all the seasons with rains in Monterey, cold winds but not snow in SF, and snowy and chilling in Yosemite. ( we had also planned to visit Lake Tahoe, but had to cancel it due to the winter storm happening there.)
So, then we went to the Carmel by the Sea which is a very pretty town near the ocean. We were driving on the pacific coast highway which is one of the best highways in the United States. I wish we were in summer here as it would be sunny and glowing as it’s known to be. Our last stop was at the Bixby Creek bridge which marked our end of journey for the day and we realized it was time to drive back to SF. It was evening time, the sun had already set though due to rains we could not see it and then, so we began our trip back to SF, it was a 2 and half hour journey which we took with a short break at one of the Indian restaurants in San Jose. We reached SF at night and immediately went to sleep.
Day 5: Dec 2nd, 2019
Visit to Alcatraz and fly back to Atlanta
We had to work remotely on that day, so we worked in the hotel until 12:30 pm PST. Then, we parked the car near Pier 33 which is the Alcatraz landing location. We almost reached at 1:30 pm and we were among the last people to board the ferry. The ferry departed and I remembered my last ferry trip to the Andaman islands. How beautiful that time was! I was missing my parents, especially my Mom so much.
Ferry to Alcatraz, view of SF city from the bay
Within 10 min, the ferry reached Alcatraz island. The island displayed the sign of Indian land, and I wondered what this meant. After watching a film on the history of Alcatraz islands, I learnt how the native Indians had occupied this island during the counter-cultural revolution and fought for more freedom just like the African-Americans had been doing at that time. Then, a pretty lady welcomed us and gave us directions on what to see and where. The island is quite small and only the prison for which the island is known for, is open to the public. We watched one film on the history of this notorious Alcatraz prison.
Then we toured some rooms and buildings in the main prison cell. We were provided a portable audio device with headphones to listen to the description of main parts of the prison, which notorious men had stayed here, how the escape attempt was planned etc. We then took some photos around the prison with the glittering SF city which could be seen across the bay. I could just imagine how helpless these prisoners must have been to live near the city yet could not escape this prison due to the extreme cold waters, strong winds and high security. After touring for about a hour and two, we returned back to SF city. This was the last destination of our SF visit.
Finally, it was time to return back home. I could see how much time is important, and how short we have it. We get old fast, time runs away, people change, things change, situations change, and we don’t have time for brooding over the past or fighting with people over petty mistakes, or even just sweating the small stuff. The world is big, and a lot can be learnt when we travel. It is not wrong to say that travel does widen our horizon. It not only gives us experience, but also makes us feel connected to this world. We become aware of our life and stop restricting ourselves in our self-created limits. Though I am not saying that a lot changed for me on this trip, I could see how much changed I was and at the same time, how much things have remained the same in my life. I had seen a part of the west coast yet I knew I have to go back to my home for the same work. But then, I was refreshed to do the same work as if new energy and enthusiasm had been rendered by this joyful city. Though I was staying on the east coast ( not exactly..), I could understand that life on the west coast was not much different than my life. And this can be extended all over the world too. Yes, we are after all humans, connected to each other and yet we fight and discriminate and despise each other. I did not understand why! I know this is somewhat a philosophical talk, but these thoughts kept coming to my mind. I do not know if i would get another opportunity to come to this city again, but i thought that life had brought to me and my friend here, and we had a really good time, traveling the city together. May we travel to more places in the world, and may others also come to this wonderful city and witness the aspects of life which I had seen during those 5 days.
Finally, concluding, when I had visited New Orleans ( Nola.) with my friends last December, I had seen a poster with the following line: “If you want to see America, go to New York, New Orleans and San Francisco”
By this tour, we both had seen all three cities. I compared them and found that if New York has the money, New Orleans has the food & music ( especially jazz), then San Francisco has the philosophy of life, mixed with the beauty of nature and technological innovation. In short, this was a memorable trip, for times to come….