Friday, July 31, 2015

Traveling: California Redux

(Drivebycuriosity) - Oh California! Myriads of movies, songs, books & pictures have been shaping my impression from the Western US state for decades. This month my wife and I had a 9 days vacation in San Francisco and the surrounding area - my first visit in California. The trip gave me the opportunity to compare the reality with my fantasy.

The most impressed me the gorgeous landscape. California is a stripe of land between the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains and shaped by both. The combination of mountains and sea created a lot of bays which structure San Francisco and the area around the northern Californian metropolis.

California can be proud of its nature which seems to be well preserved. I was fascinated by a red wood forrest that we saw in the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve in Sonoma county, a wine growing area some miles north of San Francisco. In a canyon, protected from strong winds, grow majestic trees, the tallest of them measures 310 feet (94 m), the oldest is estimated to be over 1400 years old (wikipedia). Wow!

The rocky coast is another jewel of nature. On a trip southward to Santa Cruz we enjoyed the wild nature along the coast line. Some of the little bays where without people, so some places looked like untouched nature. We saw fascinating rock structures, developed over millions of years, and blossoming wildflowers and other plants, which have been adapting to the harsh sea climate. We also spotted harbor seals, who were taking a sunbath to warm up from the cold ocean, and colonies of cormorant birds, cranes and pelicans.

North of Montega Bay the coastline is even wilder. The waterfront is shaped by steep cliffs and huge rocks in the water - a terrific scenery.


                                                                  Californian Dream

Above you can see a series of pictures I shot in a almost deserted little bay north of Mondega Bay. The couple, who apparently enjoys the Pacific evening on the beach, could represent the Californian dream.


Close to Santa Cruz,  75 miles south of San Francisco, we found some bays & beaches which were more densly visited. There we could see a lot of surfers who were riding the powerful Pacific waves. On one of the surfer beaches we saw a board with surfer rules, which looks very German to me. Do the surfers follow really the rules?

Santa Cruz, a former Spanish mission,  has a very laidback atmosphere. The city, population about 60,000, is  a magnet for hippies who might be attracted by the liberal Californian climate. And you can also watch beach volleyball there of course.


                                                     Law Of Unintended Consequences

San Franciso herself comes up to the expectations. The northern Californian metropolis is a unique, beautiful city. The place sits on the northern end of a peninsula. She is flanked in the West by the Pacific Ocean and in the East by the San Franciso Bay. The face of the city also is structured by a lot of hills. Some streets have adventurous steep slopes.

Contrary to New York City there are not many high buildings as a result of very strict building restrictions. Gabriel Metcalf, a local expert for urbanism, reports, that the progressive city government allies with house owners (the "not-in-my-backyard-crowd") and slows down the construction of new homes which leads to a "devastating affordability crisis" (citylab). People, who work in the nearby Silicon Valley, and other high income residents are replacing low- and middle income renters. A typical example for the law of unintented consequences.

The same policy also leads to an underdeveloped public transportation system. There is no subway network and the jammed buses are running infrequently. You need a car if can afford to live there.

I was surprised by the chilly  & windy climate, even in he midst of July the temperatures fell often into the 50s F (10-15 Celsius). San Francisco  makes a sleepy impression, there is not the "huzzle and buzzle" you can see in New York City and many restaurants close early in the evening.

A real setback are the crowds of homeless people on streets & places. I have never seen so many stranded, stoned and metally disturbed people on one place. Sometimes it looked like that the streets belongs to them. Maybe these people are attracted by the very liberal & progessive policy of the city. Therefore San Francisco has an odd mixture of nouveau riche and third world.

San Francisco´s vegetation benefits from the mild winters (Mediterranean clima) and the often foggy summer day. You can see there a lot of lush gardens.

I looks that the people there enjoy the community of others in the nature. This park in the middle of the city is apparently very popular and maybe also a part of the Californian dream.

The picture above shows the San Franciso bay east of the city.

But sleepy San Francisco has at last one lively district: The gay Castro area - another symbol of the alternative culture.

San Francisco`s ubiquituous street art is another sign of the liberal progressive climate there.

The architecture looks often color- and playful. I made the pic above in Sausalito - a small harbourplace north of the San Franciso Bay and embarkation place for the Ferry to San Francisco.

                                                            Green Politics

Everywhere I could see the signs of the liberal & very green Californian politics. Gasoline is very expensive there. In the moment of writing the average Californian gas price at the pump hovered at $3.817 (national: $2.697). This is the result  of high state gas taxes and strict reguations, which  enforce the use of an expensive gasoline mixture (latimes). Therefore I saw so many Volkswagen and gas saving small Asian verhicles on the streets.

Solar panels are also very popular there, which makes sense thanks to the sunny climate of the state.

While traveling on the highways & freeways around San Franciso I noticed that there are not many trucks. Grown up in Germany I was used to convoys of heavy vehicles which usually clog the right lane and often cause traffic jams. But the economy of this area is dominated by the information technology of Silcon Valley. There is no need for trucks which transport automoible parts and other machines around the clock. So the local economy is one of the reasons that this area is so green.

The Californiana seem to be very disciplined. Here a pic of commuters standing in line at one of the rare mass transit platforms.

The Californian life style includes a lot of active sports of course, I could see  runners everywhere.

Conclusion: The San Francisco area is a fascinating travel destiny with a gorgeous and wild nature. The place is also expensive, thanks to an aspiring industry (information technology) and "progressive" politics. It is a bit sleepy, but charming. We will come back, California.

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