on the road

the gadlfy in...

 california & nevada

gadfly homepage on the road home   Last contact: CA 1/2008  & NV 12/2005 First contact: 12/17/05 for both

CA Trip Stats (1/08):


Counties visited: 7

Last visited: 1/2008


Best county:  Marin

Town visited most: San Francisco

Places slept in: Brisbane, San Francisco

Most impressive town: San Francisco

Least impressive town: San Jose

Biggest town: San Francisco

Most scenic area: Marin Headlands

Most scenic spot: Point Reyes South Beach

Signature Food: seafood like at the Flying Fish in Half Moon Bay, sour dough bread, and salads

Good Energy: found at Lori's Diners locations

Highest Elevation: Mt. Tamalpais

Tourist Trap: Pier 39

Animal: sea lion

Road Trips: Frisco Trip (12/2005), Frisco Revisited (1/2008)


Neighboring States: NV, OR, AZ, BAJA


Notes on the weather: Winter seems like the perfect season to visit, despite the often rainy weather. During both of my visits, big storms from the ocean moved in with hurricane-force winds. The temperature seemed perfect, but that might just be my reaction as a frozen Chicagoan. I was impressed on each trip that people had their doors swung open to let in the breezes in the dead of winter.


Future Plans: Very interested in riding the Pacific Coast Hwy and maybe seeing the Sierra Nevadas more intimately.

NV Trip Stats (11/06):


Counties visited: 1

Town visited most: Las Vegas

Biggest town: Las Vegas

Most scenic area: Lake Mead

Three words: n/a

Tourist Trap: Las Vegas


Neighboring States: CA, OR, AZ, UT, ID


Future Plans: Perhaps passing around Lake Tahoe would be fun and maybe passing through the high desert. Nevada is not a destination for me so much as on the way.


California First Contact: I first saw California as the airplane I was on poked through ceiling of a winter monsoon over San Francisco Bay. Landed at San Francisco Airport an d quickly headed toward the thunderous ocean near Half Moon Bay.

Nevada First Contact: Stepped foot in Nevada 12/17/05 while switching planes at McCarron Airport in Las Vegas en route to San Francisco. The flight into the area proved quite scenic. The city itself looked like it was spreading out quickly. Everything seemed in transition, hopefully to something better.


San Mateo Co. (12/17/2005)

Half Moon Bay. An extremely pleasant place. The valley roadway of CA-92 is one of the most beautiful highways. Every sense is stimulated, especially smell. I passed through town on a wet winter day and the X-mas tree farms were very busy. The town is proud of its pumpkin festival and many houses in town were decorated with squash. Saw a llama hanging out in a neighborhood. The beach is wild and wind-swept. Huge waves crash against the sand and the air is filled with mist and fog and the smell of redwood. Cypress urge toward the mountains. Brisbane. Suburban and growing town on S.F. Bay at the base of San Bruno Mountain Stayed at one of a few high-rise business hotels on the sea. So San Francisco. San Bruno. Millbrae. Moss Beach. Montara. The Pacific Coast Highway near here is a wonderful, winding drive through mountains. Pacifica.

San Francisco Co. (12/18/2005)

San Francisco. The famous Golden Gate was the destination of two different Christmastime trips to the Pacific. The city is built on a series of hills on a peninsula surrounded on one side by the Pacific and the other two sides by the S.F. Bay. History lives in every corner. The city is vibrant and alive and natural unlike San Jose to the south which seems more artificial and McDonaldized. The culture is mostly laid back and progressive. Not a driving city at all. Bring walking shoes or ride the excellent public transportation system of subways, buses, cable cars, and street cars. Chinatown. This is the most interesting neighborhood in the city. It has many faces. Stockton Street is a crowded and hurried place where streetcars race past locals doing their grocery shopping. Grant Street is the more touristy part of the neighborhood. Here you can get fans and silk and paper lanterns. The streets crossing both are lined with small dollar stores and restaurants that are adorned with all sorts of graffiti and artwork. The alleys, which are used as streets, sometimes run red with the blood of rabbits and chickens. If you need anything from leg warmers, bootleg movies, to dried seahorses come here. Nob Hill. Fancy hotels and apartment buildings in a quiet oasis. Not much to do except enjoy an uphill walk. North Beach. Bordering and sometimes overlapping Chinatown is this Italian neighborhood filled with delis and pasta places. Beautiful Sts. Peter & Paul Church tower over the modest, but expensive housing units that climb Telegraph Hill. Coit Tower is not so interesting as the view from its steps where you can see both famous bridges, Angel Island, and Alcatrez. As you walk north from Chinatown, the ocean air surrounds you. Also a favorite hangout for bohemians, beggers, and other notorious types. Fisherman's Wharf. The ultimate S.F. tourist trap along the bay piers. Pier 39 is interesting only because of the sea lion colony that has been present since the 1989 quake. The Cannery and Ghirardelli Square are monuments to the area's more industrial past. Visited S.F. Maritime NHP, a quiet place where loons hunt and pelicans lounge, and toured the old boats in the harbor. Easy connection to Union Square via the Embarcadero. Union Square. The commercial mecca of the area surrounds this small plaza shaded by palms. We stayed at the Chancellor Hotel on Powell Street here. Powell is a very busy street dominated by cable cars and throngs of tourists and shoppers and the panhandlers who live off the change they can get out of both groups. Galleries and high-end shopping, much like Chicago's Michigan Avenue. My favorite place to eat is actually in the Macy's basement. Tenderloin. Stayed on the edge once to save a few bucks. The western half of the neighborhood is seedy and reminded me of scenes along Wilson Avenue in Chicago: a liquor store on every corner and the down-on-his-luck sort rambling around, occasionally urinating on cars or trees. As much as I do not mind the area, I tried not to stay out too late. Westside. Here is the more modest and local part of the city. The Presidio is quite beautiful and smells as good as it looks. It is a haven for birds. The day I visited, there were surfers enjoying the looming storm winds under the Golden Gate Bridge. Golden Gate Park was flooded both times I visited. It is very similar in almost every detail to St. Louis' Forest Park and like its counterpart is surrounded by mansions. Interesting windmill in park. Enjoyed the rocky crags of Seal Rocks and Point Lobos. Haight-Ashbury is full of commercialized thrift stores and wanna-be's. Buena Vista and Fillmore are also worth drive throughs at least.

Marin Co. (12/18/2005)

Tamalpais Valley. Smart people living in a beautiful spot. Mt Tamalpais SP. the winding road here rises up through the clouds. The views are as beautiful as the smell of pine was pleasant. Muir Woods NM. A large, dark grove of huge and ancient redwoods that put your fragile, short life in perspective. A most beautiful and awe-inspiring place. Sausalito. Nice harbor town on S.F. Bay. Get ice cream and fish. Take a stroll along the harbor. Golden Gate NRA. The mountains of the Marin Headlands are an impressive contrast to the man-made "mountains" across the Golden Gate Bridge in the San Francisco skyline. A wonderful view of Frisco is to be found from the north side of the bridge. The drive along the coast is fascinating. Towns are few and far between here and the wind-swept, flooded coast is a wonder. San Rafael. The biggest of the populated suburbs along the east side of the county. They are full of every convenience. Fairfax. San Anselmo. Point Reyes NS. A place of wonder. The east side of the park lays along the San Andreas fault line and evidence of the great earthquakes along this line include ridges, deep lakes, and a peculiar fence at the visitor center. The east side is forested with a completely different set of plants than the south end of Marin County. This may be due to the fact that Reyes floated here along the fault line from the Los Angeles area hundreds of miles to the south. The middle of the park includes a tidewater swamp and feels like the deep South. As you approach the coast, passing old-fashioned dairy and beef cattle, the trees give way to a grassland populated with black-tailed deer. The wind can be furious here as it was the day I visited. Beyond the cliffs is the mighty and angry Pacific. Along one cliff, I made sight of my goal, the elephant seal colony. They are active on cloudy days in winter and it was a day worth living when I saw them hulking about on the beach. They are faster than they look. The beach is accessible at two points. Pt Reyes Station. Gas and food. A small town that is not trying to be anything beyond what it is. Sam Taylor SP. The deep, dark forest-covered hills. Woodacre.

Alameda Co. (12/19/2005)

Oakland. Tough, working class city that fits my California stereotype. Alameda. San Leandro. Hayward. Cattle graze on mountains that rise up to the east and overlook the suburb. Fremont. Suburban home of my cousin. Newark.

Santa Clara Co. (12/19/2005)

San Jose. The center of Silicon Valley is also the centerpiece of unplanned suburban sprawl. Los Gatos. Along the hilly roadside two cat statues greet you to their suburban hometown.

Santa Cruz Co. (12/19/2005)

Scotts Valley. The mountains along the San Andreas Fault rise up creating sheltered valleys like this one. Santa Cruz. A city that, according to the person who showed it to me, was in political transition. Once a seaside hangout for hippies, it has become more conservative in its old age. Seemed like a sharp, clean place.

Monterey Co. (12/19/2005)

Castroville. Artichokes grow on a seaside plain. This is what's left of Steinbeck's California. Monterey. Capital of Mexican California. The Wharf area is a great place to just hang out and enjoy the ocean. Watch out for sea otters and birds. Finding sea lions is not so hard since their barks fill the fishy air. Pebble Beach. The 17 Mile Road is a nice drive, although not worth the toll which must be kept so high to keep away riff raff. The houses are gigantic mansions and the beach is breath-taking. Enormous waves crash into and sculpt huge rocks, which are once in a while topped with cypress trees. The land is a mix forests and plain and golf course. Carmel. The best part of this town is its Spanish mission founded by Junipero Serra. Standing since the 1770's, it is a place that inspired in me a great reverence for God. Ghosts seem to walk about in the plazas and in the church. The buildings house beautiful pieces of native and Spanish art.

A gull keeps watch over Monterey Bay.

Chinatown in San Francisco is full of smells and sights that are not to be found anywhere else.

Resident sea lions in San Francisco's harbor.

A life-altering place, San Francisco Maritime NHP.

The lone tree of Pebble Beach, near Carmel.




Clark Co. (12/2005)

Las Vegas. I never really visited the legendary city (although it was highly recommended by my sister) but switched planes here on the way to San Francisco. Terminal was filled with slot machines. The city was an oasis of green and parking lot in a sandy, rocky wilderness. Saw Lake Mead from the plane.

The Sierra Nevada wilderness  between Las Vegas and San Francisco from an airplane.